Game of Thrones Review 4.05 - 'First of His Name'
Posted by Jeremy Thomas on 05.05.2014
Jon Snow reaches Craster's Keep while Daenerys learns the difficulties of being a ruler and the new king of Westeros is crowned! 411's Jeremy Thomas checks in with his review of "First of His Name!"
Game of Thrones is an amazing show; I think we can all agree on that. But the truth is that it can be a little bit depressing. Between all the murder, the threats lurking in the shadows, the harsh reality of war and--let's face it--the rapeyness, it's an easy danger for the show to get bogged down in a sense of depression. There are times when, as we watch Jamie Lannister forcing himself on his sister inches away from the cold corpse of their dead son, we say "Jesus, why does anyone ever smile on this show?" And that's what makes "First of His Name" stand out so strongly among the fourth season episodes. This is one of those episodes where we can finally stand up and cheer that dammit, we got some things to legitimately be happy about. Sure, those things happened amidst a few moments where it looked like things might go sideways for our protagonists, but for the most part this week's episode is about our characters either gaining victories or at least finding some equilibrium after all the soul-crushing tragedies they've suffered.
Few people get that equilibrium in a more overdue manner this week more than Sansa. Sansa may not be everyone's favorite character, but that's more of an aftereffect of how she acted exactly as any noble teenager might in the first season and she hasn't lived that down among many. Sophie Turner has done a wonderful job over the past few seasons of trying to make this poor, lost character sympathetic as she was tormented by Joffrey, used as a pawn against Tyrion (and then tormented more by Joffrey), derided by Cersei, forced to stand by as her family was systematically slain and then used (and thereby framed) for the murder of the King. In "First of His Name," Sansa finally gets to smile without reservation as she is taken away to the Vale where she can hide out with Littlefinger under the protection of her aunt Lysa. With all of the practice that Turner has had looking desolate and without hope, it's actually striking to see her smile and think (even if only for a short time) that she's safe and that the horror might be over. That is torn from her later in the episode when her deranged aunt suspects that she's been giving it up to Baelish, and here's where that moment of happiness was essential. If we hadn't had a chance to see her happy, her panicked tears as she assured Lysa that she's still a virgin wouldn't have had the same level of impact. And yes, Sansa is tormented again here, but she at least has the illusion that she's safe and it gives her a cushion that she hasn't had since Ned Stark was beheaded in season one.
And yes, it's an illusion; of that I'm pretty sure. That surety is because of the conversation between Lysa and Baelish in which we learn that Baelish really a monster. This isn't news, by the way. We've always known that Littlefinger is a terrible human being, a sociopath of the highest order who will stop at nothing to get what he wants. Ros' arrow-ridden corpse is proof of that. But this week we find out that he's all about the assassinations in King's Landing as he not only engineered Joffrey's death for the Tyrells; he was actually responsible for starting off the entire storyline for the show when he convinced Lysa to poison Jon Arryn. That's one of those jaw-dropping, game-changing moments because it's a shift of reality in the show and the way Aidan Gillen and Kate Dickie play it is fantastic. Dickie has always been able to make Lysa creepy; when you have a ten-year-old attached to you at the breast; that's not all that difficult. But finding out exactly how deep she's willing to go for her Petyr is quite surprising indeed, and it shines a new light on her attempt to have Tyrion thrown through the floor in season one. Clearly it wasn't vengeance for Jon Arryn; it was callously covering her tracks.
"I started everything that led to the death of your family and
I think you're a whore. Now, go and eat your pudding."
Sansa isn't the only one who gets a bit of a win this week though; just about everyone in this episode is either fixing their problems or coming to the realization of how to do so. Dany is a good example of the latter; she's a character who has been largely disconnected from the greater storyline but has always been fighting to make her way over to join in the war for the Iron Throne. While her journey is engrossing to some degree, it has also meant that what she's trying to accomplish with the slaver cities seems to be time filler. It's almost as if the writers (and George R.R. Martin, of course) realize that there are too many contenders right now and they need to clear the playing field before bringing Dany in as the final challenger. This week she is faced with the reality that there is a difference between conquering and leading, as the other two cities are reverting back to their old ways. Barristan counsels that they move on, while Jorah suggests temperance. It's a great moment for Daenerys when she decides to put off her push across the sea so that she can learn how to do what a queen does: rule. Whether she'll be successful is another question, but the moment of maturity and restraint is a nice one for a woman who comes from a family where ruthlessness is a defining trait.
