Game of Thrones did it again! Another wedding, another huge surprise. A deep-dive look at an unforgettable royal wedding where fans got the best present of them all.

By James Hibberd
April 14, 2014 at 01:55 AM EDT
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YAAAAAAYYYYYYY!

Finally, that sniveling, cowardly, sadistic, preening, smirking, annoyingly blonde, arrogant, evil, egotistical king is dead-dead-DEAD!

And I miss him already. So very much.

So at last we got what we wanted. But as always with Game of Thrones, we didn’t get what we wanted the exact way we wanted it. For starters, fan favorite Tyrion is now in deep trouble. We have much to discuss about this huge event, and you have come to the right place for the occasion. We have an exclusive interview with actor Jack Gleeson (Joffrey) about this scene and his plan to retire from acting. There’s also a deep-dive Q&A with the showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss about the making of this episode. Plus, there’s an exclusive interview with author George R.R. Martin himself on why he killed Joffrey and the historical inspiration for the way he died. Links to all those posts are at on the last page of this recap.

But first, there were plenty of intriguing scenes before Joffrey got his just desserts — Ramsay’s hunting party, Tyrion and Shae’s breakup, Bran’s prophetic vision, and a bunch of intriguing character pairings at the wedding party that we’ve never seen before (and might never again).

The Dreadfort: We open with one of the ugliest scenes in Thrones‘ history. Ramsay hunting a terrified young woman with his dogs, his castrated slave Theon (now called Reek) literally in tow. There’s a lot to dislike about this scene, but it is powerful. Apparently, this servant girl caused a lover of Ramsay’s to feel jealous. So Ramsay used that as an opportunity to enact his own backyard version of The Hunger Games.

Later, Ramsay’s father Roose Bolton returns from stabbing Robb Stark at the Red Wedding. He brought along Locke, who chopped off Jaime’s hand. Ramsay presents Reek and admits he took some parts off him, too. If in Westeros, this is a castle you really should avoid. You would think Ramsay would have to try extremely hard to actually do anything this father would consider “wrong,” but he apparently managed to disappoint pops. “Theon was a valuable hostage, not your plaything,” Bolton scolds. Bolton wanted to trade Theon for Moat Cailin, a collection of towers that’s considered a strategically valuable Northern stronghold, and now he’s damaged goods. Ramsay shows off how well he’s trained Theon by having him shave him while explaining his friend Robb Stark is dead. Theon’s terrified and total subjugation effectively suggests all the torturing of Theon that we thankfully did not have to witness, in addition to what we already saw last season. Bolton comes up with a mission for his bastard son — take Moat Cailin to prove his worth. (Ramsay, with his jutting looks and cheerfully psychotic demeanor, always reminded me of somebody, and I finally figured it out — Alex, the protagonist of A Clockwork Orange as played by an impossibly young Malcolm McDowell).

King’s Landing: Tyrion and Jaime are together again for the first time since the first season. We’ve rarely seen Tyrion so happy. “Why is no one eating … you lost a hand not a stomach,” he cheerfully chastises. One wonders if Tyrion’s high spirits are partly because of Jaime’s misfortune — his older brother is now less-than perfect too. This seems especially true when Tyrion toasts “the proud Lannister children — the dwarf, the cripple, and the mother of madness.” But we also see their strong bond when Jaime trusts Tyrion with his biggest secret, that he can no longer fight. Once again, Jaime is really worried about what other people think of him, though this time it’s a valid concern. “As soon as someone discovers I can’t fight, he’ll tell everyone,” he frets.

Tyrion sets up Jaime with Bronn for left-handed sword training, assuring his sellsword buddy is discreet. They meet in a remote sea-side location. Bronn further tries to assure Jaime that he doesn’t have to worry about people finding out about his fight lessons by telling him about a woman he’s screwing in this very spot. He even names her husband just to further demonstrate his discretion. As everybody who navigates office gossip knows, never trust people who prove they can keep a secret by telling you other secrets they’re supposed to be keeping. Jaime tosses Bronn what Louis C.K. once dubbed a vague sack of money.

