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As the Crow Flies, As the Lion Roars: A Golden Crown on Game of Thrones

"He was no dragon. Fire cannot kill a dragon." - Daenerys

More than halfway through the season of HBO's Game of Thrones, we've come to what was arguably my favorite episode of the run so far (though, now that I've seen Episode Seven, I think I've changed my mind), which reveals several secrets lurking in the background of the series ("the seed is strong") and begins to move the players into place for the climactic gamesmanship ahead.

On this week's episode of Game of Thrones ("A Golden Crown"), written by Jane Espenson, David Benioff, and D.B. Weiss and directed by Daniel Minahan, it's an installment that revolves around changes both great and small, about the way the scales can fall from our eyes and we can see the truth that has been standing in front of us for so long. For Ned, it's a realization of just why Jon Arryn died, of the terrible secret he had gleaned from the book of royal lineages, and just what this could mean for the throne... and for the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros. For Dany, it's the brutal truth of her brother's real nature, of his insatiable thirst for power and the twisted quality of his rampant heart.

It's also the episode in which the audience sees, for the first time, just how clever and cunning Tyrion truly is, as he's able to make his escape from the Eyrie without lifting a finger, turning to his usual weapons: his wits and his gold. While it's Catelyn who seized Tyrion, suspecting him of sending an assassin to dispatch Bran, it's this moment more than any other that precipitates a doom that threatens to engulf the kingdom. A Lannister, after all, always pays his debts.

If I have one complaint about this week's episode, it's that we don't really get a sense of Vaes Dothrak, the singular city within the grasses of the wide Dothraki Sea. A sacred city, a market city, we're told more about it than we're actually shown, which is a shame as George R.R. Martin's descriptions of the city paint it as a thing of awe: while there are no gates, the streets of this humble yet sacred place are lined with relics of the Dothraki's conquests: statues of fallen gods who now mark the path for the braided warriors.

While it could be due to production costs (CGI does cost time and money), we're only really given the opportunity to see the massive statuary of the horses that the travelers pass under and the inside of various tents within Vaes Dothrak, which is a shame as this location isn't quite as well established as well as others. The Eyrie, for example, is a thing of beauty: the mosaics within the throne room are jaw-dropping in their very artistry and Lysa's weirwood throne, all twisted and gnarled and pale, is only fitting given the Lady of the Vale's, um, mental state.

But within Vaes Dothrak, we're told more than we're shown: weapons are not permitted, Dany must undergo a grueling ceremony in which she has to eat (and keep down) an entire horse's heart. The latter, with its chants and gravity, does establish some sense of atmosphere about the place, but it's actually not until next week's episode (more on that in a bit) that we get a sense of what the "city" actually looks like. (Or at least the market elements.)

But that's a quibble in a strong installment that gives the audience what many of them have been begging for since the beginning of the series: the death of Viserys. It's a crowning glory of the season, in fact, as Viserys gets both his comeuppance and the golden crown he's been angling for, for which he sold his sister to the warlord Khal Drogo. If a Lannister always pays his debts, so too do the Dothraki in their own way, as Drogo pours a molten crown of gold directly onto Viserys' head.

It's shocking, gruesome, and very fitting: a liquid crown for a beggar king. Even in the end, Viserys failed to notice that it was his younger sister who was the true dragon among them: seemingly impervious to fire (as seen in the scene where she placed the dragon egg in the smouldering hearth), Daenerys has proven that the dragon HAS truly woken... but within her and not her scheming, weak brother. It's something that everyone--Drogo, Ser Jorah, and even Dany--notice. Everyone except the false dragon himself, who attempts to flee with Dany's prized dragon eggs and raise an army, until he's stopped by Jorah.

But just as Dany's inner strength is finally unleashed, so too is Cersei's, it seems. While Robert would attempt to put his wife in her place after she issues a withering remark ("I should wear the armor, and you the gown"), bashing her across the face for speaking out of turn, he seems to forget that his wife is a Lannister and that she too will find a way to repay her debts. (Their sick ego-centrism makes sense within this context: they're mirror images of each other and themselves.)

