Game of Thrones: “A Golden Crown”

Crowning Glory

Game of Thrones

HBO, Sundays, 9 PM

A Golden Crown

Written by David Benioff & D. B. Weiss

Directed by Daniel Minahan

“There is only one god, and his name is Death.” – Syrio Florel, Swordmaster

Still no love. Well, I guess I’ll just have to get used to the fact that A Song of Fire and Ice, the overall series of which Game of Thrones is the first installment, is a complicated tale peopled by characters who have not yet invented love. They’ve invented prostitution, slavery, assassination, and subtle political maneuvering, but not love. Alas. I will say, however, they have mastered – with Olympic-level skill – the art of the payback. In this episode, we see one character get his comeuppance in a spectacularly ironic way, and another get set up for what is looking to be another ironic exit.

“I can’t rule the kingdoms if the Starks and the Lannisters are at each other’s throats.” – King Robert

Ned Stark, recovering from the spear-through-the-knee he got in a fight with Jaime Lannister last week, is on the outs with his king. Robert’s reaction to his Hand being attacked by his brother-in-law is mostly a variation on “don’t bother me while I’m wenching/drinking”. Say what you will about him, Robert Baratheon is consistent. Boring, but consistent. Having slapped his wife, bullied his best (only remaining) friend, and insulted his powerful in-laws, he goes boar hunting. On foot. While drunk. Yeah, this is going to end well. My money says that King Robert the Bore doesn’t come back with a boar. Frankly, the sooner Robert is out of the picture, the better I’ll like it. The kingdoms have been headed for civil war since the opening episode, and he’s only delaying the inevitable. Characters who stand in the way of plot development tend to die early, so I don’t think Robert had better be buying any green bananas. His crown, at least, rests uneasy on his head.

“Where is the King’s justice?” – Tyrion Lannister

The King’s justice is an iffy thing in the Seven Kingdoms. While King Pig is out chasing pig, Ned resumes his office of Hand and presides in his absence. When reports reach him that a band of brigands pillaged a village, he deduces the fine hand of Ser Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane (Conan Stevens, True Legend) and orders his immediate arrest and banishment. Then, on the basis of nothing but supposition, he orders the arrest of Tywin Lannister, Jaime’s father and the father-in-law of the King. What? No evidence? Not even an eyewitness? How interesting that the upright, moral and law-abiding Lord Stark doesn’t even bother with a trial before rendering judgement. No wonder Robert thinks he’s an appropriate stand-in after all. While Ned is presiding over the Star Chamber, Tyrion Lannister is manipulating what few vestiges of law remain in the Eyrie. He demands trial by combat, and gets it when a mercenary named Bronn (Jerome Flynn, Ruth Rendell Mysteries) steps up. Bronn defeats Lysa’s champion, who is then thrown through the Moon Door, a hole in the courtroom floor. Young Robin crows with delight, Tyrion executes a lovely bow and farewell that illustrates his ability to insult with flattery, and stalks out with his new retainer. I can’t wait until Ser Gregor shows up in King’s Landing at the Hand’s request, and demands trial by combat as well.

“He was no dragon. Fire cannot kill a dragon.” — Daenerys

Meanwhile, the Dothraki continue to struggle with advanced concepts such as cooking food. We first see Daenerys, who apparently is suffering from one of those odd pregnancy cravings for weird food. She puts one of her dragon eggs in the fire. When it fails to roast, she lifts it from the fire and is not harmed by it. Her servant girl is burned. Okay, we get it; Daenerys is immune to fire. Interesting. A few minutes later, we see her literally choking down raw horse heart in some Dothraki ritual designed to strengthen her unborn child. Khal Drogo, wearing even more guyliner than usual, is so charmed by this bloody exhibition he lifts her and carries her around the room. (Dude, you do not want to be juggling a woman who just chowed down on raw horse.) Viserys is irked because, as he tells Ser Jorah Mormont, “no one has ever given to me what they gave to her in that room”. At first, I thought Viserys was demanding a helping of raw stallion. Fortunately for my stomach, the Dothraki eventually learn to combine fire and meat in a satisfactory way, and when Viserys storms back into Drogo’s tent we see something roasting over a fire. Viserys demands his golden crown and backs his demand up by threatening to cut Daenerys’ child out. Drogo has had enough of this strutting idiot, and gives him the crown he deserves – by pouring molten gold over his head. A pitiless Daenerys watches, no doubt thinking that payback really is a bitch.

“You’re my lady now.” – Joffrey Baratheon

Pouting and sneering her way through every scene, Sansa now ennobles herself by insulting her nurse. Joffrey the Repulsive arrives to apologize for his bad behavior (getting her direwolf killed, having the butcher’s son murdered, and other boyish pranks) by giving her a locket. She falls for this, gets all starry-eyed and Disneyfied, and generally gushes like a broken fountain whenever Joffrey bats his pale eyelashes. So naturally, when Ned informs his daughters he is sending them back to Winterfell, she objects. Arya wants to keep studying swordsmanship; Ned does not even bother to answer. If anyone on this show is supposed to show love, it’s Ned Stark, yet his version of love is to ignore what his children say. Parents often must make difficult and unpopular decisions for their children, but they also need to listen to them. Ned goes absolutely deaf in the presence of any of his children.

“I’ll give him sons with beautiful blond hair.” – Sansa Stark

When Ned, with the kindly obliviousness that informs his every mistake, assures Sansa that someday he will make her a better match. She snaps back that she wants Joffrey, and longs to give him fair-hairedsons. The light finally dawns on Ned (as it did on anyone who saw the ending of the first episode) and he starts reading genealogy books again. There we find out that the previous five generations of Baratheons had black hair, but the next generation has blond hair. He sits and ponders on the fact that his predecessor discovered all of Robert’s bastards, who had fair haired mothers and dark haired sons. How can this be? Somehow it never occurs to Ned that this very question got Jon Arryn killed. I keep wanting to like Ned, I really do. But he acts like an idiot – naïve, oblivious, rash. He is not above lying (he says he ordered Tyrion Lannister’s arrest), he administers lynch-mob justice, and he fails to see the danger he has put himself in until it is too late. I find it really hard to root for a hero so unaware of his own situation.

“Killing things clears my head.” – King Robert

Having disposed of one annoying character and set another up for a quick exit, we are segueing into the final four episodes of this season. Civil war is in the offing, lines are being drawn, stakes are being raised. Still no living dragons, but we did get some fighting and a memorable (yet just) execution. Best of all, we got to see Tyrion extricate himself from a tricky situation using wit and gold. While I usually abhor violence against women, I did enjoy Robert’s smackdown on Cersei. Bran proved that stupid runs in the family as he blithely rode off alone into the forest, even though he is totally dependent on his harness to keep him in a saddle. And Lysa Arryn proved to be just as mad as the King her brother-in-law dethroned. There’s more crazy in that Eyrie than in Arkham Asylum on a full moon. There may not be much love in this show, but darn if it isn’t interesting.