The Chemistry And History Behind The Game of Thrones Poisoning Of King Joffrey
May 5, 2014

The Chemistry And History Behind The Game of Thrones Poisoning Of King Joffrey

Readers of the A Song of Ice and Fire series – which is the basis of HBO’s A Game of Thrones hit TV show – already know many of the details of how and why King Joffrey was poisoned at his own wedding. The event, known as the “Purple Wedding,” took place on the second episode of the season and was as shocking for those who didn’t read the books as last season’s “Red Wedding,” which (spoilers) saw the assassination of King Robb – rival to Joffrey.

Weddings are apparently a dangerous affair in the fictional land of Westeros.

Actually, the person behind the murder (spoilers) was revealed on the most recent episode of the show. In a true plot twist, it was the Olenna Redwyne, widow of Lord Luthor Tyrell and mother of Lord Mace Tyrell. Known as the Queen of Thorns, she is also the grandmother of Joffrey’s bride!

In the series she is played by Lady Dana Rigg and admits that she didn’t want her granddaughter to have to marry Joffrey. So really at this point there is no real mystery to who or why it was done.

The final equation is the “how.”

According to the source material, the poison used has been called “the Strangler,” known to the alchemists of Lys, the Faceless Men of Braavos and the Maesters of the Citadel. Its source is a plant that is only found on the islands of the Jade Sea.

While it is created in liquid form, it can crystallize and takes a deep purple color – and in both the book and TV version, it is in this form that it was smuggled into the wedding on the necklace of Lady Sansa Stark. While this is fairly complicated, real history has shown that some monarchs have likely been poisoned.

George R.R. Martin apparently looked to the English war known as the Anarchy (so as not to be confused with the later English Civil War). In that particularly nasty conflict, Empress Matilda, daughter of King Henry I, fought against her cousin Stephen of Blois.

This war serves actually as the backdrop to the Starz original series Pillars of the Earth, based on the book by Ken Follett. That real war only ended when Stephen’s heir, Eustace, choked to death at a feast in his honor. Poison has been long suspected. (Spoiler) Sadly, the Follet version doesn’t feature Eustace dying by poison, but rather he is killed in armed combat by Matilda’s son, who went on to become King Henry II.

But could such a poison work?

This week, the American Chemical Society’s latest Reactions video actually suggested how such a poison might have worked.

“Sometimes science gets a bad rap,” said Chemist Raychelle Burks, Ph.D., of Doane College. “People think it’s dry or super serious. Pop culture is really a good medium to talk about science in a way that anyone and everyone can participate.”

In other words, poison could work.

As far as it ending wars – perhaps a poison did end the Anarchy. Without an heir, Stephen had to accept that his claim to the throne was dubious and Henry II went on to be the first of the House of Plantagenet, which ruled England – as well as Wales, Ireland and even, at times, France and Scotland – until the Wars of the Roses. The family had many little civil wars for the throne, sort of like the world of Martin’s Westeros.

Sometimes truth is as interesting as fiction.

Image Credit: HBO

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Peter Suciu is a freelance writer and has covered consumer electronics, technology, electronic entertainment and the fitness sports industry for more than 15 years. In that time his work has appeared in more than three dozen publications including Newsweek, PC Magazine and Wired. His work has also appeared on,,, and Peter is a regular writer for

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