“Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown”
King Henry IV, Part II
Ok, so potentially going to struggle to get through all of these before the series starts again [on the 6th April! Hype, hype, hype.]. That said, I’m going to endeavour to do a write up on each episode as I plough through them in preparation for the newest season.
Episode six is entitled ‘A Golden Crown’ and is once again one of those lovely titles that can be read onto several of the narrative threads of the episode. It would seem foolish to not start with the most literal example of crowning that we see in this hour. In our adventures over in Essos, we encounter two very differing ritualistic crownings for the Targaryen siblings. First we see Daenerys’ ascension to full-blown Khaleesi through her initiation into the Dothraki Horde. Dany admirably chokes down a raw horse heart in view of the Khalasar. Despite threatening to throw up, she manages to keep it down gaining the respect of her new subjects. Viserys is disgusted by proceedings and quips that he hopes that it wasn’t his horse. Dany’s unborn child is prophesied to be ‘the Stallion who mounts the World’; a great Khal who is foretold to unite the diasporic Dothraki tribes into an army that will conquer the world. Dany announces that her son with be called Rhaego, in honour of her brother, and she is lauded by the Dothraki in the tent. Ever the font of knowledge and the man to underline the finer thematic points, Jorah Mormont sums it up best: “She truly is a queen today.”
This is the tipping point of the growing concerns of the Targaryen story in this first season: that of Dany’s increased ability to adapt to her new surroundings, while Viserys stubbornly holds onto his sense of entitlement and refuses to acknowledge that he needs to be flexible in order to reclaim what he believes is rightfully his. Seeing the adoration his younger sister is treated with is the breaking point and the self-styled Last Dragon decides it is time to cut and run. He goes to steal the dragon eggs in order to buy himself a ship and an army. He’s thwarted by Jorah the Andal and the showdown between the two reveals a self awareness by Viserys that was hitherto unapparent. The usually pig-headed elder sibling exposes an acute understanding of his failings as a leader and the true requirements for power, observing the pressures he has faced as the last member of a dying dynasty, as well as the fact that no-one has ever loved or supported him in the way that Danaerys is adored by the Dothraki. It’s almost enough to imbue Viserys with some pathos, despite his pathetic warning that “No-one touches the dragon”. It’s just a bit of a shame that he’s otherwise an insufferable arse. He’s a solid example of what the series does well: it doesn’t paint characters in absolutes – everyone is redeemable/ fallible to lesser or greater extents.
This showdown also gives Jorah his big moment in the sun. He proves his loyalty whilst also showcasing his keen eye for a good mast to nail his colours too. It is no surprise that he is a Northman given the sense of honour and nobility that he effortless exudes and embodies [even if it is pretence at times]. Jorah’s position as a spy for the crown, specifically Varys, seems to be less cut and dried at this point as he begins to notice the younger Targaryen’s potential. While Viserys’ accusation of the Bear’s slightly less than pure intentions perhaps holds some water, he nonetheless is steadfast in his defence of the Khaleesi. It also grants Jorah the opportunity to powerfully boom a variation of his house words as he declares to the cowardly dragon “and yet, Here I Stand”. Phwoar. Gives me the tingles.
The second crowning in Vaes Dothrak is one of my favourite moments of season one and one of the stand-out moments of the series as a whole. Viserys’ golden coronation really lays down a marker to prove that the programme isn’t going to pull any punches when it comes to depicting acts of outstanding violence and cruelty. You’ll find few arguments that Viserys didn’t get exactly what he deserved. His ignorance towards the customs of the Dothraki prove to be his ultimate undoing as he brandishes his steel weapon in the presence of the Horde. It comes across of the last ditch efforts of a truly desperate man to fulfill his own ambition and there is an overwhelming sense of unease permeating the scen as soon as he manically re-enters the tent. He crows to anyone who will listen and demands “the crown that was promised” to him. Khal Drogo duly obliges and provides him with a golden crown that “men will tremble to behold.” It’s a truly horrifying moment and the visceral quality of the scene is punctuated by the deafening clink of the newly gilded head of the Last Dragon slamming against the floor. Poetic justice.