NEXT: #KingsLandingBreakup

Later, Varys tells Tyrion that Shae is in imminent danger from his father Tywin. Fearing the worst memory of his youth repeating itself (his father torturing a prostitute he loved), Tyrion decides to dump Shae The Funny Whore. To do that, he has to be quite cruel. This is another scene that’s tough to watch, like you’re secretly eavesdropping on a couple having a painful, semi-public fight. I wanted to live-tweet the play-by-play to remove some of my own discomfort:

— She’s calling him “my lion” and trying to seduce him again. #KingsLandingBreakup

— He’s just offered her servants, money, and a house in Pentos. I totally think she should take it. Run Shae! #KingsLandingBreakup

— Getting nasty: “You’re a whore! I can’t be in love with a whore. I cannot bear children with a whore.” This is clearly hurting him even more than her. #KingsLandingBreakup

Can you believe that once upon a time, everybody had to break up like this, arguing face-to-face? Thankfully we can now simply stop replying to somebody’s text messages like civilized people.

Dragonstone: Can we skip Dragonstone? Is that okay? Don’t tell the Recap Police. Melisandre is executing non-believers (still), grumpy Stannis is grumpy about his defeat (still). Their story is boring and full of repetition. One good line: “There is only one hell, princess, the one we live in now.”

North of the Wall: Bran uses his direwolf-vision to eat deer. Hodor takes him to the godswood tree, and he sees a bunch of things that got fans excited when watching HBO’s trailer. He’s told where to find the mysterious “three-eyed crow” he’s seeking, and we assume this person is a wizard of some sort. He’s given flashes of the past (hey Ned Stark, don’t get too attached to that sword) and, most interestingly, what we assume is the future: The King’s Landing Throne Room with the roof torn off and snow falling in the room — winter has come, bitches!

More tantalizingly: A massive dragon shadow flying over King’s Landing. Can we assume from this Dany eventually makes it to King’s Landing and unleashes fiery wrath? Note that Martin wrote this episode, and those flashes — correct me if I’m wrong — were not in Bran’s visions in Martin’s book, A Dance With Dragons, suggesting these are brand new teases for what might happen in Books 6 and 7.

King’s Landing: Okay, time for the really fun stuff.

Joffrey gets his presents. It’s the first of several scenes where he demonstrates how incredibly cruel and petty he is right up until the moment he dies, and the first in a series of beats showing an escalating conflict between the king and his uncle. Tyrion gives Joffrey a royal self-help book to make him a better king, Awaken the Dragon Within or something. Tyrion had to know this was a spectacularly poor gift choice as Joffrey is never going to appreciate a book, especially one that suggests he needs leadership pointers. In an episode filled with awesome Jack Gleeson moments, I think I loved his delivery of Joffrey’s condescendingly polite response to Tyrion’s gift the best: “Now that the war is won, we should all find time for wisdom.”

Joffrey really loves Tywin’s present, however, a badass Valyrian sword. He tests its sharpness by hacking the hell out of Tyrion’s book. Of course, Joffrey wants to name it, too (as we were told by The Hound last week, “lots of c—ts name their swords”). Somebody yells out “Widow’s Wail,” which naturally appeals to Joffrey. “Every time I use that it will be like cutting off Ned Stark’s head all over again,” he says as Sansa looks on.

We get a super quick marriage ceremony. Margery has to kiss him, but she presumably doesn’t know that she only has to do this once. “Better her than you,” Tyrion tells Sansa, as if to say: “Hey, at least I’m not that guy…right? I’m still better than him, right?

At the wedding party, we’re treated to a series of unique character pairings and nearly all concluded with a devastatingly great quote-able line. Let’s grade each:

Bronn and Tyrion: Tyrion wants reassurance Shae is gone and feels rather awful about the whole #KingsLandingBreakup. Bronn assures he put her on a ship for Pentos. “Now go drink until it feels like you did the right thing.” Grade: B+

NEXT: 6 royal smackdowns

Tywin and Olenna Tyrell: The point of this chat is the reminder that the crown is heavily in debt to the Iron Bank of Braavos, which has a rather fearsome collection policy — if you don’t pay, they fund your enemies. Tywin claims he’s not worried. “Come Tywin, let us celebrate young love,” Olenna cheerfully says to a heartless man, referring to a king who cannot feel love, and his wife that doesn’t love him. Grade: C+

