Last night, citizens around the world stood and applauded. Impromptu celebrations were held, excited phone calls were made, and everyone who forgot to watch live cursed their rotten luck. Usually Game of Thrones waits until its fourth episode to give us a truly devastating plot twist, but things are moving quicker this season. Don't read on if you don't want to be spoiled.
King Joffrey died at his own wedding reception, undoubtedly poisoned (by someone or other), but more metaphorically choking on his own bile, reduced to a vomiting wreck in his mother's arms in the middle of delivering one last humiliation to his poor uncle Tyrion. I can only imagine the reaction in every room, from book-readers and newbies alike, to Joffrey's miserable end. Unlike most characters on Game of Thrones, this was a remorseless, sadistic villain with little shading. The show wanted you to hate him, and you wanted him to die. Watching Joffrey expire in such humiliating circumstances almost felt voyeuristic and cruel; audience wish fulfillment, certainly, but it was undeniably satisfying.
The best evidence of all for the "wish fulfillment" angle is that literally everyone at Joffrey's wedding feast had pretty good cause to want him dead. Like a classic murder mystery, everyone is a suspect, save maybe Cersei and Jaime (who are aware of how monstrous their son is, but rushed to his side as he died). Joffrey's psychotic behavior and impetuousness were too unpredictable for his grandfather Tywin to bear. The Tyrells feared for daughter Margaery's safety as his bride. Tyrion obviously hated his nephew (who hated him back), although he's more obvious as a patsy for the crime; Sansa, spirited away by Dontos the fool, had plenty of reason to whack Joffrey but maybe lacked the know-how to execute such a conspiracy. And then of course there's the Dornish Prince Oberyn in the background, basically announcing his hatred of all things Lannister from the second he set foot in the capital.
The construction of "The Lion and the Rose" was a little unusual for Game of Thrones, spending the entire second half of the episode at Joffrey and Margaery's nuptials, reminiscent of other big event episodes like the Red Wedding of "The Rains of Castamere" and the Battle of the Blackwater. Fans of the books knew what was coming, but the show does quite well not to tip its hand otherwise. Until Joffrey begins to choke, the palpable tension feels more likely to fall upon Tyrion or poor Sansa's head, no matter how many times Margaery tries to distract everyone by shouting things like "oh look, the pie!"
Outside of building up the anticipation for Joffrey's death, the whole extended wedding feast serves as a reminder of the broad political situation in Westeros, which had juuust started to settle down, before it gets disrupted again. The Lannister/Tyrell alliance, though strained, is holding the court together. The Martells of Dorne, while still nursing old wounds, are not about to begin open rebellion. With Joffrey gone, the throne passes to his younger brother Tommen (who seems like a sweet kid, perhaps easier for Tywin to control), although the issue of Queen Margaery is a nebulous one. She did marry the king, after all, which makes her regnant, although they didn't manage to consummate the marriage (luckily for her).
While most of our time was spent in King's Landing this week, our two major detours were to the areas posing the largest threat of rebellion to the still-tenuous Lannister hold on the throne. Stannis continues to lick his wounds on Dragonstone, lighting heretics on fire and looking grumpy about it (his faintly mad wife seemed thrilled by the whole thing), but there's little development outside of Melisandre trying to educate Stannis' daughter Shireen on her good vs. evil, fire vs. darkness religion.
Then, up North, we get our first glimpse at Roose Bolton in his homestead of the Dreadfort as he begins his reign of terror. The worst thing about season three of Thrones was Ramsay Snow's extended torture session with Theon Greyjoy, although its relentless, drawn-out nature has definitely helped sell the audience on Theon's transformation into Ramsay's muted slave Reek. Still, that initial scene where Ramsay chases the woman through the woods, shoots her full of arrows, and has her eaten by dogs was a nasty reminder of how impossible to watch Ramsay's scenes can be.
Roose is ten times more fascinating a character than Ramsay in that he seems just as evil, but way less demented or crazy, and he's extremely wary of his bastard son. If I have to watch whole scenes devoted to the scheming of a psychopath, I'd like it to be Roose, but he sends Ramsay on some mission to recapture a Northern castle held by the Greyjoys. Thrones will obviously continue to spend time with these nutballs, so I hope they either get what's coming to them or do something more interesting than torture everyone forever and ever. Thrones continues to show us what a dark world Westeros has become in the wake of the War of Five Kings; whether there's light at the end of the tunnel, with Joffrey gone, remains to be seen.