"First of His Name" was another remarkably consistent episode of Game of Thrones' remarkably consistent fourth season (with one big Purple Wedding spike), equal parts action and secret-spiller to satisfy our bloodlust and soap-opera thirsts and continuing the season's penchant for going off the page. It's a winning combination and the strongest the show has been over the first five episodes of a season. Nothing seems like filler here, and even the stories that are dragging from no clear goal (like Arya and The Hound) are enthralling because of character chemistry. What I'm trying to say is David Benioff and D.B. Weiss appear to have found their groove with the Mountain-sized task of adapting Game of Thrones into a television show, staggering high points in parallel stories so no hour seems wasted. I don't think I've left an episode this season feeling let down, something I can't say about the other seasons.
And part of achieving that consistency is knowing what we want as viewers. In "First of His Name" it's the reveal of Littlefinger as the source for all of Westeros' recent upheaval and Jon Snow putting Longclaw through the back of Karl's head. Knowing what we want also allows the show to tease us a bit. Remember how excited we were last week about the prospect of Jon and Bran reuniting? We were so close! And how long have I been urging Dany to get on a boat and cruise over to Westeros? Damn you Dany and your obsession with a slavery-free society! But it's all part of the fun of watching Game of Thrones and keeping us on our toes.
Grab some ear plugs to drown out Lady Lysa's humping moans, and let's discuss what happened in "Firs of His Name."
"I will do what queens do. I will rule." —Daenerys Targaryen, possibly afraid of water
Was there anything better in Dany's story this week than her wry little smile when news reached her that Joffrey had died? She barely knew the extent of the little terror's atrocities but she couldn't help crack a grin because Joffrey was the worst. It's like the opposite of a disturbance in the force that the powerful can feel no matter where they are in the galaxy. Okay, it's probably more the fact that any weakening of the crown that she plans on taking eventually—she will get around to taking it, right?—is a good sign for her goals, but I like to think she smiled as a proxy for us.
The knowledge that Joffrey is dead opened up an opportunity for Dany to put her heiny on the Throne of Swords, and Daario's announcement that The Second Sons had taken control of the Meereenese navy meant that now was the time for Dany to charge on over to Westeros and kick some usurper butt. Except Ser Jorah had to spoil the fun by telling Dany that Yunkai was now back to its slaving ways and Astopor was under the rule of some guy named Cleon (spelling?), who sounds like he could be a pimp and someone you don't want to run into in a dark alley. It was a lesson in Middle Eastern liberation missions for Dany, because overthrowing governments to install your own is a lot easier on paper than it is in practice, right Bush/Obama!?!?!?
And as much as it pains me to see Dany's quest for the Iron Throne derailed again, I think she's actually being kind of smart here. It's like how gang bangers can't let a slight against them go unpunished. If word gets out that Dany let Yunkai and Astopor fall back into the hands of opportunists, she'll be seen as soft when fear is the tool she should wield as her empire grows. However, there's also the chance that Dany doesn't feel like she's ready for Westeros (and more importantly, that the writers don't think Westeros is ready for Dany), or maybe she adopted the Dothraki fear of water, so she's running in place until she has the courage to lead a siege on King's Landing. I'm just scared that Dany deciding to rule over Slaver's Bay sets up another round of Dany wandering around a desert throwing things at slave masters again, and not even new towns, but towns she already freed. Game of Thrones could literally show the exact same scenes again in reverse order if they wanted to.
"Know your strengths and use them wisely, and one man can be worth 10,000." —Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish
Ahhhh, the things Littlefinger will do for a taste of power. Chief among them, Lysa Arryn, the looniest of loons. The quote above is Littlefinger at his Littlefingerest, a man so driven to be somebody that he's willing to *barf* sleep with Lysa and allow her to have her way with his body. Didn't he remember? "Like it was yesterday," he said in veiled agony, the bile stinging the back of his throat. But a few bruises on the groin and ringing ears from sex shrieks is worth it in his mind, as we found out that Littlefinger is responsible for everything. Like, EVERYTHING.
