Whodunnit? Olenna Tyrell and the Usual Suspects

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Who is responsible for the Purple Wedding? © HBO

Warning: Fourth Season TV SPOILERS – Possible Spoilers from Tonight’s Episode The A  Song of Ice and Fire novels still have not revealed definitively who killed Joffrey. Recently, Rolling Stone ran a teaser promoting a longer interview with George RR Martin in which the great one replied to the question we all want to know: “Who killed Joffrey?” grrm-who-killed-joffrey Note George RR Martin’s key words: “I make no promises, because I have two more books to write, and I may have more surprises to reveal.” In other words, we’re supposed to think Olenna Tyrell – aka the “Queen of Thorns” —  killed Joffrey, but that may not – or probably won’t – be the case. George RR Martin loves nothing more than a twist. After all, this is the writer who gave us the Red Wedding – and who killed Ned Stark. Moreover, George RR Martin is a massive history buff – a veritable medievalist – who does not write historical fiction because he want people to be able to check Wikipedia to find out what will happen. In other words, if you are thinking you know who killed Joffrey, think again. Here are the usual suspects:

Tyrion

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© HBO

The uncle who recognized Joffrey for the sadist he was and tried to protect his subjects – and his fiancé Sansa – from him. Motivation? Joffrey and Tyrion had long butted heads, and Joffrey ordered the Kingsgaurd to kill him at the Battle of the Blackwater. Just before Joffrey’s death, the young king repeatedly – and publicly — humiliated his uncle by showing the dwarf re-enactment of the War of the Five Kings and making Tyrion serve as his cupbearer. Why it isn’t him? It’s too obvious. Murdering his nephew isn’t Tyrion’s style, and poison takes long-range planning.

Sansa

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© HBO

Sitting beside Tyrion gave Sansa ample opportunity to spike Joffrey’s cup with poison. Motivation? The sadistic prince terrorized and abused Sansa when she was his fiancé, treacherously killed her father, and gleefully reveled in the death of Sansa’s mother and brother, rubbing her nose in it whenever he could. As George RR Martin puts it in Rolling Stone, “Sansa had certainly good reason for it.” Why it isn’t her? Killing Joffrey would have given her the perfect diversion to escape the Lannister’s clutches, but she doesn’t take it.

Margaery

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© HBO

The convenient timing of Joffrey’s murder – report before she has to sleep with a sexual sadist — makes her a prime suspect. Margaery is one of the top suspects on the Internet. Motivation? Avoid a life of hell and misery with Joffrey. Why it isn’t her? Good question. But, she’s an obvious suspect and, in his recent Rolling Stone interview, George RR Martin has essentially said there are more twists to come, which may imply it isn’t her.

Olenna Tyrell

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© HBO

Did the matriarch of the Tyrell clan plot to put her granddaughter on the throne but kill Joffrey to protect her? Some viewers have slowed down the Purple Wedding sequence, watched it frame-by-frame, and reported that Olenna has a stone missing from her necklace – which could have been used to dispense poison. Motivation? The desire for power — and a secret hatred of the Lannister clan. There is suspicious foreshadowing and far too much irony in her words when she offers her condolences to Sansa about Robb and Catelyn’s death: “War is war,” Olenna tells Sansa. “But killing a man at a wedding – horrid.” In the next breath, Olenna makes passive-aggressive – or perhaps just aggressive – jabs at Tyrion. He is Sansa’s “pauper husband” who might be able to fund a visit to High Garden if he sold his “mule and shoes.” Why it isn’t her? See above.

Petyr Baelish

Not much more can be said without creating spoilers. But, there’s good reason to suspect the man whom Varys described as the “most dangerous” man in King’s Landing.

Stannis Baratheon and Melisandre

Motivation: Protect his family’s good name and legacy. Means & Opportunity: The blood magic Melisandre cast with the leaches. Conjuring a shadow assassin killed Renly Baratheon. Perhaps, the blood of Robert Baratheon’s bastard Gendry spawned the Red Wedding conspiracy and the leach with Joffrey’s name on it did its magic.

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Melisandre and Stannis offer blood sacrifices to the Lord of LIght.

Why It Isn’t Them? It could be them. But, it is equally possible the blood magic they believe caused the Red Wedding didn’t work at all.

Oberyn Martell

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© HBO

Oberyn Martell is in King’s Landing to avenge for his sister’s murder. Motivation: He believes the Lannisters killed commanded Gregor Clegane to rape and murder his sister. He threatens Tywin and Cersei at the wedding. Means: The “Red Viper” has the means –  he has proved he can use poison when (off-screen) he reputedly dipped his blade in poison to kill his opponent, which earned him his nickname. Why It Isn’t Him? He didn’t have the opportunity; he wasn’t sitting near the head table. Also, if he wanted to take a Lannister child, why not take an eye-for-an-eye and kill Cersei’s daughter, Princess Myrcella, who is now living in Dorne and married into his family? Oberyn’s character suggests we should rule him out. He has a soft spot for little girls. He wants revenge directly on Tywin, not indirectly on his family. He is too hot-headed to wait to use poison if he had proof of Tywin’s involvement. Also, he is a bold, aggressive and dangerous warrior – makes it seem far more likely he would to want to seek revenge through violence and not the “women’s weapon” of poison.

Tywin

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Perhaps Tywin the Hand got tired of wrangling over power with a bratty princeling who just came of age. And, we all know that killing people at weddings is exactly his style. Motivation: Protect his family’s good name and legacy. Why It Isn’t Him? He didn’t kill Tyrion, who may be his wife’s bastard —and Tywin hates Tyrion far more than Joffrey. Why kill Joffrey when he is king?

