This week: Drama! Excitement! Things actually happening!
Admittedly, very little continued to happen in the Daenerys plot line once again this week: she’s announced that she’s not going to Westeros, but is instead going to stay and rule in Meereen. That thunking sound you just heard was thousands of fans hitting their heads against the wall, because her story still isn’t tying in to the rest. All the same, it’s heartening that they’re undoing some of the awkward mighty whitey implications that have come up with her lately, by having the cities she’s freed fall back into tyranny. It’s a good indication that she can’t just swoop in, free the slaves and expect a happily ever after, and should help temper her idealism a bit.
Plus, it seems like they’re streamlining her story quite a lot: we’re only halfway through the season, but we’ve already reached the point where Dany’s story ended in the third book. This is a very good idea – the later books tend towards bloat, and cutting the fat will definitely help with their pacing issues – especially if they’re hoping to keep the show to seven seasons, and it raises the exciting prospect of us seeing much more of her dragons later this season.
It’s also very encouraging that they’re trying to get us to sympathise with Cersei. Her scenes with Margaery and Oberyn got right to the core of her character: horrible though she may be, she’s a mother who loves her children and wants the best for them. The part where she asked Oberyn to tell her daughter in Dorne that she misses her was particularly moving, and an impressive display of vulnerability by Lena Headey. Granted, the whole thing is just an attempt to get Oberyn on her side before Tyrion’s trial (he’s one of the judges), but that just adds to Cersei’s crafty nature, and is a very clever character moment.
Meanwhile, Littlefinger and Sansa have reached the Eyrie, which means we get to be reacquainted with her Craziest Woman in the World aunt Lysa, to whom Littlefinger is engaged. There’s a great scene between her and Sansa, where Lysa tries to force a confession that Sansa slept with her betrothed, and the full extent of how much Sansa’s been broken by her ordeal in King’s Landing becomes apparent. Her breakdown is a very affecting moment because she’s almost never been able to show naked emotion up to this point for fear of retribution – and it doesn’t exactly seem like things are going to get better for her.
In an entertainingly awkward scene with Lysa and Littlefinger, we learn that he was responsible for the death of Jon Arryn, which was the reason why Ned became Hand of the King way back in the very first episode. For those keeping track at home, this means Littlefinger is single-handedly responsible for the civil war that raged for two seasons and is the story’s Big Bad. He’s now Lord of Harrenhal, Lord of the Eyrie, and has one of the Starks as his protege, giving him a great deal of influence in the North. Varys once said that Littlefinger would let the world burn if he could be king over the ashes, and he’s getting quite a bit closer to achieving that goal.
There are a couple of lovely moments with Brienne and her new squire Pod, sent with her so he won’t be executed along with Tyrion (who is conspicuously absent from this episode). Pod’s a great character, mostly because it’s nice that there’s someone in this world who’s actually a decent person: he may not be the most competent squire, but he is the most loyal. The bit where Brienne finally gave in and let him help take off her armour, after she realised how devoted he is, was very touching.
Beyond the Wall, we finally get a decent battle sequence this season. Jon and his rangers attack the mutineers at Craster’s Keep, where, unbeknownst to him, Bran is being held captive. It was a good fight, even if it was very hard to tell who was on which side because everyone was wearing black. The final duel between Jon and Karl Tanner, the leader of the mutineers, was very good, though it did give us this season’s Most Unintentionally Hilarious Death. Jon killed Karl by stabbing him in the back of the head, and you’d have to be made of pretty stern stuff not to laugh at the profile shot of the sword going in the back and coming out his mouth. This sequence contains the only deaths this episode, but there are still 16 of them – 11 mutineers and five rangers – which isn’t bad at all.
Even though First of His Name was the first time since The Lion and The Rose where it felt like something significant had actually happened in Game of Thrones, there still wasn’t much that can change the Houses’ positions on the scoreboard. But Jon is half-Stark, so they can have five points for dealing with the treacherous Night’s Watchmen.
Lannister: 10 / Stark: 25 / Baratheon: 20 / Targaryen: 35
This week’s 16 deaths bring our running total up to 380. First of His Name seemed to suggest the show is getting its mojo back a bit, and it’s starting to be as entertaining as we expect Game of Thrones to be again. Long may that continue.
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All images: HBO