Thursday, April 24, 2014

Culture Shock 04.24.14: The king is dead, and I feel fine

He's dead, Jim.
I hope you're up to speed on "Game of Thrones." Spoilers are coming.

While the TV series deviates from the novels in many respects, HBO's "Game of Thrones" doesn't shy away from the one thing for which author George R.R. Martin has become best known: killing off your favorite characters in the most shocking, gruesome and heartbreaking ways possible.

It can be devastating. And since most "Game of Thrones" viewers evidently haven't read the books, Twitter explodes every time a major character dies. (Twitter is so much better than a water cooler.)

First it was poor Ned Stark. We'd been led to believe he was the star of the show, then boom. At the end of season 1, his head's on a pike.

We should have suspected as much. Dying is what Sean Bean's characters do best.

Then came the "Red Wedding." You can Google it. Some viewers are still in therapy for that one.

So, occasionally, as if in some half-hearted attempt to make it up to us, Martin kills off someone we  want to see dead. Two episodes into season 4, the TV show caught up to the most satisfying "Game of Thrones" death of them all.

Here lies Joffrey Baratheon, the most hated character on television. Indeed, possibly the most hated character in all of fiction. Hated by readers. Hated by viewers. Hated by small, inoffensive woodland creatures. And hated, most of all, by his fellow "Game of Thrones" characters, one of whom decided to do him in.

King Joffrey died as he lived, as a royal pain to all around him. He played second fiddle to no one. He may have been stupid, arrogant, petty, murderous, selfish, ignorant and, above all, a whiner, but no one came close to stoking the white hot burning hatred he did. He generated enough seething hatred to keep winter at bay.

And now he's gone — poisoned at his own royal wedding. He choked, he gagged, he turned an amusing shade of purple and then he died, crying in his mother's arms like the pathetic little loser brat he always was. The Red Wedding was tragic, but the "Purple Wedding," as fans call it, was a party.

Did I remember to mention Joffrey's mother is also his aunt, making him the slow-witted, inbred spawn of an incestuous relationship between sister and brother? I don't know how that could have slipped my mind.

Joffrey's mother/aunt Cersei (Lena Headey) is the only character who didn't hate Joffrey, and her lack of hatred is why everyone hates her. She knew full well the sort of monster she was raising. It brings to mind the Roman Emperor Tiberius, who said, "I am nursing a viper in Rome's bosom."

That viper was the mad Emperor Caligula, who, coincidentally, had a fondness for incest.

The only problem with Joffrey's death is it didn't take long enough. I think most of us would have happily watched an entire hour of Joffrey retching his liquefied guts out while crying for Mommy.

Joffrey's demise is probably the most satisfying screen death since Anne Archer unloaded a handgun into Glenn Close.

Yes, Martin deserves credit for creating such a despicable character in the first place, for dredging up such a hateful beast from the dark recesses of his sick, twisted mind. But most of the credit goes to Jack Gleeson, who brought the towheaded twerp to life — and death.

If anyone in the "Game of Thrones" cast deserves an Emmy, it's Gleeson, who had the thankless task of giving us someone to hate, and he excelled beyond all our hopes. In a show full of characters deserving of painful, lingering deaths, he outdid them all.

And Gleeson did it without much of a character to work with, really. Other screen villains at least get to be witty or smart. Not Joffrey. He was pure awfulness, with no redeeming or even faintly humanizing qualities. He was nothing but id.

In terms of the story, King Joffrey's death means little. Westeros is still a brutal land besieged by bloodthirsty tyrants and soft-hearted fools. But for a brief moment, it brought America together.

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