‘Game of Thrones’ Breakdown: “First of His Name”

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WARNING: For the words are dark and full of spoilers…

Season Four, Episode Five: “First of His Name”

Written by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss; Directed by Michelle MacLaren

We’re halfway done already. This week, a new king is crowned; Daenerys postpones her quest for the Seven Kingdoms; the men of the Night’s Watch assault Craster’s Keep, and there’s another wedding — except this time, no one dies. Also, Littlefinger admits to some serious and seriously-unexpected scheming that gives new perspective into pretty much every event throughout the entire series, starting with season one. Here’s everything great (and some stuff that wasn’t) about the midpoint of Game of Throne’s fourth season:

Quick Breakdown

Step one for living long enough in Westeros to go from natural causes: Don’t become a king. We’ve seen so many die now. Joffrey was poisoned; Robert was killed by a wild animal; Robb was beheaded and used as a trophy, and Renly was stabbed in the back by command of his own brother. Kings go out of style quickly ‘round these parts.

It’s unfortunate for Tommen Baratheon, then, that this week’s episode opens with his crowning ceremony. He assumes the iron throne in place of his late brother, Joffrey, who was poisoned a few episodes back and then later defiled post-mortem when his uncle/father raped his mother during his wake. The two brothers have nothing in common, really, other than a set of incestual parents and that obnoxious yellow-blonde hair of theirs, which might mean King Tommen has a shot at outliving his predecessor.

Except that Tommen is set to marry Margaery Tyrell, Joffrey’s widow, who is gathering up a creepy collection of dead husbands (two-for-two so far). Tommen is lovestruck for this woman (he and Ser Pounce), which all but guarantees his painful death by assassination in the coming episodes. All the pieces fit together. I’m trying not to get too attached, just in case.

Cersei, surprisingly, seems OK with this pairing. At the very least, she recognizes its importance to her family. As they watch the crowning ceremony of Tommen, Cersei casually asks Margaery to wed him in a conversation that seems friendly but has a layer of veiled hostility. She even admits that Joffrey, her son, might’ve had some issues. “You knew exactly what he was. I did too,” she says to Margaery. “You never love anything in the world the way you love your first child. It doesn’t matter what they do.” Cersei is a lot of things I don’t like, but she isn’t dumb.

Across the Narrow Sea (where, sadly, we still don’t spend much time), Daenerys and her group of consultants (Jorah, Daario, Barristan, and Grey Worm) discuss battle plans. Daario announces that he has captured Meereen’s navy without Dany’s consent, which makes her equal parts angry and impressed. “I heard you like ships,” he crows. She nearly blushes. Briefly, the group considers sailing for Westeros and storming King’s Landing. Ultimately, though, Dany decides they are still needed in the East, where the cities of Yunkai and Astapor are reverting back to how they were before she liberated them in season three. “How can I rule Seven Kingdoms if I can’t control Slaver’s Bay?” she asks Jorah.

Further North, Sansa and Petyr Baelish approach the Eyrie through the Bloody Gate. They’re received by Sansa’s aunt Lysa, who we haven’t seen since season one. She’s crazy as ever, but her son Robin seems to have given up the breast in favor of solid foods now, which is good to see. Sansa meets her aunt and cousin, and pleasantries are exchanged briefly before she is led away to her chambers by Robin. Here’s where things get crazy (and pretty weird):

Almost immediately, Lysa lunges her face at Petyr’s in a fit of passion. After an awkward and pretty gross makeout sesh, Petyr pulls away just long enough for Lysa to ask him to marry her. He hesitates for a while, which gives Lysa time to blurt out their big secret: She and Petyr worked together to kill Jon Arryn (her late husband) and blame it on the Lannisters.

