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'Game of Thrones' Season 1, Episode 6 Recap

by Maureen Ryan, posted May 22nd 2011 10:00PM
['Game of Thrones' - 'A Golden Crown']

Considering the title of this episode, it's worth taking stock of the rulers who are (or who want to be) at the top of the pecking order in Westeros.

As I noted last week, the 'Game' of the show's title is getting underway in earnest, and the most important players in this competition are real pieces of work, that's for sure.

In the Eyrie, there's a widow who isn't quite right in the head. She still commands respect and fear from those who swore allegiance to her late husband, but even those loyalists must have doubts about Lysa Arryn's querulous, autocratic ways.

The fact that she's allowing her spoiled young son a say in various decisions is another factor that doesn't exactly inspire confidence. Holed up in their lonely, magnificent perch, the Arryn family is not exactly the picture of robust, forward-thinking leadership.

Across the sea, Viserys displays a similarly reckless personality. Like Lysa's son, he's been raised to think he not only that he would be a leader of men, but that he should be a leader of men. Let's face it, though, Viserys has never had a really good grasp on the reality of his situation. Heredity can help when it comes to getting the top job in any kingdom (then or now), but there's more to it than that. Money helps, as does the ability to lead and inspire. And as Robert said last week, kingdoms are often kept in line by "fear and blood," but nobody in Vaes Dothrak fears Viserys -- not his little sister, certainly not the powerful Khal, who earned his place at the head of the Dothraki army on merit.

Viserys' scene with Jorah Mormont did an excellent job of showing the human side of this impetuous, cruel aristocrat (kudos to Harry Lloyd for keeping Viserys just this side of sane in all his scenes). In that moment, it was easy to see the lost boy inside Viserys, one who had been fed fanciful notions about his royal bloodline but who had never had firm adult guidance helping him channel his energies and ambitions. In that moment, his ferocious need to be worshiped seemed to spring as much from his status as an outcast and an orphan as it did from his desire to oust Robert Baratheon from a throne he considered Targaryen property.

In the end, it was his lack of judgment that did Viserys in. Having never learned to respect anyone else, he never learned to command the respect of others; having never learned how to be patient, he wasn't about to start acting prudently now. His aristocratic attitudes, given that they weren't joined to any other practical qualities, were only a liability for him, and it was only a matter of time before the Khal made him pay the ultimate price for menacing the Khaleesi.

Emilia Clarke was terrific in that scene, as she has been throughout the whole season. It was clear that Daenerys knew, as soon as Khal Drogo began speaking, that her brother was not long for this world. Her eyes shone with understanding, sadness and the kind of maturity Viserys never acquired. She is beginning to understand what it takes to not just become a ruler but stay a ruler, and she becomes a more potent threat to Westeros every day.

The idea of what constitutes effective leadership is one that Time critic James Poniewozik discussed in a long interview with George R.R. Martin, upon whose novels 'Game of Thrones' is based (all Poniewozik's excellent 'GoT' coverage can be found here). What's most intriguing about that discussion is the idea that good men are sometimes bad leaders, and vice versa. It's certainly true that Westeros is short of both leaders and good men, but it's not clear that Ned's approach will be any more effective than Robert's.

Robert is clearly more interested in evading his responsibilities than he is in fulfilling them -- his idea of good leadership is to appoint Ned as Hand and install him on the Iron Throne while he goes off on a bender. Sure, he calls it a hunting trip, but that pathetic hunting party is really just another excuse (as if he needs one) for Robert to goof off, drink too much and blather on about the good old days. The scene of Renly and Robert in the forest did several things deftly: It displayed the long-simmering tension in that relationship, it reminded us of how hard-won the peace of the last 17 years has been, and it reinforced the idea that, as a leader, Robert is more fixated on the glories of old battles than on the problems of a nation that is fraying before his eyes.

But is Ned any better at ruling than Robert is? It's certainly easy to praise Ned for drawing a line in the sand with the Small Council last week, but this week, his actions may well have been too rash (and by the way, for all his talk about what he wouldn't do, his edict about not participating in Daenerys' murder went by the wayside pretty quickly).

By calling for Ser Gregor Clegane's arrest and execution and by calling on the richest man in the kingdom to account for his actions, Ned may well have put events into motion that he cannot contain. One gets the sense that, given the chance to rule, Ned wanted to do something firm and forthright, but is that what's best here? Has he really thought these moves through?

Then again, maybe Robert is right. He may be irresponsible and foolish, but he's not dumb, and it could well be that, as the king has said, nothing can stop the kingdom from descending into chaos.

As was the case with last week's episode, which I thought was substantially better than what came before it, 'A Golden Crown' benefited from a unified tone; it had an atmosphere of dread combined with a sense of tragic, driving inevitability. The fight at the Eyrie was of a piece with the death of Viserys and the chaos at King's Landing -- all these thing signal that a new order, not just winter, is coming.