Beyond the literal golden crown we get in Essos, the other golden crown to be found in this episode has much bigger consequence for the larger narrative of the first season. This golden crown, of course, belongs to one Joffrey Baratheon [or is that Lannister? Or Hill? Or Waters?]. After a scene with Sansa in which Joffrey actually comes across as genuinely repentant for his mistreatment of his wife-to-be and presents himself as a gentle soul. The whole frame is bathed in a warm golden glow, a neat visual nod, with a lightly swelling score to create a scene that does pluck at the heartstrings. Ned’s delving into the issue of Robert’s Baratheon finally comes full circle as an offhand comment by his eldest daughter finally makes the penny drop. After threatening to take his children back to Winterfell and promising to find someone more worthy for Sansa, she implores her father that “I don’t want someone brave and gentle and strong. I want him” [cue smirks from Arya and her father] before she points out that Joffrey is a “beautiful golden lion”.
The puzzle pieces finally fully fall into place after Ned consults his favourite bedside reading. Turns out that every member of the male line of the Baratheon family is “black of hair” apart from dear old Joffrey. The crown of J’s head is covered with the tell-tale golden locks of a Lannister. There’s a delicious irony in the fact that Joffrey’s own golden crown is the one that proves that he is not the rightful wear of a more material golden crown. What wisdom there is in the throwaway words of a child.
Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown indeed.
A few potentially salient points to pick out:
- The differences between Viserys and Danaerys that is highlighted in Cripples, Bastards and Broken Things is expressed further visually in a scene with Dany and one of her slave attendants. Dany’s growing curiosity towards the petrified dragin eggs gets the better of her as she tries to hatch them over a fire. There’s some seriously maternal vibes already from the future Mother of Dragons here. You can’t help but wince as her attendant runs in to pull the scalding hot egg from her mistresses grip, searing her own flesh in the process. Daenerys is left unscathed though, providing evidence towards the strength of her Targaryen blood. Contrast with Viserys’ frailty and lack of immunity to fire. [potentially further underlined by hhis death by fire]. It’s a clear visual nod to the superiority of the younger sibling.
- As well as the clear motif of gold being important in both Vaes Dothrak and King’s Landing, gold plays a significant part in the Vale too. Tyrion tries to bribe his way out of the skycells [once again, I’m impressed with how great they are conceptually. Terrifying stuff]. Tyrion’s explanation to his prison guard guard grunt that “sometimes possession is an abstract concept” is wickedly funny. Tyrion is once again granted the bulk of the funnies, as his reading of his own rap sheet in front of his persecutors testifies. [“Making the bald man cry” is another cracking line]. We get an insight into the justice system of Westeros as Tyrion demands a trial by combat. Bronn eventually steps forward to act as the Imp’s champion and duly dispatches the champion of the Vale in a great fight. The sight of his lifeless body tumbling into the abyss after being brutally executed by the sellsword is fantastic. Another very impressively choreographed fight. The swordfighting is a real stand out feature of the series. Tyrion proves that the adage of a Lannister always paying their debts to be true as he tosses a purse of gold to his former prison guard.
- There’s some seriously sage advice on show from Syrio Forel in this ep as he provides his young swordswoman with some genuine pearls of wisdom. “If you are with troubles when fighting happens… more trouble for you”. Seems that these words ring true for many of the major players in the War of the Five Kings: they become embroiled in fights whilst also battling personal demons. These demons then become exacerbated by the conflict. There are many who would do well to heed Syrio’s words.
- We start to get a better understanding of Theon’s frustration in his position within Winterfell. After providing Robb with some unsolicited military advice, the Young Wolf cuts him down, suggesting that it’s not his duty as it’s “not his house”. Scathing. Theon gets to give Robb a taste of his own medicine by delivering his line back to him, leaving him to search for Bran by himself. Theon comes back in the nick of time to save his brother-by-proxy from a Wilding attacks. Proof perhaps that lineage is not everything when it comes to looking out for one another. This moment still seems to be laying the foundations for Theon’s deep-rooted discomfort with being both an insider and an outsider. I’ve also been slightly struck by how little screen time Robb Stark has had thus far. Obviously this changes in the near future but still noteworthy. Every time I see him it makes me soul ache a little though, so perhaps its for the best.
