This post will be discussing elements from HBO’s Game of Thrones. Should you not be caught up with the show, I can’t be held responsible for spoilers if you keep reading.
King Joffrey Baratheon, first of his name, king of the First Men, and the Andals [, and the Rhoynar -this always gets dropped on the show], a name that will live in Game of Thrones infamy.
In season four, when King Joffrey was poisoned at his wedding…
… in season four, when King Joffrey possibly choked to death at his wedding, totally unexpectedly and without malice that would implicate anyone from Highgarden…
… it was so satisfying. The audience had been wishing for Joffrey to meet his end for seasons and seasons. He’d had noble Ned beheaded after all!
The show runners had hoped, in the spirit of having a deeper and more poignant story, that Joffrey’s agonizing demise while being cradled in his helpless and distraught mother’s arms, would have elicited even a smidgeon of sympathy for the boy-king. After all, it’s a terrible situation for a mother to watch her son asphyxiate.
They miscalculated the audience’s inability to connect emotionally with Joffrey and Cersei.
I mean, really? I can understand in some abstract way that Cersei is suffering a loss, but it’s Joffrey. Ugh. Even Cersei was okay with Tyrion accusing her son of having children killed. (The jury is still out on who that culprit was…)
Although Joffrey was nearly universally hated (the guys who host the excellent The Joffrey of Podcasts would disagree about the hate) he brought a certain je ne sais quoi to the show. Don’t be scared that I’m using French. I’m trying to say that his presence on the show was a good thing, but hard to quantify.
Maybe I’m just inflating my solo opinion as if it’s shared by multitudes, but I believe the audience is now missing Joffrey as the show’s villainous poster child.
There’s a Joffrey-sized hole.
Except for a few occasions, Joffrey was entertaining to observe. Jack Gleeson was great at playing the part of the entitled, spoiled Joffrey; who by turns was volatile and scary but also pathetic and comical.
With Joffrey gone (along with the exit of his grandfather, Tywin) the show acquired a villain vacuum. Whom were we going to root against?
Rat Bastard Ramsay Bolton
Up in the far, cold north, Ramsay nee-Snow emerged as a successor of sorts to Joffrey. And unfortunately was a much worse character.
By worse, I mean he was much more successful than Joffrey seemed to be at getting the evil done. He was extra-unpleasant.
- Joffrey ordered Ned Stark killed which put Robb Stark in power, but Ramsay sacked Winterfell, killing innocent northerners and weakening support for the young King in the North.
- Joffrey debated with his mother about controlling the North. “It’s too large,” Cersei told Joffrey. Ramsay might not be totally in control of the North, but he’s been having success flaying recalcitrant northern lords for taxes. Really flaying whomever he wants. (Well, Dad Bolton did put some limits on that.)
- Joffrey hid from the fighting when Stannis attacked King’s Landing, but Ramsay personally devastated Stannis’ supplies and his army.
- Joffrey was betrothed to Sansa Stark. Ramsay … I’ll just stop there.
Iwan Rheon is great as the dangerous and unhinged Ramsay Bolton, but nearly every scene he’s in is grisly and terrifying. It’s uncomfortable watching him, as opposed to the fascination of watching Joffrey.
This elevation of Ramsay as a major antagonist was one of the reasons that people complained about Season 5. Joffrey was king and the king could do as he liked, but often there would be negative consequences for his actions.
To be fair, usually the consequences didn’t directly affect Joffrey. Executing Ned, for example, was obviously a huge political problem but the young king would not have agreed that he’d acted in error. He hadn’t gotten slapped for that.
But in the end, his attitude and behavior contributed to his death…
… by mysterious karmic forces!
Joffrey was shown to have access to great power. He was king after all, but he was otherwise weak and not very smart. Sansa got some mileage out of carefully manipulating him, and even sassing him at times.
Ramsay, on the other hand, is another story.
Ramsay the Mary Sue
Ramsay is a bit too competent. I mentioned him being a point of complaint for season 5, and it wasn’t because the Bolton monster was awful and vile per se, it was because he was unreasonably successful. It seemed like the writers loved him so much that, just like a cliched Mary Sue character, he could not fail.
This is an aspect of Ramsay that has been present ever since he’d been introduced.
- Ramsay wanted to play a major prank on Theon. To gain Theon’s trust, he killed four of his own men who had been sent out to track down the fugitive Greyjoy. He killed them all by himself. Ramsay must have been extremely confident that he would succeed.