Less Likely – But Not Impossible – Suspects

Cersei

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© HBO

Motivation: When Joffrey got married and (as is implied in the show) and came of age, Cersei chaffed at losing her powerful position as queen regent. Maybe she got tired of competing with the “doe-eyed whore” for power. Why It Isn’t Her? She seemed genuinely devastated when Joffrey died, and she has acknowledged to Tyrion she loves all her children – “even Joffrey.”

Varys

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© HBO

Does the Spider have poison? Motivation: Protect the realm from a sadist, who will be a bad, weak king. The “good of the realm” is Varys’ higher power. Why It Isn’t Him? No reason it couldn’t be. He had motive, means – his network of spies – and, thus, opportunity.

Daenerys

Motivation: Politically motivated to kill her usurper. Why It Isn’t Her? Why bother to arrange an overseas assassination when you have an army of thousands and dragons? Also, killing one Baratheon king doesn’t eliminate the other claimants and won’t make her heir.

Wrap-up

While it’s easy to assume that Joffrey was poisoned, there’s no proof that was the case. He might have choked on the pie. He might have died from blood magic – a choking spell. In the Middle Ages, people typically assumed any unexpected death was poison – is Westeros any different? It’s unclear, but many people assumed that Jon Arryn was poisoned.

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Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) cuts open the pie. Image: HBO.

If Joffrey was poisoned, the vessel for the poison is unclear. Wine? Pie? Or, even sword? it’s worth remembering that poison can be administered through the skin (subcutaneously). Perhaps, Sansa’s hairnet and Olenna’s necklace are just red herrings. Joffrey touched his sword a few minutes before he began to choke. Maybe the sword’s handle was poisoned? The other least likely — and possibly absurd — suspect is Tommen, who is now twelve in the series. If, like some people believe, the Purple Wedding has more in common with the death of Attila the Hun than Prince Eustace, then the history leads us to some interesting conclusions. Stay tuned for more details.

Jamie Adair is the editor of History Behind Game of Thrones, a website about the history behind George RR Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" novels and the hit TV show, "Game of Thrones."

7 Comments

  • Reply April 20, 2014

    Denise

    I thought it was Olenna in both the book and show. Dontos gave Sansa a hair net in the novel, and a stone from it may have been used as the poison. It was a necklace in the series and I noticed that when Olenna had fixed Sansa’s windswept hair, the stone on the far right was missing. Not sure where Olenna’s necklace comes into it?

    • Reply April 20, 2014

      Jamie Adair

      re: Olenna’s necklace
      This is what I heard. I haven’t actually reviewed the footage myself. I did notice the missing stone in *Sansa’s* necklace on the TV show, and I was surprised how small her hair piece was in the TV show. (When I read it in the books, I pictured it being bigger.) I wonder why the change? (Meaning why use a necklace instead of a hair net.)

  • Reply April 20, 2014

    Grant

    Simpler for modern viewers maybe.

    Anyway, the characters.:

    Olenna and Margaery: Of all the characters, they have possibly the most in terms of means, opportunity and motive. Martin’s comment could be what’s called an untwist, where something is so obvious that it must be a red herring in a story that the twist is that it’s not actually a red herring but the genuine article. Or it might not.

    Tywin: He might have opportunity and means, but his motive, wanting a disaster like Joffrey off the throne, wasn’t sufficient before and he seems to believe in the sanctity of his family in a very twisted sense.

    Tyrion: Probably only second to the Tyrell’s in opportunity, means and motive, but the execution makes little sense for him.

    Sansa: She definitely has plenty of motive, but not much of an opportunity or any ability to actually do it.

    Daenerys: Not only does she not have any contacts in Westeros to carry it off, she’s pretty busy right now, anyone she did know in Westeros would probably advise against it since Joffrey is too incompetent a king to waste and she’s not much a poisoning type.

    Melisandre and Stannis: With them you can never be sure how much of her power’s work and how much of it doesn’t. There have been cases like the smoke assassin, and times when her visions have been completely wrong. However so far she doesn’t seem to have powers to alter the minds of people and get them to do what she wants, so at least one death, Robb’s was completely unrelated to her.

    Oberyn: Well, this article points out exactly why it couldn’t be him really. Besides, would have made more sense to kill the leading members of the family, without them Joffrey wouldn’t be long for the world anyway.

    Varys and Littlefinger: There are things about both of them that definitely haven’t been revealed yet but whether either would or wouldn’t kill Joffrey depends entirely on whether his death would further their personal goals or not.

    So we know it really can’t be (knowingly) Sansa, Oberyn, Daenerys or anyone from the Lannisters. Basically leaves the Tyrells and the two wild cards.

  • Reply April 20, 2014

    Olga Hughes

    They didn’t use the hairnet in the show, they changed it to a necklace, perhaps they wanted to use something larger and more obvious. Since we are doing spoilers tonight’s episode should show Sansa discovering the missing stone from the necklace.
    It was Olenna. They constantly focused on her in the episode as well. And George made a few ‘killing Hitler’ remarks in that interview. I suspect George may surprise us with who she is in league with however, and my guess is Varys.

    • Reply April 20, 2014

      Jamie Adair

      Well, it could definitely be a conspiracy. My mother thought it was the fool who helped Sansa escape.

  • Reply April 21, 2014

    Olga Hughes

    Well I have to go back and look at tonight’s episode again, but I couldn’t see a gem missing on Sansa’s necklace, and Sansa didn’t realise one was missing.
    I am not sure what they are going to change, but as they have left all of the prophecies out of the show so far, it looks like they are leaving the one about Sansa out as well. That makes things less clear. Although I still think they are alluding to Olenna.

  • Reply April 21, 2014

    Grant

    Quite possibly, but he’s simply the agent, not the cause. Unless she thinks he was acting on his own, which doesn’t seem likely.

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