Is Joffrey even more hatable on television?

Joffrey Game of Thrones Jack Gleeson

Each week, readers Bob and Ivey discuss ‘Game of Thrones’ from the perspective of those who have read the books. This week we compare book Joffrey and TV Joffrey. Spoilerphobes beware!


Game of Thrones‘ second episode, “Dark Wings, Dark Words” is now in the books. Fans that were wondering what was going on with Arya, Bran, Osha, Jaime and Brienne now have all of the answers (Hey! No one said anything about actually understanding what was going on with them). One thing we do know for sure: Isaac Hempstead-Wright and Maise Williams sure did grow up in the several month break from filming.

This year the differences between several of the characters’ book versions and screen versions have become more pronounced.
In our ongoing column Beyond the Wall, one of the things that Bob and I have emphasized throughout the book series’ adaptation into a television show is how much — for the most part — we appreciate the differences between the two mediums. Mostly we have talked about plot differences: how one little change early in the series could have a ripple effect through the rest of the story. One thing that we haven’t focused on too much is the differences in individual characters — other than the fact that Ivey wouldn’t shut up about Margaery Tyrell last season. This year however, the differences between several of the characters’ book versions and screen versions have become more pronounced. This week we’re going to take a deeper look at the character of Joffrey Lann … Baratheon (gold of hair), and how Jack Gleeson’s on-screen character might be even more of a psychopath than George R. R. Martin’s original vision.

First, a reminder of our Spoiler Warning. Beyond the Wall is a column that explores HBO’s Game of Thrones from the perspective of those who have already read Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series of novels. So if you don’t know why Jojen and Meera Reed’s father is rather important, then Beyond the Wall isn’t for you.

Ivey: We’re not exactly supposed to be fans of Joffrey, are we? He’s not the series’ most diabolically evil character — a title I think a certain bastard wins hands down — but he’s right up there. At least when Jaime Lannister tossed Bran Stark out a window, he did it to protect his sister, his children … his entire family really. When Joffrey paid some nobody to finish off Bran, he did it to impress his father. To me, that’s one of the worst acts the character does in the entire series — including his abuse of Sansa.

But there’s something different in the way the show’s Joffrey is portrayed. The book version was full of bravado, but was actually cowardly and stupid … but the screen version seems to be “off.” His obsession with death is much more pronounced — that was the head of the boar that killed his father hanging in his room. And Margaery, in her attempts to seduce the king, found the way to his heart: romanticizing — perhaps even sexuallizing — the act of killing a living thing.

Bob: I don’t think “sexualizing” is overstating things. The way those two were pawing at that crossbow was a little less than subtle. I think it was a great example of how Margaery is willing to do just about anything to become queen.

I totally agree with you, though, that the TV version of Joff seems even more sadistic than the book version. It began last season with his little gift from his uncle — the two whores that he humiliated and abused. It was incredibly disturbing behavior that we didn’t see from the book version of the young man. I believe that we’re seeing it go deeper now. I didn’t pick up that the boar on the wall was the one that killed Robert — that really brings it to a new level of creepy, doesn’t it?

I can understand that the writers want us to really despise Joffrey, and it doesn’t take a whole lot to do that. He really is the main villain at this part of the story. I think a little bit of the change has to do with taking out some of the interactions between the young King and Cersei. I think in the books she was with him a lot more, overseeing things, even making him appear more childlike than he was. In the series he has made sure to distance himself from her, and I think the result has been an even crueler and more demented King.

Ivey: The show version of Margaery has done a nice — though less than subtle — job of driving a wedge between the Joff and his mother (I could go on about how much I like Marg, but I think I’ve done that enough in the past). How he acts in the show constantly reminds me of a quote about a different line of inbred regents, the Targaryens: “Madness and greatness were two sides of the same coin and every time a new Targaryen was born, the gods would toss the coin in the air and the world would hold its breath to see how it would land.” We definitely know how Joffrey’s coin landed.

The abuse of Ros and her companion last season reminds me of one of the A Song of Ice and Fire theories I read at the series’ page on That Martin has layered his novels with such trivial potential character moments is one of my favorite things about his work. The theory suggests that in their youth, Joffrey had abused his younger brother Tommen. That the abuse occurred is fairly straightforward: “[Jaime says], ‘The world is full of horrors, Tommen. You can fight them, or laugh at them, or look without seeing … go away inside.’ Tommen considered that. ‘I … I used to go away inside sometimes,’ he confessed, ‘when Joffy…’” The theory suggests, however, that the abuse might have been sexual in nature, as the idea of “going inside oneself” is supposedly a common defense mechanism.

In any case, Joff is one sick puppy, and I think he’s even sicker on TV than he is in the novels. Here’s hoping he gets married real soon, because I can’t wait to see the reception!
Not the strongest of theories, but like I said: I appreciate these small characterizations that Martin injects without being overt. The idea makes even more sense in the context of how Joff is portrayed on the show.

Bob: Yeah, I don’t know that I would read that passage and jump to the conclusion that there was sexual abuse, but I can admit that it’s a possibility. Heck, everything we’ve seen on the show leads me to believe that Joff is as asexual as Sheldon Cooper; his brain is wired for pain and power trips, not loving. Even with the whores last season we didn’t see anything sexual, just a disturbing power trip.

In any case, Joff is one sick puppy, and I think he’s even sicker on TV than he is in the novels. Here’s hoping he gets married real soon, because I can’t wait to see the reception!

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Photo Credit: Helen Sloan/HBO

2 Comments on “Is Joffrey even more hatable on television?

  1. Ummm… I think you guys are forgetting a lot of Joffrey’s backstory. He was most definitely a sadistic, death-obsessed little f*ck in the books! Are you forgetting his little brother’s pet cat when they were younger? It got pregnant and Joffrey sliced open it’s pregnant tummy to see the babies, taunting his sensitive little brother with the dead cat and its dead babies. Sounds pretty messed up to me! There are hints that he engaged in this sort of behaviour pretty frequently too. I think the show is just employing the same technique it used with Renly and his sexual proclivities – making what is only hinted at in the book very obvious. In fact, the show played down how frequently and savagely Joffrey had his guards beat Sansa. I think he is perfectly realised on the screen.

  2. Ha – wait until tonight – it’ll get even worse …