Also coming into a new state of realization this week is Cersei. Lena Headey has done so much to make this character one that we can be invested in despite the terrible things she does, and we've had sympathy from her since Joffrey died but actively caring about her has been a little more difficult this whole season. This week we get a chance to care a bit more as Cersei shows resourcefulness and moments where we understand the woman underneath the cold-hearted facade. Look at the opening scene in which Margaery and Cersei face off during the coronation of Tommen I. This could be a moment for a pretty impressive catfight, where they unleash their claws and deliver pointed barbs back and forth over the young teenager they both have their eye on. Instead Cersei extends an olive branch of sorts, and Margaery accepts. Their real talk about Joffrey is a great way to win some color to a pretty dark character (Cersei, not Joffrey) and while she's still trying to play the Queen-to-be, she's still playing the nice game instead of the cruel one. And the exchange between her and Oberyn later on of "We don't hurt little girls in Dorne" and "They hurt little girls everywhere" is a great way to call back to Cersei's violation and her own pain that she's suffered for being a woman.
Is it sad that I'm shipping these two? Because I completely am.
And then we have the most overt victory of the week at Craster's Keep. This is a situation that looked all sorts of wrong. Karl was reigning like a tyrant on a quest to make Joffrey look level-headed by comparison, Bran and company were imprisoned, Jon Snow was on the way with the traitorous Locke and they hurt Hodor. (Clearly, the last of those is the worst crime because man, Hodor!) And things really don't look like they're going to get much better as Locke reports back the numbers at the Keep but lies in order to keep Jon away from Bran. Then Karl shows up in the little prison area and decides that we haven't had enough sexual assault this season so it's time to imperil Meera.
And yet it all works out as all the pieces fall into place. Jon's group attacks which saves Meera; Locke shows up to kidnap Bran but Bran uses his powers to make Hodor hulk out and snap Locke's neck and then they escape while Karl does battle with Jon. This show is always good with its battle scenes but this is one of my favorite; it's a classic villain vs. hero duel. Karl mocks Jon's dead father and gets the advantage, only to have his evil acts bite him in the ass as one of Craster's women stabs him in the back. That distracts him enough for Jon to shove a sword through his mouth in one of the best deaths this show has done yet. You have to give it to Game of Thrones; when it comes to killing their monsters, they do it in the most glorious fashion possible.
And the aftermath of that scene is perhaps the best moment of this episode, for two reasons. One, it shows that even if this is a more upbeat episode for the most part, it's still a show with realistic plot twists. It doesn't end with a "Happily Ever After" moment; Bran realizes that he has to go without revealing himself to Jon and the women of Craster's Keep don't welcome their rescuers and join their mission, instead choosing to find their own way. And second, because it gives us one more happy moment in bringing Jon and Ghost back together. If the reunion of a boy and his dog isn't the happiest ending we could have hoped for on this show, than I don't know what is.
"What's that you say, Ghost? Bran's fallen in the well again?"
Some Final Thoughts:
• The Lannisters are severely broke and deeply in debt to the Iron Bank. Hopefully this doesn't lead to a whole arc about House bailouts and raising the debt ceiling in King's Landing.
• There was a very distinct (and sad) lack of Tyrion in this episode, but from the preview we'll be getting plenty of him next episode and Tyrion in court should be a lot of high-stakes fun.
• Podrick and Brienne only get a few minutes but it's every bit as glorious as I hoped it would be. Burning rabbit and trying to take a woman's armor off without her asking for it. Pod has a lot to learn.
• Arya and the Hound have a great couple of scenes here that both endear us to Sandor and makes us want to see him die. On one hand he talks about wanting to kill his brother too, and seems to accept that Arya wants him dead. On the other hand he mocks Arya's swordplay and instructor, albeit in a way that seems to suggest he is willing to help her improve. Oh, those shades of gray.
The 411: "First of His Name" has some major revelations, but in a lot of ways if feels like the calm before the storm. The past is dug up in a way that changes what we know and the heroes finally get a win here and there, capped off with a fantastic battle sequence at Craster's Keep. In a season that has so far been full of big "oh my god" moments, this episode stands out and excels because of its relative quietness by comparison.