This review may contain spoilers.
Ned Stark's (Sean Bean) clash with Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) in the streets of King's Landing sends the series into high gear as tensions mount in the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros.
Forced by King Robert Baratheon (Mark Addy) back into the job of the Hand, Ned faces Queen Cersei Lannister's (Lena Headey) disdain, and then he ups the stakes by calling for the arrest of Gregor Clegane (Conan Stevens), who attacked Catelyn's (Michelle Fairley) homeland -- with Lannister support -- in retaliation for her arrest of Tyrion (Peter Dinklage).
Baratheon is away on a hunt during Ned's bold order. Once again the king shows little skill as a leader; he would rather romp about in a booze-fueled haze than confront the hard choices bearing down on him. Consequently, Ned's arrest order provides a standout moment for the episode, where the significance of his action and the shocked looks of the king's court seems to resonate through the television screen.
Meanwhile, at the Eyrie, Tyrion calls for a trial to prove his innocence regarding the attempted murders of Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright). Catelyn's sister, Lysa (Kate Dickie), who rules the Vale of Arryn, grants Tyrion's request, but she is soon forced to endure his quick tongue and his clever gamble to win freedom thanks to the intervention of a gifted mercenary, Bronn (Jerome Flynn).
Across the Narrow Sea, events are no less precocious, especially for Viserys Targaryen (Harry Lloyd), who struggles with the realization that his sister Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) is now on a path of leadership and respect that he had always dreamed of.
Points Of Interest
1. Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) finally apologies to Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) for his vile behavior. You can almost see Cersei's strings manipulating him as he wins Sansa back into his trust. The poor girl!
2. King Robert's tale of "making the eight" during his glory days was another telling moment about his character. His life naturally gravitated toward battle, women and fun, not the political web that comes with a golden crown. Sadly, the man guarding him during the hunt, Ser Barristan Selmy (Ian McElhinney), would have made a far better king.
3. Tyrion's payment to his turnkey Mord (Ciaran Bermingham) is a fitting slam against Catelyn and Lysa. Their gapping expressions amusingly underscored a deep underestimation of his knack for mind games. Catelyn's seizure of him now seems like a fatal mistake.
4. Viserys' exit from the series as he finally receives his golden crown was a gruesome shock. Lloyd will be missed. His portrayal of the mad prince was fascinating to watch, and he added a nice dimension to a character who could have easily been forgettable.
Dinklage continues to steal scenes with his portrayal of Tyrion. The role was ripe from the beginning for creating a standout character, and Dinklage doesn't squander a moment of screen time. His crimes confession to Lysa and her court was not only funny, but it demonstrated how he brazenly overcomes his limitations and exploits the expectations of others.
Like Dinklage, Clarke rides the strength of her character from George R.R. Martin's novels with considerable skill. She sells a lot through her eyes, from the daunting demands of adapting to a new culture to the sorrow of witnessing the suffering of a passing slave. She is forced to eat a horse's heart to prove her place as khaleesi in this episode. And her success is stirring. As is her acceptance of Viserys' fate as he is crowned by Khal Drogo (Jason Momoa) with molten gold.
Two other captivating characters, Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) and Syrio Forel (Miltos Yerolemou), also enjoy another nice scene together this week. Williams and Yerolemou play well off each other. And Syrio's usual way to cheer up Arya should prove useful as dangers in King's Landing mount.
Finally, Ned learns why the former Hand of the King was murdered and who King Robert's children actually are. Combined with Catelyn's arrest of Tyrion, events couldn't have taken a worse turn. You can hear the war drums booming!
What Didn't Work
The fact that we are past the half way point of the season is the only disappointment I have. Ten episodes for Season 1 now seems too short. Hopefully HBO will bump it to at least 13 episodes for Season 2.
Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due
"Game of Thrones" stars Sean Bean, Lena Headey, Peter Dinklage, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Emilia Clarke, Michelle Fairley, Jason Momoa, Maisie Williams, Sophie Turner, Kit Harington, Harry Lloyd. "A Golden Crown" was written by Jane Espenson, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss. It was directed by Daniel Minahan.
"Game of Thrones" airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.
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