With Viserys out of the way, Daenerys and her husband have a free hand to do what they will with his army. Ned may be making reactive decisions, but at least he's taking action -- showing his hand, as it were. But perhaps the most important development, oddly enough, was the fight between Bronn, Tyrion Lannister's hired fighter, and the armor-clad knight in the Eyrie.

The old order of knights, honor, tournaments and aristocratic privilege is passing away in this world (one of the things this story shares with 'Lord of the Rings' is a sense of mourning for the passing of a golden age). Honor is like the Eyrie knight's armor -- it simply weighed him down. Bronn is a street fighter, unencumbered by heavy gear and old-fashioned ideas about how well-behaved men fight. Bronn wasn't fighting to impress anyone (though a job with Tyrion would certainly pay well). He was fighting to survive, and in the rough-and-tumble future that Westeros faces, he's better equipped than that poor knight was.

There's a sense of sadness as these grand old ideas about chivalry go by the wayside, but as Renly points out, the good old days may never have truly existed, not in the idealized way that Robert recalls. In any event, it's hard not to think that those with most gold, the scrappiest spirit and the fewest morals are best equipped for the coming storm.

There may be a leader out there who possesses the practical nature, the cunning energy and the moral backbone that Westeros needs right now, but... well, Arya's too young to rule. So the dung is bound to hit the fan pretty soon.

As for Ned's great realization at the end of the episode, it fell flat for me, but I think it may have been a bit of a fizzle for anyone whose read the books on which the TV show is based. Still, even if you're new to this story, the idea that Cersei's children aren't Robert's offspring can't have felt like much of a reveal, considering we saw her sleeping with her golden-haired brother in the first episode.

Still, this episode and the one before had more energy than the ones that came before; not every part of the story displays the same sense of urgency and the same level of complexity, but the fact that the last two episodes have been satisfying is a hopeful sign.

A few final observations:

• The Eyrie is, in my view, the show's most arresting interior space. It's simply spectacular, and the throne room there is more interesting than the one in King's Landing, in my view. Lysa's swooping wooden throne, the blue-patterned walls, the Moon Door -- all of it is visually impressive and all the scenes set there have an extra charge to them, thanks to the heroic look of the place. I can't say Lysa's that interesting as a character, but I certainly like her house.

• I enjoyed our first sight of the Wildlings, and I'm glad Robb Stark finally got some screen time. It was also nice to see Bran having some fun riding in his custom-made saddle (well, until the Wildlings began menacing him).

• Others have commented on this, and I'd like to just add my voice to theirs: There's something displeasing and wrong, on a racial level, with the Dothraki scenes. Those scenes contain a lot of people of color, and they also contain a lot of gratuitous nudity, and it all makes for a problematic aesthetic and message. The depiction of these "unsophisticated" people, their "strange" ways and the many other signifiers that scream "uncivilized" end up recycling a lot of very unfortunate cliches about "dark-skinned savages." Pursuant to that, there was absolutely no need for that many dancing women in Viserys' death scene to be topless. Whether or not they were naked in the book doesn't matter. Here, the depiction of the culture (and the women in that scene) came across as cheap and exploitative. Let me be clear: I'm not anti-nudity. I think it's been integrated well on shows like 'Spartacus,' 'Tell Me You Love Me' and countless other cable dramas. Here, the scene came off as if a Pier One had been turned into a strip club. To say that it was less than satisfying on an aesthetic, cultural and sensual level would be putting it mildly.

• Having said that, I can distinguish between the choices the show is making and the performances of the actors; sometimes the former is unfortunate even when the latter is not. Despite the fact that he hasn't gotten much dialogue, I think Jason Momoa's been effective as Khal Drogo, especially in the scene in which his young bride at a horse heart. You could tell he was really rooting for her, and that those two share a potent bond.

• I love Mord. Great performance by the actor and his scenes added some welcome comic notes to the freaky Eyrie vibe. And though I continue to find Peter Dinklage's over-enunciation and his accent problematic, he certainly played that "confession" scene well.

• Despite having largely enjoyed the last two episodes, I still think a number of characters, relationships and dilemmas are less complex and interesting than they were in the books, and some troublesome characters are even less satisfying than they were in Martin's novels. Sansa is an unappealing character here, and the scene with Joffrey was particularly poorly handled. We have no context for Joffrey's decision to reconcile with Sansa; maybe it's related to the other goings-on in King's Landing, but we don't get that sense at all. In any event, the TV version of Sansa is even more narrow and self-absorbed than the one in the books. Even though we may intellectually understand why an impressionable young girl may fall for Joffrey's good looks and ignore his many faults, it's hard to invest in anything to do with those two, because they're both bratty and frequently annoying. I certainly didn't love Sansa in the books, but at least there I wasn't praying for her to get off the stage every time the story turned to her life. And I don't fault the actress for this; I fault a problem I've been bringing up since the debut of the show: Shorn of context and depth and reduced to cogs in a plot-spinning machine, some of these characters aren't much to write home about.