- “We’re going as far South as South goes. There ain’t no White Walkers in Dorne”. Throwaway line from one of the Wildings but something to bear in mind possibly.
- This episode also gives us another one of my favourite moments of the first season [and one that has found its way into my personal lexicon] in Syrio’s explanation of his religious beliefs. “There is only one god and his name is Death…And there is only one thing we say to Death? Not today.”. This is the first time that we are really exposed to the differing religious beliefs of the people of Westeros and Essos. These really come to the fore in the later seasons, especially with the introduction of Melisandre but I’ll mention those as and when they appear. For now, suffice it to say that the conflict between the various different religious beliefs and factions is just as significant for the fate of Westeros and its people as the outcome of the War of the five Kings is.
A few minor observations:
- We get to see Ned flex his muscles a bit as Hand of the King in Robert’s absence, along with lots of close-up shots of Ned’s feeble grip on his cane. The Mountain is once again given a lot of build up as an absolute bastard that is not ever really delivered on in the first season, beyond the Tourney scene. As I’ve touched on before, I’m almost certain that this will change and we will experience first hand what the mad dog is capable of. Perhaps a slight stretch again, but the bag of gutted fish that is poured onto the floor of the throne room seem too significant to gloss over. This is passed off as a gesture of dissent from the Lannisters towards the Tullys due to Catelyn’s actions towards Tyrion. However, given what happens to the Tullys at the hands of the Lannisters, this image seems particularly striking and foreboding.
- The knight that Ned sends to bring the Mountain to justice is none other than the Lightning Lord himself, Berric Dondarrion [pre-eyepatch???]. I’m pretty sure that they recast him as this guy doesn’t look right to me. Still interesting to see him. I’m not quite certain on how Berric ends up with the Brotherhood Without Banners. Maybe he is/was a particularly staunch Robert/ Stannis man and ended up drifting away.
- Ned’s actions denouncing Gregor Clegane are pretty damned strong, stripping him of all titles and lands and even demanding that Tywin Lannister come to court to answer for the crimes of his vassals. This provokes Littlefinger to very pertinently question whether it is “wise to yank the Lion’s tail?”. No it certainly is not, lad. Still, I can’t wait for Tywin Lannister to get involved. Can’t get me enough Charles Dance.
- Ned and Robert kiss and make up to some degree as Robert visits Ned’s sick bed. Ned wants to ask his King about the fate of the Targaryen girl. Robert says that they’ll talk about it when he returns from the hunt. Oh no you won’t. Basically if anyone says that they’ll talk to another character about something at a later date, they’re *fucked*. That said, Robert’s confession that he doesn’t love his biological brothers and that Ned is the brother he chose is a really touching, humanly moment that is made all the more poignant by the fact that this is one of the last times they will be on screen together. It also sort of maps on to the scene with Robb/ Theon/ Bran in that sometimes the ties that bind us the strongest aren’t the ones defined by blood.
- Speaking of the hunt, I was surprised at how obvious Lancel Lannister’s poisoning of Robert is. It is seems pretty obvious and telegraphed and yet somehow managed to completely bypass me first time round. Seems fairly cut and dried to me. And Ser Barristan Selmy definitely clocks what’s going on. The camera lingers on Barristan’s face for a beat too long as he stares at the Lannister boy with a knowing look and a deftly ominous musical cue. Nothing gets past him; he’s been round the block once or twice.
- The now weekly occurence of Robert Baratheon’s one-liners. I’m going to miss him shortly. Cersei almost is virtually spitting acid as she states that she “shall wear the armour and you the gown” to her husband. The back of Robert’s hand disagrees with her. He then warns her to wear that particular badge of honour with silence or he’ll honour her again. Marital bliss, everyone.
- While Robert’s talk of ‘making the 8’ rubs Renly up the wrong way, it hits all the right spots for me. Give me a prequel series starring Robert during his rebellion: kicking ass and taking names, slaying his enemies and pussy up and down the King’s Road NOW.
That’s all, folks.