Episode 1.6 “A Golden Crown”
Written by Jane Espenson, David Benioff, and D.B. Weiss
Directed by Daniel Minahan
Commentary by Daniel Minahan, Peter Dinklage (Tyrion Lannister), Emilia Clarke (Daenerys Targaryen), and Harry Lloyd (Viserys Targaryen)
“There is only one god, and his name is Death. And there is only one thing we say to Death: not today.” –Syrio Forel
The god of Death haunts every aspect of this episode, and he’s not the fun, speaking-in-all-caps Death as found in Terry Pratchett. This episode has the most deaths in a single episode to-date, and even when characters aren’t actively dying, they’re taking actions that put themselves squarely in Death’s path.
Ned makes several moves that put him in checkmate to Death, and one of the biggest moves occurs in this episode. He starts out the episode looking like death warmed over, as he’s suffering from that injury to the leg one of the Lannisters favored him with last episode (it doesn’t hurt that Sean Bean was in the throes of the flu when he shot this scene). He sort-of accepts (in that he doesn’t refuse) Robert re-naming him Hand of the King and demanding he run the kingdom while Robert goes hunting—“killing things clears my head”—and takes Robert’s place on the Iron Throne. Between his leg hurting him, Petyr twitting him about the rising feud between Tully, Lannister, and Stark, and his own sense of honor and justice, Ned makes a crucial misstep: he orders Gregor Clegane stripped of his titles and put to death, then issues an order for Tywin Lannister to appear before the court or be named an enemy of the realm. This is after Robert has ordered him to make peace with the Lannisters so he can keep peace in the realm. So not only is Ned being politically stupid, he’s also defying the order of his king. One way or another, this is obviously going to end badly for Ned. (As Emilia Clarke says in the commentary, “That’s why I love this story, because it’s not like, ‘yay, hero’; you’re kind of at the same time going ‘you idiot.’ [. . .] But at the same time you’re like, ‘yeah, you just signed your life away.’”)
In Ned’s final scene in this episode, the penny finally drops and he realizes what Jon Arryn died for: Joffrey, Tommen, and Myrcella are not Robert’s true-born children. Whether he’s figured out that Jaime is their father isn’t yet clear, but the fact that Cersei has clearly committed adultery at least three times and put forward children who are not legally Robert’s as his heirs is a serious act of treason. And we’ve already seen what Ned does to people who don’t follow the laws. There’s no reason to expect that Ned will be able to be circumspect about this information or use it to his advantage; Ned is a blunt instrument, not a politician.
Meanwhile, Robert is also taking the final steps that will lead to his death: hunting, drunk and angry, in the Kingswood. There’s an interesting exchange between Robert and Renly about idealizing the past; Robert goes on about the “good old days,” and Renly asked when those were—“Which days, exactly? The ones where half of Westeros fought the other half and millions died? Or the ones before that, when the Mad King slaughtered women and babies because the voices in his head told him they deserved it? Or way before that, when dragons burned whole cities to the ground?” Robert does what he usually does when someone talks back to him: he reminds Renly that he’s king so Renly had better shut his fool mouth. Robert, also, is a blunt instrument, just of a different sort than Ned.
Meanwhile, in Winterfell, Bran’s feeling more alive than he has in months because his new saddle is ready, and he gets to go riding. While he’s galloping in circles and whooping, Robb is laying the foundations for Theon’s resentment that will ultimately lead to a whole lot of horrible stuff over the next several seasons. Robb reminds Theon that he’s not part of House Stark, then yells at him for shooting a Wildling because he could have endangered Bran. Even when Robb’s face seems to indicate that he knows he was wrong to say these things—Theon did save Bran’s life, after all, and the show has already established that he’s a deadeye marksman with a bow—he doesn’t apologize. He’s a lot like his father that way. This dance with Death is a much slower burn than Ned and Robert’s, but the steps are being taken and will culminate in far more deaths than just Robb’s.
Speaking of burn, there’s one character whose dance with Death isn’t slow at all. Viserys has been dashing headlong toward his own death since he left Pentos, and everything finally culminates in this episode. His entitlement leads him to try to steal Dany’s dragon eggs, an attempt that Jorah thwarts. (Interestingly enough, Jorah’s statement to Viserys—“Here I stand”—echoes the words of House Mormont, “Here We Stand.” There’s no indication in the script or commentary whether this homage was purposeful.) Drunk off his gourd and frustrated beyond belief that a) Drogo still hasn’t given him his army; and b) Dany has the love and respect not only of Drogo, but the entire khalasar, Viserys makes his fatal misstep: he threatens the life of Dany and her unborn baby. Up until this point, Dany has been protecting Viserys and trying to help him integrate into the Dothraki, but when the sword tip meets her belly, what family loyalty Dany still had for Viserys is gone. Without Dany standing between Viserys and the consequences of his actions, Drogo melts his belt of gold medallions and pours the molten gold over Viserys’ head, “a golden crown that men will tremble to behold.”
One character in this episode successfully says “not today” to Death: Tyrion Lannister manages to talk his way out of dying in a sky cell in the Vale or being thrown out the Moon Door. He uses his usual weapons—gold and his brain—to gain an audience with Lysa, then demand a trial, then demands a trial by combat when it’s clear that he’s not going to get a fair regular trial (all Robin wants to do is see him “fly” by throwing him out the Moon Door, guilt or innocence be damned). His plan nearly derails when Lysa rejects his demand for Jaime to stand as his champion, but Bronn, who’s been the only one laughing at Tyrion’s “confession” this whole time, steps forward to stand for him. The fight between Ser Vardis and Bronn is pretty evenly matched, but Bronn wins mostly because he’s willing to fight dirty. Lysa yells at him that he doesn’t fight with honor, and Bronn readily admits it, with no apologies. Instead, he points out the Moon Door, where he’s just dumped Ser Vardis’ body, and says, “he did.” The implication is clear: mere honor won’t protect one’s life. It’s a lesson Ned could stand to learn before his own head comes off.
Robin, clearly not understanding the outcome of the trial by combat, asks if he can “make the little man fly now,” and Tyrion responds, “Not this little man. This little man is going home.” Not today, Death.
(Quick side-note: the top writing credit on this episode is Jane Espenson, who did some of the best episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and is the first female writer credited on this show. Obviously we don't know how much of this is hers and how much is Benioff or Weiss', but the "not today" line feels very much like an Espenson line.)
RIP: unnamed wildling, Stiv, Wallen, Ser Vardis of the Vale, Viserys Targaryen
Next week: Drogo is pissed. Robert is dying. Jon is a Man of the Night’s Watch.
All images from screencapped.net
All images from screencapped.net