It finally happened.
The tagline for the fourth season of Game of Thrones, HBO’s sprawling, ultraviolent fantasy epic, is “All Men Must Die”—or Valar Morghulis, in High Valyrian. Up to this point, that’s mostly meant good, noble men. There was the Cersei-orchestrated death of Robert Baratheon while hunting boar (which led to Joffrey claiming the Iron Throne). The beheading of Ned Stark. Khal Drogo’s infected wound. The dozen or so arrows fired into Robb Stark’s chest.
During “The Lion and the Rose,” the second episode of Season 4, the show’s unequivocal villain got his comeuppance.
King Joffrey is dead.
Yes, the bastard son of incestuous brother and sister Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) transformed into a ghastly zombie after ingesting a goblet of wine laced with poison.
But first came the royal wedding between the wicked boy-king, Joffrey (Jack Gleeson), and his Machiavellian bride, Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer), who will clearly marry anyone—gay, sadistic, doesn’t matter—to ascend the throne. The wedding was replete with a great deal of humiliation (this was a Joffrey wedding, after all), including silly dwarfs reenacting the War of the Five Kings and lots of Tyrion-bashing.
“It was a monster to shoot,” Coster-Waldau tells The Daily Beast. “Alex Graves directed it and did a phenomenal job. There were so many extras and so many cast members in that scene. I don’t think we’ve ever had that many principal characters in a scene before.”
Indeed, the wedding of Joffrey and Margaery was attended by all, including the Lannister clan, the music group Sigur Ros (as Joffrey’s wedding band), and all the Tyrell’s—even the vengeance-seeking Oberyn Martell, aka the “Red Viper,” played by Pedro Pascal.
“It took a week to shoot and it was in Dubrovnik, Croatia, in this amazing location,” says Pascal. “The wedding alone was like shooting a movie—it was a movie in and of itself. There’s so much going on—circus performers, birds bursting out of cakes, dwarves coming out of the open mouth of a lion, and there’s murder, mayhem, and a lot of fireworks. I just got to sit back and witness it all.”
Now to Joffrey’s death. It was, in the dark world of Game of Thrones, arguably the most satisfying one since Viserys Targaryen, the creepy, rapey brother of Daenerys, was crowned in molten gold by Khal Drogo.
“Joffrey is so despicable and people have such a strong reaction to him,” says Kit Harington, who plays Jon Snow. “Jack brings this certain disgusting nature to him which people really respond to; the way he’s characterized him with his mannerisms. And Jack Gleeson doesn’t behave like that—his characteristics, his mannerisms—in his real life. It’s a very European-style of acting that Jack brings to it, which is really embodying a character—character-acting—and he’s done it in such a way that people find it horrible to watch (in the best sense of the word).”
“Joffrey’s horrible,” adds Coster-Waldau. “He’s the devil incarnate. But he is still a human being, and that’s what makes it scarier. Throughout history, whenever you have a horrible dictator people want to dehumanize them, but in my opinion, we can’t forget that they’re human beings because that makes it worse. Human beings are capable of doing horrible things to each other.”
And Joffrey’s done some horrible things. He lies to his betrothed, Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner), about sparing her father Ned’s life, before ordering his head on a platter. He makes Sansa stare at Ned’s head on a spike. He massacres all the bastards in King’s Landing. He has Sansa publicly stripped and beaten. He forces a prostitute to beat another one. He contemplates having all homosexuality be punishable by death.
Last month, Turner called Justin Bieber the “Joffrey Baratheon of our time.” While the rest of the cast won’t go that far, they agree that there are few things scarier than a young kid with endless resources.
“Do not give an 18-year-old power, or too much fame or wealth, because it’s very difficult to not get messed up,” says Coster-Waldau. “I don’t want to jump on the [Justin Bieber] bandwagon, but I think it happens even more in that industry where suddenly you have so many adults around you and they’re saying ‘yes’ to everything, and it’s not healthy. It’s not a healthy thing to have too many tongues up your ass.”
The scene itself is a thing of horrible beauty. After publicly shaming his imp "uncle" Tyrion, by serving as his cupbearer and making him kneel, Joffrey ingests the poisonous substance, and mutates into a scared, suffocating child. His mother, Cersei, screams and runs over to help.
“What I love about Jack’s performance as Joffrey is, at the very end when he dies, you suddenly see that this is a really scared kid—because he is a scared kid—and you see a mother, Cersei, who’s just terrified,” says Coster-Waldau. “One of the things I love about the show is that [showrunners] David Benioff and Dan Weiss always go back to the fact that these characters are human beings. They’re defined by their rank or job title, but still human beings caught up in a really complicated, violent, dark world.”
According to Maisie Williams, who plays Arya Stark, the cast and crew of Game of Thrones doesn’t have separate parties to send off actors when their characters are killed off, but they do have a wrap party each year and “if someone dies, it’s a send-off, really.”
She’s also a big fan of the way the show handled Joffrey’s death.
“The reason why I love that scene is that finally, I think the audience will be happy when something happens on Game of Thrones,” says Williams. “If you always save the good guy it can get boring, and equally, if you always kill the good guy, that can get boring too because the audience is never getting anything that they want. And the fact that it happened in Episode 2 makes me so happy as well. We always have a finale which means it’s always one person’s year, and all the action is leading up to one big moment, but since Joffrey’s death occurs in Episode 2, the entire audience will be thinking, Oh god, what’s going to happen next? I literally beam when I just think about people watching that scene. People are going to cry for joy!”