Sometimes it’s important, between the Wites and Wights and dragons and twincest corpse desecration, to slow things down. That’s exactly what Game of Thrones did, for the second week, with “First of His Name.” The game of thrones itself, after all, is not won or lost through the big moments — it’s about the sneaky, back-room machinations that help make or break kings. So far, Littlefinger and the Queen of Thorns seem the best at playing the long-con game, but “First of His Name” was full of mind games in every corner of Westeros and Slaver’s Bay. Hit the jump for some lemoncakes.
Joffrey’s death really set in motion the macro plot of who will now control the Iron Throne. Though Tommen’s coronation opened the episode, the answer is hardly so clear. Tywin confides to Cersei that the crown owes an extraordinary amount of money to the Iron Bank of Braavos, which seems to be the only thing on Earth capable of rattling him. And while Tommen sits upon the throne itself, he doesn’t control it. Cersei is finally acknowledging that her days of influence have waned. Her father is now truly in charge, and aligning their house with the Tyrells. It behooves Cersei to make nice with Margaery, which she attempts, only to find that Margaery doesn’t really need any help. She falsely thanks Cersei for her overtures about making her queen, but plays her cards extremely well. The intimation was, “thanks but, I’ve got this. Maybe find a hobby?”
Cersei’s hobby at the moment is convincing anyone she can of Tyrion’s guilt. She attempts to butter up her father by talking about family pride, and attempts to win Oberyn’s favor by commiserating with him about the powerlessness of power. Her final plea about her daughter’s happiness made Oberyn pause. Was this woman as cold as she seemed? Ultimately though, he didn’t seem to go for it. Cersei is wandering around, playing her own game, but no one is buying what she’s selling. The most interesting thing is that she doesn’t seem to realize it.
Women ruled “First of His Name,” but not in flattering ways. Littlefinger led Sansa to the Eyrie to live under the protection of her aunt Lysa, who viewers may recall is the one who fed her too-old-for-it son from her breast, and bathed him herself. This time, Robin wasn’t suckling anything, but he still has a morbid fascination with the Moon Door. Sansa, for the first time in ages, actually smiled when presented with her aunt; finally, here was someone she could trust, and somewhere she could feel safe. Family, after all of this time, and after so much tragedy, means so much. And then the scales fall from her eyes as Lysa reveals herself to be incredibly paranoid, insecure, and delusional, berating Sansa about her relationship with Littlefinger to the point of breaking her down, before comforting her again. Like Cersei, Lysa is confident in her own game, and per usual, a Stark gets the short end of a situation.
Speaking of Starks, Game of Thrones is not a series with many traditional triumphs, so the raid on Craster’s Keep, which saw Jon prevail and Bran and friends escape was particularly heartening. The show is also pretty restrained when it comes to battles — there may be one or two big ones per season, but generally, raids are few. It made Jon’s successful drive into Craster’s (and that incredibly gory death for Karl) that much better. Not only did a kinda-Stark win his battle and complete his mission, he got his direwolf back. That’s about as good a thing as can happen in Westeros these days.
Book readers may say that Bran’s chapters are some of the slowest in the book series, but I think they’re also stories that transfer particularly well to television. The other Stark at Craster’s found himself able to do several very important things: he fought in Hodor’s body to do things Bran, in his crippled form, never could; he freed Summer and Ghost; and he made the extremely difficult decision not to link up with Jon and the Night’s Watch, but to slink off into the night with his companions, towards the werewood that Jojen, through his visions, tells Bran is his ultimate goal. The idea of fate is played with a lot in the series (every so-called King believes they are fated to rule the seven realms for one reason or another), but with Bran it feels the most real, and the fact that he chose it over connecting again with Jon was powerful.
Elsewhere in the forests, two other women of Westeros found themselves with disappointing travel companions. Arya, still tied to the Hound, puts him on notice with her Kill List, and then suffers a blow from him as she was practicing her water dancing. Practicalities are what count in these tough times, sometimes Pod also had to learn from Brienne. Serving wine is not something required of him now, but riding a horse and cooking rabbit is. Still, like the Hound with Arya, Brienne sees something in Pod that looks like potential: an ability to kill. It’s a useful trait to have. “What good is power if you cannot protect the ones you love?” Cersei asks Oberyn. He speaks for all by saying, “we can avenge them.”
Episode Rating: A solid suit of armor.
— I did leave out one leading lady: the Mother of Dragons got the news from Westeros of Joff’s death, and was galvanized to mount her attack on the Seven Kingdoms. But as Jorah helps her realize, not being able to hold onto Slaver’s Bay means she might be ill-prepared to reign in Westeros. Might as well practice with these folks first. Why doesn’t anyone mention dragons when it comes to strategy, though? No need to show them, but at least acknowledging the fact that dragons would probably help just about everything would be apropos.
— “Do you think I’m easily shocked?” – Cersei. Nope. Nope. Nope.
— Robin throwing Littlefinger’s gift through the Moon Door was hilarious.
— Poor Sansa. I would have put some of that wax from her candles in my ears though rather than hear Lysa’s sex screams!
— “They’ll execute that dwarf for murdering the king!” – Lysa.
— Did anyone else feel like the Hound was awfully close to that fire?
— “I bet his hair was greaser than Joff’s cunt.” – The Hound.
— Things diverged from the book here regarding Jon and Bran’s near-miss, but I actually prefer the way it played out here. I like Bran having the agency to choose a different road instead of it just being chance (which was just heartbreaking). Although I still think he had time to say hello.
— Jon’s friend and scout turning on him so fast to capture Bran seemed sudden and out of character.
— That sword through Karl’s head, though. Nightmares.