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.