This week: Cersei and Margaery play nice, Sansa arrives in The Vale, and Jon Snow deals with the mutineer situation in an episode made up largely of original material.
“The First of His Name” begins with the event that gives the episode its name: the coronation ceremony of Tommen. But, as is often the case in Westeros, the crowning of the new king isn’t the most important thing happening in the room: its the conversation going on between Cersei, a grieving mother, and Margaery Tyrell, a not-so-grieving widow.
Cersei can’t stand Margaery…that much is made apparent with a brilliant shot of Tommen from Margaery’s point of view, a shot that gets interrupted as Cersei steps into frame, causing Margaery to look awkwardly away. Uh-oh, I was thinking, as Cersei makes her way through the crowd to speak with her in the shadows. Margaery just screwed the pooch!
But no. Cersei’s exchange with the twice widowed girl is surprisingly amicable. She even raises the possibility of Margaery wedding Tommen! As much as she despises the Tyrells, Cersei understands that they Tyrells are an important part of keeping the Lannisters in power, a fact made all too clear during a later exchange with Tywin, who reveals that the Lannisters are having trouble paying there debts now days. Both women agree to discuss the matter with their patriarchs, but we know this is just a formality. The decision has already been made, not by any particular character, but by larger events, namely the Crown’s debt to the Iron Bank.
Keeping with Cersei for a bit (and I want to point out that Lena Headey gave a fantastically understated performance here), the Queen regent visited Oberyn, not only to discuss the trial of Tyrion, but to ask about the well being of her daughter. Cersei was presented in a much more sympathetic light than she has been in a while, as we are reminded that she is a mother who just lost her first child, and whose only daughter is the political hostage of a family who hates the Lannisters (despite Oberyn’s claims here and at the wedding that Myrcella is safer in Dorne than in King’s Landing).
We also learn that Oberyn has eight daughters. I’m sure fellow book readers smiled at the show’s first mention of the Sand Snakes.
Another interesting development this episode is the revelation of just how deep Littlefinger’s involvement in events are. And they’re deep. He’s pretty much the catalyst for everything, as Lyssa reminds him in a bit of clumsy, “As you know” exposition that he was the one that convinced her to poison her husband (not Cersei and Jaime, as we’d been led to believe), and write the letter to Catelyn Stark that spurred her to capture Tyrion and start a war.
As for Lyssa, she’s completely unhinged. She’s blindly in love with Littlefinger, and in an exchange with Sansa, goes from friendly aunt to jealous wife and back again in the span of a few short minutes. Poor Sansa…her situation just keeps getting worse.
Arya’s situation, on the other hand, is a bit more of a gray area. She’s hanging out with one of the most infamous killers in Westeros, a killer whose name is on her list of people to kill. It’s also a list she recites, out loud, without fear. We also see that Arya has been practicing, as she engages in a bit of ‘water dancing’ near a stream. I wonder how it will take for somebody to set that footage to Queen’s “Princes of the Universe”? I also wonder how many reviewers have probably made that joke already?
The Hound comes upon her, and is highly amused. He taunts her about her style, and her mentor, Syrio. He isn’t so amused when she tries to stab him, but is thwarted by his armor. He disarms her, knocks her to the ground and holds Needle to her throat. Once again, oh, no! But it turns out to be a teachable moment…even if Arya has a bunch of flashy moves, she still has a lot to learn. The Hound makes a point about armor, gives the sword back, and storms off.
We also catch up with Brienne and Pod, for a little character building time. Brienne is not happy about having a squire, especially one who can’t ride a horse. Podrick may be loyal, but apparently he isn’t very good at his job. It isn’t until Pod tells her that he killed a member of the King’s Guard to protect Tyrion during battle that she sees his worth. It’s a nice little scene, and I’m more stoked for this pairing than I was before.
Meanwhile, across the narrow sea, Daenerys is faced with a decision. The realities of her actions finally come back to her: she can’t just overthrow thousands of years of institutionalized slavery, move on, and expect everything to be alright. She’s fighting a losing battle, which I think is the point Jorah is trying to make when he tells her that Astapor and Yunkai are worse off than before. That’s not the lesson she takes from it, though. Rather than set sail with her ten thousand strong army and newly acquired fleet of ships, she chooses to stay in Mereen and rule, because if she can’t rule the people she’s liberated, how can she expect the people of Westeros to rally to her side?
Finally, the moment I’d been waiting the entire episode for…the attack on Craster’s Keep. Perhaps the promise of a brotherly reunion between Jon and Bran was too much to hope for, but we did get a nice emotional beat as Bran has to make a decision of his own. He sees Jon fighting and begins to call out for him, but Jojen stops him and tells him that Jon won’t let him go if they are found. Bran and co. decide to slip away, retrieving Summer from pit and presumably freeing Ghost from his cage. Ghost gets a little payback on Rast for tormenting him last week.
As for the battle, we get a nice little one on one battle between Jon and Karl. It’s a great fight, with Jon wielding a sword and Karl using two daggers. Jon is nearly done in until he gets an assist from one of Craster’s daughters (hell yeah!) and when Karl turns on her, Jon finishes him off with a sword through the mouth. Jon offers refuge to the daughters, but they choose to make their own way (double hell yeah!), and tell the Night’s Watch to burn the Keep to the ground.
This original subplot was one I was unsure about at first, but I’m more than satisfied with the way it played out. As the series catches up with the source material, I have a feeling we’ll be seeing more expanded bits like this, and if they’re handled as well as this, and add the same kind of beats as Bran making a choice between his goal and family, I say bring them on. Also, it was good to finally see the good guys, and ladies, win for once, however fleeting that victory may be.