Game of Thrones: “The Wolf and the Lion” and “A Golden Crown”
Posted by therebelprince on February 27, 2012
Welcome back, as we continue our rewatch of the first season of Game of Thrones with two largely-successful instalments.
05. The Wolf and the Lion
“The Eyrie. They say it’s impregnable.”
“Give me ten good men and some climbing spikes. I’ll impregnate the bitch.”
— Tyrion Lannister and Bronn
Rewatching this series in rapid succession, you get an idea of just how large George RR Martin’s world already is, only halfway through the first book. My list of characters still to be introduced doesn’t seem to have grown any smaller, and there isn’t one we could do without!
In some ways, The Wolf and the Lion is the most centred episode since Winter is Coming. Neither the Dothraki storyline nor events at the Wall are depicted here (although both are significant issues in scenes we do see), but thankfully, the events at King’s Landing hit their stride this week. Particularly strong is the Small Council meeting, in which Robert and his men argue the merits of having Viserys, Daenerys, and her unborn child murdered. It’s the greatest moral dilemma of the first season, given that Dany (at least, the Dany who emerges by season’s end) probably wouldn’t hesitate to kill Robert and his children. Yet Ned has a point: the Dothraki threat is quite minimal (indeed, we know that Khal Drogo doesn’t really plan to attack Westeros anyway). There are only two-and-a-half Targaryens left, and not much support within the Seven Kingdoms. At the same time, we’re aware that Ned is too damn honourable for the corrupt, ever-changing political landscape of King’s Landing. His leadership style is appropriate for the rugged-but-loyal North, not so much here. Mark Addy has never been better, as he argues that it’s “fear and blood” keeping his divided kingdom in line. It’s hard to disagree with Ned that the girl poses very little threat but, despite Robert’s powerful rule, he has a tenuous grip on the kingdom: the Lannisters effectively own him, various pockets of the country have their own allegiances, and – unbeknownst to most of them – something white and evil lurks beyond the Wall. Dany is just another problem to be dealt with.
(Also here, we learn that Jorah Mormont is a spy in the pay of Robert; a very interesting and quiet way of revealing this information!)
More to the point, Robert is more correct than he realises. While chasing cats in the subterranean levels of the city, Arya hears a conversation between two men she doesn’t recognise – Varys and Dany’s former guardian Magister Illyrio (Roger Allam) as they conspire to bring the Khaleesi back to Westeros. It’s an interesting scene in its own right, not least because the book chapter from Arya’s point-of-view – while strongly implying the identities of the conspirators – never confirms them. Varys is yet another character whose motivations and plot remain a mystery in the novel A Game of Thrones, but here we get plenty of him, as he helps Ned toward the truth about the power behind the throne, and is vaguely threatened by Littlefinger. This latter scene is perhaps the most interesting to book fans, as it’s intriguing to realise just how much Littlefinger knows about the ‘spider”s actions: does this prefigure any important revelations in books yet to be published?
That’s only half the excitement in the capital this week, as we also meet the ‘Knight of Flowers’, the beautiful Loras Tyrell (Finn Jones). The tourney is not quite as extravagant an event as the books make it out to be (Sansa will forever remember it as one of the greatest days of the Starks’ time in the city), but it nicely conveys several different tensions – Littlefinger/Renly, the Hound/the Mountain, Robert/everyone, etc. Loras is yet another character whom we don’t have a very good sense of in the novels, but here we understand that he is the power behind his lover Renly’s nascent plans to step up to the throne should he get the chance. I’m not sure yet how much chemistry Jones and Gethin Anthony have (their famous shaving scene is erotic, yes, but with an element of childishness in their actions), but I look forward to seeing the progression of Renly in season 2.
Finally in the capital, yet another wonderful scene invented by the series’ writers, as Cersei comes to Robert to argue in favour of Ned Stark. Whereas Cat and Ned fell in love after their treaty marriage, Cersei and Robert both knew what they were getting into, and have found separate ways to deal with it. There is a maturity to their interaction that explains to us how they’ve survived for this long. The Cersei/Robert relationship is endlessly complex – she once wanted to love him, but he never let go of Ned’s deceased sister; he sleeps around but can’t leave her because he’s in such debt to her family – and that’s without wondering what Cersei’s plan is at present. Would she have carried out the actions of the next few episodes if it wasn’t for Ned? If Ned had been willing to leave King’s Landing, or just give up on finding out the truth, would Robert’s fate have been so dire? Obviously Lannister Senior has had this plan in motion for some time, but I’m sure it was always a back-up until something got in their way.
