SPOILERS UP TO THE END OF SEASON 6
Everyone knows the best scenes in Game of Thrones; Ned’s execution, the Red Wedding, Tyrion’s trial, Tyrion’s confrontation with his father, the White Walkers attack at Hardhome. But these scenes aren’t everything in the show. The show has softer moments, not everything is a trial by combat or a great battle. I think that so many of the show’s greatest moments come when two characters are walking somewhere or when a group of characters sit around the small council. So here, with just a few weeks left until the start of the seventh season, I’ve decided to highlight five (and a half) scenes in this series that I absolutely adore.
The Golden Crown (Season 1, Episode 6)
This show has mastered a certain kind of scene – when a secondary antagonist gets what’s coming to them. Everyone talks about how this show kills off their favorite characters, but Thrones does just as much to punish the villains. No, they do more; since the villains are usually killed in the most creative and gruesome ways. We’re talking about how Joffrey dies, how Kraznys dies, how Meryn Trant dies, how Janos Slynt dies, or how Ramsay dies. But the most important part of these scenes is that just before their end, you are reminded why you hate them so much. Perhaps they have a temper tantrum, or abuse little girls, or taunt the protagonist who ends up killing him. And then they get an amazing death, like being poisoned, or getting stabbed in the eyes, or set on fire by a dragon. Euron will probably die this way, Littlefinger will too most likely. These scenes honestly are a substantial part of what makes this series so amazing. So to highlight this, I’m going to visit the one that started it all. Viserys’ Golden Crown.
Viserys is really an awful person. From the minute we meet him, he’s arrogant, misogynistic, and exceptionally creepy. He wants to use Khal Drogo for his army, he tells Jorah he’d gladly allow slavery in Westeros, and, in his stomach-turning introduction, he says to his own sister “I would let [Drogo’s] whole tribe fuck you, all 40,000 men and their horses if that’s what it took [to get back to Westeros].” When he gets angry, he warns people not to “wake the dragon” as though he’s something to be feared. From episode one, we learn to hate Viserys, despite the fact that he has no real power and is basically just a jealous child lashing out. This perfectly sets up his brutal death in episode six.
This scene has got all the hallmarks of a great comeuppance scene. Here we are shown Viserys’ arrogant behavior, and he’s drunkenly violent. (It’s worth mentioning, as Jorah does, that Viserys’ bringing a steel sword is disrespect to the Dothraki custom that no weapons are allowed in Vaes Dothrak, their sacred city.) He threatens to murder Dany and her unborn child. It’s really quite despicable.
Then, in an attempt to calm Viserys down, Drogo lays out a little prophecy: “You shall have a golden crown, which men shall tremble to behold.” And then, even as his arms are broken and he’s about to die, Viserys is going on with that “I am the dragon” nonsense. It’s worth noting that this is the look on Viserys’ face when he realizes what’s happening.
That’s sheer terror. Great facial performance by actor Harry Lloyd.
Then of course, we get the actual kill. Since no steel is allowed in the city, he can’t be killed with the usual Dothraki arakh (scythe) so he can’t be killed with that. He could be strangled, or beaten to death, but that just wouldn’t cut it. Someone so arrogant deserves a more inventive death. Something about the fact that it is done in such a brutal and creative way makes it more satisfying. For me, this death has always been the most satisfying. Many people talk about Ned’s execution as the scene which go them 100% on board with this show, but for me, it was the Golden Crown.
In the Lion’s Den (Season 1, Episode 7)
Question: what’s the best character introduction in the show? There are some that kind of give us a quick look into what we can expect with that character. Tyrion, Lysa Arryn, Robert Baratheon; these are some characters who we are shown a great deal about from the very first scene. But nobody has a better introduction than Tywin Lannister.
(Watch this scene here.)
I’m glad that they did not introduce Tywin in the first episode with all the other Lannisters. That first episode had a lot to do, and by not introducing Tywin immediately, allowing us to get acquainted with the other Lannisters first does a lot to prepare us to finally meet him.
When Tywin asks Jaime why Ned Stark is still alive after their duel. Jaime says that he couldn’t kill him because he was injured and “it wouldn’t have been clean” – a neat show of honor which helps give a more nuanced look at a character who has basically set himself up as the villain to this point. On the other hand, Tywin doubles down on Jaime’s lack of honor, callously asking “Why is [Ned Stark] still alive?”
Tywin and Jaime debate the situation at hand – Ned and Jaime’s fight, Tyrion’s capture by Catelyn – and we get to see Tywin’s philosophy. He gives us little soundbites of wisdom that embody who he is and what he believes; “A lion doesn’t concern himself with the opinions of the sheep” and “If another house can seize one of our own and hold him captive with impunity, we are no longer a house to be feared” to list two.
