Editorial Season 4

Anatomy of a Throne: “The Lion and the Rose”

HBO’s Game of Thrones brandishes a consistent and high degree of fidelity to the nearly 5,000-page-long source material of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire novels, but there still, of course, are differences. While most of these gaps from the page to the screen are small and detail-oriented, it is nonetheless the case that the most subtle discrepancies often hold the biggest insight into the adaptation process, into the demands of filmmaking, and into the rigors of the literary narrative.

This, then, is the anatomy of a key scene of Thrones – not because of its dramatic importance or visual effects whizbangery, but because of the telling nature of its realization.

Episode: “The Lion and the Rose” (402)
Scene: King Joffrey’s death

In George R.R. Martin’s insanely labyrinthine A Song of Ice and Fire, certain scenes are remarkably straightforward in conceptualization and execution both, while others only fully develop far later on in the novel (or, even, later on in the series). A Storm of Swords, the third installment in the saga, is particularly guilty of containing both types, and the death of King Joffrey Baratheon, unfortunately for the purposes of this column, falls into the latter classification: only after his murderer has been unmasked and a number of other threads – such as, say, Ser Dontos Hollard’s role in the plan – have been resolved can one truly step back and appreciate the complexities of the plot twist and the challenges inherent in bringing it to the small screen.

While this makes comparing the finished television episode with its literary counterpart exceedingly difficult at this point in time (perhaps a reassessment will be needed at the completion of the season), there is still the death itself, which is, of course, the centerpiece of the entire sequence. In the book, as soon as Joffrey’s coughing fit is revealed to be him choking – it is Queen Margaery Baratheon who first makes the observation, with her grandmother, the Queen of Thorns, screaming, “Dolts! Will you all stand about gaping? Help your king!” – his Kingsguard swarm him, with one pounding him on the back (the medieval version of the Heimlich) and another ripping open his collar. From there, the scene gets progressively, exponentially more terrible:

A fearful high thin sound emerged from the boy’s throat, the sound of a man trying to suck a river through a reed; then it stopped, and that was more terrible still. “Turn him over!” Mace Tyrell bellowed at everyone and no one. “Turn him over, shake him by his heels!” A different voice was calling, “Water – give him some water!” The High Septon began to pray loudly. Grand Maester Pycelle shouted for someone to help him back to his chambers, to fetch his potions. Joffrey began to claw at his throat, his nails tearing bloody gouges in the flesh. Beneath the skin, the muscles stood out hard as stone. Prince Tommen was screaming and crying.

As his face grows darker, Ser Meryn Trant pries Joff’s mouth open to jam a spoon down his throat. The only effect it has is a dry, clacking noise – and that’s only because the king tries to speak, lifting a hand to either reach for or point to his uncle, Tyrion Lannister. The dwarf, in a state of zen-like shock, goes over to inspect the wedding chalice despite the rational part of his brain screaming at him to get out of there, pouring its remaining half-inch of deep purple wine out onto the floor.

There are two takeaways from Martin’s deeply effective prose. The first is the raw emotion that permeates the action, the terror and suffering and confusion that first afflicts Joffrey and then radiates out to everyone else around him. While there is no doubt that Joff has retribution coming his way, Martin is also expressly toying with the notion that perhaps no living being ultimately deserves to undergo such a painful experience; not even the most vividly black-and-white character can escape the author’s world of endless greys or the compassion of an objective observer.

The second is the sheer pandemonium that Martin has enveloping the dying king. The wedding guests all try to stampede out of the chamber (in the book, the wedding reception takes place within the throne room) at once, resulting in some of them “weeping, some stumbling and retching, [and] others white with fear.” Fights break out, bodies get trampled underfoot, and the City Watch attempts to intervene. Up on the dias, Margaery sobs while her mother tells her it wasn’t her fault. And Queen Regent Cersei Baratheon, in a torn and stained gown, sitting in a puddle of wine, screams like an animal at her son’s death before rounding on Tyrion and demanding that both he and his wife, the lady Sansa, be arrested for the crime. (It takes a little bit of time, of course, for everyone to realize that Sansa has already been whisked away.)

