(This Game Of Thrones post is written from the point of view of someone who has not read the books the series is based on. As such, spoilers are strictly forbidden. Any spoilers in comments will be deleted on sight. If you see spoilers, please mark them as best you can and e-mail todd at vanderwerff dot us or contact Todd on Twitter at tvoti, and he'll take care of them as soon as possible.)
Last week, I compared Game of Thrones to one of HBO's best, The Wire. This week reminded me of True Blood, hardly HBO's best, in a very specific way: With a closing scene that good, no matter what came before it, you just can't wait to see what happens next week.
Not to say "The Golden Crown" was a bad episode. Far from it. But it felt like the last episode of plot-building and table-setting: The closing arc of the season is approaching and shit is obviously about to get real. And what, I ask you, is realer than Viserys Targaryen getting a pot of molten gold dumped on his head after he bleats to Khal Drogo that he wants his crown? Nothing, dear audience, is realer than that. He's the first casualty among our starring cast, and he may well not be the only one, but his demise was well-signaled once Daenerys started running shit in Dothraki-land.
Viserys was probably my least favorite character on the show, mostly because I didn't think Harry Lloyd rose to the challenge of playing him as a sneering villain very originally. Lloyd did a much better job once Viserys was down on his luck, however, and made quite an admirably pathetic figure here. In his speech to Jorah Mormont, we get a better idea of what makes him tick. He was basically told he would be king from childhood but has nothing to show for it, which is probably not the best way to raise somebody. "The greatest dynasty this world has ever seen on my shoulders since I was 5 years old, and no one has ever given me what they gave to her in that tent," he says, referring to Daenerys' admittedly impressive feat of devouring a horse heart raw, which was wonderfully gross. The sight of her, covered in blood, proclaiming her son would be called Rhaego, was quite a striking image.
Khal Drogo, a hulking monster of a man when the show started, had quite a bit of panache in this episode too. He dealt with Viserys' freakout not by just crushing his skull between his hands or what have you but actually through a bit of trickery. And he worked around the apparent rule that the Dothraki can't shed blood in their capital city, quite an onerous one, with the ingenious molten-gold thing. Daenerys is obviously still our focal point here, but she and Drogo appear to have a mutual understanding if nothing else. It's impressive that David Benioff and D.B. Weiss (and, of course, George R. R. Martin) have made Daenerys' transformation from sobbing girl to confident queen seem so believable. Obviously, time is passing pretty quickly here, but we get that just from how the characters are moving forward: There's no "three weeks later…" text or anything like that to help us along.
There was quite a bit of action over in the Eyrie as well, as we got the biggest taste of Tyrion's craftiness yet with his escape via trial by combat. Tyrion's plot is the catalyst for everything (Jaime fighting Ned, Cersei needling Robert, the Stark kids being taken back to Winterfell), and, thus, I like the sense that it's based on rash calls (arresting him was a spur-of-the-moment thing, as was taking him to Lysa Arryn) and is now really slipping away from Catelyn. Over in King's Landing, Ned insists that she was acting on his orders, but that's difficult to believe. At best, the two were only dimly aware of how entangled their dual investigations were. At this point, it appears that Catelyn has fully lost control of the situation, not accounting for Lysa's craziness, Tyrion's craftiness, or the fact that he's likely innocent of the crimes she accused him of.
She also appears to have lost her man Bronn, although I guess she just picked him up in a bar, so maybe he was never her man. Bronn steps up to fight for Tyrion in the trial by combat, facing one of Lysa's well-armored knights, and succeeds by doing what I decided was the closest thing to a street fight, dashing about, throwing shit on the floor, and generally scoring hits where he could get them. Lysa accuses him of not fighting with honor, and he retorts, "No. He did," which is pretty pimpin'. Of course, it's not like Lysa's justice system, which seems to place a lot of decision-making in the hands of her wacko son, makes that much more sense.
Come to think of it, I can hardly complain that this wasn't an action-packed episode: Along with the molten gold and the Eyrie duel, we also had the Game of Thrones version of a Mexican standoff after Bran, testing out his new saddle, is confronted with weirdo villagers or mountain people or something. He's rescued after a nice bit of swordsmanship by Robb and a luckily-fired arrow by Theon, but I liked how Theon kept his drawn bow trained on a woman's head, like it was a gun. The side-story of Winterfell and Bran's recovery has been the least-connected to the main plot so far, but I love the environment (especially those atmospheric woods) and Isaac Hempstead-Wright's performance, and I'm sure Bran is going to have quite a bit of bearing on the future. Those prophetic dreams with the three-eyed crow have to mean something.
Let's wrap up with King's Landing, where Ned is quickly pardoned by Robert, then sits in for him on the throne and makes what seems like quite a proclamation (gathering an army of 100 to take down Ser Gregor the Mountain) on a couple of villagers' testimony. At the same time, he also figures out that Prince Joffrey must be a child of Lannister blood because he doesn't have black hair. It's not quite CSI, but it just about works since this world is so built on the tribalism of these houses and their shared features. What's slightly more baffling is how rash Ned has become. The way his fight with Jaime is dismissed by Robert makes sense because, as Robert says, his kingdom doesn't work if the Starks and Lannisters are fighting. But Ned quickly decides to withdraw Sansa from her arranged marriage to Joffrey and go up against Tywin Lannister's prized knight, all without consulting Robert, who's off hunting. Essentially he's giving up his biggest bargaining chip (the marriage) and at the same time, playing that chip in going after Gregor. Petyr doesn't seem disturbed enough.
Ned's decision regarding Sansa is obviously motivated by his feelings as a father, which trump his ability to scheme (unlike most people on this show). Sansa, unfortunately, remains bewitched by Joffrey's particular brand of creepy wooing and his promises of her happy Queendom. Arya is disgusted by the whole thing but likes that she's finally being taken seriously as a warrior; nonetheless, it's obvious she has more of a head on her shoulders than Sansa, who gets a solo scene of her being a whiny teenager to her lady-in-waiting. But with all that going on, plus Tyrion trumping Catelyn and Daenerys' rise to power over the sea, it's obvious shit is about to come to a head, which makes Ned's rashness extra worrying.
After this week, there are no more screeners, so I'll be watching live with the rest of you newbie devils. Here's hoping for some seriously shocking shit.
- We still haven't seen Tywin Lannister, sire of the whole clan, but I'm hoping he shows up next episode. He's been built up pretty well at this point.
- Robert has obviously lost control of Cersei, even in public, as he has to hit her to shut her up (you'd figure a powerful king wouldn't have to go around slapping people), and then she proclaims, "I shall wear this like a badge of honor." "That was not kingly," Robert admits with a sigh to Ned.
- Not sure what to make of the scene where Daenerys is unscathed by the burning dragon egg. Is that to do with her lineage or her in particular?
- Tyrion's interactions with the simpleton prison guard were pretty funny, and the Eyrie's many mindfuck devices (this time there's that crazy drop zone in the middle of the throne room) continue to impress.
- But Tyrion's finest moment was probably his many euphemisms for masturbation: I milked my eel, I flogged the one-eyed snake, I skinned my sausage, I made the bald man cry.
- He also brought a jackass and a honeycomb into a brothel; Lysa's kid likes that one. "What happened next?"
- So apparently there are old gods and new gods in this world. That hasn't really been explored yet.
- Renly has a moment standing up to Robert at the hunt about his endlessly waxing lyrical over the old days. He's not quite commanding, but Robert doesn't slap him, too, either because he's used to Renly's complaints or he thinks he has a point. My guess is the latter.