• So, at this point, you and I have both seen six episodes of 'Game of Thrones.' I'll take this opportunity to re-link to my overall review of the series. Have any further thoughts on what I wrote in that review, now that you've seen as many episodes as I had when I wrote it? Do tell in comments.

Here are a few housekeeping notes. Please keep in mind that every commenter will be held to the standards set forth below.

• On this site, we observe the Lurkers Rule: The environment here should be so accepting, so calm and so non-screechy that the most timid lurker should feel it's safe to express his or her opinion. If you have a problem with any comment on this site, hit the "report this comment" button or email me at maureen.ryan@teamaol.com.

• If you express yourself in a hostile, repetitive or unpleasant fashion, or if your starting point is that 'Game of Thrones' is not something that should be subjected to thoughtful, rational discussions of its positive and negative aspects, this is not the site for you. If you can't be civil and respect other commenters, your comments will be deleted.

• Please, please don't mention any spoilers about what happens in subsequent episodes. No talking about what happens in the books beyond the story lines we saw here.

• If you're new to the world of 'Game of Thrones,' do check out the fan sites Westeros, Winter is Coming and Tower of the Hand. They've got active message boards and a ton of interviews and intel, and if you want to get deeper into this world, you can't go wrong with those sites. HBO's got an extensive Viewer's Guide here. And of course, if you want to check out our features and interviews with the 'GoT' brain trust, including Martin and executive producers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, we've got loads of stories here.

'Game of Thrones' airs 9PM ET Sundays on HBO.

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Chicago

Loved episode 6. It made up for episodes 3/4. I don't get Cat Stark at all! She forgives Ned for cheating on her by channeling all her hatred on the innocent child fathered by him which she raises in her home along with her own children. She is the closest thing he has had as a mother and she continues to shower him with hate! And what about her youngest son, age 6! Does she remembers him at all? Then, she leaves Bran whose unconscious, to go running after Ned with a message that could have been delivered by someone else! Smart move, kidnapping Tyrion! Look what happens as a result of that! Did not read the book, love the series, but dislike Cat Stark intensely! Thanks George. Your views on the female gender and what should be done with them are noted!

Chicago914

May 27 2011 at 12:18 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Elias

I absolutely love Game of Thrones, it’s been amazing so far. I can’t believe I’d never heard of the books, which I’m going to start reading soon. My favorite scene so far has to be Viserys getting a pot of molten gold poured on his head. It was absolutely brutal, but he got what he deserved. Unfortunately I had to miss the show when it first aired on Sunday, but luckily as a DISH customer and employee I was able to watch it from work on my lunch break using my iPhone and the TV Everywhere app, which lets me watch live or recorded TV from anywhere as long as I have a 3G or wifi connection.

May 26 2011 at 8:52 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
ftaren

Oh, and one more thing. The one thing that bothered me the most about this episode: The entirety of the 7 Kingdoms must be morons not to see that Robert's children fit the whole "one of these things is not like the other one..." Surely, rumors should be more rampant, unless Jamie is just that good at snuffing things.

May 26 2011 at 12:25 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
ftaren

I agree we haven't gotten a lot of detail about the Dothraki, but we haven't gotten a lot of detail about anyone, really. Not yet. At least, not to my complete satisfaction. I sort of expected it to take a few episodes and this was the first time I ever felt like we started to get even slightly deeper into any of the cultures. If it continues, then I think that it will only be for the good of the series. I feel the charge of racism is hollow and is better seen as a critique not of a racist element or depiction-which as an historian and cultural studies person, I can understand where you might see it-but rather of a failing of the team behind the series to avoid unintentional instances. However, that is a bit of a PC way to approach everything. It would be like asking Tony Soprano to be a devout member of the ACLU. Just not happening. Do I think the series is racist? No, and I didn't find the scene racist. I don't think your comment was wrong in and of itself, but what I do think was off was what you identified. What bothered me was they took the chance to have a much more complex examination and went for titilation.Perhaps stuff got cut out, or perhaps they ran out of time/money-although unlikely-but this IS HBO and if any scene is going to be ripe for nude women, aside from something in a brothel or Robert chasing scullery maids, then the Dothraki are it. Many cultures around the world have nude celebrations like the one in this episode. Depicting this is not racist. Other than this one point-and the fact you still don't "feel" Dinklage as Tyrion-I think I mainly agree with your comments on the series so far. You and Alan over at Hitfix are two of the few tv critics I regularly read.

