Monday, February 6, 2017

Game of Thrones Rewatch 4.5: "First of His Name"

Read the previous entry in the series here.
Read the next entry in the series here.

4.5 “First of His Name”
Written by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Directed by Michelle McLaren

There are four major pieces in this episode and several smaller bits. I don’t know if you all have noticed, but right about the beginning of season four, the titles of the episodes completely stopped being indications of the theme of the episode, and the episodes have mostly stopped having unifying themes. At this point (and it gets worse in seasons five and six), Benioff and Weiss are hitting major plot points without bothering to try to explore the unifying themes behind those plot points or characterization or anything else.

The bit that gives the episode its title is Tommen’s crowning as he’s named king of Westeros. He and Margaery have developed a (creepy) rapport that Cersei notices, so she goes to feel out Margaery. As becomes typical in the show for these last three seasons, their interaction is catty and mean, just barely veiled behind innocuous-seeming comments (they get less innocuous later). In this case, Margaery implies that Cersei is old by asking whether she should call her sister or mother once she marries Tommen and Cersei marries Loras. The show clearly wants us to root for Margaery over Cersei, but this Mean Girls thing they’ve got going with Margaery makes me not like her very much. It gets worse later.

There’s a little bit of detail added in that helps explain some of Tywin’s motivation: he needs Cersei and Jaime to behave and put the family first because the mines at Casterly Rock have run dry. The Lannisters no longer have access to the kind of wealth they did before, and Tywin needs the alliance with the Tyrells to keep the Lannisters in power and flush. Too bad the only Lannister who might be able to manage that has been framed for murder and is reviled for no really good reason except being disabled (and sometimes kind of an ass).

Speaking of keeping power, Daenerys hears about Joffrey’s death, the overthrow of the council she left to rule Astapor, and Yunkai’s return to slavery and has to make a choice. Daario has captured the Meereenese navy, which affords enough ships to take her entire army back to Westeros right now. But she doesn’t yet have the confidence in her own ability to rule necessary to take that step. She knows she can conquer, but she doesn’t know if she can hold a city together, let alone seven kingdoms. So she decides to stay and learn instead of leaving for Westeros right away, which has every one of her advisors slapping their foreheads and groaning, probably. Now, on the one hand, learning to be a competent leader is important. Being queen of seven kingdoms isn’t a learn-as-you-go job. On the other hand, emphasizes her imperialist attitude—conquering and ruling Slavers Bay becomes practice for the “real thing” when she takes Westeros. It reduces the importance of the human lives she’s saved from slavery and the ones she’s ruling now. At any time, she could drop everything and just leave. This is something I’ve said about the books, too, and I don’t think it’s a problem with the way the story is being told, but a commentary on imperialism and colonialism. Where the show trips up a bit, I think, is in leaving out Dany’s comment that “her children” (the former slaves) need time to recover from being slaves and grow into themselves as people, and her dragons need time to grow up before they’re fearsome enough to help her take Westeros. The show makes it all about her and her abilities and self-doubt, which is again a paring-down of the many factors that go into every decision Dany makes and creates a severe oversimplification of her character and circumstances.

Petyr and Sansa reach the Vale, where Sansa finally feels safe for a few minutes; Lysa greets her warmly, Robin’s actually on his best (if a bit tactless) behavior, and she’s far, far away from King’s Landing. Also, she saw the Eyrie’s defenses and there’s no way anyone (without a dragon) is going to get in here to take her back to the Lannisters. When Lysa and Petyr are alone, Lysa insists on getting married right now—she even has a Septon waiting outside. She says they had their wedding night years ago, and Petyr makes a face like he doesn’t understand what she’s talking about.

