Deanerys and her army arrive at the city of Meereen. A single warrior named Oznak zo Pahl leaves the city and invites a challenger to single combat. Deanerys knows that someone must fight Oznak, so she selects a former gladiator named Strong Belwas. Although Oznak rides a horse and Belwas is on foot, Belwas defeats Oznak and cuts off his head. Still, Daenerys is uncertain how to attack such a fortified city. After some strategizing, she learns that there is a sewer system that runs beneath the walls. Daenerys ponders her options and ventures into her own camp. An assassin appears, and Daenerys recognizes him as Mero, the sellsword commander from Yunkai. Whitebeard slays Mero in single combat and saves Daenerys’ life. When Ser Jorah returns from a scouting mission, Daenerys is angry that he did not inform her that Mero had escaped the last battle. When Deanerys insists on knighting Whitebeard, he confesses that he is already a knight, and that his real name is Barristan Selmy. When pressed, Whitebeard also reveals that he once served Daenerys’ father, but he betrayed him. He adds that Ser Jorah has spied on Daenerys for the Iron Throne, and Jorah reluctantly confesses. Enraged and confused, Daenerys sends them both away.
Tyrion delivers the news of the Red Wedding to Sansa, but Sansa does not reveal her emotions to Tyrion. One night, Tyrion sneaks away from their bedchamber and has a tryst with Shae. He fears for her life and is disappointed by what little he can offer Shae. He resolves to marry her to Ser Tallad, another knight at King’s Landing, who is known for his height.
On the day of Joffrey’s opulent wedding, Sansa feels numb and sad, believing that her entire family is extinct. She and Tyrion attend Joffrey’s wedding to Margaery Tyrell. After the ceremony, Joffrey opens wedding gifts, but when he receives a valuable history book from Tyrion, he scorns it. Joffrey also receives a sword of Valyrian steel from Tywin and names it Widow’s Wail. He then uses the sword to chop Tyrion’s book to pieces. When Tyrion and Sansa enter a litter, Tyrion tries to engage Sansa in conversation about their families, but she replies neutrally. When Tyrion offers details about the Red Wedding, Sansa declines to learn how Robb and Catelyn perished.
Tyrion witnesses the wedding ceremony with disinterest, and he drinks copious amounts of wine. Tyrion offers to take Sansa away to Casterly Rock, so they can escape the claustrophobic House of Lannister, but Sansa is ambivalent. Tyrion and Sansa retire to dress in their chambers, where Shae requests to serve at the feast. Sansa declines the request. When they join the feast, Tyrion silently begrudges the extravagance of the meal, which includes 77 courses of food. After a variety of entertainments, Joffrey calls for a jousting show. The two jousters are dwarves, who ride a pig and a dog. This show infuriates Tyrion, and Joffrey and Tyrion parley with insults. Joffrey finally flings wine in Tyrion’s face. Joffrey bullies Tyrion by forcing him to refill the cup. The moment is interrupted when Tywin asks Joffrey to cut the wedding pie, which is full of live doves. Joffrey asks Ser Ilyn Payne for his sword so he can cut the pie, and Sansa realizes that Payne’s sword used to be Ice, her father’s sword. It was reforged into its current shape. Tyrion tries to leave with Sansa, but Joffrey mockingly demands they stay. Joffrey starts to eat the pie and suddenly begins to choke. In horror and clutching at his throat, Joffrey collapses and dies. Cersei screams that Joffrey has been poisoned, and the palace guards arrest Tyrion.
Sansa flees the feast when Joffrey begins choking. Inwardly, she rejoices that the king has died. She examines her hairnet and notices that an amethyst stone is missing. She recalls that Ser Dontos told her the hairnet was magical and would bring her home, and Sansa suspects foul play. Dontos appears and smuggles her through the castle, and then they descend a secret staircase on the outer wall. They board a boat, where Sansa recognizes Petyr Baelish. When Dontos asks for payment for delivering Sansa, Petyr has Dontos killed with crossbow bolts. Petyr explains that Dontos was a selfish drunk and would reveal their plot. He also reveals that the idea for the jousting dwarfs was his. He assures Sansa that she is now safe with him.
