As “Game of Thrones” reaches the halfway point of the season, has the show reached a turning point? Not so much in terms of plot development, as “First of His Name” followed the now-standard template of recent “GoT” episodes — a couple groups of people moseying on down the road, Khaleesi not really inching any closer to King’s Landing, a handful of important one-on-one conversations, and Littlefinger being revealed as the person behind basically everything that’s happened on the show to date. (To be fair, the “not much happened” line shouldn’t just be thrown at any episode that doesn’t include a major death.) The symbolism of the first and final scenes of “First of His Name” almost seem to hint at a kinder, gentler show. Those terms are extremely relative, of course. But after rape became the dominant plot point of the last two episodes, it was hard not to notice the promise of better days in how the show started and ended. First, Tommen Baratheon officially took his place on the Iron Throne — “a good boy, a decent boy,” one who seems to be the complete opposite of his late, sadistic older brother. And then there was the final scene, as Craster’s Keep, basically an outpost for soulless depravity, burned to the ground. Plus there was even a reunion between a boy and a dog! A feel-good episode if there ever was one.
[Note: At this point I will also direct you to the review written by my colleague, Alyssa Rosenberg on her Act Four blog. Alyssa is a book reader, and between the two of us, we more than have you covered. You’ll find more of a play-by-play here, she’ll do more of the analysis there. Here’s her review: “First of His Name,” first of hers.]
The episode opens with Prince Tommen Baratheon becoming King Tommen. He’s happy to wear the crown, but even more happy every time he glances over at Margaery and imagines what thrills await him in marriage. As Margaery shoots flirty eyes at him, Cersei steps into frame and leads a discussion between the cunning Queen Regent and the cunning would-be Queen. Margaery pretends to still be mourning Joffrey and also plays dumb when Cersei asks if she still has her sights on being Queen. Cersei admits Joffrey was such a monster that his actions shocked even her. (“Do you think I’m easily shocked?” she asks Margaery.) The conversation ends with talk of all the possible upcoming weddings (Margaery and Tommen, Cersei and Loras) and whether Margaery will be calling Cersei sister or mother.
In Meereen, Danaerys and her small council receive word of Joffrey’s death. Khaleesi also receives word that the Meereenese navy of 93 ships is now hers. Sers Jorah Mormont and Barristan Selmy are at odds as to whether these ships and 10,000 men are enough to take her into war, with Jorah saying that that number isn’t enough to conquer Westeros. He also adds that Khaleesi’s previously conquered lands, Yunkai and Astapor, have fallen back into the hands of evil rulers. “How can I win the Seven Kingdoms if I can’t control Slaver’s Bay?” Khaleesi wonders. And so she decides to put her invasion plans on hold. She will not set sail for Westeros and she will do what queens do. “I will rule.” At least there’s a bit of closure here and we know not to hold our breath for her own storming of Blackwater.
The most enlightening segment of this episode was the return of Littlefinger and Sansa to the Eyrie. The pair gets through the Bloody Gate and is immediately greeted by a happy Robin Arryn, who is thrilled to see his “Uncle Petyr.” Lysa Arryn is even more happy to see him, although she conceals her excitement — at least briefly. Sansa meets her aunt for the first time, Lysa expresses outrage that Sansa was forced to marry “that filthy troll,” Tyrion, and tells her she must keep her identity secret. Robin — remember, he’s the tween who is still being breast-fed — tells Sansa that he “wanted to make the baby Lannister man fly through the moon door,” referencing the season 1 episode when Bronn won Tyrion’s freedom at a trial by combat. As soon as Robin shows Sansa to her room, Lysa Arryn wants to get on with things, which means getting it on with her soon-to-be husband, Littlefinger.
She asks what took him so long getting back and he’s all, you know, plotting a murder, arranging the ascension of a new king, the same old. Except it really is the same old — it’s revealed that it was Littlefinger who was behind the poisoning murder of Jon Arryn, Lysa’s former husband and Robert Baratheon’s Hand of the King. (Lysa was the one her dosed her husband.) It was also Littlefinger’s idea for Lysa Arryn to send a letter to her sister, Catelyn Stark, claiming it was the Lannisters who were behind the plot. So basically this entire show is thanks to the machinations of Littlefinger. Lysa and Littlefinger are to marry and she wants it to happen right now. Tonight. “I’m warning you, I’m going to scream when my husband makes love to me,” she says. Ew? She claims they’ll hear her screams across the Narrow Sea. We can’t be sure of that, but we can be sure that those screams were heard a few floors down where Sansa’s just trying to get some sleep and realizing maybe King’s Landing and marriage to Tyrion wasn’t so bad after all. This feeling is further confirmed later when Lysa interrogates Sansa, accusing her of sleeping with Littlefinger and getting a crazed look in her eye while asking her, “What have you let Petyr do with your body?” Sansa breaks down, promising she’s both a virgin and a terrible liar, and Lysa assures her that soon she’ll be a widow, she’ll marry Robin and be Lady of the Vale. Yep, some pigeon pie in King’s Landing sounds delicious right about now.
Back in King’s Landing, Tywin and Cersei are discussing the upcoming wedding season. They decide on one wedding per fortnight, but no juggling, no jousting dwarfs and no 77-course meals. Tywin also reveals that the Lannisters are broke and that’s why they must join together with the rich and shifty Tyrells. “You don’t need to make formal alliances with people you trust,” he says. The crown owes the Iron Bank of Braavos a tremendous amount of money, and Tywin assures that you can’t run from them and you can’t cheat them. Cersei tries to shift the conversation to Tyrion’s upcoming trial, but Tywin says he can’t discuss it. Cersei leaves him with the thought that the Lannister legacy is the only thing that matters, and Tyrion has fundamentally destroyed it.
