Game of Thrones Recap: Season 4, Episode 5 “First of His Name”

So, the good news this week is that I’m not completely enraged by last night’s episode of Game of Thrones–only a little enraged about the treatment of one character. The bad news is that, unencumbered by the fog of general fury that surrounded the last two episodes for me, I’m finally able to articulate some of my not-rape-related frustrations with this season so far.

As always, spoilers under the cut for this episode and for book-related commentary and speculation.

“First of His Name” gets its titular scene out of the way immediately as it opens with Tommen being crowned king. The more I see of Dean-Charles Chapman, the more I like him in this role. I’m still concerned about how things are going to work as he goes through puberty over the next couple of years, but I do think an older Tommen makes sense and he certainly looks the part.

While Tommen is being crowned, the camera pans around the room, lighting briefly on the faces of those most concerned with the proceedings–his “uncle” Jaime, Cersei, Tywin, and Margaery. While Tommen sits the Iron Throne for the first time, a newly modestly-dressed Margaery (at least ostensibly in mourning for Joffrey) watches from the side of the room and smiles encouragingly at him. Cersei notices this and steps between them, then walks over to talk with Margaery herself. As Cersei strode over to Margaery, I was fully expecting a renewal of the conflict between these two women, but that’s not what happens at all. Instead, Cersei talks to Margaery a little about Joffrey, straight up telling the younger woman that Joffrey would have been her “nightmare” and calling Margaery out when she prevaricates, pointing out, quite rightly, that Margaery knew exactly what Joffrey was.

The conversation next turns to Tommen, and Cersei admits that a mother is not enough help for the boy king–he needs a wife. Cersei asks Margaery if she’s still interested in being queen, and Margaery smoothly lies that she hasn’t even thought about it, saying that she’ll have to talk with her father about it. Cersei replies that she’ll have to talk with her own father as well. Interestingly, it’s Margaery who shows her claws here, reminding Cersei of her upcoming wedding to Loras and subtly mocking Cersei’s age by threatening to call her “mother”. This is actually the one thing I didn’t love about this scene. It seems pretty obvious that Cersei is still not a fan of Margaery, but she sees the wisdom of continuing the alliance with the Tyrells and I suspect prefers the devil she knows over any other. It’s also obvious that Cersei doesn’t buy Margaery’s act for a moment, as attested to by some lovely eye rolling. I feel like Margaery is misstepping here by antagonizing Cersei when she’s finally trying to make nice with her.

In Meereen, Daenerys is having a meeting where she learns what’s been going on in the world while she’s been busy taking the city. Joffrey is dead, Daario and the Second Sons have taken the Meereenese navy, Yunkai has been retaken by its slavers, and Astapor has fallen to a butcher king. With the Meereenese navy at her disposal, Daenerys now has the means to transport her army to Westeros and take King’s Landing, although it’s still uncertain if she’s capable of taking and holding all Seven Kingdoms. Dany sends everyone out of the room but Jorah, to whom she confides that she’s basically having a crisis of confidence. How can she rule the Seven Kingdoms if she can’t control just Slaver’s Bay? This is probably the best acting I’ve seen from Emilia Clarke since season one. and a lot of her performances this season have seemed wooden and weirdly theatrical. It’s certainly the most real and human I’ve seen Dany in a long time, and I actually felt for her all the way up until her “I will rule” bravado.

I’m really curious to see how the show handles Dany’s time in Meereen, and I hope they don’t insert any contrived drama as they have in this season with Jon and Bran’s storylines. What I’m really wondering about the Dany storyline, though, is when is the break with Jorah going to happen? With Barristan already revealed, I’m not sure how they’re going to handle that on the show, but I can’t imagine that Jorah’s exile will be eliminated because it’s incredibly important for Dany’s development. Honestly, this needs to happen soon.

In the Vale of Arryn, Littlefinger and Sansa have arrived, and we get a short speech about how impregnable the Eyrie is. When we actually get to the Eyrie, Lysa and Lord Robert are as creepy as ever, although it looks like she’s finally stopped breastfeeding the boy. I absolutely adore Lysa Arryn in the show, however. Her great show of warmth when she meets Sansa is perfectly deceptive. Her smile as she greets the girl and her grimace when they embrace makes this almost a tragic scene for Sansa, who is so hopeful that she’ll be loved and accepted by her aunt and then so confused by her aunt’s odd behavior.

The best part of the whole Vale of Arryn sequence comes after Sansa and little Lord Robin leave the room. Lysa immediately starts crawling all over Littlefinger, who suffers her attentions the way I suppose any cold, calculating, ambitious, amoral misanthrope might. She’s ready to get married like right now, but he protests that they ought to notify the other lords of the Vale for the ceremony. It’s only when Lysa starts to go on about all the things she’s done for him (poisoning her husband, tricking her sister) that he agrees to the immediate wedding so she’ll shut up.

Meanwhile, Cersei and Tywin are hammering out the details of Tommen’s wedding to Margaery. Tywin also wants to know when Cersei intends to seal the deal with Loras. It’s kind of nice to see a somewhat softer side of Tywin here. He can’t or won’t apologize for Cersei’s marriages, but he does acknowledge that he is aware of and perhaps sympathizes with her feelings on the matter. In this scene we also see him, finally, taking Cersei into his confidence. He tells her that their gold mines have stopped producing, that the crown is in debt, and generally highlights how important it is that she play her part in things. Tywin does, however, refuse to discuss Tyrion’s upcoming trial with Cersei. By this point in the scene, I was very much hoping that it was going to segue into a Tyrion/Tywin scene, and I was very much disappointed when it didn’t.