We stop by Winterfell for two brief scenes. In the first, Isaac Hempstead-Wright is really, really good as he bitterly does his studies, even as self-loathing begins to creep into his life. The fact that he no longer gets to walk outside of dream sequences hasn’t dampened the power of this kid, I tell you.
Meanwhile, Theon gets yet another exposition-heavy sequence with local prostitute Ros (Esme Bianco). Both Bianco and Alfie Allen are charming and attractive (and both look good in their birthday suits… hello, little Theon), but has the Greyjoy kid had a single non-exposition scene yet? I know this is all going to be vital come season 2, but it feels a bit overloaded.
Last but not least, Tyrion and Catelyn make their way to the Eyrie, mountainous home of Catelyn’s sister Lysa (Kate Dickie). The Eyrie is wonderfully realised here, decked out in sky-blue and gold, with those terrifying sky cells where Tyrion is placed by the slow-witted janitor Mord (a heartily funny performance by Ciaran Birmingham). It’s a shame that we don’t get to see the mechanics of the place (it’s actually three levels only accessible by a single horse track and a rickety pulley-system), but hopefully the later seasons will rectify this.
Dickie makes a terrifying figure as Lady Lysa. Not the fat, desperately feminine figure of the books, but an avian, ascetic woman whose only pasttime seems to be breastfeeding her son Robin (Lino Facioli, who is the creepiest person yet seen on this series…)
The Tyrion/Catelyn interactions don’t last long, but I enjoy their relationship en route to the Vale. Both of these strong-willed characters are certain of the evidence they have, and both are people who have spent years being suppressed by their respective societies. If there’s a downside to Martin’s plotting structure, it’s that we’re constantly presented with these interesting dynamics, only to have them snatched away from us in the very next episode. Who knows? Maybe season 2 will take a different plot tactic entirely, and Cat and Tyrion can just be stranded on a slow boat to China. Or something.
* Props to Jerome Flynn as the sellsword Bronn, and Ron Donachie as the wonderfully gruff Rodrik Cassel, both along for the ride with Catelyn.
* The Eyrie’s captain of the guards, Ser Vardis Egan (Brendan McCormack) is kinda hot, no?
* So far, I’ve had no problem with the rampant nakedness, as it’s actually used less than I remembered. It’s no less acceptable than violence in this gritty world. I’ll update this if my feeling changes.
* Arya is called “boy” for the first time. Yay!
* I’m amused by how the foley guys came up with the fellatio noise for the Renly/Loras scene.
* And, finally, a big laugh for poor, pretty, dimwitted Lancel Lannister (Eugene Simon), who gets to be the brunt of everyone’s jokes this week. In retrospect, of course, this young comic relief victim is the unwitting course of so much drama to come, but still…
06. A Golden Crown
“He was no dragon.”
– Daenerys Targaryen
Annoyed that there was no Dothraki business last week? Welcome to A Golden Crown, in which everyone gets a turn. Daenerys learns she doesn’t burn when touching roasting dragon eggs, although they’ll still scald Irri (Amrita Acharia). She then eats an entire horse’s heart, in what is the most stomach-churning scene yet. Everyone is on fire in this scene. Emilia Clarke has such amazing strength (in what was a genuinely rough scene to make), really portraying the importance of the moment, and the visceral pain. In spite of speaking no English, Khal Drogo has become an increasingly fascinating character, and Jason Momoa well sells his concern, pride, and power, as he watches his wife undergo this ritual. There’s just enough dialogue to explain the situation without it veering to exposition. It’s Writing 101, really. I love how the scene plays the strengths of Dany’s pregnancy – it’s what the Targaryens need, and it’s cementing her with the Dothraki – off Viserys’ need to rule, and his desire for, and jealousy of, his sister.
The subsequent scene between Viserys and Jorah is also pretty great, with Iain Glen continuing to be one of the series’ quiet achievers, and Harry Lloyd perfectly capturing Viserys’ realisation that he has lived his entire life as the sole hope of a once-powerful dynasty, but has never been wanted or loved by anyone.
In the episode’s final scene, we see how far things have progressed. Dany and Kahl Drogo each begin to use the language of the other. After a rough slog, Dany has finally become the Khaleesi she needs to be. Now, if only she can convince her husband of the merits of Westeros, she can begin her transition to Queen.
It’s a shame that these characters were absent for episode 5, because it means that a lot of work has to be done to bring about the end of Viserys’ character arc so suddenly, but everyone involved sells it so well, that we can forgive the idea that gold can melt so quickly, and so well, in mere moments. I’m gonna miss Harry Lloyd, the first of many main cast members who will fall by the wayside, but, as the first act of the Targaryen’s plotline closes, I can’t deny it was magnificently done.
