This post will be talking about HBO’s Game of Thrones, and will be discussing plot details in regards to the most recent season with some comparisons to events in A Storm of Swords, the third book in George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire.
I … I might get a little crazy.When the fourth season of Game of Thrones started up, things weren’t looking too bad for the young king, Joffrey
To be fair, his approval rating in the Seven Kingdoms was pretty low, but he was about to marry into money, most of his enemies were dead, and he was free to torment whomever he liked. (I assume he was planning on tormenting those he didn’t like first. Joffrey probably knew how to prioritize.)
Joffrey had a flair for mixing torment, celebrating dead enemies, and getting married together in an efficient package. A dramatic flair, it seems.
At his wedding reception, after making lucky and lovely Margaery Tyrell a second-time queen, his Grace presented a jovial retelling of the War of the Five Kings, with dwarves playing the parts of various monarchs as they strutted and postured for supremacy.Before introducing the act, Joffrey called upon the crowd to recognize that the wedding of a king was a momentous occasion. It was history. And he was going to remind everyone of recent history.
Should anyone need a fresher on the re-enactment, you can read my recap below or watch the theatrical history lesson from the show:
The Play’s the Thing
- Dwarves represented the kings who (mostly in season two) had carved up the realm: Joffrey, Stannis Baratheon, Renly Baratheon, and the two secessionists Robb Stark and Balon Greyjoy.
- They capered about with some establishing character beats, like the small actor playing Robb Stark loudly yelling “I’m the King in the North” and Balon Greyjoy calling Renly a degenerate.
- Stannis clobbered Renly a bit, ending the younger brother’s brief reign.
- Robb responded to the challenge of the Greyjoys and Balon fell over, shouting “I’m drowning!” The Ironborn king was out.
- Stannis was figuratively set aflame with fake wildfire. He too was considered out.
- Joffrey and Robb Stark squared off with jousting lances. They took a few passes at each other until Joffrey knocked the wolf helmet off of Robb, figuratively decapitating the Young Wolf.
- Joffrey presented the symbolic head of Robb for the crowd. (You can substitute some ruder words for “presented” if you wish.
And that was the play. A historical account of the War of the Five Kings, according to Joffrey.
The Alternate History
Although Sansa Stark might not have enjoyed the play (especially the rudeness with which the memory Robb Stark was treated) it was interesting seeing how the sweeping political events of Westeros were reduced to broad satire. This was something that was revisited this season in Braavos, with the wonderful play that centered on the actions of the evil demon-monkey Tyrion Lannister as he schemed and plotted and murdered. (If one is to believe the playwright for this tragic-comedy.)
But the play in Braavos got *most* of the details right, if we don’t sweat those details too much (like Tyrion not actually poisoning Joffrey.) But Joffrey’s play is wrong on several counts.
Stannis of course, was still a threat to King Joffrey’s reign. After all, he went on to secure funding from the Iron Bank and was a serious threat to Bolton control of the North. (Sort of. Until that all went to pieces.) But Joffrey’s dismissal of Stannis might be forgiven since his uncle (yes yes, he’s not really his uncle) had been delivered such a decisive defeat at Blackwater Bay. The oddsmakers in King’s Landing would have labeled the chances of a Stannis comeback quite low. (And they’d be right, as it turns out.)
But Balon Greyjoy was alive and well, and ruling the Ironborn from the rebellious Iron Islands during the period that the play was being performed. While the fake Robb was assailing the kraken-riding dwarf, the real Balon’s Ironmen held strategic assets in the North, including the formidable Moat Cailin that restricted the southerners from being able to send troops into the North.
There were no reports of the northerners getting an advantage on the Greyjoys, so Robb “I’m the King in the North” Stark toppling Balon “I’m Drowning” Greyjoy in the play is wildly off-mark with reality.
Sure, it makes for a better play to get rid of Balon so the dramatic finale would be Joffrey defeating Robb, but this wasn’t the only time in the fourth season where Joffrey seemed to truly believe that Balon Greyjoy was no more.
In the premiere of the fourth season, Joffrey announced to his uncle (and secret-dad) Jaime Lannister that the War of the Five Kings was over. Jaime seems a bit confused by this, since the war couldn’t be over.
