We’re back for another Game of Thrones Fandomentals rewatch, The Wars to Come. This project, started by two unrepentant book snobs, seeks to revisit HBO’s flagship show back when we remember it being pretty high in quality, so as to glean insights into the vision of showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss (D&D) that we’ve seen horrifyingly unfold. Last week we noticed a keen slip in quality, but this week we’re here with the iconic “A Golden Crown” episode. Kylie, Julia, and Jana break it down. But first, for anyone who didn’t have a chance to watch: a recap.
There’s no rest for the weary on this week’s Game of Thrones! Recovering from his leg injury in a fight with Jaime Lannister, Ned is barely conscious before Robert reinstates him as Hand, ignoring Cersei’s protests. Ned still wants to make the case for letting Dany live, but his king won’t hear it. He’s too busy heading off on a boar hunt with his brother, so they can swap bawdy stories.
Left to rule in Robert’s stead, Ned fields distressing news from the riverlands where smallfolk describe Ser Gregor Clegane as raiding their villages. Being Tywin Lannister’s “mad dog,” Ned decides to take a hard stand: he attaints him, creates a task force headed by Ser Beric Dondarrion to bring him to justice, and demands Tywin ride to King’s Landing within a fortnight to answer for these crimes and or be branded a traitor. Rather extreme…
His daughters, meanwhile, seem just as troubled by all the political unease. Arya can barely focus on her “dancing” lessons, and Sansa is rude and antagonistic to her Septa with no provocation. Her mood perks up when Joffrey begs her forgiveness for his former cruelty, but it’s short-lived; given the unrest, Ned informs the girls that they’re going home to Winterfell. In the process, Sansa says something about Joffrey being nothing like Robert that makes him realize perhaps he is not the king’s biological son at all.
Speaking of Winterfell, Bran is still having his three-eyed raven dreams. When he wakes, however, he learns that the special saddle is ready for him to test out. He does just that with Robb and Theon watching, the latter of whom tries to encourage the former to call banners and go to war over Ned getting stabbed by Lannisters. While they bicker, Bran almost gets robbed by three wildlings. Initially, Robb rushes in alone, but Theon comes back to kill the wildling that has a knife to Bran’s throat. They spare a wildling woman, and that’s that.
It’s just a sticky as situation in the Eyrie, where Tyrion is still shoved in his skycell. He finally figures out how to get a message to Lysa and decides to “confess.” However, when Lysa and Cat still try to charge him with the attempted murder of Bran and the murder of Jon Arryn, there’s not much he can say to convince them otherwise. Realizing the trial won’t be fair thanks to Lysa, he demands a trial by combat, where the sellsword Bronn stands as his champion. Bronn manages to defeat Ser Vardis Egen, and Tyrion walks free. We’re sure there won’t be any hurt feelings!
And finally in Vaes Dothrak, it’s nothing but hurt feelings on the part of Viserys. His sister has the love and devotion of the Dothraki, which he sees on display when a prophecy is made about the great son she’s supposedly carrying. He decides to steal the dragon eggs and sell them to help buy an army, but Jorah stops him. Viserys then gets drunk and decides that since the Dothraki won’t carry weapons or spill blood in Vaes Dothrak, he could get his way by threatening to stab Dany in her stomach (more explicitly threatening her unborn baby). Khal Drogo, with what seems like Dany’s tacit approval, finds a loophole and kills Viserys by melting gold into a pot and dumping it over his head…a golden crown for a king.
Initial, quick reaction
Kylie: This episode was a little weird for me. And it’s totally my own fault, but I saw the title and my brain went “Yes! Good episode!” Parts of it were—I can safely say that. It’s just, I can’t help but feel let down by it. So much of it—Ned becoming Hand again, the Theon and Robb dynamic, everything at the Eyrie, and yes even the Golden Crown itself—felt lacking somehow. It’s like I remember more build-up in my head when I had been a first time watcher, and that was without book knowledge. Here, Drogo and Dany are awesomely in love to the point where she’s somewhat okay with her brother’s death for disrespecting the Dothraki, and I’m on my couch like, “have they had more than 2 non-rape interactions?”
Again, a lot of it was fine, but I just felt so empty watching this in a way I didn’t feel even last week. Help!
