The Longest Night —Game of Thrones: ‘A Golden Crown (1x06)’
“There is one thing we say to death: ‘Not today.’”
Writer(s): Jane Espenson, David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Director: Daniel Minahan
Plot/Events: Ned recovers from his wounds and discovers that Joffrey Baratheon is the son of Cersei and Jaime Lannister; Tyrion escapes execution at the Eyrie after selecting Bronn to be his champion; Arya continues her dancing lessons with Syrio, but she and Sansa are told by Ned that they must leave King’s Landing for their own safety; Daenerys finally wins over the Dothraki and has Viserys killed.
THREE-EYED-RAVEN’S WARNING: DO NOT READ THE FOLLOWING IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN ALL SEVEN SEASONS OF HBO’S GAME OF THRONES.
Whilst the first four Game of Thrones episodes were wonderfully adept at worldbuilding, character introductions and, to be blunt, turning a logistical nightmare into the confident first steps of a cultural behemoth, a sense of obligation still lingered over them somewhat. Despite their obvious quality, they felt assigned, almost, to drop us into the Known World, rapidly expand its ginormous map, and ensure that our comprehension of events at play could stand such a test. Any personal touches the directors or writers have wished to contribute are slightly impeded, and it’s hard to be completely immersed in episodes fixated almost exclusively on a series of introductions, but what plays out is still immensely enjoyable as the show’s internal conflicts begin to brew. The middle third of the first season, however, has benefited from a more modest pace, especially now that we have our bearings. Instead of watching the main characters journey from here to there, dropping in on them only as they meet other new characters or pause to take a breath from their travels, we’re now able to see how they react to events happening concurrently and in their proximity.
We’re fully caught up with the story, so it means we can divert our attention from the main thrust of the plot and instead analyse the earliest of character interactions with the gift of hindsight, hunting for clues and hints that might teach us more about incidents waiting for us further down the road. When retrospectively unpacking the preliminary conversations occurring during ‘A Golden Crown,’ it’s delightful to watch the show’s most resonant themes emerge from seemingly inconsequential dialogue. It enhances the gravity of the show’s most devastating, satisfying moments, and provides a chunk of evidence for why re-watches of this show are hugely beneficial to those who demand the full experience. ‘A Golden Crown’ feeds us the rules of the game with one hand and displays the consequences for those who are blind to them with the other. It’s an episode that separates the wheat from the chaff with regards to who can cheat the system to stay ahead, and those who can’t spot danger when it’s breathing down their necks. It makes some of the entire series’ most shocking incidents feel almost inevitable.
The key message to take home from ‘A Golden Crown’ arrives and departs within seconds during Arya’s dancing (read: sword-fighting) lessons with Syrio Forel: “There is only one god, and his name is death. And there is only one thing we say to death — ‘Not today.’” First and foremost, it’s the line that ultimately reveals Ned’s true intentions behind organising these lessons for her. Not to satisfy her tomboyish tendencies, not to ask Syrio to babysit while Ned is king in all but name: Ned is preparing Arya for the world she’s about to grow into by providing her with the tools to stay one step ahead and, therefore, stay alive. But secondly, and most importantly, it’s a phrase which represents the divide between the characters whose preparedness allows them to escape death (those who “win”), and the characters who fall on their swords whilst following their hearts (those who “die”).
Take the two main casualties of this episode: Ser Vardis of the Vale, and Viserys Targaryen. The separate causes of their deaths are initially surprising, as Bronn emerges victorious over Ser Vardis during Tyrion’s trial in the Vale, while Viserys has molten gold poured onto his head in graphic circumstances. But there are several lessons to be learnt from the events directly leading up to their deaths: Viserys has spent the previous five episodes declaring his status as the last true dragon and the rightful ruler of the Seven Kingdoms, whilst Daenerys’ influence over Drogo and his khalasar has increased under his nose. Viserys’ delusions turn to drunken aggression, to the point where he makes a threat against his sister’s life. It’s his final mistake in a line of several, and the episode ends with Drogo pouring boiling gold onto Viserys’ head, preserving his horrified expression in the process.
Ser Vardis’ death is less surprising, as he gamely nominates himself to fight for Lysa Arryn during Tyrion’s trial-by-combat. Bronn, Tyrion’s champion and eventual cult hero with viewers, does all but fight, weaving and skipping away from Vardis’ sword. At least until he slices Vardis’ leg open, drives his sword through his shoulder, and drops him through the Moon Door. But all the same, the result of their duel represents the fine line between the characters who dodge out of the way when they see death approaching, and those who walk ignorantly into its jaws with their chests puffed out.
“You don’t fight with honour!” shouts Lysa, her champion having lost the fight. “No,” Bronn replies, as Vardis’ lifeless corpse falls out of sight, “He did.”
Another character who’s been unknowingly tucking himself into his deathbed during these early episodes is Robert Baratheon. His terrible treatment of both Cersei and Lancel Lannister from the very beginning of this season, as well as his fierce friendship with Ned Stark and his love for Ned’s sister Lyanna, has whipped up into the perfect storm that’s approaching him from behind. Out on a hunt in the forest with Ser Barristan, his brother Renly, and with Lancel as his squire, he thuds briskly ahead of the group, bragging about “fucking a girl from each of the Seven Kingdoms and the Riverlands,” frustrating the rest of the group all the while. Ser Barristan chooses to humour him, Renly decides to berate him, while Lancel sheepishly supplies him with more wine. So much wine, in fact, that his senses are too dulled to fight off a wild boar. Cersei has concocted her own scheme, and Lancel is her willing pawn.
For seventeen miserable years she’s been smacked, ordered around and abused by a man who’s still in the love with a ghost whose face he can’t remember. It’s carelessness on Robert’s part and it inevitably results in his murder, but his death symbolises the moment where Cersei finally, inevitably, snaps. Her manipulation and doctoring of Joffrey in ‘Lord Snow’ at first felt like a mother preparing her son for his transition into manhood. But just four episodes on, Joffrey will assume the role of king. For all this time, Cersei was not simply preparing Joffrey for his near-distant future, but his ability to deal with an immediate promotion.
- In the space of a single scene in this episode we’re introduced to Osha, our wildling friend, and we’re given a glimpse into the confusion dominating Theon Greyjoy’s allegiances. His love is for his “brother” Robb is caught in a duel between his Greyjoy name at first, but an attack on Bran by Osha and her fellow wildlings sees him jump to the rescue. Robb: “You don’t have the right!” Theon: “To what, to save your brother’s life? It was the only thing to do, so I did it.”
- Ned and Robert’s relationship might have strained in the previous episode, but the Hand of the King badge is back on Ned’s chest as ‘A Golden Crown’ begins. “You were the brother I chose,” Robert says to him, as Ned recovers from the wound he received in last week’s climax.
- Ah yes, the first appearance of Beric Dondarrion, who’s portrayed by David Michael Scott in this episode. Must be an early incarnation of his during one of his seven lives. He appears as Ned orders the Mountain to be brought to justice.
- Arya is getting a little better at “dancing” now. Only two more episodes until she literally kills someone.
- Another character who death finds to be particularly elusive is Tyrion Lannister, who escapes execution in this episode with the help of Bronn. Tyrion spends much of the episode in the company of Mord, the turnkey in the Eyrie’s prison cells. “A Lannister always pays his debts” proves itself to be a worthy promise as Tyrion provides Mord with a bag of gold following his acquittal.