Much of these effects are removed from “The Lion and the Rose,” leaving behind a laser-tight focus on the (more contained) actions of a comparatively small group of characters – as has been the show’s wont since the very first episode. There are several immediate reasons for such an alteration: the constraints of time and money; the necessity of a leaner, meaner throughline, even within large set pieces; the inclusion of several more perspectives in any given scene, such as, in this instance, Lord Tywin Lannister (who is only a minor character in the novels and, thus, warrants no POV) or Ser Jaime Lannister (who isn’t present in the original scene). But perhaps the biggest impetus here is the simple ability for such a prolonged bit to become unintentionally comical or otherwise over the top (one has visions of Monty Python re-enacting the scene as described above, to great effect).

Then there’s the emotional resonance of the scene itself, which is one of the biggest influencers of how material is produced in any filmic enterprise, adaptation or no. The so-called Purple Wedding (which seems to be a moniker that originated at Tower of the Hand) is, in this sense, the exact inverse of last season’s Red Wedding, and that’s exactly how it was shot: a relative lack of background action (yes, even despite the tramplings) and a general subduing of the foreground drama’s graphicness – which, in the case of Game of Thrones, means no expansion of violence to include the likes of Queen Talisa Stark and her unborn child. As much as showrunners Dan Weiss and David Benioff are accused of gratuitousness and, even, crassness, they have demonstrated a remarkable ability to downplay at key moments over the years.

And, of course, it is not as if Joffrey’s demise on-screen, subdued or no, is lacking in graphic depiction or emotional intensity.

Previous Installments

Episode 201: “The North Remembers”
Episode 203: “What Is Dead May Never Die”
Episode 207: “A Man without Honor”
Episode 209: “Blackwater”
Episode 210: “Valar Morghulis”
Episode 304: “And Now His Watch Is Ended”
Episode 305: “Kissed by Fire”
Episode 309: “The Rains of Castamere”
Episode 401: “Two Swords”

Marc N. Kleinhenz is the features editor for Tower of the Hand and the author of It Is Known: An Analysis of Thrones, an ebook companion to Game of Thrones. He has written for The Huffington Post, co-created and-hosted two podcasts, and has even taught English in Japan.


  • Sothoryos! Nice analysis and refresher of the scene from the book. The show still got the point across with less chaos.

  • I personally found it amusing that they had what seemed like (many) intentional teases of the choking for book readers. I kept thinking “THIS IS IT” and then he was either just laughing or just had a legitimate cough at the time.

  • I thought the scene was extremely well done. The only thing I missed was him clawing at his throat. Doesn’t seem like it would’ve been hard to work that in but I’m sure they had their reasons for leaving it out. Either way I thought it was great, just like everything else related to the show!

  • Nice analysis. I really liked this scene in the visual medium as a who-dunnit. In the books, it’s quite hard for grrm to convey who is where doing what at the critical time. The HBO team obviously spent a lot of time thinking about certain camera angles as to add depth to the poisoning mystery

    I’ve done a screenshot analysis of the poisoning if anyone’s interested…. some clues that might have been missed.


  • This is probably my favorite of the new features on this site since the switch over to fansided. Thanks Marc.

  • Thx again, Marc. Although the PW was a classic event in GoT (well shot and well delivered), the desperate bloody clawing at the throat with the utter crowd chaos in the background would have been crazy. But you’re correct, it could have devolved into a silly Pythonesque scene. Glad it didn’t. It had good shock value, but there was sympathy as well as we helplessly witnessed a child dying.

    I loved the cake-slicing scene. A damn good shot of the dead pidgeon. Uggh! More cake please! It set up the next sequence perfectly.

    I thought a bit more could have been done with Sansa. She’s such a marionette in the show!

    Oh well, quite an enjoyable rehash and episode.