Olyenna and Sansa. The Queen of Thorns has an amazingly ironic line, referring to the Red Wedding: “Killing a man at a wedding! Horrid. What sort of monster would do such a thing? As if men need more reasons to fear marriage.” Grade: B

Jaime and Loras: Awkward, since Loras is committed to marrying Jaime’s lover/sister, something neither of them want. We see, for the first time in a long while, Jaime being charismatic and threatening. He tells Loras of the violent doom that awaits him should he marry Cersei, then reassures: “Lucky for you, none of this will never happen, because she will never marry you.” Loras gets a rare winning moment with a knowing comeback: “And neither will you.” Grade: A-

Brienne and Cersei: Brienne tries to pay her respects to Joffrey, and he dismisses her with an irritated wave. But Cersei wants to chat. Notice Cersei and Jaime use the exact same family tactic in their frenemy discussions. First they strike up a conversation with cheerful pleasantries and then, once their target is relaxed, they stick a knife in their heart. Cersei is so very jealous of Brienne. Not just of her time with Jaime and their tight bond, but the fact that Brienne has what Cersei wants — freedom and the ability to defend herself. As we’ve previously learned, Cersei wishes she were born a man so she wouldn’t be “weak” and rely on men and have to follow their orders. Now here comes Brienne, a woman who is such a great fighter that she’s even a match for Jaime, and she can do whatever she wants. Naturally, Cersei hates her. “I don’t serve your brother, your grace,” Brienne tries to assure. Cersei shoots back: “But you love him,” and Brienne’s looks utterly stricken, like Cersei just nuked her internal switchboard the way no man with a sword ever could. You see, Cersei is a warrior, too, of sorts, and Brienne is not used to people who fight this way. Grade: A

Cersei and Pycelle: Margaery announced that the leftovers from the feast would be used to feed the poor in King’s Landing. That’s what a cruel place this city is — giving the poor your table scraps is considered a bold gesture of royal charity. Cersei threatens the maester and overrides Margery’s order, telling him to give the food to the dogs instead. “The leftovers will feed the dogs, or you will,” she says. Between stunning Brienne, stomping on Pycelle, and overthrowing Margaery, the former Queen Regent looks so very proud of herself … for the moment. Grade: B+

Oberyn, Ellaria, Tywin and Cersei: There’s not much pleasantries here. Things quickly turns nasty as Prince Obyern pokes the lion with barbs about bastards (of which Oberyn’s lover Ellaria is proudly one), the queen’s diminishing power, Tywin’s wealth and, most sensitively, the Lannisters’ alleged wartime crimes against Obyern’s family. Tywin knows all about Oberyn’s vendetta and tries to coast above this. It’s a new tactic from Tywin as normally we see him bully people. But Tywin doesn’t want anything from Oberyn and he knows being antagonistic toward the prince would only set him off, so he largely shrugs this off. Oberyn reminds Cersei that her young daughter Myrcella is in Dorne, making the most indirect and vaguest of threats. “People everywhere have their differences,” Oberyn says. “In some places the highborn frown upon those of low birth, in others, the rape and murder of women and children is considered distasteful. What a fortunate thing for you, former Queen Regent, that your daughter has been sent to live in the latter sort of place.” Thankfully Oberyn and Ellaria didn’t seduce Tywin and Cersei into the most world’s most awkward four-way. A great scene, though Pedro Pascal’s Dorneish accent feels distractingly mannered here compared to last week’s intro. Grade: A-

NEXT: The play’s the thing to uncover the jerkishness of the king

Now we turn back to Joffrey, who is going to command our attention for the rest of his life. He throws coins dismissively at the band playing a mournful version of “The Rains of Castamere” (the musicians are the Icelandic band Sigur Ros, and the song goes on sale tomorrow; they mentioned on set that Gleeson kept giving them “a really sorry face” after each take). Joffrey then makes an announcement: “A royal wedding is not an amusement,” he declares and gestures to a 20-foot mock lion’s head. When that jaw opens and the carpet rolls out like a giant tongue, you have no clue what’s going to happen. This next scene is something the producers wanted to keep secret (because, in their words, “It’s such a ‘what the f–k'”).