This is a huge reveal for so many reasons. If not for Jon’s death before season one began, Ned Stark would never have left Winterfell to become Hand of the King. If not for the letter from Lysa to her sister, Catelyn, that blamed the Lannisters for Jon’s murder, Ned wouldn’t have thought to ask so many questions about the true origins of the Baratheon children. He wouldn’t have been attacked by Jaime Lannister in the streets of King’s Landing. He wouldn’t have been captured and kept in a dungeon. In all likelihood, he’d still be alive. If not for that, there is no War of the Five Kings. No Battle of the Blackwater. No Red Wedding. Nearly every event throughout the entire series, with very few exceptions, would not have happened without this catalyst.

Now we know that Littlefinger was responsible for all of this, and it totally changes the dynamic of his character. He’s been powerful for as long as we’ve known him, and that power continues to grow. Seeing first-hand the kind of influence he can have over the entire realm through manipulation really puts into perspective how dangerous he is.

But let’s get back to this wedding. Petyr reluctantly agrees to marry Lysa, presumably out of fear that she will reveal to someone this huge secret they share. Ecstatic to hear of his submission, she opens a door to reveal all they need to get married then and there: a Septon and some witnesses. “I’m warning you — I’m going to scream when my husband makes love to me,” she declares to their audience of three. Later that night, Sansa lays awake in her chambers, unable to sleep because of Lysa’s banshee sex-shrieks that resonant disgustingly throughout the Eyrie.

The next day, Sansa and her aunt Lysa sit together enjoying some lemon cakes. Sansa, for the first time since probably season one, appears to be somewhat happy. The girl’s been through a lot, and it’s refreshing to see her smile. It’s over quickly, though, when Lysa assaults her and accuses her of being pregnant with Petyr’s baby. It’s totally unexpected and altogether a pretty uncomfortable scene, although Lysa isn’t totally crazy — Littlefinger has always had a thing for Lysa’s sister, Catelyn, which seems to have, at least in part, carried over to Sansa. He’s married now, though, which means he’s tied down and isn’t likely to be knocking up Sansa anytime soon. In all reality, though, Lysa, Sansa, and pretty much everyone else in the Seven Kingdoms are all likely pawns in Littlefinger’s next big scheme that just hasn’t been revealed to us yet. I’m guessing he won’t be chained to the Eyrie for long.

Wandering somewhere in the wilderness of Westeros are two of the oddest couples you’ll ever meet — Arya and the Hound, and Brienne and Podrick. The respective dynamics between these two pairings, although totally different, are both refreshingly fun to watch. Arya is still reciting her list of names before bed (and the Hound is still on it) and practicing her dance moves. The Hound observes her for a bit before he jumps in, telling her how ineffective she would be in real combat and poking fun at her dead instructor, Syrio, who was killed by Ser Meryn Trant in season one. Arya doesn’t like this at all. “Your friend is dead, and Meryn’s not. Because Meryn had armor, and a big fucking sword,” he tells her.

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Brienne is only a little nicer to her new squire, Podrick. She tries for a while to get him to leave, offering to release him from his oath to her. He declines, though, and the two end up making camp later that evening. Podrick lights a rabbit on fire when he tries to cook it without taking the skin off, which causes Brienne to get impatient. She shows him no respect at all until he admits to killing a man with a spear during the Battle of the Blackwater. This proves he isn’t totally useless, and she lets him help her with her armor. It’s a neat relationship that adds some depth to two likeable characters and reinforces the sympathy that Jaime Lannister has for Brienne. He sent her out with Podrick so she wouldn’t be alone, and the slow growth in their relationship shows that he did the right thing.

The rest of the episode takes place north of the Wall at Craster’s Keep, where Bran and his group are held captive by the Night’s Watch Mutineers. At the same time, Jon is marching to the Keep with a small group of men from Castle Black to kill the Mutineers. This sparked some continuity concerns from book-readers last week because, in the novels, Bran never crosses paths with Jon during his journey north, and most believed that doing so would severely disrupt their individual stories. The show’s writers were aware of this and managed to avoid a meeting between the two, even though they were in the same place at the same time for a short while. The way it happened, though, felt forced and unnecessarily dramatized. Here’s how it all went down:

Locke, before the attack, does some recon of Craster’s Keep. He makes a head count of the mutineers and, while doing so, discovers that Bran, Jojen, Meera and Hodor are all kept prisoners in a shed outside. Locke tells the group of Night’s Watchmen that the shed is full of wolves and that they should avoid it, which I guess explains well enough why Jon and his group never bother to examine the shed when they make their sweep. During the assault, Locke sneaks away to snatch up Bran and take him to Roose Bolton. Bran wargs into Hodor, though, who breaks free, catches up with Locke, and literally rips his shoulder from his neck like tearing a piece of paper. It’s a gruesome and deserved death for the guy that pretty much quells any prediction that Locke and Jon would face off in single combat.