It was Littlefinger who told took advantage of a lonely Lysa, herself jealous of her prettier and saner sister. He ordered her to poison her husband Jon Arryn. He told her to write Catelyn to tell her that the Lannisters were responsible for the murder. He essentially fired off the starting gun for this game of thrones, pouring a can of gasoline over the flames of the family feud between the Starks and the Lannisters because the ladder is easier for him to climb when it's chaotic. This guy! He's responsible for it all; the deaths, the power shifts, the constant state of unrest in the Seven Kingdoms. Maybe if Catelyn had agreed to marry him we'd be looking at a Disney fairytale instead of the rape and slaughter of Game of Thrones, but where's the fun in that? You want that, go see Frozen.
Now Littlefinger's long game becomes more clear and his quick ascendency to Lord of the Vale hit another milestone when he spontaneously married Lysa the night he arrived in the Eyrie, thanks to Lysa's on-call priest and witnesses. Now he's in control of the Vale, which has the universe's most impregnable castle, and because of the Vale's neutral stance on the War of the Five Kings, one of the kingdom's most intact armies and economies. However, he can't progress with Loony Lysa at his side, so we're probably looking at the season's second-shortest marriage. And now that Sansa is also at the Eyrie, he has a backup wife that could help him move even further up the ladder. All he has to do is wait for Tyrion to be executed to end her marriage, of course. This guy is damn genius, but we should have known that from his mustache.
And riding that mustache was Lysa, who lived up to her promise of screaming so loud that Dany would be able to hear it as her husband made love to her on their wedding night. That was gross.
"The Hound." —Arya Stark
More bickering from Westeros' oddest couple. Arya's nightly ritual of planning homocides disturbed The Hound's slumber, so Arya added his name to her list of people she will murder. It's hard to tell how serious Arya was about this, because one could sneeze without apologizing and Arya would vow to kill them later. As cute as she is, Arya is a rageaholic and a vengeful little psychopath. She would definitely be targeted as a possible school shooter in today's age after the first name crossed her lips before kindergarten nap time. Yet here we celebrate her and she's one of the show's most popular characters. What is wrong with us?
We did see Arya practice her water dancing, and it appears to be coming along well, and more importantly, realistically. Any other show would have made Arya a total badass by now, but Game of Thrones played off Arya's practice like she was performing a regimented routine instead of the free-flowing fighting style characteristic of the Braavosi. She looked good out there, but if she brought that technique to a bar fight she'd get her ass kicked. The Hound laughed her practice off and told her to take her best shot, so she went for a tummy puncture and was rebuffed by his armor.
Sayeth The Hound: "Your friend's dead. And Meryn Trant's not. Because Trant had armor, and a big fucking sword." Though it comes off as cold and heartless, this actually is the way The Hound is nice to people. The Hound is Westeros' grumpiest misanthrope. If The Hound doesn't like you, he won't acknowledge you at all. But I see all of his brutal life lessons as tough love for Arya. Though he'll never admit it, he admires Arya's moxie.
"Mostly I poured wine." —Podrick Payne
Not too much to report from Pod and Brienne's first adventure other than Pod was a much better butler than he was an actual squire. For all her noble intentions, has anyone else noticed that Brienne can be a total mean girl to anyone not her superior? She so business like, sucking up to royalty (Jaime aside, but that was his doing until he proved himself) but brushing off the help. Meanwhile, Pod continues to be the most selfless character in the show. If only Brienne could see that there's a lot of her in him—commitment, sense of duty, oath keeping—maybe she'd cut him some slack. It wasn't until Brienne had trouble with her armor straps and heard Pod killed a Kingsguard that she acquiesced to Pod's want to squire.
"Long may he reign." —People who don't know how this show works
Tommen is king! Long may he reign, until he gets married or is murdered, which could very well happen on the same day. The wheels are turning for Margaery to marry Tommen and for Cersei to marry Loras, and when that comes to pass, I hope I get invited to Thanksgiving dinner because that would be the most awkward family dinner ever. A trophy wife and her boy king hubby, a venomous shrew and her gay knight while her brother-lover looks on sneering, another brother accused of murdering the shrew's son, a grandmother-in-law who actually murdered the shrew's son, and a grandfather who is doing everything he can just to keep the kingdom from revolting. That feast would definitely end up with the walls smeared with mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce.
