“I Never Wanted the Blood on My Hands to Stain You”: “The Conscience of the King” (The Original Series, Season 1, Episode 13)
At first glance, the original series’ “Shakespeare episode” may seem very different from “Under the Cloak of War.” It’s arguably better remembered as the second of Bruce Hyde’s two memorable appearances as Lt. Kevin Riley, or as the first episode in which Nichelle Nichols as Uhura sang “Beyond Antares.”
But at its core, “The Conscience of the King” is an episode about processing trauma—if not, strictly speaking, the trauma of war, then war-adjacent trauma. When food supply ships failed to reach the Federation colony on Tarsus IV, Kodos, its governor, “seized full power and declared emergency martial law.”
Like General Dak’Rah, Kodos targeted civilian colonists—executing 4,000 of his own, including the families of Kevin Riley and, perhaps, of a young James Kirk. (Unless Kirk was on Tarsus IV by himself; his time on Tarsus IV has received no canonical mention since this episode.) As Rah became known as “the Butcher of J’Gal,” Kodos became known to history as “Kodos the Executioner.” And, like Rah, Kodos tried to reinvent himself in peace time—not as a Federation ambassador, but as thespian Anton Karidian.
Also like Dak’Rah, Kodos escaped punishment for his crimes. He was presumed dead, though his corpse was never positively identified. Riley wanted to kill Kodos, as M’Benga apparently killed Rah. Though Kirk prevents Riley from doing so, Kodos still dies. He steps in front of a phaser blast his daughter Lenore intended for Kirk. Lenore had set herself the task of “saving” her father by killing all the survivors from Tarsus IV who might identify him.
“I never wanted the blood on my hands to stain you,” Kodos tells Lenore. But, as both “The Conscience of the King” and “Under the Cloak of War” illustrate, those who commit bloody deeds in war or warlike conditions can very rarely control how far that blood will flow, and which lives it will ultimately destroy.