But okay, it’s a succinct and useful introduction, but what really makes this scene great? For one thing, it’s use of symbols. I remember first seeing this scene and wondering, “Why is Jaime so friendly with his butcher?” finding it odd that anyone of such high birth would be skinning an animal. But having him skin a stag is brilliant. Think about the use of house sigils used as symbols. Earlier in Season 1, gutted fish are used by the Mountain to threaten House Tully. Not to mention the first episode’s direwolves. That’s why this scene, where Tywin is skinning a stag is used as a symbol to indicate how he’s taken the throne from the Baratheons – stags.
Tywin ends by sharing his ultimate goal – his legacy. He reminds Jaime that the family name lives on beyond honor and glory and even individuals. He begs Jaime to become “the man [he was] always meant to be” to help him establish a dynasty which will last a thousand years.
So as a character introduction, this basically does it all. It shows us what this character believes, his relation to other characters, and his ultimate goal. Throughout the series, I cannot think of a scene that more succinctly sets out what it means to do
Charm Meets Harm (Season 3, Episode 2)
In productions of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Lady Macbeth is usually depicted as a woman in her late thirties or early forties, sometimes older. But Game of Thrones does you one better and casts Lady Macbeth as a seductive, graceful beauty in her 20’s. Enter Lady Margery of House Tyrell.
Now let mee take a second to talk about blocking. For those who might not know, blocking is how characters are positioned and move in a scene, in relation to each other and the location. Now I don’t always notice effort put into blocking and more nuanced aspects of filmmaking, but the blocking in this scene is simple but effective.
When Margery first enters the room, she’s at a distance from Joffrey. Joffrey is sitting down with a crossbow. The crossbow sits between his legs, and is meant to represent his… masculinity? Yes, let’s call it masculinity. The crossbow is threateningly pointed at Margery, making the conversation rather tense. Margery has to deftly navigate her every word.
Joffrey asks about her marriage to Renly. As she tries to explain his homosexuality, she uses this as an opportunity to get closer to Joffrey. By getting in his personal space bubble, Margery lowers Joffrey’s guard. As Joffrey suggests starting a death penalty for homosexuality, Margery gently places her hand on Joffrey’s
masculinity crossbow, again, lowering his guard even further. And then she says the words that will inflate his ego completely – “You are the king.” And that’s that; Joffrey’s eating out of her hand at that point. All she has to do is ask him to demonstrate just what he can do with his crossbow, and he’s totally charmed.
Margery is a political genius. She uses her charm and seductive nature to soften Westeros’ least friendly monarch. Perhaps no other character could do that. When I think about this scene, it really disappoints me that someone as talented as Margery is out of the Game.
The Fight for Arya (Season 4, Episode 10)
(Watch a longer version of this scene here.)
I think the whole thing about this scene that breaks my heart is how it all stems from misunderstanding. Brienne and Arya really get along for a second, and they really seem to bond over the fact that they’re both women with swords. In fact, if Arya’s life had been entirely normal and she had gotten to grow up with her father still around, she probably would be something like Brienne. But since Brienne can’t grasp her head around the idea that the Hound would actually care for Arya, the two are inclined to fight.
And let’s clear that up. The Hound definitely cares for Arya. I think a very telling detail is that as far as the Hound knows, Arya has no family left, no one who would pay her ransom. So why are they still traveling together? There’s no logical reason why the two would still be in each other’s company. They care about each other. When Brienne asks “That’s what you’re doing? Watching over her?” You can hear it in the Hound’s response, “Aye that’s what I’m doing,” – he’s become a bit of a father figure to her.
In an ideal world, Arya, the Hound, Brienne, and Podrick would travel around until they found Sansa. But just because of a series of misunderstandings, the two must fight. That’s what makes it so tragic.
That being said, the fight is spectacular. I can count on one hand the amount of fights in this show that are better than this. (Probably Tyrion’s second trial by combat, probably the Tower of Joy. No more come to mind immediately.) They’re both great warriors. The sword work is great, but it becomes so much more than that. They use the terrain to their advantage, they move around. But the best part of their fight comes when the two are disarmed and need to fight hand to hand. It’s fucking brutal. There’s punching, biting, and kicks to the private parts. The best moments come when the Hound fearlessly grabs Brienne’s sword with his bare hands, and when Brienne goes primal and punches him until he falls off a cliff.
