Thursday, May 26, 2011

Review: Game of Thrones "A Golden Crown"

Non Spoiler Review:
A Golden Crown brings some interesting twists as the threat of war grows between two of Westeros' houses. Leaving the thick info-laden and conspiratorial plot from last week in favor of a more action-oriented episode, Game of Thrones continues to deliver, building on the momentum and raising the stakes again.

Robert has to deal with the Lannister and Starks feud, which is beginning to have effects across the continent. Tyrion gets his opportunity for a trial at the Eyrie, while Viserys makes a play for power in light of his own sister's growing influence. 

There some more great scenes, including a hardcore decision from Ned that looks like it's going to set the course for the whole series from here on out. There were bits and pieces from everyone else—Bran and Robb, Arya, Sansa and Joffrey, and Theon, continuing to successfully give everyone their fair share of screen time, which is an arduous task. It's the ending that provides the shocker, as the series gets its first major death.

Spoilers Now!
Ned wakes up in bed to the faces of Cersei and Robert. He's recovering from his leg wound, and Cersei demands he release Tyrion and make amends with Jaime. Robert tells her to shut up, but he orders Ned to tell Cate to let Tyrion go and make peace. Ned refuses. Jaime has fled the capital back to Casterly Rock, and he wants permission to send men to bring him to justice for killing his guards. Cersei is furious and berates Robert for being so lenient on him, prompting him to slap her. She says she'll wear the mark as a badge of honor, so he tells her to leave or she'll get more honor.

Robert apologizes to Ned for slapping his wife—it wasn't kingly. But he can't afford the Starks and the Lannisters to be fighting when Cersei's father owns most of the kingdom. He doesn't know what happened between him and the Lannisters and doesn't want to know. Robert then admits to never loving his brothers, as Ned is the brother he chose. He wants him to stay as Hand of the King, and is going off on a hunt to clear his head, which means Ned sits on the throne. Regarding the matter of Daenerys, Robert won't hear of it again. She's going to die. And if he refuses the office again, he'll make Jaime Lannister the Hand.

Bran dreams of the three-eyed raven again. This time it flies further down a hallway before he's woken up. His saddle has been completed, and he happily goes riding in the woods with Theon and Robb watching.

The two men talk about Ned's attack in King's Landing. Theon is urging Robb to retaliate against the Lannisters—blood for blood is his duty. But Robb reminds him the Starks aren't his house, so Theon walks off in a huff again. However, Bran has disappeared in the meantime, riding off into the woods where he's set upon by some wildings—two men and a woman. They want the horse and cut the straps of his saddle. The woman suggests they use Bran as a hostage to sell to Mance Rayder, but the other says to forget that, as they're going as far south as possible so the White Walkers don't get them. 

Robb arrives and manages to kill one and grab the girl, but the other has a knife to Bran. He's shot through with an arrow courtesy of Theon. Robb's at first angry that he would risk Bran's life, but Theon says he was going to be killed and had to act. They decide to take the woman prisoner after she pleads for her life. 

Syrio arrives for Arya's lesson, but she's worried about her father and doesn't want to practice. He manages to convince her otherwise and tells her to put her fear away. Her fighting style has improved considerably.

Daenerys places one of the dragon eggs in the hot coals and grasps it as her handmaiden enters. The girl rushes to push her hands away, burning her own in the process. But Daenerys sees her own are untouched.

Later, Daenerys undergoes a ritual where she must consume a horse's heart. Viserys thinks she'll throw it up and fail, but she ultimately succeeds. In the eyes of the Dothraki she's become their queen, and Drogo is proud of her. Jorah interprets for Viserys that her unborn child is going to be the stallion that mounts the world—the one who unites all the Dothraki. Viserys counters the boy will not be a true Targaryen. As Daenerys gets the cheers of the crowd, she names her son Rhaego, and Viserys realizes they all love her. 

He goes to her tent and takes all three dragon's eggs, preparing to leave. Jorah stops him, advising him not to show his sword in the city, given it's forbidden. No one has ever given him what the Dothraki gave to his sister. He can't rule without wealth or fear or love. Viserys says the eggs will bring enough money to buy a ship and an army. He accuses Jorah of wanting his sister, but says he doesn't care. He just wants to leave. Jorah tells him he can go, but must leave the eggs. Viserys angrily drops them and walks out.

Tyrion wakes up in his sky dungeon, nearly rolling off the ledge. He calls for Mord and tries to bargain for his release, but Mord gives him a beating and leaves. He later calls for Mord a second time, and is more successful at convincing him he can give him gold, given he's a Lannister, and they all pay their debts. In exchange, he asks Mord to tell Lady Arryn he's ready to confess. So he's called before an assembly and begins to recite a litany of mundane sins to make a mockery of them. Catelyn isn't impressed, but he refuses to confess to trying to kill Bran or Jon Arryn.

Lady Arryn is about to send him away but he demands a trial. She grants it, and opens the moon door, which is a big hole in the floor that opens to the canyon below. She declares her son will listen and judge him. Tyrion demands trial by combat instead, but no one will fight him, so he asks for a champion to stand in his place. While Lady Arryn's champion, Sir Egen, steps forward, Tyrion wants Jaime. But it will take too long to summon him and Arryn says the matter will be done today. So one man does step up to fight for him, Bronn, who appeared amused by Tyrion's earlier confessions.

