Show: Game of Thrones
Episode: S01E06 – A Golden Crown
Original Air Date: 22 May 2011
Spoiler Warning: Armed and Active, for book and show
This episode is a lot about leadership, and a lot about miscalculation. All of the main threads that we follow in this episode deal, however openly or subtly, about what makes someone fit to rule.
First, in King’s Landing, we have Robert Baratheon, a selfish shit who freely admits that he doesn’t have the mettle of a monarch, but who likes his crown for the privileges it gives him. I would like Robert a lot more, and I would have a lot more compassion for him, if he even made any effort at being a decent king. But he doesn’t. He wants nothing to do with government, to the extent that he orders Ned to resume his post as Hand and dictates that the Starks and Lannisters just need to gloss over their problems so that he can get on with his whoring, hunting, and drinking.
Then there’s his brother Renly, who has a gorgeous moment of standing up to Robert in this episode. Sick of hearing Robert talk about “the good old days”, back when he was overthrowing the Targaryens, Renly points out in no uncertain terms that what was glorious for Robert was miserable for the people of his kingdom. Renly, your heart is in the right place. And the show is doing a good job of making us realise that while also making us question if Renly has the steely core necessary to rule. It can’t be all compassion all the time, after all — as others in the episode will show us.
Ned, meanwhile, has to do the ruling while Robert’s off doing the killing on a hunt. We learn that Gregor Clegane is terrorizing the Riverlands, and Ned, without hesitation, strips Gregor of title and sends Beric Dondarrion out to bring him to justice. He also summons Clegane’s liege-lord, Tywin Lannister, to answer for his vassal’s crimes. Here we see — as though we needed further proof of it — that Ned makes decisions which are right, but not always smart. Ned doesn’t think about consequences; he acts entirely in accordance with his sense of justice. His style of leadership clearly contrasts with Robert’s, and it’s better in some ways, but it’s still far from the best of all possible options.
We don’t get to see a lot of Sansa and Arya in this episode, but what we do is quite character-exploring. Arya’s worried for her father, and it’s affecting her practice with Needle. Syrio’s having none of this sentimental nonsense, however, pointing out that fighting while you’re emotional will get you killed. He asks if she’s prayed for her father, and when she says yes, to the Seven and the Old Gods. Syrio replies that “There is only one god, and his name is Death, and there is only one thing we say to Death: Not today.” That line could so easily be cheesy, but because Miltos Yeromelou is so good, so charming in his own way, it completely works. I’ve seen some speculation that the series may be seeding the Syrio-is-Jaqen theory, and while I’m not sure if they’re doing it deliberate or not, they do at least seem to be leaving the possibility open.
Sansa, meanwhile, is bitchier than ever. The show sure doesn’t seem to be building up any sympathy for her. Frankly, I’m okay with that, because I’ve never liked Sansa, I’ve always thought she was a spoiled brat, and I find it quite difficult to make excuses for her. I wonder how new fans are taking it, though — if any of them think they should be sympathizing or not. She’s horrible to Septa Mordane for no good reason, and then when Joffrey comes in — belatedly following his mother’s advice about making nice with her — she just laps up everything he has to say. He paints her a lovely picture of a future where they are king and queen; it rings as false as a tin bell, but Sansa’s so besotted that she can’t see that. This becomes particularly clear when Ned tells his daughter’s he’s sending them back to Winterfell. Arya clearly thinks about as highly of Sansa as I do, openly disdainful of Sansa’s dream of bearing Joffrey’s children; her snickering when Sansa asserts, “I don’t want someone brave and gentle and strong, I want him!” is just delightful. This is also the conversation that finally makes it dawn on Ned just what’s been going on in the royal family — when Sansa declares that Joffrey is a lion, nothing like his drunken king of a father, Ned finally realises that… no, he isn’t anything like Robert, is he? And so he finally drags out that genealogy book Jon Arryn was reading, and discovers that every Baratheon in the history of ever has had black hair.