Arya is reciting her litany of names, which is keeping the Hound awake. She tells him that these are the names of people she plans to kill. As she rolls over to go to sleep, she says that there’s only one name left: his.

Back at the Eyrie, Sansa seems to be bonding with her aunt Lysa over a plate of lemon cakes when things veer swiftly into bizzaro-ville and Lysa jumps straight from reminiscing about her own sister, Catelyn, to jealously accusing Sansa of seducing Littlefinger. Once Sansa is worked into a terrified panic of her own, Lysa switches just as quickly back to comforting aunt, reassuring Sansa that soon Sansa will be a widow and free to marry Robin Arryn. This is a wonderful Sansa scene, really. I’m fairly certain that her almost hysterical reaction to Lysa’s accusations is at least partially feigned, and when Lysa mentions Sansa being Lady of the Vale you can see that Sansa’s eyes are already nearly dry and the wheels in her head are turning. Sansa is very quickly figuring out how to handle and manipulate people, and she’s also definitely picking up on how she fits into the political situation that Littlefinger has created.

On the road north from King’s Landing, Podrick is a terrible rider, and Brienne doesn’t think she needs a squire at all. I’m pretty sure that Brienne and Podrick are going to be my favorite people to watch for the rest of the season.

Elsewhere, the Hound wakes up to find Arya already gone from their campsite. She’s gone to practice her water dancing, which Sandor mocks, goading Arya to stab him. Needle won’t even pierce the Hound’s armor, though, and this earns Arya a backhanded blow that knocks her flat on her back. It’s a harsh lesson that the Hound is trying to impart, and I don’t think that it’s being received the way he intends. He might be trying to make clear the value of “armor and a big fucking sword,” but Arya is learning that she’ll have to figure out creative ways of overcoming these things.

In another invented scene for the show, Cersei and Oberyn talk about Myrcella. Oberyn tells Cersei that Myrcella is safe in Dorne, playing with his own daughters. He assures Cersei that they don’t hurt little girls in Dorne, to which Cersei replies with perhaps my favorite Cersei line in the show so far: “Everywhere in the world they hurt little girls.” It’s sad to see how resigned Cersei has become to her place in the world, which is basically what every Cersei scene in this episode has been about. She’s prepared to accept Margaery for Tommen, she’s prepared to obey her father regarding Loras, and she’s having to deal with the loss of Myrcella. Early in the scene with Oberyn, Cersei asks what use is power if they can’t protect the ones they love. As in the books, Joffrey’s death seems to have broken something inside Cersei, but here it seems to be her heart rather than her mind that broke. I really hope that this is how they continue to portray Cersei in the show instead of the over-the-top cruel, almost cartoonishly evil madness that she suffers from in the books.

Back with Brienne and Pod, Pod has lit a rabbit on fire trying to cook it without skinning it first. It’s becoming increasingly obvious that Pod’s education has been sadly neglected. He can’t ride, can’t cook–most of his time with Tyrion was spent pouring wine. When Brienne asks if he knows anything about combat, he tells her that he did kill a man at the Blackwater. Only after learning about this bit of bravery does Brienne finally let Podrick help her remove her armor, and his look of gratitude and relief is adorable. Have I mentioned yet that I can’t wait to see more of this pair?

Finally, we get to see what’s going on in the North as Jon and his men have arrived at Craster’s. Locke is scouting and finds where Bran is being kept. Jojen is visibly ill, which is not being explained very well, and he’s having a vision of the place they need to go. When Locke returns to the rest of the Night’s Watch, warns them away from the hut that Bran and the Reeds are being kept in, and they plan to attack when it’s dark.

Back at Craster’s, Karl has decided that it’s time to rape Meera because apparently the writers of Game of Thrones have decided that every episode must have at least one act (or at least threat) of sexual violence against women and that no woman on the show is safe from the predation of men. With Meera, it’s particularly upsetting to me, as she’s one of the few female characters in the books who actually never finds herself in this sort of danger. She has to survive in a hostile environment and worry about snow zombies in the books, but she’s never threatened with rape.

If I’m honest, though, I have to admit that this entire returning to Craster’s plot and involving Bran, Hodor, and the Reeds in it just makes no sense to me whatsoever. In the books, Craster’s and the Night’s Watch deserters don’t make another appearance after Sam flees with Gilly, and they aren’t missed. The book’s events at the Wall, between the attack where Ygritte is killed, Jon’s struggle to rally the Night’s Watch to defend against Mance, the battle with Mance Rayder, Stannis’s arrival, and Jon’s election as Lord Commander, provide plenty of material for a season of the show, and even Bran’s road trip starts to get interesting in the books once they make it past the Wall and meet Coldhands. I just hate everything about this entire portion of the show, and what pisses me off the most (after the gratuitous objectification and degradation of women) about it is that it’s eating up a lot of screen time–20 minutes in this episode alone!–that could be put to much better use showing things that actually contribute to the story.

I hate that Meera is threatened with rape. I hate that Locke is anywhere near the Wall/Night’s Watch. I hate that the Night’s Watch guys attack just in time to prevent Meera’s rape. I hate that in a stupid, emotionally manipulative near miss, Bran actually sees Jon and then OF COURSE doesn’t stay to talk with him. I hate that this whole sequence is so long and that so little actually happens.

I did like:

  • that it was one of Craster’s wives who actually killed Karl by stabbing him in the back. Good.
  • that the show seems to be introducing the idea that Bran warging into Hodor is a violation.
  • that the wives refused to return to Castle Black with the Night’s Watch.

Mostly, though, I’m just glad this chapter of the show is over. Because it was awful. And just a baffling set of choices on the part of the show runners.

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