We’re already halfway through the 4th season of Game of Thrones and the pieces are falling into the place. This episode could best be described as a placeholder episode, much like last week’s. It’s setting up the pins for the game to be played over the second half, which promises more death, mayhem, and carnage for the audience. It was also a character-driven episode, with several groups given their chance to shine (and some that barely managed to sparkle).
Tommen’s ascension to the throne was a muted affair, relieved of much of the pomp and circumstance found in the Purple Wedding. The exchange between Cersei and Margaery showed just how cunning these two women can be. Cersei knows the marriage to Margaery is going to happen but she plays her word games, just as Margaery plays her own game. These two women understand the appearance they must put forward due to their gender. At one point, Cersei looked at Margaery and I could almost swear I saw a glimmer of understanding wash over her, as if in that moment Cersei saw beyond the beauty and saw the shrewd mind her potential daughter-in-law/sister-in-law (that’s a mouthful) possesses.
The scenes between Cersei and Tywin and Cersei and Oberyn are also quite telling. Overt manipulation of the judges is forbidden but overt is not really Cersei’s style at this point. She needs to remain the mourning mother, seeking justice for her fallen son and king. The scene with her father reveals much about their circumstances. The bit about the Lannister fortunes is added for the show, I believe. But it puts their backs against the wall, making all their decisions possess even greater consequences. For a family that prided itself on their wealth, they now must rely on the appearance of wealth. The audience should pay attention to the Iron Bank references. That colossal institution will play a factor in time.
Oberyn’s scene with Cersei is a great example of two actors playing off each other naturally. Oberyn is not a stupid man, despite his passionate outbursts. It was interesting to watch two parents discussing their daughters, a common interest that I’m sure Cersei knew she could exploit for sympathy. I would argue that this episode showed Cersei at her most devious, using the right words to turn the people she needs to her cause without being heavy-handed about it. It’s a credit to Lena Headey that it appears so effortlessly for Cersei to do so.
I must say that I’m not looking forward to the Meereenese Knot, as book fans have come to call it. This is the portion of the books that drags quite significantly. Dany has decided to stay in Meereen and rule, learning what it means to govern. My hope is that the show’s writers will keep the bits that are necessary and cut out the rest of the fluff. I am interested in seeing how Emilia Clarke handles this next phase in Dany’s journey. No longer the conqueror, which requires a certain amount of ruthlessness, she is the ruler, which requires temperance and mercy.
The short scenes with the travelling companions were well-executed. Arya and the Hound continue a strange, almost paternalistic relationship. Sandor Clegane is teaching Arya more about how to survive in this world. Sansa may have been a dreamy-eyed innocent who believed in the stories of heroism but Arya had some of that as well. She is being stripped of that innocence and the insistence of thinking in terms of black and white morality. Watching her trying to skewer the Hound with Needle was hilarious.
Speaking of Sansa, the poor girl just can’t catch a break. She escapes from one madman only to be taken to a madwoman. Kate Dickie returns to the role of Lysa Arryn and reveals the truth behind the initial event that started this game of thrones, her husband’s murder. Petyr Baelish is many things but most of all he is a keen master of the game. Lysa is just another pawn but an unstable one, prone to erratic movements he can’t predict. Sansa doesn’t know about Lysa’s madness. She doesn’t understand how or why her aunt suddenly thinks she has been sleeping with Baelish (not that Littlefinger hasn’t been creepy as all hell with her). And is there anything as unsexy as the caterwauling Lysa made on her wedding night. Cats screaming in heat sound more appealing. And little Robyn Arryn, a boy who’s haircut screams “I’m not all there”. Sansa really does get the short end of the stick.
Podrick and Brienne are an interesting pair of characters to watch together. Brienne’s fierce independence has led her to not accept assistance from anyone. Jaime’s probably the first man she’s ever truly trusted in her life. Podrick on the other hand is unwavering in his loyalty, a good, decent young man in a world that holds so very few of those. While he is clearly not suited for life on the road (no one should ride a horse that badly), he is more than willing to keep his place beside whomever he serves, whether they appreciate him or not. Brienne’s acceptance of Podrick after his retelling of his killing in the Battle of Blackwater shows that she sees who Podrick is: an outcast like herself.
Finally, there was the Battle of Craster’s Keep. I enjoyed this scene primarily because it was nice to see some comeuppance for a change on Game of Thrones. Jon Snow’s ascent to a leadership role is moving along, having now shed blood with his brothers in black. The biggest lesson Jon would hopefully take away from this mission is that honor is excellent until it’s time to choose between life and death. I also liked how they handled Bran’s escape; making the boy getting his hands dirty for the first time (albeit through the proxy of the tremendously strong Hodor). This was a lesson for Bran as well, mainly that his mission to find the Three Eyed Crow is all that he has left. Jojen’s comment about Jon taking them back to Castle Black for safekeeping is definitely in line with how Jon would act regarding his younger brother.
“First of His Name” was a good episode but not among the greats of the series. It has the game moving forward. The episode did not linger longer than was necessary on any one thread but showed enough to keep the story from slowing to a crawl. Here’s hoping the rest of the season kicks into overdrive.