Programming note: I know some people have watched the seventh episode in advance via HBO Go. Regardless, we’re not discussing it here. Please don’t spoil it for anyone who may not have seen it. Thanks.
There’s a saying in the world of the Seven Kingdoms, a saying that has never been more apt than in this week’s episode, “A Golden Crown.”
“In the Game of Thrones, you win, or you die.”
That phrase resonated more powerfully in this episode than ever before, as we saw just how dangerous a game this is. This week, we saw the lengths that people will go to preserve the crown if they have it, and how far they will go if they want it — and the price to be paid for it. Ned Stark, healing from the wound he received at the hands of Jaime Lannister’s Kingsguard, has returned to serve Robert as The King’s Hand, and with that return, set himself and the realm on a path that bodes ill for all. By declaring Gregor Clegane, a man monstrous both in stature and in actions, an outlaw, he fired a warning shot across the bow of the Lannisters — made worse by his vendetta against Jaime, who has left the city. Meanwhile, Robert, despite his begrudgingly enjoyable repartee with Cersei last week, alienates his wife further by reinstating Robert — and slapping her in his presence certainly didn’t help things.
The Game continued in the Vale, where Tyrion miraculously schemed his way out of a death sentence, using the tools he has to make up for his diminutive stature — money, luck and charm. Tyrion masterfully manipulates the oafish jailer Mord, he manipulates Lysa and Catelyn and Lysa’s weak-minded son Robert, and gains himself an ally in the sellsword Bronn (who, can I just say, is another well-cast character — almost perfectly come to life from the page). After rolling the dice on a trial by combat, he lucks out by having Bronn take up his cause, then lucks out again by having Bronn best Lord Vardis. The battle between Bronn and Vardis was brilliantly played out, as Bronn wins — perhaps without valor, but certainly with wit and cunning. It’s a wonderful little metaphor for the state of the kingdom itself — honor gets you killed. Cleverness and opportunism will save your life. That’s how the Game is won and lost.
And across the Narrow Sea, we learn that one must play the Game even more cautiously among the Dothraki. One had the feeling all along that Viserys was tumbling towards an inevitable fate. His childish rantings, his wanton cruelty and abuse of his sister, his disrespect for the Dothraki and disregard for their ways — there was no way it would end well. Viserys played the Game clumsily and gracelessly, and even in a land of brutes and savages, those traits and ill-played hands will get you killed. And Viserys got killed in one of the more unique, and truly horrific, ways possible. He received his golden crown and is all the poorer for it.
“A Golden Crown” is one of the episodes where the world of “A Game Of Thrones” arrived at a crossroads, and the path chosen was a harsh and vicious one. The bodies are piling up, and the consequences are beginning to show themselves as bleak and terrible. Even in Winterfell, where Robb Stark and Theon Greyjoy got to play the hero, bloodying their young hands to save Bran, the seeds of discontent continue to be sown. Theon is ever resentful of his status and Robb is unsure of how to handle the hand that seems to have been played for him. Meanwhile, his sisters are at the mercy of the conflict in King’s Landing. Sansa continues to be the most irritating creature in all of the Seven Kingdoms, blinded by her desperate need for acceptance and royalty, even if it comes from a vile, conniving brat like Joffrey Baratheon. Joff, though, was perfect this week — a two-faced charlatan who sweet-talks the delicate, vulnerable Sansa, even as the audience wants to scream “DON’T TRUST HIM!” from the highest tower.
And Arya continues to be my favorite, perhaps even more than Tyrion. Young Maisie Williams captured the essence of the rebellious, recalcitrant and yet vibrant young girl with a wicked deftness. Once again, her scene with Syrio the River Dancer was one of the episode’s highlights. Syrio comes off as a bit theatric and dandyish, but you get the sense that there’s both danger and wisdom behind his flowery words and catlike movements.
But if there was a scene that will stay with me, it’s easily the Dosh Khaleen ceremony. The sight of lovely, gentle Daenerys consuming a raw horse’s heart was at once terrifying and strangely beautiful. As her unborn child is named “The Stallion That Mounts The World,” (which is what I kind of wished they’d used as an episode title), you can sense the shift of power, as Danaerys shows herself to truly be stronger than ever expected — be it from remaining unscathed after holding the burning hot dragon’s egg, or forcing down that awful meal — you knew that Viserys’ time was short. He either had to make a move, or move aside. Unfortunately, his drunken buffoonery cost him his life — but it also helped cement Daenerys as a true queen.
The sixth episode of “Game Of Thrones” showed the consequences of the game itself. People are dying now, and the conflict is growing. The seeds of war are being sown, even if those like Theon are the only ones to acknowledge it. Ned has set the Crown on an irrevocable path, one that Robert himself may not have chosen. Certainly Cersei will be up in arms at the blow struck against her bannerman Gregor, not to mention her father Tywin. Ned’s noblesse oblige suddenly smacks of rashness and was the deadliest of gambles — especially when done in Robert’s absence. Tyrion maneuvered himself out of one frying pan, but the fire of the Stark’s wrath remains to be dealt with. Daenerys has found her people, finally accepted through fate and blood to be their queen and the mother of the one who will rule the world for them. And Winterfell finds itself lost and confused, with Wildlings at the gates and conflict within. All of it means that the paths are beginning to be set, and the Game is in full swing, and it feels like blood and chaos will be forthcoming.