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Game of Thrones: How circular is “A Golden Crown”?

[ 11 ] November 12, 2012 |

Very. I know you’re tired of hearing me talk about circles, but it’s not my fault: the series is making me do it. Consider the set design of the Eyrie:

Got_eyrie1

Circles within circles—and significantly, the Moon Door, which had been in a wall in the novel, was shifted to the center of the circular audience chamber for the series:

Game of thrones - a golden crown00050

I mentioned in the previous post that I wouldn’t talk about “empty centers,” but this one is too significant not to. At the center of the seat of power in the Vale is, literally, nothing. A hole. (An execution hole.) An absence that, should someone step into it, well:

Game of thrones - a golden crown00109

The writers and producers of the show moved the Moon Door so it would occupy the same place in the audience chamber that Jon, Tyrion, Jaime and Bronn did previous episodes: in the center of a circle, surrounded and imperiled. Only this center is pure peril, not possible, and an absence of power that is absolute instead of merely hypothetical. Put differently: it’s a powerful absence.

On the one hand this makes perfect sense: in a contest for a throne that only a single person can hold, the position of power is inherently fraught. Visualizing it in circular terms, as the Game of Thrones team does, replicates that tension on-screen: Jon was in no more danger in “Lord Snow” than Jaime was in “The Wolf and the Lion” in their central positions, but they were still in some danger, as were those describing the circle around them. Capturing the precariousness of the central position is crucial to understanding the stakes of playing the game of thrones. Consider Dany in this episode:

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She needs to eat that stallion heart, and she needs to keep it down. In the oddly egalitarian Dothraki society, her husband sits on the rim of the circle. Only because she is currently undergoing a trial-by-carpaccio is she allowed to occupy the central position. When the hoard is regularly arrayed, she sits beside her husband on the rim:

Game of thrones - a golden crown00082

At the center is not a person but a communal meal, which says quite about their society but I’m not going to address that here. I’m more interested in what happens when a person steps into the center of the circle and says

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Why, they give him one, of course:

Game of thrones - a golden crown00100

A golden crown that, surprisingly, isn’t a circle so much as a molten bowl. Point being, this isn’t an episode in which one really wants to occupy the central position, and that’s not surprisingly, given the run of the narrative: the Lannisters are making their move against Baratheon and Stark, creating a vacuum that undermines the formerly inherent power of the central position, which will remain unoccupied and contested for the remainder of the season.

That said, the next post will only mention circles in passing, I promise.

Comments (11)

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  1. thusbloggedanderson says:

    We can immediately divide this thread between those who’ve read “Structure, Sign and Play” and those who haven’t.

    Then we can deconstruct that division!

  2. Murc says:

    Am I the only one who thinks the Eyrie’s design loses something in the TV series?

    I don’t mean the internal scenes, those sets are fine. But the externals are all CGI anyway, and in my opinion they’ve sacrificed a decent narrative vis-a-vis Lysa Tully’s relationship with her castle for… well, to give Bronn a good one-liner.

    Bronn’s line re: “I’ll impregnate the bitch” isn’t something someone could get away with in the books, where the Eyrie, while an impressive citadel, is just a castle on top of a tall-but-not-THAT-tall crag. In the novels it is probably the single strongest castle in all of Westeros, a structure all of angles and spires on top of a famously tall mountain that it would likely be suicidal to even TRY and free-climb even for an expert.

    And this is important, because Lysa is pathologically connected to the Eyrie as the only safe place in all the world for herself and her son, and she is largely correct in this in a PHYSICAL sense. Because, as I said, the Eyrie isn’t just another castle, which ultimately even places like Storm’s End or Riverrun or even the Red Keep are; it’s a legendary fortress. So she’s justified in believing she is safe there…

    … until she invites her own doom inside, in the form of Littlefinger.

    This is an arc that would translate well to the TV series (we’ll be seeing Lysa fly sometime in 2014, I believe) with minimal setup, only they’ve sort of gone another direction; we’re not meant to regard the Eyrie as awesomely impregnable at all, if scum like Bronn are cracking wise about taking some ropes and scaling its crag. So ultimately her death is just going to sort of sad and inevitable and a result of her delusions, rather than a commentary on her obsession with physical safety.

    It’s a way to go, of course, but I think it loses something.

    • Julian says:

      I am looking forward to the fall of the Eyrie, which I assume to be inevitable (gun on the mantelpiece).

    • I agree in part, but I think you misunderstand what the Eyrie is. It’s not the angles and spires and the mountainside exactly – there is a path that can be walked up. The Eyrie itself isn’t that defensible – it’s seven towers clustered around eachother, without great walls.