Arya and The Hound are still on their way to the Eyrie, and Arya has to recite her Murderous Vengeance List before tucking herself in for the night. For the record, that list is: 1) Joffrey. 2) Cersei. 3) Walder Frey. 4) Meryn Trant (Arya suspects him of killing her old teacher, Syrio Forel). 5) Tywin Lannister. 6) The Red Woman. 7) Beric Dondarrion (one of those weird Brotherhood Without Banners guys). 8) Thoros of Myr (same). 9) Ilyn Payne (the beheader of Ned Stark). 10) The Mountain. That’s quite a list. The Hound is just trying to get some sleep and tells Arya to pipe down. She’s only got one name left — “The Hound.” When he wakes up the next morning and Arya’s not there he worries that he’s lost his valuable trading chip, but she’s just practicing her water dancing moves. The Hound gets a good chuckle from this, especially when Arya tells him that she was taught by Syrio — the greatest swordsman who ever lived — who was killed by Meryn Trant. When he asks Arya to show what she’s got, she actually stabs him in his armor. This gets her a backhanded slap — dare I say deserved? — and another Lesson From the Hound. “Your friend’s dead and Meryn Trant’s not because Trant had armor and a big f—— sword.”
The Brienne/Podrick duo — on their way to Castle Black, where they hope to find Sansa — serves as the comic relief for this episode. It’s an odd couple and Podrick isn’t much of a squire, it turns out. He barely knows how to ride a horse and he doesn’t at all know how to cook a rabbit. His squiring experience for Tyrion (who is completely absent during this episode, a rarity) mostly consisted of pouring wine. He tells Brienne how he killed a Kingsguard at the Blackwater — the one who tried to kill Tyrion — and eventually earns his squire stripes by helping Brienne take off her armor.
Back in King’s Landing, Prince Oberyn is enjoying another beautiful day and sitting outside with quill and paper, working on one of his famous dirty limericks. (“There once was a Prince from Dorne…”) Cersei comes to find him and the two stroll through the gardens. “What good is power if you can’t protect the ones you love?” Cersei asks Oberyn, who answers that they can be avenged. There’s talk of the upcoming trial (on which Oberyn is a judge), but then the discussion turns to Cersei’s daughter, Myrcella, who is living in Dorne. It’s a rare moment of what seems like genuine feeling from Cersei, who tells Oberyn to give her daughter a message upon his return to Dorne: “Tell her her mother misses her very much.” Pretty simple, but effective, if the goal was to make Oberyn wonder if Cersei was actually capable of love and affection.
Off to Craster’s Keep, for the final time. The devious Locke (who, of course, has been sent by Roose Bolton to kill any remaining Starks) goes on a recon mission to scout the area for the Night’s Watch who will soon attempt to defeat the mutineers who have turned Craster’s into a house of even greater horrors. Locke spots the captured Bran and upon his return to his fake-allies, he tells them that, when invading, steer clear of a hut with dogs, because that’s where he plans to take Bran. As they are held captive, Jojen Reed tells Bran that this is not the end for him. He still has a ways to go. Suddenly, that cartoon of a villain, Karl Tanner bursts in and prepares to assault Meera. Jojen promises he will help Karl if he lets his sister go. Karl is skeptical, but Jojen tells him that he has The Sight. He sees things that haven’t happened yet. Karl’s reply: “Have you seen what I’m going to do to your sister?” Lovely. Jojen’s reply is even better, though: “I saw you die tonight.” With that, the Night’s Watch launch their attack on the Keep. Locke finds Bran and attempts to make off with him, but taking a cue from Jojen, Bran wargs himself into Hodor. Hodor goes all Hulk, breaking free from his chains, chasing Locke down in the woods and killing him by breaking his neck.
Then Bran has a big decision to make. He can stick around and reunite with his brother, Jon, who is leading the attack on Craster’s. Jon would be unlikely to let Bran continue his journey north, Jojen says. Or Bran can fulfill his destiny and search for the three-eyed raven that’s been visiting him in dreams and visions for years now. He decides to free the caged direwolf, Summer, and go on his way.
Inside Craster’s, Jon confronts Karl. “We had a good thing here,” Karl tells Jon. Hmm. Define “good.” On second thought, don’t. Karl stabs Jon and has him on his heels before he’s stabbed in the back by one of Craster’s wives. Jon takes advantage of this situation to shove his giant sword through the back of Karl’s head and directly through his throat, in what is certainly one of the show’s most grisly deaths. Jon asks his savior — who has been living under unimaginable circumstances for her entire life — if she’s all right. I half-expected her to give a Marsellus Wallace answer: “Naw man, I’m pretty f—— far from all right.” But she just stays silent. Jon offers the remaining Craster wives/daughters the option of coming back to Castle Black, but they decline. But they don’t pass on the opportunity to burn the place to the ground. And let us never speak of it again.
Episode 4: Oathkeeper and broken vows (Act Four review)
Episode 3: Breaker of chains, breaker of will (Act Four review)
Episode 2: The lion, the rose and the cruelty of Westeros (Act Four review)
Episode 1: Two Swords and even more dangerous stories (Act Four review)