Meanwhile, in the Vale, Tyrion’s fighting injustice of his own. Lysa, who has more or less assumed total sovereignty on behalf of her son, is blatantly ignoring things like rule of law and has imprisoned Tyrion in a sky cell. Tyrion convinces his keeper, Mord, to tell Lysa he wishes to confess his crimes — and watching Tyrion try to reason with Mord to get to that point is one of the more fun moments of this episode. Dinklage expresses the barely-controlled frustration so wonderfully. When he manages to get in front of Lysa, though, he’s not confessing the crimes she wants him for; instead he expounds on a hilarious litany of childhood misdeeds and sexual misconduct. It’s one of Tyrion’s and Dinklage’s best moments in the show so far. This is also the speech where you can really tell Jane Espinosa wrote this episode, between the quirky humour and then the sudden turn of emotions. Bronn’s smirky reactions are also priceless.
Tyrion demands trial by combat, and when Lysa refuses to let him send for his brother Jaime to stand in as champion, Bronn the sellsword offers himself. This battle is really interesting — I enjoyed how the camera points out the differences between what Bronn is wearing and what Ser Vardis is wearing. No one has to talk about it; instead, they just let the audience see it. Ser Vardis is encumbered by his armor, that shell that he thinks is protecting him, whereas Bronn moves swiftly. He also fights dirty, much to the displeasure of Lysa and the watching-from-absurdly-close-vantage-points Vale court. And this is where we feel just how badly Cat and Lysa both miscalculated — Cat in trusting her sister, Lysa in her blind convictions. Bronn triumphs, and Tyrion strolls out like the cat that got the cream.
Not much is going on up North. Bran continues to be adorable, and his sheer joy at being able to ride is a great moment. I know others have lamented the lack of direwolves in the scene where he gets attacked by wildlings, but I’m willing to let it slide. They were working with puppies, after all, and I’d rather they leave them out than have them in awkwardly. I’m sure we’ll be seeing more of the wolves next season, when they’re older and have been trained up a bit. The show continues to foreshadow Theon’s eventual betrayal; it feels as though, after forgetting about him for the first few episodes, they’re now laying in on a bit thick.
Finally, in Vaes Dothrak: I really love the first scene, short as it is, where Dany puts an egg in the fire and then takes it out with her bare hands. Irri rushes to stop her, but gets burned, and then we see… Dany isn’t hurt at all. I love this moment so much. It foreshadows so many things for Daenerys. First that, yeah, there is something just a little special about her. (Haters to the left, please). I cheerfully shouted “The Unburnt!” when that happened. And also that there’s just that little hint of madness in her, that bit of obsession that even the good Targaryens have.
Daenerys eats a stallion heart without casting up her accounts, and the crones proclaim that she’s carrying the Stallion Who Will Mount the World inside of her. Drogo looks seriously turned on by the heart-eating, whereas Viserys looks like he’s the one who might be sick. He displays some paranoia about his sister having a son, but the really gorgeous moment here is when he realises that Dany has people who love her. They might be, to his eyes, barbarians, but she has their loyalty and their devotion. Viserys appears both hurt and confused by this, clearly feeling it should be him, but bewildered as to figure out how to win that adoration for himself. Since he can’t have that, he’ll settle for wealth and his crown; the scene where he tries to steal her dragon eggs is a nice addition, as it gives us the chance to see what both he and Mormont value.
Later, at a celebratory feast, drunk Viserys stumbles in, sword unsheathed (in violation of the sacred laws of Vaes Dothrak), and demands that Drogo yield up what he believes he’s owed. In another underscoring of the love Dany’s already managed to inspire in others, Doreah tries to stand between Dany and danger, even though she’s clearly terrified, which I thought was a lovely little detail. Dany, though, isn’t flinching at her brother anymore. Viserys threatens Daenerys and her son, and Drogo then agrees to give him his golden crown — molten gold, which he pours over Viserys’s head, killing him.
This series made me like Viserys so much more than I did in the book. Or at least it made me feel more emotion for him. And that is entirely credit the amazing acting skills of Harry Lloyd, who I am so sorry to see go (but whom I’m sure we’ll be seeing more great things from in the future). It’s so heartbreaking when he thinks he’s getting what he wants, because he looks so happy for a moment, before he realizes what’s actually happening. You can see, too, that while Dany might not know exactly what’s about to happen, she knows it’s not going to be good, and she’s accepted that. Viserys has had his chance, after all.
The end of this episode may be my favourite moment in the series so far. Dany, still unflinching, says of her brother’s death: “He was no dragon. Fire cannot kill a dragon.” And I love it. It’s showing her strength, but again, it’s showing just that little hint of Targaryen-brand madness. Gorgeous.