May 26 2011 at 12:21 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
moryan

And also, what Craig said: "Doesn't mean for a moment I think anyone connected with the show is actually misogynist or racist, just that I wish their treatment of such things was more complex and nuanced."

Yep.

May 25 2011 at 3:21 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
moryan

Thanks for all the comments and insights. I just want to make one point: We who've read the books have got to be very careful of not giving the show attributes and contexts and qualities that the books have.

For instance: The Dothraki. In the books, we get much more information about how Dany adapts to their culture and though there are some wobbly aspects of that story that do veer toward questionable stereotypes, on the whole, in the books the Dothraki are depicted as people who possess an ancient culture that has many admirable qualities.

The TV series hasn't given us that level of depth on the Dothraki. It just hasn't, imho. It's given us a few scenes that are mainly focused on Dany's coming of age, and it's had to speed through or eliminate almost everything else to do with that story line. Then, on top of that, the show doesn't help with a visual shorthand that will help us understand them more deeply -- it gives us Pier One as the Native Savage Strip Club. Not a great moment in the show's short history, imho.

May 25 2011 at 3:21 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Ipsilon

Joffrey's motivation in the scene with Sansa comes from his scene with Cersei (episode 4, I think?) where Cersei tells him to suck it up and make nice with Sansa because they're going to be married some day.

May 25 2011 at 1:34 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Royce

It's interesting how Ned's near-death experience made him rethink his hard line on being honorable. He realized that being the King's Hand was perhaps the only thing that could protect him, and quickly set aside his assassination objections in order to protect himself. In that sense, he made a straightforward "better for Dany Targaryen to die than me and my family" calculation.

A good example of how the 'game of thrones' exerts a corrupting influence on even the most honorable in this world.

May 24 2011 at 5:02 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
witless chum

As my wife said when we talked about this, "I haven't seen the Dothraki throw any children out the window." To me, cultural relatavism would argue that buying into the idea that the show's depiction of the Dothraki is bad sneaking up to buying onto the idea that there's something wrong with being frequently-naked tribal horse people?

I think any group of accurately-portrayed historical horse nomads would seem "strange" and weird, maybe monstrous to modern audiences. Think about the historical Mongols or something. But the lords and ladies of Westeros aren't really that much more simpatico to modern morals and such, are they?

But the point about the tent scene looking like a strip club with go-go dancers is pretty spot on. The Dothraki scenes have looked not great in general because they obviously don't have the money to depict a horde. They also are casting every brown-skinned person they can find, rather than people who look like a racially homogeneous tribe, like they are in the books, which is probably also a budget thing. I always imagined the Dothraki Sea as looking like the Great Plains or the Eurasian steppe and we haven't gotten a nice grassland vista yet. Martin described the Dothraki as looking like Native Americans, but culturally being more like the horse peoples of Asia, who periodically would descend onto the more agrarian areas of Europe and Asia. So, too bad they didn't have the budget ot film in South Dakota and cast a bunch of Lakota as extras.

May 24 2011 at 4:39 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
matt

I was surprised by the charge of racism. While on the surface the Dothraki are less civilized than the nobility of Westeros, two things punch huge holes in that charge. One, the Dothraki are more honorable than the nobility of Westeros. They might be dirtier on the outside (they are nomadic after all) than the people of Westeros, but they're fare cleaner on the inside. Two, they may not wear shirts (lots of cultures around the world don't have our Protestant body shame) but they are a force to be reckoned with. The nobles in Westeros are scared of these people and don't want them coming after them. They may deride them as others, sure. But it's partly out of a justified fear of the sophistication of their military. And lastly, as seasons go on and the scope of the story opens up and we meet new cultures of people of color and other white groups who are fairly "savage" (the Wildlings) I think this lopsided racial treatment will feel more balanced.

May 24 2011 at 4:32 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to matt's comment
ftaren

I agree about that charge of racism being a little overwrought. I didn't find the scene "cheap or exploitive" in the least. In fact, it seemed no worse than any other scene in any other section of this series or a dozen others including the ones mentioned. Now, if they had staged it like something out of 300, then there might be an issue.

May 24 2011 at 6:30 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
banderweir

totally agree as well. I mean, where the hell did the race charge come from? I didn't find anything the least bit racist about that scene or any other throughout this entire series for that matter. The only person thinking about any ties to any so-called "real-life historic dark-skinned savages" is the person who wrote it. I mean, what does their color have to do with being civilized? The fact that the Dothraki live almost completely outdoors in the sun would give their skin a bit more pigment I would think. Also, this is a fictitious group of people. They can be whatever color the author wants them to be.
Also, believe it or not, I didn't even notice any nudity in the "golden crown" scene; I was paying attention to the awesome death of a prick, not the background.
Furthermore, I have no problem whatsoever with the dwarf's accent.

May 24 2011 at 8:56 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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