This Sunday, 114 million global HBO subscribers and roughly 250 million web-savvy HBO non-subscribers will join hands and avail themselves of the fourth-season premiere of Game of Thrones, a quasi-medieval Prestige Cable Network Battle of the T's and A's with way more T's, A's, leering ultraviolence, peripheral characters whose plot functions let alone names I will never remember, and childish nihilism. I will be watching as well, grudgingly, as I've just absolutely had it with at least three of those five core ingredients; the lurid close-up of a pregnant lady receiving multiple stab wounds pretty much did it for me. But hang in I shall, for I intend to see King Joffrey get brutally murdered.
Immediate caveat: I have not read the books, in part because there are too many of them, in part because they appear to be written by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young superimposed on top of one another. I had a major imminent plot point spoiled for me by a bestseller-chart capsule description in the New York Times Sunday Book Review (side note: Fuck the New York Times Sunday Book Review), but beyond that, I got no idea what happens to anybody, and who cares. I just want to see King Joffrey get brutally murdered. (Note: There may be spoilers in the comments below, so proceed with caution. The system works!)
Does that make him the show's best or worst character? Is writing someone so sniveling, sadistic, and cartoonishly evil—he's basically an Aryan Asshole Voltron of Draco Malfoy, Justin Bieber, Billy Zabka, Julian Assange, Macklemore, and Wayne from The Wonder Years—laughably easy, or a refreshingly blunt tonic to modern Event Television's eyeroll-inducing obsession with shades-of-gray antiheroes? King Joffrey is the sort of dude who inspires a YouTube compilation of scenes where someone slaps him, a regular occurrence that works better as fan service and emotional catharsis (especially when the slapper is Peter Dinklage, which it usually is) than the copious nudity and/or gore. Yes, even including the time a pissed-off guy cut a horse in half, or when two naked, cavorting ladies were shrewdly deployed to take the edge off Lord Mayor Carcetti's five-minute-long, undigested, character-motivation-overexplaining monologue, the latter phenomenon brilliantly a/k/a "sexposition."
This is a deeply silly show, otherwise awash in the eyeroll-antihero thing, two of the three seasons thus far climaxing with the shocking, brutal death of one (or several!) of the nominal Good Guys. Yeah, alright, We Get It. My good friend, an admiring fan, notes that the show's ethos is stolen directly from Conan the Barbarian; it's basically The Princess Bride as directed by Lars von Trier. Conspicuously sumptuous (with an all-timer of a theme song, basically a full mega-badass Mastadon concept album distilled to a sci-fi symphonic 1:41), but also grim, joyless, anarchic, gleefully unpleasant, comically labyrinthine. One character spent the whole third season being tortured, in scene after scene after scene after scene after scene; even the Dragon Lady, her impressive cultural saturation notwithstanding (rappers love her), is stuck in an endless loop of a) Dragon Lady goes to a new town, b) Dragon Lady hangs around for awhile looking doleful, c) huh, Dragon Lady may be in real trouble, d) nah, it's cool, the dragons kicked everyone's asses. It would seem as though the White Walkers have been walking now for a really long fucking time. And so on.
Joffrey's relentless sneering and sniveling and serial crossbow-brandishing should only add to this misery—his deal with the two prostitutes was easily the show's ugliest scene until that other thing happened—but he's so epochally loathsome at this point that somehow the only logical reaction is delight. He is Nickelback, he is the Lost finale, he is Citizens United, he is the winter of 2013/14, he is the hashtag #misandry, he is a Goldman Sachs Christmas bonus, he is yet another Cardinals-Red Sox World Series incarnate. Upon revisiting, this is a genuinely great scene: his panoply of evil, childlike smiles; the permanent wince of every other character in the room; the over-the-top hostility of all his dialogue ("Command him to send Robb Stark's head, I'm going to serve it to Sansa at my wedding feast"; "Everyone is mine to torment!"; "I could have your TONGUE! OUT!"). It's like that Twilight Zone episode where everyone has to placate the cruel, petulant, all-powerful little kid. The delivery of "I'm NOT! TIRED!" alone should've won this dude an Emmy.
That Joffrey is played by the cuddly, celebrity-culture-decrying, profoundly well-adjusted Jack Gleeson only adds to the charming charmlessness. Even something so simple as the way he sits on the Iron Throne ...
... is a marvel of posture-as-malevolence that blows away the show's otherwise intolerable glut of posturing malevolence. Gleeson has already threatened to retire from acting after his Game of Thrones run is over and do something actually beneficial to society instead; alternately, he could teach seminars on how to sit in a chair like an insufferable prick. He could teach seminars on how to be so hateful that he's the only thing on an otherwise eminently hateable show worth loving. He is the yellowest king. You've got to hand it to him, and by "it," I mean "his ass."
Verily, it is time for King Joffrey to die. It is hard to imagine how this could be accomplished in a manner as vicious and gratuitous and (thus) gratifying as the three-seasons-long-and-counting setup deserves, but one thing this show does not lack is that capacity for imagination. If/when it happens, I will feel bad re: how good it makes me feel. Anyone who inspires that much enmity deserves an equal respect that won't die with him.
Image by Jim Cooke, photo via HBO.
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