Certainly not until the Iron Islands were brought to heel. And until the Riverlands were no longer on the ragged edge of rebellion. Elsewhere, the Vale of Arryn had almost defenestrated Tyrion Lannister and were openly anti-Lannister, the North’s king was dead, but the Boltons still needed to establish control. And Stannis was still about.
It seemed a bit early for Joffrey to hang up a Mission Accomplished banner.
But let’s just focus on Balon Greyjoy, who had not been dealt with in any way by either Stark or Lannister forces.
Why was Joffrey ignoring Balon? Was Joffrey simply not aware that Balon still held the Iron Islands (and parts of the North) in defiance of the wishes of King’s Landing? Or was there something else going on?
Joffrey the Alternate Historian
A case could be made that Joffrey was not getting properly briefed from his small council, since Tywin was holding the meetings in the Tower of the Hand and Joffrey was too stubborn to leave the center of royal power to attend. (Or the young king was often sent to bed by Tywin when he did attend.)
Maybe Joffrey, in his uninformed state, got some notion that Balon was dead and no one corrected him.
King Joffrey: Hey, isn’t it great that Balon’s dead?
Osric Kettleblack: Er… uh…
Meryn Trant: It’s great news, your Grace. So should end all the usurpers and enemies of your reign.
King Joffrey: I like the cut of your jib, Ser Meryn. Kettleblack, you could learn a thing or two from this man.
Osric Kettleblack: *muttering* … in ass-kissing…
But the events of the play are not wildly off-mark, they’re just not happening yet. In the show’s future timeline, the Ironborn are cast out of the North by Northmen. Not northerners led by Robb Stark, but by the Boltons who are coordinating the counterattack against the Ironmen’s invasion. Was Joffrey seeing the future, including the eventual death of Balon Greyjoy?But Joffrey’s play makes more sense if it is considered to be a representation of the events in A Storm of Swords, the third book in the source series A Song of Ice and Fire, rather than the show’s future timeline.
(Skip ahead if you don’t want any book-spoilers, skip to the next section, but really, this is pretty weaksauce spoilers if you’ve seen the show.)
In A Storm of Swords, while Robb Stark is preparing to travel to the Twins for his uncle Edmure’s ill-fated wedding, the young king gets word that Balon Greyjoy is dead. He’d fallen from one of the rope bridges in Pyke during a storm, and drowned.
Balon: I’m drowning!
This is great news for Robb, since he knows that all of the Ironborn captains will return to Pyke to make sure that they are represented in the new regime.
Balon’s death is Robb’s opportunity to retake Moat Cailin, giving him access to the North again, and removing his nickname “the king who lost the North.”
Robb: I’m King in the North!
Robb works out a battle plan, to have Roose Boltons men feint from the south, while bringing in a larger force from the north of Moat Cailin that would be transported over water from Seagard. Because of the Ironmen convening at Pyke, the seaways would be clear and the troops guarding Moat Cailin would be a vulnerable weakened-in-force garrison.
Had that been realized, Joffrey’s play would have been scarily prophetic. As it was, it still predicted the northern overthrow of the Ironmen.
So, there is some kind of consistency in Joffrey’s errors. They’re just not reflective of the reality at that moment in the show.
Could Joffrey have read the first half of A Storm of Swords?
Weirder things have happened. I’d suggest that Joffrey might have gotten his hands on the European version of the book, which split A Storm of Swords into two parts, Part 1: Steel and Snow, and Part 2: Blood and Gold. Steel and Snow would have done the trick to fill him in on Balon’s death. It’s pretty clear he didn’t read Blood and Gold or he’d have known to skip the wine.
That would be pretty deep into Man in the High Castle territory of the show for that to happen. (Go look up details on Philip K. Dick’s alternate history science fiction novel that’s been adapted for Amazon’s streaming service.)
I mean, the Red Keep is a high castle.
But Joffrey doesn’t seem like the most avid of book readers.We know what happened right before his wedding when Tyrion gave him a rare book as a wedding gift.
So if Joffrey had not gotten a very rare copy of Maester George’s prophetic works, how could Joffrey have seen Balon’s death and the northern pushback against the Ironborn?
King Joffrey, the Prophet
Maybe Joffrey was having visions. Fine, fine. Get all that laughing out of your system now.
