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“A Golden Crown” takes us past the halfway point for season one of Game of Thrones, and in true George R. R. Martin/HBO fashion, things just keep getting darker. With this episode, the series once again takes a broader view of its own universe, setting characters on paths that will send them in new, often perilous, directions. The episode’s title is itself a reference to what happens when these paths turn dark; demands are made, and met, but in the process new dangers arise.

SPOILER ALERT: Plot details of earlier episodes lay ahead. Proceed at your own risk.

“A Golden Crown” is essentially a depiction of three of the series’ most intriguing characters as they each attempt to overcome a major barrier to their own safety, or happiness, or peace of mind. In the Eyrie, Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage), imprisoned by Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley), looks for a way out before he can be executed. Across the Narrow Sea, Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke), pregnant with the child of Khal Drogo (Jason Momoa), seeks to cement her position among the Dothraki while asserting her independence from her brother Viserys (Harry Lloyd). And in King’s Landing, Eddard Stark (Sean Bean), limping after Lannister thugs drove a spear through his leg, fights to cement his power as Hand of the King and protect his family as King Robert Baratheon (Mark Addy) goes hunting to clear his head.

Other characters still populate the story, but these three (who some fans of Martin’s novels have named among the most intriguing) take center stage. They’re each engaged in a battle, to different degrees and with different objectives, but a battle nonetheless. Eddard has been crippled by his fight. He’s hobbling through it now, fighting to protect not only the honor he holds so precious, but also the two daughters that accompanied him the capital. Daenerys is asked to consume the raw heart of a stallion to prove her worth, but it’s more than a test of will. It’s a test of her true status as a ruler, as the woman who will carry her family back to glory. For Tyrion, as always, it’s a fight to preserve himself, but even with him the fight seems like more. His constant thirst for knowledge, for being right, for proving that his brain defeats the brawn of others, is also at stake, as is his desire to see his own truth reign about others.

“A Golden Crown” further sets the stage for the boiling confrontations that seem to be hurtling toward the characters, but it also serves to deepen those characters, to shed more light on their struggles, and to make their war wounds all the more heartbreaking. As we head into the home stretch of season 1, Game of Thrones maintains its quality, its sense of true epic storytelling, and its primal energy.

Author’s Note: This will likely be the last advance review of Game of Thrones we do this year, as the good people of HBO have decided we will most likely see the episodes as they air like everyone else. Expect reviews of new episodes to pop up Sunday night or Monday morning from now on.

 

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