Jana: Yes, it did feel a little like “plot point, plot point, plot point… Crown!” didn’t it? To be fair, I’m not sure I read the crowning scene as Dany being okay with it because she’s so in love with Drogo; more like Dany being okay with it because all the people have her back and her brother is deranged and dangerous at this point. But yes, the sudden loving relationship between her and her owner and rapist was… sudden.
Other than that, well, the sets are still pretty. The scene in the Eyrie was a little over the top comedic with everything, but I think that bothered me less when I didn’t know what was coming. The scene with Sansa and Joffrey was… appropriately creepy? I think that’s the best way to describe it.
Julia: There’s something about this episode… I’m not entirely sure what it is, but it felt less than. Maybe it was the writing? The whole thing felt a bit surface level and amateurish. Maybe it’s because I read the books and I know how simplified the political situation is? It still looks good, but somehow getting through it was a bit of a slog.
Julia: I’m struggling to come up with a highlight, at least a sincere one. I enjoyed Ros actually giving us a perspective from the common people, I guess? And it’s a reasonable one too, like she’s a person who makes decisions for her own rational reasons or something.
The worst was everything to do with Sansa. First she’s being horrible to the woman who raised her and clearly loves her (and is at that moment praising her) for no reason at all, then Arya and Ned are sharing an eyeroll to make fun of her for having dreams about having royal blond babies. You know, the thing all of society wants her to want. The writers were just being cruel to the character here.
Jana: That scene. Good god, just that scene. Sansa would NEVER be this rude to her Septa. And why is the septa so opposed to her integrating into southern culture anyway? It’s her job! And then the framing of Joffrey coming over and being all romantic, what was that?!
I’m also having trouble thinking of a highlight. Listing the opening scene feels wrong. Tyrion hoping Cersei ate a stew he jacked off into is, like, an echo of his book character? Bobby B’s four men hunt on foot was kind of funny, even though it wasn’t in any way intended to be? I think I stopped watching originally after this episode and only picked it back up a few years later, and… I can see why.
Kylie: Am I a poser if I also pick the Sansa/Mordane scene? I mean who even was that? What were they hoping to accomplish? Why is Sansa framed like an asshole? Is it that she’s a young, stupid kid? Is this what D&D got from her PoV chapters? AHHHH.
Another lowlight contender is D&D thinking up four different ways Tyrion can describe jerking off into turtle stew. How clever.
I guess my highlight was the golden crown itself? I can’t tell if that was just Harry Lloyd selling the hell out of it or not, though. It felt rushed and unearned, like I said, but his “That’s all I wanted” line just so perfectly captures everything about Viserys.
Quality of writing
Julia: D&D must have really peaked early, I guess. Like I said in my overview, it feels like amateur hour. Prime example, the scene where Ned is sitting on the Iron Throne and Littlefinger is “manipulating him.” “Oh, your wife is a Tully, Ned. Why would the Lannisters attack her?” Like, does the character think Ned is that dumb, or does D&D think the audience is?
Jana: Speaking of Ned, is it just me, or was the end where he discovers Joffrey is the first Baratheon ever to have blond hair a little obtuse? Like, how would this tip him off, along with Sansa wanting all the blond babies (like she’s supposed to because of society and you can all stop rolling your eyes, assholes), that Robert can’t possibly be the father? We the audience saw the twins fucking and might have put two and two together. Would it have killed the writers to add the part where Ned looks at Baratheon/Lannister marriages specifically because he’s not a complete idiot?
Kylie: I love how he also only went back two generations before Robert. Game, set, match! Remember, it’s the “slow minds” Starks on this show!
I thought Littlefinger was supposed to be that unsubtle? I mean, I’m not sure, but Sean Bean kind of played it like he was annoyed at Petyr for whispering this, but also wanted a thinly veiled excuse to come down on Tywin. Granted what we know of the show, D&D’s pattern suggests that they do believe the audience to be this slow on the uptake.
Julia: Yeah, it’s really hard to tell if that’s intentional, or just Sean Bean knowing he’s too good for this shit. But I have trouble believing this Ned could ever be “playing the game” enough to think he could indirectly come down on Tywin. Or, like, fortify Moat Cailin. Remember poor dumb Robb just sitting there with no instructions or anything.