- Ramsay was so skilled at psychological conditioning, he broke Theon with such precision that Reek could be trusted to shave Ramsay with a razor while Ramsay goaded him.
- The Ironborn were attacking! Would it be a good idea to wear armor when fighting them? Ramsay didn’t think so. He waded in bare-chested, cutting through elite (and armored) fighters from the Iron Islands. I’m pretty sure those Viking-analogues were normally skilled in taking on people who lacked adequate protection. Otherwise all those villages would have gone unsacked.
- Ramsay and “twenty good men” snuck into the camp of an experienced field commander, and with precise pyrotechnic strikes (synchronized with timers?) they eliminated food supplies and siege weaponry. That somewhat seems impossible.
I don’t mind some of this. Ramsay’s brainwashing of Theon makes for an interesting story, but the other Ramsay-centric points not only make him seem unrealistically exemplary, it makes the Ironborn and Stannis seem ridiculous.
Remember Yara Greyjoy’s raid on the Dreadfort? The attempt to rescue Theon? The main talking point of discussion afterwards by the viewers was not how much of a wretch that Theon had become, but how much his sister Yara was afraid of dogs or something. (That’s not why the Ironborn aborted the mission. Seriously.)
As well, Stannis and his men seemed to be wallowing in the depths of incompetence in regards to protecting their food from attack. Just how did Ramsay pull that off?
Ramsay: Oi, you’re the twenty good men my father has granted me?
Bolton Goon: Can’t fully agree, m’lord. None of us are what anyone would call “good.”
Ramsay: Perfect. Alright, here’s the plan. We ride for Stannis’ camp, sneak in, and set fire to all of his food and siege weaponry.
Bolton Goon: What? No we don’t. They’d catch us, and then eat us, most like.
Ramsay: No, we will sneak in to Stannis’ camp, set fire to all of this food and siege weaponry, and escape unseen and uneaten.
Bolton Goon: Har. How we do that?
Ramsay: With these invisibility cloaks and thermite charges! Didn’t my father tell you ladies that I’m a wizard as well? I was best boy at Hogwarts, representing House Slytherin!
Bolton Goon: Well, that just don’t seem rightly cricket, but we’ll do as you say.
It just seems a bit too much.
On the bright side…
Fortunately, there are a ton of other villains to root against besides Ramsay, if we’re uncomfortable with him.
If Ramsay is the new Joffrey, then Roose Bolton is the new Tywin. And Joffrey was killed off unexpectedly, so maybe Ramsay’s disproportionate luck will run out, and he’ll end up feeding the crows.
Roose Bolton could step up as primary bad guy. He’s a reasonably compelling villain.
He’s been successful at evil, but not unrealistically successful, so he’s earned it. Along with some other devious skeevy types.
We also have that rat-faced Walder Frey who needs some divine retribution for the violation of guest-rites. No one likes that guy. But he just doesn’t seem impressive enough to be the number one bad guy.
We also have the king of the Others and his undead army to worry about.
Although he’s a bit too elemental and impersonal at the moment. It’s like having a weather event be the villain.
If we’re at a loss for people to root against, there’s always this kid.
But I’ve gone on record as feeling sorry for the little tyke.
So Joffrey is gone, and he’ll be missed, but the show has provided the audience with plenty of replacement villains to root against. Ramsay might be the most awful, but if we’re lucky, something really, really, really bad will happen to him.
Like really bad.
Of course, the worst thing for us viewers would be if Ramsay was given some kind of redemptive arc. We all remember how we were comfortable hating on Jaime. Then boom. Now we love that Bran-pushing sister-lover.
Maybe I shouldn’t be mentioning these things. GRRM, please don’t give Ramsay Bolton a redemptive arc. Damn, I shouldn’t have said that either. I don’t want him to take that up as a challenge or something.
Hey! Let’s hear what you have to say. With Joffrey dead, who is now the worstest?
(Comments are always welcome. Super welcome! But if you want to talk spoilery Game of Thrones talk with me (also welcome) I’d invite you to visit my Safe Spoilers page on my backup blog. That way my non-book-reading friends won’t be shocked with foreknowledge.)
Images from HBO’s Game of Thrones (obviously.)
I make no claims to the artwork, but some claims to the text. So there.
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