Robert is off hunting with Renly, Barristan and Lancel. But Renly has to endure tales of his brother's love for the good old days. Renly loses it and asks him what were the good old days—when everyone was at war? Or when the Mad King killed people at his whim? Or before that when dragons burned cities? Robert tells him to watch his tongue and Renly storms off.

Sitting on the Iron Throne, Ned hears a petition from some villagers whose homes were attacked by brigands. Despite the massacre, nothing was stolen, but they left behind a bag of fish—the symbol for House Tully and Catelyn's family. The one who led them cut the head off a horse, which sounds a lot like Gregor Clegane, The Mountain. Petyr says he's been called Tywin Lannister's mad dog. Ned summons Beric Dondarrion to take one hundred men to Gregor's keep, and strips him of his ranks and titles, denounces him and sentences him to death. Pycelle is alarmed at the harsh punishment.

Ned isn't finished—he wants Petyr to summon Tywin to court to answer their questions, or he'll be branded a traitor to the realm. Petyr suggests it might be unwise to antagonize the Lannisters—gold wins wars, not soldiers, he says. Ned counters that if that's so, why is Robert king and not Tywin?

Bronn fights less honourably than Egen, but is just as good, goading him until he can gain the upper hand and ultimately kills him, freeing Tyrion. Catelyn watches all this in silence, but Tyrion happily takes his leave of them all while tossing Mord the gold he promised.

Septa attempts to make conversation with the increasingly bitchy Sansa who's upset her fairy tale life is falling apart. However, Joffrey makes a surprise appearance to woo her with an apology for his behaviour. He promises her that he'll never be cruel to her again and gives her a necklace like his mother's.

Theon finds Ros on a turnip cart leaving Winterfell for King's Landing. He doesn't want to see her go, but she says with possible war with the Lannisters there won't be many men around, while there will be ample opportunity in the capital. 

Ned announces he's sending Arya and Sansa back to Winterfell. Arya doesn't want to leave Syrio and asks if he can come. Sansa can't bear to leave Joffrey. Ned assures her he'll make a more worthy match when he's older. Sansa is furious. She wants to give him sons with beautiful blond hair like a lion. Arya says she's stupid because everyone knows the Baratheon sigil is the stag, but Sansa says Joffrey is nothing like the drunk king. Ned seems to go hmmm...and he looks through the book again, reading up on the Baratheon line, all of whom have black hair—except Joffrey.

Viserys shows up at the Dothraki feast drunk and with his sword. Drogo tells him to go sit down in the back, but he proceeds to put his sword to Daenerys' stomach and threatens to take her back given he hasn't paid for her—though he'll cut out the baby and leave it for him. As his words are translated, Drogo tells him he will get his golden crown. Viserys is pleased to hear that and backs down.

Drogo has him held down while he throws his gold belt into the cauldron and melts it. Daenerys watches as he takes the molten gold and pours it over Viserys' head, and her brother falls dead at their feet. "He was no dragon," she says. "Fire cannot kill a dragon."

The Verdict:
The series is striking a good balance between exposition-heavy episodes and more action-oriented ones. We got several fights here, with the Wilding attack exposing the growing threat of the White Walkers, a second mention of Mance Rayder, and Tyrion's freedom won at the hand of the less than honourable Bronn. 

Seeing Ned put back as Hand of the King was unexpected, but Robert's impotence in having to always answer to Cersei given her family's financial power really hit home this week. Lannisters bankroll the kingdom, and this was further emphasized with Tyrion gaining his freedom (another unexpected development). But it looks like Tywin will be making an appearance shortly.

Multiple secondary characters get some scenes, implying everyone's going to have something important to offer the plot. Sansa's fate remains up in the air. Of all the Stark children, she seems most likely to be sacrificed, and in light of how nasty she's turning, it might not be too far off before she falls victim to the Lannisters. Robb appears to be less a man of action as Theon is, but I was pleased to see the latter acted to save Bran, given there's a hint he could be moving over to the dark side of things against the Starks. And Renly took the opportunity to stand up to his brother on the hunt. Will he start working behind the scenes to move up the ladder of succession? Finally, I'm really getting to like Petyr, so I hope his help shown to the Stark family so far is genuine, and he's not part of the conspiracy.

We get another lingering shot on the Umber family but more detail about the Baratheon line and their black hair, giving further credence to the theory that Robert's children with Cersei are in fact Jaime's, and Arryn perhaps discovered this and sought to find true Baratheon heirs. That would make perfect sense to kill him from Jaime and Cersei's perspective. But is that too clean an explanation for the conspiracy? And for that matter, is everyone with dark hair a potential son of Robert (Jon Snow)? Perhaps Cersei's first child who died was the only one fathered by Robert.

It was no surprise that Viserys was going to be toast, but his death was certainly a suitable one. More interesting is Daenerys and her dragon blood, which is evidently not a myth, as more supernatural elements are coming to the forefront. What does that all mean?  Is she actually immune to all forms of fire? Does she have ambitions for the Iron Throne now—especially given her son has been declared the stallion that will mount the world? If the threat against Westeros is dead with Viserys, it would be ironic if Robert's assassination attempt provokes Drogo to invade.

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