Thank the Old Gods, the Drowned God, the Seven, the Lord of Light, whoever you worship, because Joffrey the evil boy king has finally been slain. He's been tormenting the various figures of Westeros for so long that I'm sure some viewers thought it would never happen. And whilst his death was a gruesome, if satisfying sight, the question remains as to who poisoned the just-married tyrant? There's an awful long list of candidates.
Scripted by the A Song of Ice and Fire writer George R.R. Martin, this was an episode with plenty of great moments, though the 'purple wedding' obviously took centre stage. At the Dreadfort, we saw just how broken Theon Greyjoy, or 'Reek', has become, with the sadistic Ramsay making the Ironborn shave his face, while explaining to him that Robb Stark died after being betrayed by the Boltons. Alfie Allen continues to impress as Theon, his downtrodden devastation at hearing his best friend has been murdered all captured in his darting eyes and shaking hand.
Peter Dinklage also shines in an emotional exchange between his master of coin Tyrion Lannister and the prostitute he loves Shae. After Varys warns him that Cersei has discovered their secret affair, he realises that the only way to make her leave King's Landing is to say that he no longer loves her. He tearfully banishes her with the line, "Sansa is fit to bear my children and you are not. I can't be in love with a whore".
Most curious of all, the normally boring Bran has a beguiling vision upon touching a Weirwood tree north of the wall. An enigmatic montage from director Alex Graves shows moments of the past and potential teasers of what is to come, as we see Ned Stark back at Winterfell, a giant Heart Tree surrounded by snow, and the shadow of a dragon swooping over King's Landing.
The Purple Wedding
The second half of the episode is dedicated to the wedding of Joffrey and Margaery, as tension is built up throughout the ceremony and festivities until the shocking death of the king at the end. Joffrey and Tyrion have been at odds for a long time, but since Robb Stark's death the boy ruler seems even more intent on provoking his uncle.
Joffrey looks incredulous when Tyrion gives him a rare book on royal history, before cutting it in half with the shiny new Valyrian swords his grandfather Tywin has made him. He irritates Tyrion by staging as entertainment the war of the five kings as enacted by dwarves,and further humiliates him by pouring wine over Tyrion's head, and ordering him to serve as cupbearer for the remainder of the evening.
The terrific dialogue between the two ratchets up the tension, and as everyone looks on yet is powerless to stop Joffrey's abuse, you fear what is about to happen to Tyrion. But in a moment of deus ex machina the king suddenly starts choking, before collapsing to the ground. Watching his veins bulge and nostrils bleed as he draws his last breaths feels cathartic, but the fact that his downfall happened so early on this season is also rather anticlimactic.
Unlike the Red Wedding which was a violent case of betrayal, Joffrey's murder remains a mystery. Tyrion is at first hand the most likely suspect, being the one who poured Joffrey's wine and the one who the king points to just before he draws his final breath. But there were plenty of people who hated the young tyrant, so don't be surprised if the overriding question throughout season four is 'Who poisoned J.B.?'
Farewell then to TV's most hated character, and also the actor Jack Gleeson, who vowed to retire from acting after his role in Game of Thrones. Casting young actors for long term projects is an incredibly difficult job, as you have to gauge not just how they will handle the material now, but also how they will grow with the role as they themselves become young adults.
Gleeson would have been just 17 when he was cast as Joffrey, but the now 21-year-old Irishman has been nothing short of a revelation in the role, managing to contain equal parts malice, arrogance and naiveté in every scene. If this is to be his last role, his iconic turn here could see him remembered as a James Dean of villainy for years to come.