Game of Thrones on Sunday, April 13, did what it does best: gave us a death smack in the middle of a wedding feast. The Purple Wedding, as it has been dubbed for years now from the books, saw the poisonous end of Joffrey Baratheon. Author GRR Martin and actor Jack Gleeson talked to Entertainment Weekly about the episode.
In some ways, Joffrey’s death is the toughest death for viewers because he’s such an entertaining character to lose. You really had such fun with that character and Jack Gleeson’s performance is so malevolent. Can you talk about the decision you made to end this character when you did and how you did?
Martin: Oh boy, it was so long ago! Lets see, the book came out in 2000, so I guess I wrote those scenes in like 1998. I knew all along when and how Joffrey was going to die, and on what occasion. I’d been building up to it for three years through the first books. Part of it was that there’s a lot of darkness in the books. I’ve been pretty outspoken in my desire to write a story where decisions have consequences and no one is safe. But I didn’t want it to be unrelentingly bleak—I don’t think everyone would read the books if everything was just darkness and despair and people being horribly tortured and mutilated and dying. Every once in a while you have to give the good guys a victory — where the guys who are perhaps a lighter shade of grey have a victory over the guys who are a darker shade of grey. The Red Wedding and this — fans call this the Purple Wedding — occur in the same book. In the TV show, it’s separate seasons. But Joffrey’s death was in some ways a counterweight for readers to the death of Robb and Catelyn. It shows that yes, nobody is safe—sometimes the good guys win, sometimes the bad guys win. Nobody is safe and that we are playing for keeps. I also tried to provide a certain moment of pathos with the death. I mean, Joffrey, as monstrous as he is — and certainly he’s just as monstrous in the books as he is in the TV show, and Jack has brought some incredible acting chops to the role that somehow makes him even more loathsome than he is on the page — but Joffrey in the books is still a 13-year-old kid. And there’s kind of a moment there where he knows that he’s dying and he can’t get a breath and he’s kind of looking at Tyrion and at his mother and at the other people in the hall with just terror and appeal in his eyes—you know, “Help me mommy, I’m dying.” And in that moment, I think even Tyrion sees a 13-year-old boy dying before him. So I didn’t want it to be entirely, “Hey-ho, the witch is dead.” I wanted the impact of the death to still strike home on to perhaps more complex feelings on the part of the audience, not necessarily just cheering.
You also deny us the expected way that we would think that Joffrey will die, which would be by one of the hands of the surviving Stark kids, or through some other obvious mechanism from people he has wronged. You give us his death, but deny use the typical pleasure that we would normally get from it.
Martin: I wanted to make it little bit unclear what exactly has happened here, make the readers work a little to try and figure out what has happened. And of course, for Tyrion, Joffrey’s death doesn’t make things better, it makes things worse. Tyrion’s in terrible trouble, and it proves that something I’ve tried to make a point of through the whole series: Decisions have consequences. When Robb breaks his word to House Frey and doesn’t marry one of Frey’s daughters, that has dire consequences for him. One of Tyrion’s problems has been that he has a big mouth. He’s been saying things since the beginning of the series, these veiled threats to Cersei—”someday I’m going to get you for this, someday your joy is going to turn to ashes in your mouth.” Now, all these declarations make him look really guilty.
It comes across like it could be either, at least at first. By the time there’s the moment with Tyrion looking at Joffrey’s cup of wine, you’ve put it together. So finally, any thoughts about how Jack played Joffrey now that this is his swan song?
Martin: I think Jack was sensational. I met Jack during the filming of the pilot many years ago now, and he’s like the nicest guy you’d ever want to meet. He’s really bright and a fiercely intelligent young man going to Trinity College in Dublin. I don’t know if you’ve seen his speech at the Oxford Union, it’s pretty amazing about celebrity culture. He’s very perceptive and he played this loathsome character and somehow made him more loathsome. He created someone that everybody hates, and loves to hate, and that’s a considerable feat of acting. I feel a little guilty that he’s quitting acting now. I hope that playing Joffrey didn’t help make him want to retire from the profession because he does have quite a gift for it and could have a major career as an actor.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So you just shot your death scene. How was that?
Jack Gleeson: It’s reliving, in a way. You want to do the scene and character justice. It’s a complicated scene; I’ve never had a death on screen before. You want it to look believable — the choking and the coughing. It’s calming to know I’m in the great hands of [director] Alex Graves.
When you’re doing the pie-cutting scene, showing off for the crowd, what was going through your mind?
Gleeson: When I’m cutting the cake, I’m just trying to make sure I cut it through the center. When I’m gloating to the crowd, I’m just trying to enjoy it — the fake praise.
You’ve played a character fans love to hate for so long. How do you think fans will react?
Gleeson: I think it will be 50-50. There will be a delight that the person tormenting their favorite characters is gone, but I would like to think there’s a certain sadness at the loss of the delight people take in hating a character like Joffrey.
What was your favorite scene to shoot on the show?
Gleeson: Certainly the death scene is pretty cool. And [in next week’s episode] we did the funeral scene where I was on a cliff with stones in my eyes and I just got to sleep all day, and [spoiler happened]. So that was fun.
Jack also recorded a goodbye video. Check it out below:
Jack is a phenomenal actor, as we have all seen. While it’s true Joffrey was unbearable to watch, we are all at some level going to miss the douchebag king. We wish Jack the best of luck as he bids farewell to Hollywood.