The moral of this week's episode of "Game of Thrones" is that anything gold is a very bad thing to have on your head, whether it's a hair color, a price or just the metal itself. Ned, by looking through a reference book, finally catches on to the obvious sign that the king's "legitimate" heir, Joffrey, doesn't look a thing like him; Viserys, demanding his crown, gets a lot more than he bargained for. Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown, in general: Cersei and Renly are both giving Robert Baratheon hell, his kingdom's buckling under its financial strain, and his only solace is in "killing things" and guzzling wine.
In King's Landing, Ned, having woken up in medieval-style traction and been forced back into exactly the position he was occupying a few episodes ago, makes some bold moves, striking back at Ser Gregor and summoning the mysterious (and, so far, offstage) paterfamilias of the Lannister clan. The story curiously requires the characters to have extensive, if not quite complete, information on what's happening a long way away -- the ravens by which everyone seems to send messages are awfully convenient. (Ravens don't actually have a particularly good homing instinct; to send avian messages with any kind of reliability, you really need pigeons. They're not as poetic, though.)
Speaking of flying things, all the most entertaining scenes are happening at the Eyrie this time. Lysa is cruel and crazy; Robert Arryn is one seriously disturbed, if enthusiastic, little boy; the architecture makes careful sleeping arrangements very important. And Tyrion Lannister, stealing the episode once again, gets out of trouble the way he usually does: by arranging for somebody else to get the chop in his place. [For the record at 9:05 p.m.: An earlier version of this post misspelled the Eyrie and Robert Arryn's name and has been corrected.]
The location where the most consequential action is happening, though, is Vaes Dothrak, where Viserys is still acting like a textbook Ugly Dragonstonian: He refuses to learn the local language or act in accordance with local customs and is mostly interested in pocketing souvenirs. Meanwhile, Daenerys (or "Dany," as her brother calls her when he's trying to ingratiate himself for a change) is getting her dragon on. The blazing-hot egg burns her servant's hands but not hers, foreshadowing the episode's final point about whom fire does and doesn't harm. And she manages to get through yet another Dothraki rite of passage -- it's kind of like the Ghirardelli Earthquake Challenge, and just as messy, except it involves a delicious raw horse heart instead of a boring old sundae, and if you manage to keep the whole thing down, you get to give birth to a prince.
The sequences with Bran at and around Winterfell are the episode's one real misstep, as far as pacing goes: The dream sequence seems like it's repeating the one a few weeks ago, and the ambush scene (and introduction of Osha, the ragged bandit woman who begs Bran for her life) goes on way too long. I gather from the fact that HBO's site lists her as one of the "additional characters" that we'll be seeing more of her, though. We also get a scene with Theon and Ros that's entertaining if a bit gratuitous -- as if the episode wouldn't quite meet its skin quotient otherwise.
And with this episode, viewers' suspension of disbelief was particularly taxed. I can deal with everyone in the "European-style" fictional civilization speaking English and having vaguely Anglo/Euro names (Eddard, Petyr, Gregor), while the horse-eating "savages" from across the sea speak a mysterious made-up language and have mysterious made-up names; that's central to the conceit. But this time, we get to see the book with the Seven Kingdoms' histories -- and we see in the text on the screen that it's (modern) English. That's enough of a "wait a second" moment that it might have been wiser for "Game of Thrones" simply to continue to avoid any written language.
There's also some stuff that just doesn't parse, like why creepy little Joffrey has suddenly decided to be nice to Sansa, why she falls for it instantly after protesting for the last few episodes that she can't stand him, and why their reconciliation is lighted in soft, glowing firelight tones. "I don't want someone brave and gentle and strong -- I want him!" she tells her father later. No kidding, and it's not the only joke this episode oversells: See also Sansa sneering, "Heathers" style, at Septa Mordane, and Viserys relaxing and smiling once Khal Drogo informs him that he's going to get his dang crown already. Tyrion explaining to his dimwitted guard that "sometimes possession is an abstract concept" is funny because it comes out of his inalienable habit of condescension. His catalog of metaphors for what he did to his sister's soup, on the other hand, is close to Judd Apatow territory.
The sex, violence and catchphrase tally:
Bare breasts: six, courtesy of the dancers in Vaes Dothrak, not to mention Ros' Catherine Tramell routine.
Fatalities: four -- two would-be ambushers, the more gallant knight at the Aerie and, of course, the (bloodless!) one at the episode's dramatic climax.
"A Lannister always pays his debts": two, both from Tyrion.
-- Douglas Wolk
Photo: Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) checks out the balcony of his temporary lodgings. Credit: HBO