(Warning: Spoilers. If you have not watched Episode 2 of Season 4, don't read this)
Editor's note: The photograph that originally accompanied this article has been change to protect Game of Thrones fans who have not seen Episode 2.
For most of the second episode of this season’s Game of Thrones, it seemed as though we were to be stuck in the same dull rut as the premiere. Not much happens for half an hour, then Joffrey and Margaery get married and we spend twenty minutes watching their excruciating wedding reception. And then Joffrey dies and redeems the whole dull mess.
Yes, Joffrey Baratheon, the show’s most reviled villain and nastiest character, is dead, killed by poison (we assume) at his own wedding feast. And with his death, the show is relieved of its largest narrative burden, and the fourth season can now get down to business.
Before Joffrey dies, not much happens. Tyrion and Jamie share a meal and Jamie complains about how he can’t wield a sword with his lone remaining hand, so Tyrion enlists Bronn to teach his brother to fight again. Roose Bolton returns to The Dreadfort, where he continues to look almost exactly like Stannis Baratheon, and he gets mad at his bastard for torturing the captive Theon Greyjoy. At Dragonstone, some people are burned in sacrifice to the greedy Lord of Light.
Up north, Bran, whose storyline continues to be almost unendurably boring, finds a magic tree and touches it, bringing on a vision in which he sees the three-eyed raven, Ned Stark’s eye, a sword, himself falling from the tower in the first season and what appears to be the shadow of a huge dragon flying over King’s Landing.
And then comes the wedding reception scene, which, for most of its twenty-minute duration, is as unremarkable as what preceded it. This whole episode, written by George R.R. Martin himself, seems intent on reminding us of just how vile the psychotic boy king is, perhaps as a way of giving his death some sort of extra-dimensional impact, as though, by killing him, the show could become interesting again.
Joffrey wriggles around in his chair, laughing maniacally at various things, interrupting everybody and dismissing people with an imperial flick of the wrist. And then he summons five little people to reenact the War of the Five Kings in a silly charade intended to embarrass Tyrion.
Tyrion snipes back, and Joffrey insists on his uncle becoming his cup bearer, bringing him wine.
In the end, he starts coughing and does his best impression of the possessed girl from The Exorcist, seizing and writhing and foaming at the mouth. No one, including his real father, Jamie, seems especially sad to see the little fellow go. Except, that, is, his mother. Cersei blames Tyrion, who rather unwisely picks up the fallen king’s discarded goblet as though intending to remind everyone of the fact that he handled it just before Joffrey drank. Tyrion is hauled off, and Sansa’s friend the fool insists she escape with him if she wants to live.
And thus ends Joffrey Baratheon. And good riddance to him, not just because he was such a nasty young man, but because, within the world of Game of Thrones, he had become the least interesting character. Completely evil, sure, but in a petulant and psychologically uninteresting way. He took great pleasure in reminding Sansa Stark that he’d ordered her father killed, and we hated him for it. But he’d become nothing more than a spoiled brat who was gleeful in the face of the pain of others.
That sort of caricature is fun for a time, but dramatic tension cannot be carried on its shoulders, because the viewer can always predict what a character like that will do. Much more satisfying, and now much better positioned to turn this show’s so-far faltering fourth season around, are our myriad other might-be villains, each of whom brings more varied and nuanced motivations to their quests for power: Tywin, Cersei, Jamie, Little Finger, Oberyn, Varys…nearly everyone on the show, actually.
And so we come to bury Joffrey, not to praise him. May more complex baddies–and compelling television–fill the void he leaves in this endless game of thrones.