      Rather, the Eyrie has to be understood as part of a larger castle complex. To get to the Eyrie, invaders have to get past the Bloody Gate (twin watchtowers built into the mountains and a floating bridge over a battlement wall that bisects the narrow pass), against which twelve armies have dashed themselves against in vain. Then they have to get past Stone, Snow, and Sky, three really well-constructed fortresses that command the entire pathway up to the Eyrie.

      It’s the iterative defenses placed strategically in such a way that they command the heights and the only way up that make the Eyrie impregnable to outsiders because you’ll bleed yourself to death getting past all the layers of defenses, and the fact that behind the Eyrie is the Vale full of supplies and reinforcements.

      Notably, when the Lords Protestant attack from the other direction, all they have to do is squat at the bottom of the Eyrie and deny resupply.

      However, as history reminds us, no defense is completely impregnable. Jotapata and Mosada were built on top of sheer cliffs, so the Romans built ramps out of stone and earth to get to them. The Sogdian Rock was believed to be impregnable, so much so that the Bactrians taunted Alexander the Great to send soldiers with wings. Alexander sent 300 men with climbing experience, one in ten died, but they built a rope ladder straight up in the night.

      • Murc says:

        there is a path that can be walked up. The Eyrie itself isn’t that defensible – it’s seven towers clustered around eachother, without great walls.

        You can walk up to Sky. Above that the Eyrie literally rises straight up into the sky; the sides of the mountain just turn into walls at some point. That’s a several hundred foot high ‘wall’ which, by itself, would make the Eyrie a strong, but by no means impregnable, fortress.

        Notably, when the Lords Protestant

        Pedantry; Lords Declarant.

        However, as history reminds us, no defense is completely impregnable.

        This is true, but the Eyrie is kind of… there’s no real-world equivalent of the place. There COULDN’T be. It’s roughly the equivalent of building a fortress on top of the Matterhorn. This would theoretically be possible using High Middle Agea technology, but over a timeframe measured in at least a century (remember, these are people who took decades to build cathedrals and regular castles, not super-castles on top of mountains) and at a ruinous cost in money and men. I shudder to think of the death rate that must have accompanied the building of the Falcon Kings little summer home, and the expense involved. They were probably bleeding their bannermen dry for hundreds of years.

        And that’s kind of the point, really. The Eyrie is a ridiculous fortress if looked at critically; it really is probably impregnable to direct assault using available technology. The engineering projects you mention the Romans and Alexander using are tactics that the Eyrie would laugh at mockingly, and rightly so. It’s supposed to represent the pinnacle of physical safety in Westeros, in order to hammer home the point that Lysa (and Robin, kind of) think of it as such that they end up blindsided when it turns out, no, you CAN die in it, and it’s because you let evil in.

        • I’m pretty sure you can walk up. Brynden says: “Beyond that, the path is too steep even for mules. We ascend on foot the rest of the way. Or perchance you’d prefer to ride a basket.”

          Lords Protestant comes from me accidentally substituting the historical original for GRRM’s pastiche, sorry.

          The math is a bit wonky, just as with the wall. The Eyrie’s not all the way up the mountain, it’s more about 18,000 feet – or roughly at the elevation of Mt Kilimanjaro. Now, people can’t actually breathe unaided at that height, so you really couldn’t have a castle that far up.

          • Murc says:

            Read closer. The entire reason Tyrion has to ride up in a basket is because the last hundred feet or so you climb up a rock chimney. The slope might be a degree or two less than straight up but not by much.

            And there’s a pretty good scene in Feast for Crows where Alayne is awaiting the Lords Declarant and they emerge up out of said rock chimney.

  3. Just to add to the discussion, but I’d note that GRRM sets up all these signifiers of power – the moon door, the golden crown, and even the Iron Throne – and then sets them up as instruments of death for those claim them. Viserys is killed by his own crown but that’s just the start.

    The Iron Throne itself claimed the life of Maegor the Cruel and is believed to cut only those unworthy of sitting upon it. Notably Aerys II was also called “King Scab” for how many times he was cut by his own throne. And in the scene in Clash of Kings where Tywin arrives after winning the Battle of the Blackwater, Joffrey is interrogating defiant captives of Stannis’ army who denounce him as a monster, and Joffrey becomes so unhinged that he slashes his hand upon the Throne and has to vacate to get healed.

    As for the Moon Door, well…don’t want to spoil anything, but Chekov’s door isn’t finished swinging.

  4. [...] Game of Thrones: How circular is “A Golden Crown”? (lawyersgunsmoneyblog.com) [...]

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