Kylie: This writing is nowhere near the standards of Seasons 5 on, but it’s really here that we begin to see moments where you can tell D&D think themselves very clever. “I flogged the one-eyed snake.” Stick to Martin’s words, boys.
Our 8th grade book report (on themes)
Kylie: Judgement? There’s Tyrion’s trial most obviously, but Ned sitting in judgement of The Mountain/Tywin (by proxy), Viserys being sentenced to death, even Robb proclaiming what Theon’s role should be (that’s a stretch, I know). It’s the best I can do; if I’m being honest this one seemed a bit more disjointed than usual.
Jana: I’d like to submit “Starks are dumb” to the court. Ned is dumb and can’t do politics and listens to Littlefinger, Catelyn is dumb because of how her plan backfired in so many ways, Sansa is dumb because she is charmed by Joffrey and can’t see him for the monster he is yet, and also she buys into the pretty southern politics thing, and Robb is dumb and ungrateful in his treatment of Theon. And for not declaring war already, like apparently any normal person would do. And by normal person the show means Tywin Lannister, whose actions are kind of framed as being perfectly reasonable and what any good lord would do. Blegh.
Kylie: Arya escapes being dumb by being so plucky! She says “seven hells” at the idea of marrying the prince!
Jana: Quite, but see, she too is temporarily dumb when she thinks it’s a good idea to skip sword training because she’s scared for her father! But since she is the coolest, it only lasts for half a minute.
Julia: Don’t forget honor being dumb! Honor and the whole feudal order with it! I mean, the feudal order being dumb (or more accurately, inherently unsustainable, inequitable, and destructive) is a major theme of aSoIaF too, but it’s seldom expressed by the narrative making fun of Sansa. The Kangaroo Court of the Vale was blatantly ridiculous to anyone actually concerned with justice, but it was paired with Bronn proving to everyone how fighting “with honor,” that is, fairly, is dumb too. Just like wanting to marry a prince is, for example. And when I know what’s coming with Ned this season… it leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
Kylie: I think it truly comes back to D&D believing honor gets you killed in this world. Then we get into Season 7 when they’re painting Ned like the poor dolt who could never tell a lie. It all comes back to the acedia aspect; why do they feel this world is worth fighting for, exactly?
Cracks in the plaster (the bullshit to come)
Jana: Sansa gets the third copy of a two-of-a-kind lion necklace! I know that’s not exactly what this section is for, but, I mean. With all the botched call-backs seasons 5 and 6 had, is it any wonder the showrunners rewatched season 1 before writing season 7?
Julia: Sansa in general this episode. Like, why wouldn’t you want this stupid, spoiled brat to suffer horribly?
Kylie: I kind of doubt D&D revisited Season 1 until just before writing Season 7 at all. And I guess they were so proud of themselves for actually putting in minimal effort that they couldn’t help but jam in every vague reference they thought of.
Could it be any more obvious that these two had no interest in Sansa from the start?
Jana: I think they had a lot of interest in Sansa. As a foil to Arya, as a comically stupid background character, as someone for the audience to be annoyed by, so that her suffering wouldn’t seem that over the top, even just given the content of the books that were released at the time.
Julia: I think I would like to note the true birth of Bronn, purveyor of folksy truth and audience avatar. True, he didn’t reference his penis in any way, but he seemed to enjoy Tyrion’s monologue about his own, so I’ll count it.
Kylie: I hate to belabor the point about Tyrion ‘milking his eel’, but the adaptation of the Eyrie stuff is ridiculous. Cat is in no way given any sort of space to react, or have an arc (she was a damn POV for half of this!), and the entire thing was rewritten just to make it be like the funny, perfect guy charms his way out of a sticky situation. Yes, his trial was bullshit in the books too, which Cat realized as things unfolded, but there was just so much more to it than Tyrion making the people in attendance laugh.
Julia: And they play Lysa for laughs a bit too. Which is cruel.
There’s a bit of the book here. Like, the trial is Kafka-esque, which it’s supposed to be because feudal justice is more than a bit Kafka-esque. It’s a little difficult to maintain perspective on this but, like… Tyrion is innocent here. And Lysa literally pulled the accusation about him killing Jon Arryn out of her ass. This is supposed to show how ridiculous this entire legal system is, and laughing at ridiculous things is fair. But there’s a difference between that and an actual comedic tone, right?
