Stars: Mark Addy, Alfie Allen, Sean Bean, Emilia Clarke, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Peter Dinklage, Michelle Fairley, Aiden Gillen, Jack Gleeson, Iain Glen, Kit Harington, Lena Headey, Isaac Hempstead-Wright, Harry Lloyd, Richard Madden, Rory McCann, Sophie Turner, Maisie Williams, Jason Momoa
Jane Espenson and David Benioff & D.B. Weiss, based on George R.R. Martin’s novel “A Song of Ice and Fire”
Dan Minahan
HBO, Sundays @ 9 PM
May 22, 2011

World-building is a slow and tough process, but GAME OF THRONES is doing the work adroitly, balancing information about the Seven Kingdoms with the engrossing character drama. “A Golden Crown” actually weaves in some calculated Shakespearean hilarity, along with Viserys’ inevitable, well-earned comeuppance.

Ned Stark (Sean Bean), erstwhile Hand of the King, is recovering from being stabbed in the leg by one of the men of the queen’s brother Jaime Lannister, is visited by both King Robert (Mark Addy) and Queen Cersei (Lena Headey). Cersei is furious that Ned’s wife Catelyn (Michelle Fairley) has taken Cersei’s other brother Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) prisoner, in the mistaken belief that Tyrion tried to kill Ned and Catelyn’s young son Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright). Only Cersei knows that the culprit was really Jaime.

King Robert winds up hitting Cersei – this is a marriage with no love lost – and ordering Ned to first resume his position as the Hand of the King and then to make things up with the Lannisters. If the Starks and the Lannisters actually go to war, with one another, the kingdom may come apart. It turns out that this may be a harder task than anybody expects once it appears that an especially brutal knight of the Lannisters, known as the Mountain, is sacking villages. This comes to light while the King is away hunting – Ned proclaims the Mountain outlaw and says that Tywin Lannister, the queen’s father, must come to court.

Meanwhile, Tyrion manages to get a hearing with Lady Catelyn’s mentally unbalanced sister, who rules at the Eyrie, a mountainous keep where the prison cells are high up and open to the wind. Tyrion confesses his “crimes” – but not the ones anyone is expecting to hear. Instead, he talks about pranks against his family, servants and general “sins” (no doubt how he earned “the Imp” nickname). When push comes to shove, though, Tyrion demands trial by combat. Surprisingly, one of his and Catelyn’s traveling companions volunteers to champion Tyrion, winning the lethal swordfight. Tyrion and his champion leave together.

Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) experiments by placing one of her dragon eggs on the fire. When her maidservant comes in and is horrified to see Daenerys handling the eggs, the maidservant’s hands are burned – but Daenerys is unscathed (as is the egg). Daenerys’ brother Viserys (Harry Lloyd) is appalled and envious to see how much the Dothraki clan adore his sister, who has taken to their ways. Viserys tries to steal his sister’s three dragon eggs. Thwarted in this by his advisor Marmont (Iain Glen), Viserys then unwisely threatens Daenerys and her unborn child in front of Daenerys’ Dothraki lord husband Khal Drogo (Jason Momoa), who promises Viserys “a golden crown.” Viserys, who is far too self-absorbed to realize this could mean something other than a kingdom, backs off – and is then held down by Drogo’s men while Drogo pours molten gold over Viserys’ head, killing him. Daenerys, although she had begged Viserys to desist, is not distraught. Viserys had claimed dragon blood, but Daenerys observed that fire wouldn’t hurt a real dragon (as she was unharmed earlier).

Lloyd has done such a good job of making Viserys largely loathsome, with just a small measure of being sympathetic in how piteous he is, that we are torn between feeling some compassion at his demise and a fair amount of satisfaction that he reaped the consequences of terrorizing his sister. Although it will doubtless turn into something else later, it’s also enjoyable seeing Daenerys’ pleasure in the admiration of her adoptive people and her husband.

As for Tyrion’s adventures, the sky dungeon is an ingenious bit of medieval intimidation, barren and chilly and disorienting. Dinklage is splendid in bringing forth Tyrion’s desperation and wit, and his monologue about masturbation (as part of his “confession”) is one of those great moments of in-character silliness that is so perfectly in context that it makes the sequence sing – it reminds us how grounded in everything around it this comedy needs to be to work as it does.

As for Ned, we simply fear for him and the course he’s on, which seems likely to lead to civil war, but we can’t blame him much. Bean radiates sorrow, integrity and grit, all qualities that bind us to the character.

GAME OF THRONES is a series where we can’t wait to see what comes next, but we don’t want it to come too quickly, because we want to savor the ride as we go. Bring on more.


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