After that, Hodor and Bran journey back to Craster’s Keep to watch the rest of the battle between the Mutineers and the Night’s Watch. Bran starts to reach out to Jon, but is convinced otherwise when Jojen tells him that it would halt their journey to find the three-eyed raven. Instead, the group sneaks away into the night to finish their journey, successfully avoiding any continuity-breaking meetup that never happened in the novels. The trouble with this, though, is that it doesn’t make a lot of sense. Bran hasn’t seen Jon since season one, and I have a hard time believing he’d turn his back totally on him under these circumstances in favor of pursuing his visions. It’s a slight annoyance made bigger by the fact that it never happened in the books, which means that they’ve deliberately chosen to add a pretty lackluster journey for these two characters to the source material that already can’t be fit into the planned seven seasons for the TV show. I don’t really understand it.

As Bran and his crew are leaving, Jon makes his way into a building where he finds Karl, the leader of the Mutineers. The two men fight for a while until Karl bests Jon in combat, all the while scolding him for fighting the “honorable” way. Just as Karl is about to deliver a killing blow to Jon, he’s stabbed in the back by one of Craster’s daughters. She had been raped and beaten by the mutineers for an untold number of days and no doubt needed some revenge. This gives Jon time to recover his sword, and he drives it through Karl’s skull and out his mouth, topping Locke’s death earlier as the most brutal kill in this week’s episode. It’s a satisfying ending to a detestable character, but the scene itself is filled with made-for-TV drama that’s unusual for Game of Thrones. In a series and a source material that is so accustomed to avoiding these kinds of cliches, it thankfully feels out of place.

Rating

B-

I’m a little conflicted with this episode. The Littlefinger reveal was a big deal, and information like that is always welcome. We also saw the deaths of a couple characters who deserved it, and I enjoyed the brief moments with Arya and the Hound and Brienne and Podrick, but I can’t shake the feeling that the last 20 minutes of the episode were mostly fluff. Bran’s bizarre decision and the few cliches are especially glaring in a series where those mistakes are so rare.

Closing Thoughts

Cersei’s rationality in the wake of her son’s death is kind of scary. She spoke confidently to Margaery when calling Joffrey a “nightmare,” and her brief chat with Prince Oberyn about avenging loved ones was interesting, to say the least. I’m curious to see if/when both she and Oberyn take their revenge, how, and against whom.

Brienne and Podrick are headed to Castle Black to find Jon, who they hope will lead them to Sansa. Things aren’t so stable at the Castle, and I wonder how the two will be received (assuming they make it there).

It’s being arranged for Sansa to marry Robin, Lysa’s son. He’s just as crazy as she is, only younger. I feel bad for Sansa. She’s had three potential husbands (one of whom she actually married) and she hasn’t really liked any of them.
The episode’s closing shot is of the Night’s Watchmen burning Craster’s Keep to the ground. It’s a neat shot symbolically, but I am worried about its real-world implications. If you recall, the signal for the Wildlings south of the wall to attack Castle Black was supposed to be a large fire. Could this cause an assault prematurely?

Sometimes I talk about inconsistencies between the show and the book series from George R. R. Martin. For anyone who’s wondering, I’ve read the novels pretty much right up to where we are currently in the show, give or take a little. I’m trying to stay caught up so that I can point out any differences between the books and show, but without spoiling everything by reading ahead. Yes, it’s difficult. Any predictions that I make in these breakdowns are pure speculation; I intentionally don’t have any idea what’s going to happen in the next episodes.

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