And yeah, D&D never really got the memo that Cat is a major character.
Jana: Cat is basically a decorative tapestry here for all the impact she has on things. She doesn’t even get to talk to her sister about what the hell is going on with her. It’s the Tyrion Lannister Stand-Up Hour, nobody else matters. Except for Bronn, maybe. Bronn is funny and on his side.
What I thought was rather well-adapted was the opening scene. Uh, missing fever dream (what are themes) and let’s not give away THE GREATEST MYSTERY OF THE SERIES™ notwithstanding. It showed Robert’s very worst side, and while Cersei was clearly framed as being the antagonist here, Ned did look conflicted when Robert hit her. Which… is a low bar to clear, but that one look adds some nuance to this. It sets up why Ned tries to save her in future episodes pretty well, I think. I mean, they botched a lot about that, but this one moment? This one moment was pretty good. Sean Bean is too good for this show, as always.
Kylie: I’ll also say the way the golden crown scene went itself is pretty much how I picture it in the books. It’s just the build-up where I question the portrayal.
Cat and Sansa are truly the first victims to this adaptation though, and certainly the ones where it’s easiest to see what’s going to come down the pipe.
Carol Watch: who is Cersei this week?
Kylie: Well, Cersei had one scene, and it was almost straight from the book in terms of her dialogue. So, Cersei, right?
Jana: Well, it was a person so drastically different from politically savvy Carol who wanted to make her marriage work last episode that it gave me whiplash. So yeah, I’d say Cersei, too. Bye, Carol! See you soon!
Julia: I might even call her a well-adapted Cersei.
Kylie: Imagine Lena Headey actually getting to play A Feast for Crows Cersei. The missed potential always bothers me.
Exposition Imposition: good or clunky?
Kylie: “Fish…the sigil of House Tully. Isn’t that your wife’s House—Tully—my Lord Hand?”
I’m choosing the worst example, I know. I’d almost call the exposition in this episode detrimentally lacking, though. Who are these weird women making Dany eat a horse heart and talking about her fetus? That seems random.
Jana: Does the Littlefinger quote even count as exposition? We know this! We know that he knows! Is the point that he is egging Ned on and informing the audience in the throne room? Vaes Dothrak was extremely random, yes. I know book 5 wasn’t out yet, but the khalasar pissing off after Drogo’s death because Dany doesn’t want to be a Dosh Khaleen is a plot point in this season. Sort of. Technically. So you’d think they might mention that the Dosh Khaleen, like, exist? Have a name? Are an institution?
Julia: I looked very carefully and Mama Dosh wasn’t even there!
Kylie: As far as this episode went, it was just a slightly dramatic woman that people enjoyed listening to.
Hey, this is probably more foreshadowing than exposition, but we should probably talk about the Bran seeing the three-eyed raven dreams at some point. This is week #2 of them.
Jana: I don’t know, the raven isn’t even saying or doing anything particular. It just shows up and is creepy for a few seconds. I’m not even entirely sure what it’s supposed to foreshadow, really. That Bran is going to have the same emotional range once he takes up the associated title?
Julia: Bran does take a lot of naps.
Jana: The only honest to god bit of clunky exposition that counts as exposition I can think of are the wildlings. When attacking Bran, they manage to mention Benjen, Mance Rayder, the White Walkers, and Dorne. I’m not entirely sure any of these things would mean anything to anyone unsullied, but, you know, they’re there.
Kylie: At the same time it isn’t the world’s worst way to get name familiarity going. Though you’re right in that it didn’t exactly flow.
“Benjen Stark’s own blood? Think what Mance would give us.”
“Piss on Mance Rayder and piss on the North. We’re going as far south as south goes. There ain’t no White Walkers down in Dorne.”
How was the pacing?
Julia: Overall, I feel like things just happened suddenly in this episode? Does this make sense to anyone else? Like, in the very first scene, Ned just woke up, but I guess he wasn’t unconscious because he’s fully up to speed and it’s war! The small folk are here to talk about it! Robb needs to do stuff, says Theon, and Ros is running away! And within the scenes, people seem to reach conclusions too quickly.