Here’s the thing: the entire plot was set in motion by Petyr yearning after Catelyn for years. He set Lannister against Stark to punish Ned for marrying Catelyn. He manipulated Lysa into killing Jon Arryn and sending Cat the letter that started the whole thing in motion. He believes that he had sex with Catelyn when they were young. The show never really disabuses us of that notion, whereas the books make it clear that Catelyn went to her marriage to Ned a virgin. This is supposed to be the aha moment that shows that when Petyr had sex with “Cat,” he was really sleeping with Lysa. That the show dropped the ball so hard on this moment takes away a lot of the impact of the whole subplot—Petyr’s entire reason for doing what he did was a lie! This was all for no reason. Also, without Cat’s interactions with her father, we don’t find out why Lysa’s so disturbed—she got pregnant when she slept with Petyr and Hoster forced her to abort, then married her off to Jon Arryn, who was like forty years older than her. This sequence ticks a couple of boxes on the plot progression chart, but it misses some serious nuance and emotional depth and ultimately Lysa just looks like a crazy person and not as damaged as she actually is.

Later Lysa pins Sansa down and demands to know exactly what her relationship with Petyr is; she suspects that Petyr’s only taking care of Sansa because she’s Cat’s daughter, and Lysa has always suspected that Petyr loved Cat more than her. Her demands escalate from fairly mild-toned asking to insisting and finally to a manic fever pitch as she asks whether Sansa’s pregnant with Petyr’s baby or if she knows whether Petyr had sex with his prostitutes. It rightly freaks Sansa right out, and all semblance of safety is gone. Then Lysa says she intends Sansa to marry Robin and be lady of the Vale, and poor Sansa feels herself once again being reduced to a marriageable object instead of being cared for because she’s a human being.

The fourth major piece is Craster’s Keep. Locke does some scouting and spots Bran, who of course is his primary target, so when he goes back, he tells the rest of them to avoid that particular outbuilding, claiming it’s holding some nasty dogs. Karl storms out to threaten Meera one more time, because we can’t finish this subplot without making sure one of the women is threatened with rape or raped. He’s distracted by the fighting outside and leaves; after some chaos, he runs into Jon, who kills him with the help of one of Craster’s women. Rast gets mauled to death by Ghost, and then Craster’s women set the keep on fire and prepare to hike back to Castle Black with Jon.

In the middle of all this, Bran once again wargs into Hodor in order to get free of Locke, who’s trying to kidnap him. This time it gets worse; Bran not only uses Hodor for his brute strength, but forces him to kill Locke. When Bran leaves Hodor, Hodor looks down at his hands and sees the blood and starts to freak out. So not only has Bran mentally violated Hodor yet again, he’s further traumatized him by forcing him to do something entirely outside of his character—kill a man with his bare hands. Then Bran doesn’t even a) notice Hodor’s distress or b) give him a minute to recover; he immediately starts yelling for Hodor to come untie him, then free Jojen and Meera. Bran then faces his last chance to turn back; he sees Jon and has to decide whether to call out to him and let Jon take him back to Castle Black or hide and continue his mission. He decides to continue heading north.

There’s a few small character moments that keep us clued in to the progress of the characters who are traveling or otherwise don’t have a lot to do in this episode. Arya and Sandor are still headed for the Eyrie. Sandor hears Arya saying her “prayers” and says hate’s as good a thing as any to give someone a reason to keep living. Then he finds out he’s on her list and his face is equal parts hilarious and really sad. Later, he catches her practicing her water dancing and yells at her about it being a completely useless way to fight and maybe if Syrio had armor and a real sword like a real warrior, he wouldn’t have died.

Pod turns out to be the worst squire possible; he can barely ride a horse, he can’t cook over a fire (he doesn’t even skin the rabbit first), and outside of the Blackwater, he’s never actually learned to fight. But he’s loyal to a fault and refuses to leave her even when she releases him from his vows. After they talk for a bit, she relents just a tad and allows him to help her with her armor.

Finally, Cersei and Oberyn have a moment wherein she tries to manipulate him (without sex!!!!) or at least kind of feel out where he is about Tyrion by bonding over their kids. She says that they’re in similar positions; he couldn’t save his sister or her kids, just as she couldn’t save Joffrey. She also asks how Myrcella is doing and he assures her she’s fine, happy, and enjoying herself in Dorne, because unlike the rest of Westeros, they don’t hurt little girls in Dorne. Cersei says they hurt little girls everywhere, and for one of the last times, I feel truly bad for her. This society hurts everyone, but women and girls get the worst of it, even highborn ones.


Next week: The Iron Bank considers Stannis’ request. Yara tries to rescue Theon. Hizdahr smarms in. Tyrion goes to trial.

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