A Crown for a King
Written by: Jane Espenson, David Benioff, D.B. Weiss
Directed by: Daniel Minahan
I want to start this review by giving a special thank you to "The Wolf and the Lion" for helping Game of Thrones take the next step it needed to take and begin to lay on the violence and bloodshed after taking the time to establish its fantasy world and introduce to us the large variety of characters that are scattered basically everywhere across its two continents. With so much tension building between certain characters through the first four episodes and with some characters being thrust into situations that call for action, it was only a matter of time before the swords, knives, arrows, and whatever other fantasy-based weapons you can think of start to do the talking. The excitement on display from "The Wolf and the Lion" continues into "A Golden Crown", where there is much more bloody mayhem to be had, interwoven nicely with the continued political discussions and other not-as-violent matters that are currently happening.
The one place where no violent occurrences take place is King's Landing, and understandably so because we just got a sword fight here between freaking Ned Stark and freaking Jaime Lannister, so no need to try and top that right away. We find Ned recovering from his leg wound, with Robert at his side, telling him it will be impossible for him to rule the Seven Kingdoms if the Starks and the Lannisters keeping biting at each other's throats. Robert leaves to go out on a hunting trip, telling Ned that he will act as regent king while he is away. Fast forward to Ned sitting on the Iron Throne in Robert's place, hearing stories about Ser Gregor Clegane leading raids on villages, coming to understand that these raids are revenge for Tyrion's arrest. Ned orders for Ser Gregor to be arrested, stripped of all lands and titles, and for Tywin Lannister to come to King's Landing and answer for Gregor's crimes.
This scene of Ned announcing the arrest of Gregor and the summoning of Tywin Lannister to court is one of the most overlooked scenes of the first season, giving us a glimpse of what a noble king that Ned Stark would be, rooting this kingly decision of his in honor and rightful justice. Ned does go as far as to sentence Gregor to death, but I think we can all agree that raiding villages and killing tons of innocent people is heinous enough of a crime to call for the high fantasy equivalent of the death penalty. Also, at this point, Ned is extremely cautious of the Lannisters, but he's not going to let his personal feelings get in the way of him making wise political decisions, something Robert clearly didn't take to heart in his decision to send an assassin to kill the two Targaryen siblings, a decision fueled purely by his hatred of Targaryens. Ned's virtues shine through in this brief moment as the stand-in king, doing a lot for his character by assuring us that Ned won't change who he is, even in these increasingly chaotic times. It's the little things that can stick out sometimes.
Back in Winterfell, Bran gets his first taste of horseback action using the special saddle, but things go awry real quick when Bran is confronted by a group of wildlings (humans that live north of the Wall). Luckily, Robb and Theon arrive to rescue Bran, taking the surviving wildling woman Osha (Natalia Tena) as a prisoner. Not too much needs to be made of this scene, other than Robb berating Theon for almost shooting Bran with an arrow. You have to be paying real close attention to understand what this is contributing towards; everyone is expressing doubt towards Theon. First it was Tyrion telling Theon he is a hostage of the Stark family. Now it's Robb Stark lecturing Theon on how he nearly killed Bran. Do you think Theon is going to keep brushing off these comments and not really take them at all to heart?
The next major act of violence occurs at the Vale, where Tyrion is able to trick a prison guard into summoning a court in which he confesses his crimes, or, excuse me, his "crimes". I put crimes in quotation marks because Tyrion instead confesses to several naughty childhood acts he committed when he was younger, and this is our first real taste of Tyrion Lannister as one of the funniest characters in Game of Thrones. Peter Dinklage is terrific with saying his lines in this scene, speaking with a completely serious look as if he were confessing about the JFK assassination, despite nearly everything he says (including some euphemisms for masturbation - flogged the one-eyed snake, skinned my sausage) being completely ridiculous. What makes this scene even better is that some of the actors in the background are clearly trying to prevent themselves from laughing (some of them are unable to contain their laughter), yet Dinklage proceeds without any clear hesitation. A pissed off Lysa Arryn orders for Tyrion to be thrown into a smaller cell, but Tyrion calls out Lysa for unfair judicial practices, demanding for a trial by combat to determine his freedom. The mercenary Bronn (Jerome Flynn) agrees to fight for Tyrion, successfully defeating Lysa Arryn's champion (Brendan McCormack) by kicking him through the Moon Door and into the open air below. Lysa Arryn berates Bronn for not fighting with honor, with Bronn acknowledging that her champion did.
I love this little jab by Bronn right before he and newly free Tyrion walk out; the whole fight is a microcosm of what Game of Thrones is and how it treats its characters. In Game of Thrones, fighting with honor and living a virtuous lifestyle doesn't earn you titles and respect; it gets you harmed or even killed. Bronn did not fight with honor, and whether anyone chooses to accept it or not, that is why he won.
And finally, we come to the climactic moment of the episode, and yes that's taking into account the trial by combat and everything that happened in King's Landing. Viserys Targaryen has had enough of his sister being a popular figure among the Dothraki, and his patience for getting an army and taking the Iron Throne have run out. After he fails to steal the three dragon eggs, Viserys crashes a Dothraki party, drawing his sword (no weapons are allowed in Vaes Dothrak, by the way) and threatening to cut out Daenerys' child if Khal Drogo does not give him the army he wants. Khal Drogo agrees to give Viserys what he truly wants: a golden crown to wear. And that golden crown comes in the form of melted gold, which Drogo pours over Viserys' head, killing him. A cool, calm, and collected Daenerys ends the episode by stating, "He was no dragon. Fire cannot kill a dragon."
Boom. There it is. Our first major, surprise death of Game of Thrones. In all honesty though, Viserys' death shouldn't come as a total shock. With so much tension building between the two Targaryen siblings and with Viserys gradually losing his control over his sister over the course of the first five episodes, you figured he was going to get desperate and do something that would end up getting someone killed. The irony of the golden crown here is nothing short of terrific writing on the part of George R.R. Martin, which D&D do a fabulous job of translating on screen. Viserys spent a large chunk of his time bickering about reclaiming the Seven Kingdoms and ruling as the next king, so no better way for him to go out than to get the golden crown he truly deserves.
It's tough to say if "A Golden Crown" tops "The Wolf and the Lion" as an episode of television. While I think "A Golden Crown" has more individual moments worth remembering, I'm still going to give the slight edge to "The Wolf and the Lion" mainly for what that episode did in terms of launching Game of Thrones into what it was ready to become. Nonetheless, "A Golden Crown" is a worthy follow-up to "The Wolf and the Lion", giving us more bloodshed and setting up the primary plot lines for what will be a compelling final stretch to the first season. Whether it's in King's Landing, at the Wall, in Essos, or on some random road through the woods: right now, there's always something to look forward to and get excited about.
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