Kylie: I mean, the passage of time was perfectly plausible and worked together between plotlines, but you’re totally right. All my praise about slowly building tensions seemed to get chucked out the window here. It’s not like what had come before it didn’t matter, but the things that happened here (Osha popping up, Viserys getting his crowned) still felt rushed, as if D&D got bored of things.
Jana: I actually felt like things slowed down somehow? The last episode ended with a pretty big brawl that seemed to obliterate the status quo, and this episode opens with Bobby B declaring the big things in King’s Landing from last episode didn’t happen. I realize that that was a book scene, and a well-adapted one at that.
Everything afterwards also feels, as Kylie said, like last episode’s tension just slowly wafts away. The Eyrie stuff was funny, maybe, but so devoid of tension (of course the funny protagonist these shots are centered around isn’t dying, duh) that is started to drag. The sudden appearance of Osha and her friends between Theon and Robb talking about how there might be a conflict happening felt a bit random, and they don’t do a good job of tying her into Jon’s upcoming storyline. And Viserys’s end did feel both a little rushed and like it had been long overdue at the same time. Uneven is probably the best way I’d describe the pacing here.
Let’s talk about sex, baby
Kylie: This was a somewhat sexless episode, as far as I remember. We got Robert bragging about his college days, and Ros flashed her vag, I guess, but those are kind of laughable. I mean what the hell, Theon? How was that worth it?
Jana: And Ros is still keeping up with current politics! Though I do wonder, if she wanted to get far away from the war, shouldn’t she have done like the wildlings wanted to and gone to Dorne? I want Ros’s adventures in Dorne!
Julia: Omg, Jana. Why would you tease me with that! I wonder if Arianne’s made the eight. We know Oberyn did.
Jana: The true question is whether that establishment is fine enough that you could “Make the 8” in one afternoon. Why did they never have Littlefinger brag about that?
In memoriam…Wallen and Stiv (wildlings with Osha), Vardis Egen, and Viserys Targaryen
Jana: Bye, Harry Lloyd! Your face will be missed! At least we got his wig back for a bit.
Kylie: His outfit too. Discount Harry Lloyd will be happily married to discount NatPo in no time at all!
I feel like we lost Viserys too soon this time around, whereas when I was a first time viewer, I remember feeling like this was highly earned and even a little overdue on the part of Dany. Now in her plotline we’re left with Drogo who we barely know, and Jorah, who is Mr. Exposition for the most part. I’m struggling to understand Dany’s relationship to anyone around her other than Doreah.
Jana: But hey, at least Viserys went out establishing that Jorah is totally into the 14-year old. I think when you watch the show without knowing what it becomes, you are just naturally eager to see Viserys go. He is unhinged and a constant threat to the person we are supposed to emphasize with in this story line. But if you know how much of a blessing this actor was in relation to what else is going to happen on the show, you’re sad to see him go.
Kylie: If only Vardis Egen had fought without honor, like all the cool cats who survive in Westeros. Stupid, dumb honor.
I have barely anything to say about the wildlings who died. We haven’t been given much insight into them at all, but until Jon goes north of the Wall (spoilers?), that’s really the case in the books too. I’m not sure why Robb was so mad at Theon still, but they were going for…something, I suppose.
Julia: I think it’s about how Starks aren’t willing to take risks that might hurt people, or “do what needs to be done”? Again, too much honor.
Yeah, we’ve said next to nothing about the wildlings. I don’t know, they seemed annoying.
Honestly, Harry Lloyd is a treasure, but my main thought during the crown scene was “does gold melting work like that”?
Jana: Nope! Unless the Dothraki cook with the hottest fires known to gods and men, the gold was very impure and very thin.
And what is there to say about the wildlings? They might be decent foreshadowing had they been at all connected to Jon’s story line. Just a cross fade would have been enough. And I’m not one to ask for more Jon content, but here, it might have helped. Eh, I guess they name-dropped Benjen at least. Among other things.
Kylie: Maybe we won’t be pouring one out for them, but Harry Lloyd will be missed.
And next week we lose another delightful actor…
That brings us to a close for “The Golden Crown,” however. I’m curious if our readers felt the decline in quality too. Is this just because we know what’s coming and have far less patience for stuff like Cat’s adaptation, or are things truly starting to get all D&D here? Let us know below, and we will meet again next week in The Wars to Come.