A little people theater troupe rushes out of the lion’s head riding mock representations of Westeros family sigils. Each rider is playing one of the five kings who recently vied for the Iron Throne. They perform a bawdy reenactment of the last couple seasons of Thrones war drama, complete with a beheading of Robb Stark and jokes about Renly being gay.

This is Joffrey’s crowning moment in asshole-dom. He manages to offend his dwarf uncle Tyrion, along with his wife Sansa, whose brother was Robb Stark. His bride Margaery was married to Renly, so she’s surely offended too (though knows better than to show it). Brienne was sworn to Renly and Loras was Renly’s lover, so they’re upset as well. The act is almost genius-level in its across-the-board tacky offensiveness, reopening old wounds and insulting several people in different and personal ways. Loras storms out. Joffrey laughs and spits wine. In the crowd, Varys and Oberyn are not amused (Oberyn’s expression is like, “Yeah, this is exactly what I expected you Lannisters to be like”). Among our regular cast, only Joffrey, Cersei, and Joffrey’s younger brother Tommen (who’s too young to know any better) seem to enjoy this.

Tyrion’s reaction is particularly interesting, I’m not sure we’ve ever seen his face look quite like this — blank cold anger. “Pay each of them 20 gold when this is done,” he murmurs to Podrick. “I’ll have to find another way to thank the king” — that line will probably come back to haunt him later.

But Joffrey is not done. He puts Tyrion on the spot, suggesting he fight with the dwarfs. Tyrion should have quietly demurred. But no. Tyrion has too much Lannister lion pride. He mocks the king with a thinly veiled contempt — “I think you should fight, this was but a poor imitation of your own bravery in battle…” he says. Joffrey then tries to humiliate Tyrion in other ways. Yet at every turn Tyrion refuses to accept Joffrey’s behavior as humiliation. He pours wine on his head, but Tyrion dismisses it as a “spill.” He orders him to be his cup bearer, but Tyrion calls it a “great honor.” Both of them should know better. Joffrey shouldn’t try to outwit his far smarter uncle, who is extremely practiced at handling bullies. While Tyrion shouldn’t outshine a psychopathic king in front of a crowd on his wedding day (ever read The 48 Laws of Power? The first is: “Never Outshine the Master”).

Tension mounts. We know something game-changing is going to happen. We think one of them is finally going to snap. And maybe they would have. Joffrey orders his uncle to kneel — to demonstrate submission and respect physically because trying to get it from him verbally is not working. Tyrion outright refuses. It would have been interesting to see how this scene would have concluded if that insane pie hadn’t been wheeled out.

“Oh look, the pie!” exclaims PR-expert Margaery, hilariously breaking the stand-off.

NEXT: Pie a’ la dead

Out comes an obscenely large pastry. Joffrey readies his sword and preens like a rock star, approaching the pie like he’s about to execute a defeated foe. He smacks it open with the sword. Many white birds fly out, while others died inside the pie from the blow (on the set while staging this scene, one of showrunners muttered about the dead vs. living birds, “In a way, that’s a metaphor for the show”).

And still, Joffrey is not done tormenting Tyrion. He asks him to serve him more wine.

“Hurry up, this pie is dry,” Joffrey says. It’s actually a rather suitably lame final sentence for Joffrey to declare before his death scene begins. Somebody should make a T-shirt with a sneering image of The Joff and the legend: “This pie is dry.”

Joffrey coughs.

And we lean forward. We know the rule, even if only unconsciously: In movies and television, there is never an accidental cough.

He starts to choke, or so it seems. “He’s choking!” Margaery yells.

“Help the poor boy!” cries Oleynna. “Help your king!”

Joffrey quickly descends into a mix of panic, fear, and incomprehension. He gasps, his face turns violently red. Jaime rushes in, trying to help his secret son, and a king he’s once again failed to protect. Tyrion looks concerned and confused. Even Sansa, as much as she hates Joffrey, looks worried for him.

