A review of tonight's "Game of Thrones" coming up just as soon as possession is an abstract concept...
"You don't fight with honor." -Lady Arryn
"No. He did." -Bronn
Any society - and particularly the sort of feudal monarchy of Westeros - has certain rules and strictures in place that people - particularly the people in power - expect to be there to keep them safe. Throughout the terrific "A Golden Crown," though, people either discover ways to work around those rules or are horrified to discover that the rules don't offer quite the protection they had believed.
Take poor, pitiful, scalded-to-death Viserys. As the son of the deposed king - and the alleged descendent of the true dragons - he believed it was his destiny to sit on the Iron Throne and be loved, or feared, or preferably both. Instead, his plan to pimp out Dany to the Dothraki didn't at all go the way it was supposed to. Drogo headed east rather than west and treated Viserys like unwanted cargo, while his meek little sister went native, lost her fear of him, and got herself pregnant with a male child, to boot. You never quite feel sympathy for Viserys, but you at least understand why he would feel so confused and betrayed by recent events - and also why he wouldn't understand just the grave amount of danger he was placing himself in when he challenged Drogo and threatened the life of the Khaleesi and her unborn child in his tent.
So Viserys winds up fatally burned by the melted gold, while Dany - whom we've seen twice now (in the hot tub in the pilot, and here with the heated dragon's egg) be impervious to heat - appears to be the true dragon on top of being pregnant with the male heir that so terrified both her brother and King Robert. I know some of you who have read the books feel like the show has rushed Dany's evolution from meek girl to hearty warrior queen, but Emilia Clarke has sold the hell out of it to me, and seeing the degree of love she has for the Dothraki - and that they in turn have for her - in those tent scenes was marvelous.
On the other side of the Narrow Sea, Ned finds himself forced to sit on the Iron Throne for a few days while Robert is off on another hunting trip, and in the process decides to grossly overstep his authority and escalate the feud with the Lannisters by having patriarch Tywin brought to King's Landing for questioning. And in the process of his investigation into Jon Arryn's murder, he discovers another assumption of society - that a queen's offspring will have been fathered by the king - may not be true, since the law of genetics tell him that Joffrey and Cersei's other children almost certainly aren't Robert's. And based on what we know, they're almost certainly Jaime's, which adds yet another layer to Cersei's desire to have her crybaby punk of a son installed as king.
And in some of the series' most entertaining passages to date, Tyrion Lannister figures out how to use the rule of law in the Eyrie against his captors, demanding a trial, even as he knows he'll ultimately be able to get a champion to fight for him. And as luck would have it, that champion turns out to be Bronn, one of the mercenaries Catelyn befriended at the tavern a few episodes ago, and who - unlike Lady Arryn's champion, Ser Vardis, whose bulky armor and mannerly fighting style get him killed against the faster, more ruthless opponent. There are unwritten rules to a duel, apparently, but Bronn doesn't follow them, and Tyrion goes free as a result, to the dismay of Catelyn and her sister.
How much fun is Peter Dinklage having in this role? How great was it to watch Tyrion extol the court with stories of all of his "crimes" - none of them the one Catelyn brought him there to answer for - and be such a charmer that even crazy young Robin Arryn seemed charmed by him? How much fun was it to watch the little comedy duet between the rapier wit of Tyrion and the dull mind of his captor Mord, who had to be walked very carefully into the idea that he would make money by doing Tyrion a favor?
Though the rule of law in Westeros - or characters' expectations for those laws - gets largely upended this week, the only thing that "Game of Thrones" has conditioned me to expect over these first six hours is a whole lot of entertainment. This was the last of the episodes HBO sent out before the season, and it's easy to see why they wanted to be sure critics had this one in hand before they wrote their reviews. Exciting, funny, scary, (slightly) tragic... though it didn't feature every character (no Jon Snow for the second straight episode), it had a whole lot of them, and a whole lot of what's quickly made this one of the best hours on television.
Some other thoughts:
• This show has so many characters to service, but I certainly wouldn't complain if every episode paused for a couple of minutes so we could watch Arya train with Syrio.
• And speaking of that, Robb Stark and Theon Greyjoy are still relatively under-serviced, but at least they came together to rescue Bran from those bandits with a grudge against Uncle Benjen, and in the process we got to see a bit of a contrast between forthright Robb and cocky Theon.
• God, Sansa is such a little snot, isn't she? Frankly, she deserves incest-product Joffrey, doesn't she?
• Am I right in remembering that this is the first time we've heard Jason Momoa say a line in English rather than Dothraki? Whether I'm right or not, Drogo speaks so little overall that, while he often seems like half a cartoon, it had a whole lot of impact when he spoke up at the end here, and addressed Viserys in a tongue the little prince could understand.
Finally, a few bits of "GoT"-related housekpeeing. First, let me remind you as always that we are here to discuss the show as a TV show, first, foremost and always. Many of us have not read the books and don't want to be spoiled about them. So as usual, any discussion, however oblique, of anything that has yet to be revealed in the show - whether it's an upcoming plot development, an important bit of character backstory, motivation, or what have you - is unacceptable, and any comment that crosses that line will be deleted.
Second, in terms of spoiler protection, HBO is trying to promote awareness of its HBO Go website and app by making next week's episode available to HBO Go users starting tonight. I imagine those of you with Go access are going to rush to watch that one, but we are NOT going to discuss anything from that episode in the comments. At all. We'll get there next Sunday night when everyone will have had a chance to see it.
Third, I'm told HBO isn't going to send the season's remaining episodes out in advance to critics. As I have HBO Go access, I should be able to get next week's episode done for the usual time a week from tonight. But as for episodes 8, 9 and 10, those reviews won't be published in as timely a fashion. I'm gonna try to get them done either very late on Sunday nights or first thing on Monday morning. So thanks for your patience as the first season heads into the home stretch.
What did everybody else think?
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