Daenerys learns startling new information about Whitebeard and Ser Jorah that causes her to distrust them, and the loss to her could be a significant one since they’ve become two of her most trusted advisors. Daenerys already feels herself to be vulnerable. Even though she’s the “mother of dragons” and now the commander of an army, she’s still a foreigner unfamiliar with the land she’s in, a woman in the midst of a patriarchal culture, and is yet quite young. For these reasons she routinely looks to Ser Jorah and Whitebeard for their counsel, even if she doesn’t always follow it. Now she realizes, however, that Whitebeard isn’t who he says he is, and Ser Jorah was selling information about her to her enemies in Westeros. Neither seems to be actively trying to sabotage her, but the sense of betrayal Daenerys feels means she will have a great deal of difficulty trusting either again.
Joffrey’s death is the second big climax in the book, and like the Red Wedding, the event is told from two perspectives. In this case, it is Tyrion and Sansa who witness the same events, though here the effect of using multiple perspectives is different. Joffrey’s death is sudden and completely unexpected, and there’s no building feeling of anxiety to create suspense. In fact, it isn’t even initially clear whether Joffrey was actually poisoned or whether he simply choked. Since the reader has access to Tyrion’s thoughts, we know it wasn’t him who was responsible for Joffrey’s death, which means we also know he is wrongly accused and arrested. But we don’t actually witness Joffrey’s death from Sansa’s point of view, and when we do pick up her perspective again, she has fled and her immediate emotions appear to be relief and even some elation. Telling the story in this way leads the reader to suspect Sansa might have actually been the murderer. It quickly becomes clear that this isn’t the case, however, and only when Petyr Baelish appears do we learn who was really responsible.
The revelation that Petyr Baelish was behind Joffrey’s death holds significant implications for the series. Baelish has been a valuable asset to the Lannisters. He was the master of coin (the role Tyrion now holds) and proved extraordinarily adept at generating income for the crown. It was also partly his idea to create an alliance with the Tyrells, and it was Baelish who responsible for brokering the marriage between Joffrey and Margaery Tyrell. Because he’s been traveling and arranging deals on behalf of the Lannisters, and himself as he tries to woo Lysa Arryn in the Eyrie, he’s been absent from much of A Storm of Swords. With his reappearance here, however, he completely changes the course of future events, and he also makes it clear that he feels no commitment to the Lannisters. The murder suggests that he is motivated by his own self-interest and has his own agenda, though what his ultimate goal is remains to be revealed.
It’s worth noting that both Joffrey’s poisoning and the deaths of Robb and Catelyn occur at weddings. Weddings are supposed to be joyous occasions that celebrate the union of two people in love, at least in theory. Among the prominent families of Westeros, however, they are regularly used to create political alliances between powerful families, and in this way they symbolize the intersection of the personal and political. The murders, accordingly, are in fact as much political as personal, perhaps even more so in the case of Joffrey. Weddings are also large, dramatic, public events, and to kill someone so publicly in the midst of what should be a happy occasion also serves as a public insult to the honor of the families involved and their allies. For both the Starks and the Lannisters, these murders are grievous provocations that will demand revenge.
The need for revenge has been a theme throughout the novel, and here it arises again as it feels as if both Sansa and Tyrion have their revenge against Joffrey, even if they weren’t responsible for his murder. Joffrey has mistreated both characters. Sansa he has had beaten and humiliated, and he’s made her live in fear of saying the wrong thing. Tyrion, meanwhile, he has disrespected repeatedly, even publicly humiliating him at the wedding with the performance by the two little people jousting, which was clearly intended to embarrass Tyrion. Not surprisingly, both Tyrion and Sansa have wanted to see Joffrey punished, and perhaps even harmed. While neither was responsible for Joffrey’s death, they weren’t remorseful that he died. When Joffrey begins seriously choking, Tyrion feels “curiously calm,” which suggests he isn’t particularly concerned by the outcome. Sansa, on the other hand, is elated after she runs from the dining hall and begins to laugh and cry with joy.