Back in the Seven Kingdoms, though, the plotting is much more haphazard. We briefly flash through almost every storyline, without much follow-through for any of them. It’s the consequence of being a faithful adaptation (and of being on HBO), so I don’t mind, but it’s a reminder of the ways in which this show actually works better on DVD marathons than on first viewing.
Bran continues to dream of the three-eyed crow, although it doesn’t talk here, as it did in the books. Is this just because the dream is more subtle on film? (We have a long time to go before this is explained, so endless repetition of the dream – as Martin is prone to do with key phrases and images – would be tiresome.) Or because the voice of the crow would be too much of a giveaway if we heard it?
On a similar note, I actually don’t mind how little we’ve seen of the wolves. They will play bigger roles in future seasons, and of course, they’re important thematically. But – in a big push for subtlety – I don’t think we need to see the wolves get angry/get scared, every time their respective human faces a problem. (I believe that, in reality, they didn’t have enough time to adequately train the animals, but that’s neither here nor there.)
After five weeks of being given painfully obvious scenes, Theon finally gets to interact with the storyline like a normal person, when he and Robb save Bran from some wildlings (that’s “people from beyond the Wall”, if you didn’t know). As Osha, Natalia Tena is much younger than her book counterpart, but she does great work here. I kinda hope, though, that all the wildlings in future episodes aren’t played with similar gusto by a range of bearded, smelly, British character actors. They’re perilously close to the “It’s…” man from Monty Python as it is.
Theon also continues to be humanised through his prostitute friend Ros, who is off to King’s Landing, presumably to provide us with another pair of eyes for future events. While their scenes have seemed like pointless additions to an already full narrative, they help us to understand the Theon who was raised by a warrior family, and who is effectively stuck in Winterfell against his will, trying to make the best he can out of the situation.
Peter Dinklage powers through his showcase scene in the Eyrie, confessing his “crimes” to a highly amused audience, before his trial by combat, in which Bronn wins, and the little man is allowed to go free. It’s a plot divorced from much of the character and emotion (which happened last week), but it gets the job done. I can’t help noticing that poor Cat and Tyrion are still wearing the clothes they’ve had on ever since they left Winterfell.
In other scenes which only give us half the action, Robert goes hunting. (I’ll rant about that a bit next week.)
We’re also playing for time in King’s Landing, although Sansa is well-characterised this week. Her level of denial seems quite fair, really: she’s convinced that her future is so much better than anything Winterfell can offer. While Arya and Ned have quickly grasped the reality of their situation, Sansa has always been determined to be a proper lady. Fathers and sisters and governesses are the kind of people who ruin your fun, not people who know what they’re saying. In her shoes, would you really doubt the overtures of the wealthy, blond prince who offered you jewellery? Sansa Mordane can add her name to the list of fascinating tertiary characters who could hold an entire episode, I’m sure. She does not look happy in the background there, as Joffrey makes his promises to the Stark heiress.
Finally, then, Ned uses Robert’s absence to try and restore honour to the kingdom. He assigns Beric Dondarrion (David Michael Scott) to investigate a series of mysterious lynchings being blamed on the Tully family. Dondarrion’s brief appearance is presumably set up for events in future seasons, but this leads to Ned stripping the Mountain of all lands and titles, and calling for the Lannisters – Jaime, who fled after a very public altercation with Ned last week, and his father Tywin – to answer for their perceived crimes. It’s a ballsy step for Ned to challenge the family who have such power over the throne, and further indicative of how unaware he is of how to really play the “game”. The series’ biggest question, which takes off in earnest next week, is whether anyone can truly rule the Seven Kingdoms. Ned is a great leader, and we’ll see in coming weeks how much faith he has encouraged from his followers. But he’s in a situation where – as the book’s point-of-view structure implies – he can only see part of the jigsaw puzzle. We’re past the point of no return now, as Ned learns when he finally uncovers the truth he’s been searching for, the truth that may have killed Jon Arryn and wounded Bran Stark: the three children of Cersei Lannister may not have been fathered by the King…
In other thoughts:
* I love that Arya assumes Ned is dying because of his leg, and that is why he is sending the girls home.
* No wall for the second episode in a row, yet it gets to remain in the title sequence. Lucky wall.
* Our first mention of the mysterious Mance Rayder, and some further news that the people of the North are gonna try and flee the White Walkers.
* Time continues to move of its own free will. This episode clearly takes place over several weeks, as news of Jory’s death reaches Winterfell, and Jaime has fled to Casterley Rock.
* “I don’t want someone brave and gentle and strong; I want him!” Oh, Sansa. Truer words were never spoken.
Next time: Ned takes on Cersei Lannister in “You Win or You Die”, and Tyrion makes some new friends in “The Pointy End”.