This Game of Thrones review contains information about events through season 4, episode 5, “First of His Name.” It contains spoilers up to including that episode, but no further. For book readers, please tune into our spoiler discussion on Monday.
Long may he reign, indeed. For a moment, it’s easy to get lost in the idea of a gentle King Tommen and the cute crush he has on Lady Margaery. But as things go in the wild world of Westeros, something much darker is at play. In “First of His Name,” the show places focus on the idea of people understanding and accepting the roles they are meant to play. From Queen Cersei inviting Margaery to marry her younger son to events well beyond The Wall, this week’s episode was all about making choices for the greater good. Or at least the greater good as these characters understand it.
The greatest decision along these lines is that of Danaerys, who meets with her council (including the witty and ever-growing-on-us Daario Naharis) and decides that in order to be worthy of The Iron Throne, she must be able to rule Slaver’s Bay. News that her previously conquered cities being overthrown by the old masters hits her with great weight. And while Westeros sounds ripe for the taking, she decides to wait on that for now. It’s the beginning of an interesting time for Dany, who is still (in book and show terms) very young. But now she’s making solid decisions with the greater good of her people (in this case, freed slaves) in mind. She wants to be “more than that,” more than The Mother of Dragons. It’s an important pivot point for the character, who began screaming of vengeance and burning the cities of anyone who would cross her. How far we’ve come…
Elsewhere, we see Tywin and Cersei strategizing about the future of their family. Not only do we get Cersei’s moment with Margaery early on, but we see her allow herself to be moved in the direction of her father’s bidding. The marriage to Ser Loras, something she doesn’t seem so keen on. For the good of the family, she sets a plan for her own wedding. Of course, with Cersei things are never quite so easy. She’s got an underlying motive in pacifying the wishes of her father and buddying up to Prince Oberyn moments later, both of whom are judges in the trial of Tyrion. In fact, you might even note that her play in the episode’s opening moment has a lot to do with greasing up Margaery’s father, Mace Tyrell, in ensuing his daughter will continue on her path to be queen. Her quest is different than it’s been in the past. Previously, Cersei seemed to think she wanted to rule. She asked at one point why it was fair that her brothers got all the respect, despite the fact that she was always the most fit to carry on the legacy of her father. But now she’s in a different place. Losing a child will do that to you, I suppose. She’s set on vengeance. She would have liked season two Danaerys.
North of The Wall, two of our remaining Starks do likewise in taking their place. Jon Snow has been rising throughout this season to become a leader of the Men of the Night’s Watch. In this episode he finally gets to show himself to be a proven warrior and skillful leader. Previous episodes made a concerted effort to show Snow as a threat to the leadership of The Night’s Watch, so much so that they wanted to send him on a suicide mission. Not only did that backfire, but Jon also has his wolf (and in turn, his mojo) back as a crow. Not far away, Bran is forced to make his own choice. As he and his band are escaping the clutches of Locke (whose story really didn’t amount to much, one of the episode’s few disappointments), he can choose to call out to Jon Snow or flee and be on his way. Calling to Jon means that his brother might not let him continue. As we see earlier when faced with yet another supernatural element (the fact that epileptic Jojen can see the future), Bran needs to continue North and find the great tree and the three-eyed raven. He chooses to move forward. Those Stark children, they are never going to meet again.
The only character who seems to be marching well outside their rightful place is Littlefinger. Last week’s episode showed us that he is playing this Game of Thrones on a different level than everyone else, providing all kinds of wild card moments that are making his story the most interesting twist of season four. The revelation that he and Lysa had something to do with Jon Arryn’s death and the letter to Lady Catelyn is so massive that my mind can’t entirely process it just yet. I’ll have to save such things for tomorrow’s spoiler article. For now, let’s all revel in the wonderfully psychotic performance of Kate Dickie as Lysa Arryn. She’s been out of the picture since season one, but in this episode she comes back and cuts through it like a knife. Her interrogation of Sansa is the second most uncomfortable moment of the season thus far. We’re not talking about the first one anymore.
Also, ew. All of it. Ew.
At least Sansa (like Bran and Arya before her) is getting something interesting to do. But… ew.
The episode closes with some action, once again handled with care by director Michelle MacLaren. This episode and last week’s episode go so well together visually with MacLaren at the helm. A lot of carefully lit outdoor battling in the night and a pretty great fight between Jon Snow and Karl of Gin Alley. Apparently Wildlings aren’t the only ones who use two weapons.
The whole thing begs the question: where does this leave us? As the “next week on” preview shows us, there’s so much still happening this season that it’s less about the middle episodes of the season ferrying us toward a big climactic event as it is about us riding the bullet train of death and deceit. Some of these storylines may feel like they are headed nowhere fast (like The Hound and Arya or Brienne and Pod, much as they may be fun to watch), but there’s a feeling that everything is going to intersect and explode before the season is up. And we won’t have to wait until episode nine to see it. Because next week is the trial. Characters are taking on the roles they were born to play and things are moving quickly.
Next week will include an updated version of our Death Index. Spoiler alert: a lot of our players have been wrong thus far. For now, please feel free to share your spoiler-free thoughts in the comments below. For book readers, join us tomorrow for spoiler talk and wild speculation. (YES, that thing was new!)