And of course, this fight’s sad end. The Hound is dying, and Arya comes to say goodbye. But she refuses to kill him and put him out of his misery. This shows what I was talking about earlier; the Hound is a father figure. He tries to remind her why she hated him in the first place, but she still refuses to kill him. It really shows how far these two have come. When the Hound first kidnapped Arya, she wanted to kill him; now he’s begging her to, and she refuses to do it. She loves him, and it breaks a viewer’s heart.
Arya and The Bloody Hand (Season 6, Episode 7)
This is a wonderful little moment. After watching a play about the recent events in Westeros, including her father’s death, Arya moves to poison the actress who plays Cersei, as per her assignment by the Faceless Men. This is one of the last things she needs to do in order to become no one, but it’s difficult to stop being Arya.
When people laugh at Ned’s execution, she looks sad and the House Stark theme plays in the background. This is an indication that Arya isn’t “no one” just yet. But then she watches as Cersei gives a teary-eyed speech over Joffrey’s dead body and her empathy kicks in. Off-stage, she talks with Cersei actress Lady Crane and suggests making changes to her speech.
“The Queen loves her son more than anything. And if he was taken from her before she could say goodbye, she wouldn’t just cry. She would be angry. She would want to kill the person who did this to her.”
That moment is so layered. Arya watches a play which glorifies her enemies and she still manages to connect with it emotionally. It reminds her exactly how she felt when her father was killed, and what has set her out on her quest in the first place. And to her credit, she wasn’t at the Purple Wedding, but can perfectly predict how Cersei reacted to her son’s death. This play which glorifies the Lannisters reminds Arya exactly who she is and gives her the reminder she needs; she isn’t no one, she’s Arya Stark, and she will bring vengeance to her enemies.
Bonus: What makes a good king? (Season 4, Episode 3)
(Watch this scene here.)
Now this one I could only list as a bonus because the whole scene is so horrible that it does get in the way of the scene’s stellar first half. The second half has Jamie initiating sex with Cersei as she tells him to stop – which is, by every definition, rape. I know there is a great deal of debate about the depiction of rape in Season 5, but I think we can all agree that this scene is so out-of-character for Jamie that it sticks out like it’s some kind of awful, twisted fanfiction. Season 3 was a time of redemption for Jamie – as he traveled with Brienne, he was humbled repeatedly, lost his hand, reflected on his great crime, and altogether became a better person. It’s a wonderful arc, but then this scene feels like a tremendous regression for him. It just doesn’t make sense, it shouldn’t be there. Like I said, it feels like poorly-written fanfiction in what is a mostly spectacular season.
Compare that to the first half of the scene – it’s night and day. The first shot of the scene shows Tommen and Cersei standing vigil over Joffrey’s body. As the two mourn, Tywin comes by and informs Tommen that he will soon become the king. So, to make sure he’s up to it, Tywin asks Tommen what the most important quality for a king is. Thus begins one of Tywin’s best scenes. Various characters across the series talk about “playing the game (of thrones)” and nobody plays the game quite as well as Tywin, and that’s especially the case right here.
As Cersei tries to explain to her son and her father that this is an inappropriate place to have this conversation, Tommen proposes various things which he thinks might make a good thing. Holiness, justice, and strength. So Tywin gives examples of kings who were holy, just, and strong, all the while explaining why they met their downfall. Soon enough, he guides Tommen to the right answer: “Wisdom!” Tommen says, pensively, “Yes!” Tywin says proudly, “Wisdom is what makes a good king,” Tommen says, realizing how true it is. Tywin explains that “A wise king knows what he does and what he doesn’t. … A wise young king listens to his counselors and heeds their advice until he comes of age. And the wisest kings continue to listen to them long afterwards.”
This is one of my favorite scenes in terms of watching how Tywin manipulates a situation. Just because the king is dead, that doesn’t mean he won’t jump right into trying to manipulate a situation into his favor. And the way Tywin’s suggestion to Tommen is presented, it comes as a fun little riddle – “What makes a good king? Can you guess?” And since Tommen is young and trying to figure things out, he feels like a winner when he finally comes to the right answer.
(Also, let’s acknowledge the brilliantly subtle foreshadowing, which I mentioned in another post – when asked what it is that a king needs most, Tommen says holiness, giving the slightest hint of his undoing in Season 6.)
And of course, the thing that really adds the power to this scene isn’t just the conversation, but the circumstances under which it takes place: Cersei mourning the death of her firstborn son.
So those are just a few of my favorite scenes. I just think it’s helpful to dissect some of the smaller, less over-the-top moments which might not get as much praise as something like Jon Snow in the middle of Battle or Cersei blowing up part of the city.