  • It wouldn’t look realistic if he was clawing his own flesh open, the same with Catelyn in the Red Wedding, this is game of thrones, not saw

    I found the image of Jaime and Cersei holding Joffrey to be the hardest hitting part, I totally shed a tear

  • serum:
    I thought the scene was extremely well done.The only thing I missed was him clawing at his throat.Doesn’t seem like it would’ve been hard to work that in but I’m sure they had their reasons for leaving it out.Either way I thought it was great, just like everything else related to the show!

    It sounds great on paper but, much like the clawing of the face at the Red Wedding, is probably unnecessary in a visual medium. It’s about the eyes. The facial expression. Having someone claw themselves takes away from where the camera wants you to look.

  • Death of Joffrey didnt have the shocking effect like Ned Starks death because the show has become so popular the book readers spoiled the TV watchers long before this season.

    I too go on YT related GOT videos and drop spoilers (r+l=j) to the unsullied.

    If i had to read AFFC i want them to read it tooo and share my suffering.

  • Plains of Jogos Nhai!

    Can anyone put up a screenshot with Sansa’s missing gem from the necklace after QoT handled it?

  • I found it interesting that they left out the revelation that Joffrey sent the assassin to kill Bran in season one. Obviously they did a great job showcasing his psychopathy the entire episode but his actions at the wedding seem trivial compared to that.

  • I don’t agree with a lot of the critiques Westeros.org has of the show but one thing I wholeheartedly agree with is how dis-satisfied they are with Cersei. Her TV counterpart is far more of an ice queen than she is in the books and there’s zero hint of the explosive lunatic she eventually becomes. The only proper examples of book Cersei are the scene where Robert hits her in season 1 & her scenes in Blackwater. Very little of this is Lena Headey’s fault. Like Catelyn, I think she’s perfect for the role but is being hamstrung by poor adaption. I had hoped they were toning her down so it would make a better contrast for when she goes completely off the rails after the Purple Wedding. Given how muted her reaction to Joffrey’s death was, that hope is very quickly approaching zero. It’s kind of ironic that they’ve managed to totally screw up 2 sides of the same coin in Catelyn & Cersei. One can only hope they get things back on track with Stoneheart & Cersei’s brief reign.

  • Tywin’s Bastard,

    I meant “minor” technically, as in he’s not a POV character. It’s much the same — ironically enough — in the TV world, where only actors who have their names listed in the opening credits are considered to be major (or main) characters.



  • The Dragon Demands,

    When I first started writing at Tower of the Hand a good three years ago, I remember reading through the comments of one of the articles and seeing one user refer to “the Purple Wedding.” None of us knew what the hell he was talking about, and another member ended up questioning him on it. “That’s just what I call Joffrey’s wedding,” he explained. “To, y’know, go with the Red Wedding.” I never knew that it was an internet-wide thing until just recently.

    I wish I could remember his name!


  • House Baggins,

    This is the main element that I’m waiting on! The analysis of the adaptation process can’t be complete until we see how this particular strand will play out in the series — and I’m *dying* to write that article.

    My initial reaction was that Benioff and Weiss have opted to completely excise that particular revelation/story beat, but one never knows; there was a reason why they didn’t make Ser Loras Tyrell a member of Joffrey’s Kingsguard — it just took us several episodes to find out what it was.

    We’ll just have to see, I suppose.


  • GG,

    Yeah, I hate it that the show made Cersei an actual person instead of a 1 dimensional lunatic.

  • Marc N. Kleinhenz,

    I think they will have to leave it out because the only person who knew about it is now dead. The “I’m no stranger to Valyrian steel” clue at the pre-wedding breakfast and the follow-up questions by Tyrion are the only time it comes up, I believe.

  • Tyrion Pimpslap,

    In the books, she’s not a one dimensional lunatic. She only goes uber-crazy after Joffrey died. And even then, she has plenty of character development(I suspect that GRRM made her a POV specifically to avoid her coming off as a one dimensional lunatic). There’s no fire in her in the show. She’s just a cold, bitter b***h. That is not the Cersei in the books. You can’t deny that she’s a lot more demure at the Purple Wedding in the TV show than she was in the book.