The idea behind this scene, is that we’re reminded in these final moments that monstrous Joffrey is at his core just a scared little boy. It’s all rather horrible, even though it couldn’t have happened to a more deserving person.

Dontos rushes up to Sansa and gives her the Kyle Reese line — Come with me if you want to live…

Cersei, naturally, is losing her mind. This is her worst fear coming true. Joffrey reaches out and points, seemingly accusingly, at Tyrion. I hope Joffrey believed in his final moments that Tyrion really did poison him. Tyrion looks suspiciously at the wine cup, putting it all together.

For Cersei, there is no doubt. She knows her son was poisoned, and she is most certainly correct. But she’s also equally certain of Tyrion’s guilt, which does not seem to be the case. All of Tyrion’s vague threats against her and Joffrey are now coming back to haunt him. And with his last act, that pointed finger, Joffrey has perhaps managed to kill one last enemy. Guards seize Tyrion. And now you know why he’s wearing chains and appearing in a dungeon in the Thrones ads this season.

The twist changes things. For the first time since season 1, the Iron Throne is open. Sansa scurried away with Dontos, what’s that about? And there is a good old fashioned murder mystery — Who Killed Joffrey Baratheon? Everybody except Cersei has a motive for that one.

There’s the usual question when trying to figure out a murder: Who benefits? There’s wartime rivals like Stannis Baratheon and Balon Greyjoy. Margaery, possibly — if the dwarf joust is what Joffrey planned for her wedding party, can you imagine what he had in mind for her wedding night? There will be no widow wailing for her. Then again, it makes Margaery seem tainted — two dead kings in a row is enough to give any prospective suitor pause. And there’s Tywin, who was clearly losing control of Joffrey. Oh, and pretty much everybody in Westeros (after all, anybody else in that chair, including the person who’s next in the line for the throne — young Tommen — could hardly be worse).

Who loses? Cersei, obviously. And Tyrion, ironically.

But what about us viewers — are we winners or losers? This was absolutely a great episode. But will Game of Thrones be better or worse without Joffrey to kick around? We lost a truly great villain tonight. Only the death of Ned Stark rivals this one in its importance. Robb and Catelyn, as compelling as they were, did not inspire the enormous outpouring of fan emotion that Joffrey does. And neither did Ned Stark, really, since we were still getting to know him. From the very beginning of the series, fans really loved to hate Joffrey. In a story full of complex shades-of-grey characters, Joffrey was an old-fashioned hissable villain who wasn’t saddled with redeemable qualities to make us feel conflicted about him. He was a total unrepentant wildly entertaining s–tbird. And we loved him for that.

Plus, as satisfying as it is to see Joffrey get some comeuppance, the death denies us some satisfaction, too. We all wanted Arya to scale the walls of King’s Landing and fight Joffrey with her Needle vs. his Widow’s Wail.

Yet, as I point out to Martin and the showrunners in the Q&As, what’s amazing about Joffrey’s death is the creative boldness of it. Thrones just infamously killed several main characters at a wedding. The last thing you would expect of this story, a tale whose creator prides himself on being unpredictable and avoiding repetition, is to kill another main character at another wedding!

Now let’s turn things over to those who know this show far better than I — Martin, Benioff and Weiss, and Gleeson. Each brings a different and uniquely fascinating perspective to Joffrey’s demise.

EW’s full coverage of Game of Thrones royal wedding:

‘Game of Thrones’ showrunners discuss royal wedding twist

George R.R. Martin: Why Joffrey died THAT way — EXCLUSIVE

Jack Gleeson talks royal wedding shocker — EXCLUSIVE

‘Game of Thrones’: Behind the scenes of Joffrey’s wedding — EXCLUSIVE

‘Game of Thrones’ stars react to losing Jack Gleeson — EXCLUSIVE

Here’s a pic I took on the set in Croatia from the royal feast, a little memento…

Also: Do you think the dogs still got the leftovers? Just wondering.

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HBO’s epic fantasy drama based on George R.R. Martin's novel series A Song of Ice and Fire.
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