Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Posted: 04/19/2014 1:00 AM | Comments: 0
Offering more proof that any "Save the Date" cards for Westeros nuptials should be immediately tossed in the bin, Game of Thrones featured another lethal wedding last week. This time, at least, the right person died.
Unlike the killings at the Red Wedding, which caused so much vexatious viewer sorrow, the death of Joffrey Baratheon was met with untrammelled Internet joy. The unlamented 15-year-old monarch was an unfortunate bundle of adolescent impulses and absolute power, sort of like a murderous medieval Justin Bieber. As his uncle Tyrion memorably said: "We've had vicious kings and we've had idiot kings, but I don't think we've ever been cursed with a vicious idiot boy-king."
Even before Joffrey became a cruel, capricious tyrant, he was a whining, sneering, sneaky little brat, possessing the most slappable face in the Seven Kingdoms. Pallid, coddled, indulged and inbred -- I mean, really inbred, being the product of the incestuous union of his uncle Jaime and his malevolent mother, Cersei -- Joffrey developed quite a line in bullying, humiliation and sadism. Once he got near the crown, he graduated to mass murder and treacherous beheadings.
No wonder audiences loathed Joffrey. But his death, as supremely satisfying as it was, raises certain issues.
Game of Thrones regularly demonstrates the brutal and arbitrary nature of its universe by slaughtering major characters. The show's enthusiastic embrace of realistic 13th-century life expectancies is admirable.
But Joffrey's public poisoning leaves a certain void. Now that the monstrous little twerp is gone, where can we put all that pure, focused, concentrated hatred?
Joffrey was a one-dimensionally horrible character, one of the few on the morally murky Game of Thrones. George R.R. Martin, the author of the books on which the series is based, rejects the good-versus-evil archetypes often seen in the fantasy genre. Instead, he explores a human range of vice and virtue, where actions are determined not by abstract qualities but more often by ignorance, weakness, circumstance and necessity.
Whether a character is trying to survive the Machiavellian machinations of King's Landing or the kill-or-be-killed existence of the North, clear moral reckonings tend to go awry. Acts of noble heroism sometimes lead to bloodshed, while chilly pragmatism often saves innocent lives. In this ugly muck of means and ends, audience expectations are upended.
Complexity is one thing. But lately GoT has felt overly complicated, with our attention being diluted by too many scattered storylines and skimped-on characters. The show is a puzzle, often being compulsively watchable from scene to scene even as it suffers from massive structural problems overall. Combining epic scope and an eye for grubby detail, it has problems with the middle-ground, rarely pulling off satisfying standalone episodes and struggling with developed ideas and sustained suspense.
In many episodes, it seems like there's the plotline you're actually following, and then a couple of irksome side-plots that feel like temporary placeholders (Daenerys and her dragons endlessly trudging through the desert; that band of misfits stumping through the cold and snow up north). Those handy story roundups that run before the opening credits often have to go back to far distant episodes just to remind viewers what the hell is going on.
So it was with the Purple Wedding episode. The main Joffrey-centric story was completely compelling, filled with reluctant alliances, bitter rivalries and the whole deranged spectacle of the wedding itself. I particularly liked the desperate vivacity of Lady Margaery, her "Look, the pie!" being one of my favourite bits of dialogue so far. Joffrey himself was determined to be on his worst behaviour, helpfully offering a catalogue of reasons why he ought to die, and soon.
That's the thing. All that Joffrey-hatred -- so visceral, so violent, so seductively satisfying -- offered a rare rallying position for the audience, a fixed point of nasty certainty around that the show's moral confusion could circle.
That's gone now, in a characteristic bit of GoT trickiness. In life, Joffrey was a through-and-through villain, the sick little sociopath we loved to hate. Somehow, at the moment of his death, a typically graphic Game of Thrones bleed-out, Joffrey finally looked like what he was -- a pathetic child. And the immediate aftermath of his murder made it clear that sometimes the only thing worse than the rule of a mad tyrant is the brutal, chaotic rush to fill the power vacuum left after he's gone.
The people of Westeros know that, and it looks as if viewers will be reminded in the undoubtedly gory weeks to come.
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 19, 2014 D11
Having problems with the form?Contact Us Directly
Get lie off your chest to ease inner turmoil
Interpretation of law yields comic results
Interpretation of law yields comic results
Marine repair business that runs out of owner's cottage at odds with Manitoba Conservation
A local artist has been painting portraits of indigenous people who died tragically
The final countdown: Here's how the Jets' charge for a playoff spot shakes down
Doc tough to watch, but not to be missed
Banning antibiotics what consumers want
Here's your weekend weather in Winnipeg
Bombing Yemen likely to backfire
Transcona-raised pro wrestler Kenny Omega is literally big in Japan
Murder revelations in The Jinx leave us fascinated, queasy
The vacation bucket list
Trending that caught Doug's eye... Late night legends
Potential slave dodges awkward bedroom adventure
Free Press to roll out affordable, user-driven access to news
Jets still gaining altitude
A penchant to self-destruct in full view
Matter of (their) opinion
No one talks tough on sewage
Don't you all have an imaginary friend?
Tax change helps families with children under 18
Shortchanging special needs
Is our democracy on crutches?
Wife overreacting to tipping back brown cows
Police hide in cone of silence
City's rail lines the real problem
Verdict after Gladue's death sends painful message about whose lives are valued
Outside the gallery, artists need to watch where they're going
Andy Kindler: something old, something new...
This is crunch time
Price has it right
Winnipeg actor Darcy Fehr went back to university at 40 and finds himself onstage in classic play
How's my home, James? What the measurement means to flood-prone Winnipeg
Aboriginal activists working to rock the vote
Co-worker's body odour causing stinky situation
A few dishes stand out at downtown fixture, but many others fall far short of excellence
Tina Fontaine's aunt wants more answers from Winnipeg's police chief
Documentary seeks out Canadian connection to Vietnam War