But what is Tommen king of? Tywin admitted that the Lannisters are hurting for money, and while the Tyrells are great sugar daddies to have around, it's still their money. This is like seeing those TMZ reports of Lindsay Lohan at the height of her popularity filing for bankruptcy. Each contender for the crown has their strengths and weaknesses, and finally the Lannisters' weakness is exposed. They're in the red having spent all their gold to ascend to power, and without any money, they're in danger of losing that power. The Tyrells, on the other hand, have the money and not the power, so these two families are coming together to exploit each other's weaknesses using a handshake with their fingers crossed behind their backs. There's a lot of back-scratching between rivals going on in Westeros, but it's only treading water until the next problem arises. Maybe Jaime and Cersei weren't so crazy when they decided to keep it in the family, eh? Power can only be spread and diminished when you marry outside of your bloodline. Now Tywin must reach out to the Iron Bank, proving that like our society, it's rich assholes who really hold the power.
*Spit* "Burn it to the ground. And all the dead with it." —One of Craster's sister wives
Last week, Jon said he was going to kill all the mutineers at Craster's Keep, this week Jon killed all the mutineers at Craster's Keep. This is the kind of pacing I enjoy! And this whole sequence, which, aside from "Blackwater," stayed on one story for the longest time. But because it had been built up richly with a multitude of moving parts—Jon vs. the mutineers, Bran also at Craster's, Locke sneaking into Jon's company to get Bran—it unfolded spectacularly with overlapping stories.
Jon and the Night's Watch hacked their way through Karl's 11 men and lost
four five men, a satisfactory performance given that they had the element of surprise and Craster's men were hammered and weak in the knees from their rape-athon. Locke managed to grab Bran, but Bran warged into Hodor's simple mind and snapped Locke's neck, which was tres cool. And Bran could only watch Jon from afar as Jojen reminded him that Jon would never let Bran continue on his quest north of the Wall because crippled boys should be in bed sipping tea and not go extreme camping in monster-infested woods. Our Stark family reunion will have to wait another day, but at least Bran got to see Jon, and saw him being a true badass. I loved how Craster's sister-wives were like, "Thanks but no thanks" to Jon's invitation to return to Castle Black since every man they've ever known has only punched them in the faced and forced themselves sexually on them, so they decided the best thing to do was burn the place to the ground. If only they'd flipped the bird at the keep like Beth and Daryl did in The Walking Dead.
Of most importance, to me, in this lengthy scene was a defined goal for Bran: the giant weirwood tree that Jojen saw during his totally radical vision quest. It's the same tree that popped up in Bran's visions, and now that Jojen has pinned it as Bran's objective, Bran's story at least has the feel of more focus, something that up to this point was incredibly broad and formless. Go find that tree, Bran!
Each week, I'll rank the episodes of Season 4 from best to worst. But remember, these are just my opinions! Feel free to post your own in the comments!
This week: "First of His Name" made great strides with two of the season's most interesting stories. Littlefinger and Sansa arrived at the Eyrie, where we learned that Littlefinger was behind everything, and Jon made it to Craster's Keep and put a sword through Karl's mouth while Bran mind-melded with Hodor to take down Locke. And as a midpoint-of-the-season episode, that's more than we can ask for. However, I'm concerned about Dany repeating everything she's been doing since Season 2. I'll slide this into the #2 slot, though, because Ghost killed a man.
1. "The Lion and the Rose" (Episode 2)
2. "First of His Name" (Episode 5)
3. "Breaker of Chains" (Episode 3)
4. "Oathkeeper" (Episode 4)
5. "Two Swords" (Episode 1)
– The look on Sansa's face when Lysa told her that she would be marrying Robin was AMAZING. Someone start a Sansa Faces Tumblr!
– I barely even noticed that Tyrion wasn't in the episode. That's how great this ensemble has become.
– Cersei is giving her daughter a boat. What's that all about?
– At least we got one reunion, Ghost and Jon!
AIRED ON 6/15/2014
Season 4 : Episode 10