  • Tyrion Pimpslap,

    That was not Lenas best performance, its almost laughable how she screams.
    Im sorry, but this was weak. Lena is a good actress but book Cersei has she-power, Lena does just convey paranoid fear.

  • House Mormont,

    You know, I actually felt bad for Cersei because as evil as he was, Joffrey was still her son. As a mother I know just how deep that kind of love runs. But what surprised me was that I was actually thinking of Jaime. I mean, I expected him to rush to Joffrey’s side because he’s the Lord Commander of the Kingsguard but I was thinking, “Oh he never really knew Joffrey and he’ll never be able to influence him in a positive way now, how sad”. So, yeah, I was thinking of Joff’s parents but as much about Jaime’s loss as I was for Cersei’s loss. Ultimately, I was happy Joff was dead but it was an ugly way for such a young person….actually anyone….to go.

  • There was this half a second scene where they film joffrey from behind lying on his stomach while Jamie and Cercei holding him that i found really sad, sticks to me in a bad way. don´t know why

  • Thanks for that analysis, well done!

    The queen’s anguished cries at the death of her son, mirror Cat’s screams. The RW was only a few episodes ago. The queen learned what it’s like to lose what she loves, as Joffrey turned a lovely shade of purple.

    Do we need the stampede and bloody neck, or do we focus on the madness of Queen Cersei? Lena’s portrayal is better than the book! She nails every scene she’s in…

  • I reread this chapter multiple times over the past few months. The anticipation was immense! And it did not disappoint. Keeping both viewers & readers on the edge of their seats. The way they handled the mechanics of it all was beautifully subtle.

    My only complaint was the lack of Penny. But I’m sure we’ll get to that (hopefully).

  • Greg,

    My mother taught me that the twin virtues of patience and politeness will always get you far in life (such as landing new writing gigs).

    I’ve been in the middle of convening a giant pow-wow of what can essentially be called the brain trust of the Song of Ice and Fire community — the owners of Tower of the Hand, A Podcast of Ice and Fire, Race for the Iron Throne, All Leather Must Be Boiled, and the Nerdstream Era. I’m just waiting on a response from Elio Garcia and/or George Martin himself.

    What complicates this process is that pesky thing called life — a number of us have work deadlines and children to contend with. Things take time.

    When I have an answer, you will, too.


  • All right! Here’s the answer straight from George R.R. Martin, which I literally just received a few minutes ago in my inbox:

    “Well, actually, royals seldom actually bother with surnames, in Westeros or in the real world.

    “We speak of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles, not Elizabeth and Charles Windsor.”

    So… I guess I’ll just be referring to them as Queen Cersei and Queen Margaery from now on. =)


  • Marc N. Kleinhenz,

    Marc N. Kleinhenz:

    “We speak of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles, not Elizabeth and Charles Windsor.”

    Probably many think why Prince Charles is a Windsor when his father is a Mountbatten. Queen dowager Mary (queen’s Elizabeth’s grandmother) and prime minister Churchill insisted queen to remain a Windsor not Mountbatten despite the insistence of her husband her husband’s uncles (especially of former Viceroy of India. In fact Elizabeth publicated a proclamation declaring that the royal house was to remain known as the House of Windsor.In 1960 duke Philip said even: “I am nothing but a bloody amoeba. I am the only man in the country not allowed to give his name to his own children.” But after death of her grandmother and Churchill no longer prime minister on 8 February 1960, several years after the death of Queen Mary and the resignation of Churchill the Queen issued an Order in Council declaring that the surname of male-line descendants of the Duke and the Queen who are not styled as Royal Highness, or titled as Prince or Princess, was to be Mountbatten-Windsor.

  • […] Episode 201: “The North Remembers” Episode 203: “What Is Dead May Never Die” Episode 207: “A Man without Honor” Episode 209: “Blackwater” Episode 210: “Valar Morghulis” Episode 304: “And Now His Watch Is Ended” Episode 305: “Kissed by Fire”Episode 309: “The Rains of Castamere” Episode 401: “Two Swords” Episode 402: “The Lion and the Rose” […]