But the truth of what Jon Arryn discovered reaches beyond mere infidelity: Cersei and Jaime's unnatural love has produced three incestuous offspring, none of which truly have a rightful claim to the throne, as they are not Robert's children. In fact, it appears that the only one of Robert's trueborn children (as opposed to his black-haired bastards currently popping up all over King's Landing) was the wee son who died from a fever in infancy. Regardless of what Cersei may plot, Joffrey is no rightful price and Robert has failed to notice just how golden the hair of his children truly is. They are Lannisters through and through.

Can we escape our parentage? Is our duty inscribed in our blood and bones? Theon came to Bran's aid, despite the fact that he's been little more than a prisoner these past ten years. Is he more Stark than Greyjoy? Can he escape his heritage? Does he have a right to save the life of a boy he was raised alongside? While Robb rails against Theon ("it's not your duty because it's not your house"), I can't help but wonder if moral duty doesn't trump family. Theon fired that arrow because he cares for the members of House Stark, despite any rivalry that might exist. He fired because he didn't want Bran to die. He fired because he's human.

Robb, meanwhile, shows mercy to the wildling woman Osha, even when Theon wants to kill her. In the Iron Islands, this woman would be shown no mercy for her crime against Bran. But, despite his fierce Northern nature, Robb proves that he perhaps has more moral fortitude than Theon, sparing her life. Is it weakness or mercy that Robb shows that day? Can he afford to spare a prisoner's life or should he end it, lest she enact a bitter revenge? We'll soon see...

As for Bran, I've been wondering if or when we'd get to see the what he dreamt of while he slumbered... and this week gives us a glimpse into his subconscious, as he's lead through the walls of Winterfell by the three-eyed crow. While Bran is shocked into consciousness by the arrival of Hodor in his room and opens his eyes, it seems as though the crow is trying to tell him something: to open his own third eye, long shut to the world, to allow it to open and see the hidden nature of things. It's both a nifty bit of foreshadowing as well as a particularly eerie scene in and of itself. While it's not quite as it plays out within the novel, it nonetheless sets the stage for things to come. Will Bran keep his inner third eye tightly shut, or will he allow to slowly open to the dawning day? Hmmm...

Likewise, I once again loved the scenes between Arya and her "dancing tutor," Syrio. Particularly, as they seem to be greatly foreshadowing future events amid their deadly dance. Syrio's line about the one true god ("There is only one god, and his name is Death. And there is only one thing we say to death: 'Not today.'") filled me with dread. Death, it seems is stalking these characters. And while we might be able to escape it for one day, inevitably it comes to all...

Aside: I also watched Episode Seven of Game of Thrones ("You Win or You Die") last night (thanks to HBO Go, and a friend willing to share their login) and absolutely loved this episode, easily my favorite of the series. After all the set-up of the sixth episode, several subplots begin to pay off magnificently here. I don't want to say too much but I will say that the gratuitous scene at the beginning of the episode (while spectacularly sexy) makes much more sense by the end of the episode and that Aidan Gillen is at his absolute finest as Littlefinger here.

Intrigues, betrayals, and inciting acts of war all twist and tumble together in magical fashion, and the action is split between the goings-on in King's Landing (including some status quo-altering events) and The Wall, where Jon Snow prepares to take his vows, though he's met with some extremely disappointing circumstances. It's a jaw-dropping installment that's masterful in its pacing, reveals, and tension… and demonstrates just how vicious and cutthroat this game of thrones truly is.

Next week on Game of Thrones ("You Win Or You Die"), Tywin presses Jaime to “be the man you were meant to be” as they prepare for battle; Ned confronts Cersei about the secrets that killed Jon Arryn; Jon Snow takes his Night’s Watch vows, though not with the assignment he coveted; after Ser Jorah saves Daenerys from treachery, an enraged Drogo vows to lead the Dothraki where they’ve never gone before; an injured Robert makes plans for an orderly transition at King's Landing.

Comments

Bella Spruce said…
This was definitely my favorite episode too, though I agree with you about Vaes Dothrak not being as fully realized as the other locations. I love Dany's storyline but it makes it less believable when she's dressed like Safari Barbie and is eating a horse's heart on what appears to be the set of a Pier 1 catalog shoot. Nonetheless, the death of Viserys was fantastically creepy and the rest of the locations are incredible.

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