'Game of Thrones': Crowns No One Wants to Wear

This week's episode examines whether the characters can really handle the power they're all chasing after

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HBO


"Who can rule without wealth or fear or love?"
–Viserys Targaryen

This week's Game of Thrones, "A Golden Crown," revolves around the shifts in power that continue to dictate the future of Westeros. King Robert's grasp on power is a tenuous one, and the Lannisters and Daenerys Targaryen are poised, in their own ways, to challenge his claim to the throne. How can he hang onto his title? And is it best for Westeros if he doesn't?

The Lannisters continue to administer their particular brand of influence over the kingdom with their wallets. Though he hasn't appeared on-camera yet, family patriarch Tywin casts a phantom presence over the show—both through regular dialogue referring to him and in the presence of his three children Cersei, Jaime, and Tyrion. (Tyrion in particular, shows the impact of his upbringing in his crafty escape from the Eyrie and his continued insistence that "a Lannister always pays his debts"). In truth, Tywin's deep pockets may have more power of the fate of Westeros than anything that the king actually does.

We've previously seen the intensity with which Tywin's daughter Queen Cersei is grooming her son Joffrey, the presumed next-in-line for the throne. But it isn't until "A Golden Crown" that we discover why: Joffrey is not the king's actual son, and given his appearance (and the tryst we witnessed in the premiere episode), he's likely the result of the incestuous affair between Cersei and Jaime. If this is Cersei's calculated attempt to gain the iron throne for the Lannisters, it's too bad she doesn't have a better candidate than the bratty, amoral Joffery.

Of course, things aren't going very well in Westeros as it stands anyway. It's obvious by now that Robert Baratheon is a wholly inadequate king. He shirks his duties to indulge in a constant parade of wine and prostitutes, and the decisions he does find time to make—like the joust in Ned's honor—are rash and self-indulgent. When Robert thoughtfully says, "that was not kingly," after he slaps Cersei, it's like a child playing dress-up, trying to figure out how a grown-up would act (and his irritated "I'm the king, I get what I want" later in the episode also rings of a spoiled schoolyard bully). Robert is an enormously simple person doing an enormously complex job, and the negative impact of his reign has already begun to damage Westeros.

Given Robert's petulance, it may seem that one of his only positive actions was picking a good King's Hand in the honorable, guileless Ned. Ned has spent much of his early days as the Hand putting out the king's small fires and investigating Jon Arryn's death, but his temporary assumption of the throne in Robert's absence leads to a shocking order: the trial of Tywin Lannister, for crimes committed by his favored knight in retaliation for Tyrion's imprisonment.

Ned's principles are, as always, admirable, and he's clearly interested in justice. But the sad truth is that the lack of guile that makes him honorable also makes him a pretty poor king. It's a terrible idea to order the arrest of the man who is single-handedly financing your kingdom. Ned's other major cause as king's hand—a refusal to support the killing of the pregnant Daenerys —is a similarly principled but exceptionally dangerous position to take. By ordering Tywin's arrest, Ned is basically committing an act of war. No matter how noble his intentions, his total disinterest in politics is as dangerous for Westeros as Robert's carelessness.

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Scott Meslow is entertainment editor at TheWeek.com.

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