In the first episode of the show, if I had said that Bran Stark would be looking back into the past with pupil-less eyeballs, and frying the brains of stableboys, I’m sure there’d have been laughter too.
We have to admit that occasionally, people on the show have visions.
Bran fields the visions (mostly) for the Starks, hooked into the weirwood wi-fi network set up by the Children of the Forest. Daenerys has been shown (rather opaque and possibly meaningless) visions on the show when in the House of the Undying. But Dany’s story in the books is pretty heavy with prophecy and visions in places. If the Starks and the Targaryens can have visions under certain conditions, why not the Lannisters?
Could Joffrey have seen Balon’s death, either in the show’s future, or the concurrent timeline from the books (which would make the books a legitimate timeline, alongside the show. Just a different reality, as it were. MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE!)
Assuming that it’s the case that Joffrey is handling the shaman-responsibilities for the Lannister faction, just what is it that’s enabling these visions? The answer seems pretty obvious to me.There is power in king’s blood, and despite what people might think, Joffrey is descended from the ancient Kings of the Rock, going back to Lann the Clever who swindled the Casterlys out of their keep during the Age of Heroes. (Unless a different theory is true, and Joffrey is descended from a different set of kings. But let’s skip that for now.)
The Iron Throne is definitely an object of symbolic power and was forged via supernatural means, if dragons and their dragonfire can be considered magical. (The Warlocks of Qarth would back me up on this.)
Sitting on the Iron Throne is in some ways an ordeal, with the points and barbs of the chair seeking to shed blood. It’s highly likely that Joffrey has bled into that chair, as many of the Targaryen kings did before him.
Magic in the blood + magic chair + shamanistic ordeal + long history of Targaryen magic blood on the chair. That seems like a reasonable framework for some kind of revelatory event being possible, in a world of magic and prophetic visions.
So, why just Joffrey? What haven’t all the previous kings been psychic? Maybe they were, maybe they weren’t. I’m looking forward to reading the history of the kings of Westeros when George RR Martin publishes that as a means to avoid finishing A Dream of Spring.
But not every Stark that touches a weirwood tree gets to be the Three Eyed Raven. Maybe not every bastard blond non-Baratheon gets to have crazy notions while sitting on the Throne.I also like the idea that the Iron Throne might actually be something more than just a chair of kings. That it has more meaning in the story. When the show started, people who weren’t paying attention to the White Walker menace thought the show was all about the dynastic melee to control the sword-themed chair. Then the Night’s King raised the stakes and people felt that all of the squabbling over King’s Landing was a waste of time. But what if the Iron Throne is crucial to stopping the Night’s King?
We know that Bran and weirwoods might play a role. Maybe the Throne could be a complementary part in that.
Okay, Maybe I’m being a bit too crazy. Obviously, the show writers are not implying that Joffrey had mystical powers, and I am pretty sure that the Iron Throne is just a chunk of metal that might be representative of secular power, and probably not an object with supernatural power.
The War of the Five Kings that Joffrey presented was just a farcical satire, and it isn’t supposed to mean anything that Balon was killed in the play but was still alive on the show.
But, lets admit that it’s crazy fun to build up these kind of whacky scenarios. Just like my friends who run the Joffrey of Podcasts podcast, who insist that Joffrey faked his death to root out the evil usurpers and will emerge as the ultimate hero near the end of the saga.
If Joffrey does re-emerge with amazing supernatural powers, that would be very interesting. More interesting than just the show runners not obsessively thinking out all the weird permutations like people like me do. People who have little else to do than construct wild theories.
More interesting, but wildly unlikely.Okay, it has only been a month since the season finale. Not having any Game of Thrones to watch is almost as bad an ordeal as sitting on the Iron Throne. Anyone having any visions of the future of Westeros? You know I want to hear about it.
(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.)
Most images from HBO’s Game of Thrones (obviously.) The image of Metron (of DC’s New Gods) chilling out on his Mobius Chair is from DC Comics.
I make no claims to the artwork, but some claims to the text.
If you liked this article, thank you! I have all of my Game of Thrones related articles on my handy-dandy Game of Thrones page should you want to read more but don’t want to navigate around my site.
© Patrick Sponaugle 2016 Some Rights Reserved