What good is power if you can't protect the ones you love?
Written by: David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Directed by: Michelle MacLaren
So I said that "Oathkeeper" was a plot-heavy Game of Thrones episode. I think I spoke a tad prematurely, because the next episode, "First of His Name", is a very plot-heavy Game of Thrones episode. It is also one of the more fast-paced episodes of the season, capping off with an exciting battle between the Night's Watch and the mutineers at Craster's Keep. Not every Game of Thrones episode is constructed such that basically every scene is memorable, but director Michelle MacLaren definitely gives us such an episode here. That's not to say the episode is a full-blown masterpiece, however. While the battle at Craster's Keep is the most memorable scene, it is also the most flawed one. This is also a good opportunity to do some catch-up with some characters that haven't had a whole lot going on recently, so we've got that going for us as well.
Arya and the Hound: what have they been up to recently? The Hound overhears Arya reciting all the names on her kill list, one of them being him. Later, he watches Arya train with her sword, insulting her movements as well as the man who trained her, Syrio Forel. The Hound allows Arya to try and attack him, but her sword proves useless against his armor. Everything here is a bit of a discouraging reality check for Arya: it's wishful thinking that she will be able to personally kill everyone on her list, and she can't expect her sword to save her up against the likes of Meryn Trant or Ilyn Payne. The Hound is never going to baby Arya and sugarcoat the way things Westeros works; he's going to insult her for her inflated ambitions and remind her she is far from the greatest fighter in the Seven Kingdoms. I like how the first scene where Arya recites her kill list builds up excitement for her to intimidate the Hound and show her stuff, only for the next scene to bring it all crashing down. Game of Thrones knows how to turn cynicism into a painful gut punch.
So while Arya and the Hound have been a lovely, adventures-on-the-road duo, we now get another such duo in Brienne and Podrick. Podrick turns out to be incapable of certain duties that a squire should probably know how to do: riding a horse and cooking to name a few. Daniel Portman's acting is wonderful here as Podrick: completely humble with the meek facial expressions of an introvert's first day on the job. This is then juxtaposed with Podrick admitting to killing a member of the Kingsguard during the Battle of Blackwater, something that highly impresses Brienne. How ironic that Game of Thrones, a series full of skilled fighters, would have some of its major kills be done by characters who appear to have an inferiority complex. The clumsy, overweight Sam killed a White Walker, and the gentle, submissive Podrick killed one of the Kingsguard, saving the life of one of the show's most important characters in Tyrion. Game of Thrones keeps finding clever ways to subvert our expectations while taking a seemingly unimportant character and have them accomplish something that may prove useful in the long run.
So then, I think there's just one other pair of characters that I need to do a bit of catching up on: Petyr Baelish and Sansa. The two arrive in the Vale and are greeted by Lysa Arryn, who wants to marry Petyr right away. This doesn't seem like an overly important scene, but it secretly is, revealing who was responsible for Jon Arryn's death: the catalyst that sets basically all of Game of Thrones into motion. We learn that Lysa was the one who poisoned Jon, on the request of Baelish, and that Lysa wrote the letter to Catelyn, framing the Lannisters for the crime. Yet another thing Game of Thrones loves to do: reveal game-changing pieces of information in the simplest conversations, particularly those where we feel like it's okay to have our guard down. So many killings and other crimes that have happened thus far in Game of Thrones can all trace back, one way or another, to the devious scheming of Baelish. He is a lot like The Joker from The Dark Knight: wanting to create chaos and watch the world burn simply because he enjoys it. Now pair him with a borderline psychopath in Lysa Arryn, and you've got a couple whose malicious actions make Joffrey's cruelty look tame by comparison. Poor Sansa: she escaped one bad situation in King's Landing, only to be forced into another one at the Vale.
It's not all bad in King's Landing now, however: Tommen Baratheon is crowned the new king, and Cersei and Margaery talk that Tommen may be the first king that Westeros has deserved in decades. This turns out to be a very interesting episode for Cersei: not once, but twice does she have a conversation in which she pleads for something. She pleads with her father to declare Tyrion guilty in his upcoming trial, and she asks for Oberyn Martell to take a ship back to Sunspear, as a gift to her daughter Myrcella. Heck, even her conversation with Margaery lacks any sort of subtle insult or venomous threat. For the first time in...well, ever, Cersei appears human and like she's fully aware that this time around, no evil scheme is going to help her get what she wants. This is huge for Cersei's character: for so long, she has been leaning towards conniving, power-hungry ruler, we might start to worry that her gray area had been completely washed out. However, Joffrey's death gave us a firm reminder of Cersei's most prominent character trait: she is a mother who loves her children and will do anything and everything to protect them. Now that her second son is the new king, she wants to be absolutely sure that he is protected at all times, fearing that history may repeat itself.
On the other side of the world, Daenerys learns of Joffrey's death, but she decides not to sail for Westeros yet, opting to stay in Meereen and rule as Queen. It may sound like a hefty spoiler, but honestly, this should not be that surprising: Daenerys will eventually sail for Westeros, but I'm actually glad this decision is made for her to stay in Meereen. We've mostly seen Daenerys as a leader, but not necessarily as a ruler. She has inspired her followers, guided them through the Red Waste, and has freed all the slaves that she has come across. Now is her chance to prove that she is worthy of being called their Queen, and that she is capable of the same title when she attempts to take the Iron Throne once she finally sails for Westeros. It's essential for us to see this from Daenerys: how can we take her seriously as someone who can rule over the Iron Throne, if we never get the chance to watch her rule over anywhere?
Finally, after a lot of intriguing conversations and further character development, we come to the Battle at Craster's Keep. Once again, the action is clean-looking and well-choreographed. I forgot to mention that Bran, Hodor, and the Reed siblings were captured by the mutineers last time. Locke, agreeing to be a part of Jon's fighting party, shows up and attempts to take Bran (who DESPERATELY needs a haircut, by the way) away. Bran, however, is able to warg into Hodor, who breaks free and kills Locke by breaking his neck. As this is going on, Jon and his group are able to kill all the mutineers, coming down to Jon facing off against Karl. My main issue here is that, it wasn't all that necessary to have it be one vs. one, with Jon being the one to kill Karl. The fight, while perfectly fun to watch, feels like a video game protagonist going up against a mid-level boss. I think this fight would have been a lot more intriguing had it been, say, a three versus three battle, where Jon and Karl have allies by their side. Remember when Ned Stark and Jaime Lannister squared off back in season one? That fight didn't start as just Ned versus Jaime. At least a few others got in on the action, even if it was just Stark and Lannister guardsmen. Anyway, Bran and his group watch Jon and his men kill the mutineers, but they agree it's best if they move on without making their presence known. Jon and his group burn the bodies and burn Craster's Keep to the ground, ending the episode with a triumphant victory.
And what a triumphant episode that "First of His Name" is, being one of the first episodes in a while where every story line has something worth mentioning, as opposed to only or two being worth mentioning while the rest only serve to move plot lines forward. The end fight at Craster's Keep is a little overly fabricated, but it's still a relatively satisfying conclusion to the episode, one with character intrigue and development out the wazoo, and that is not at all a bad thing. It's safe to call "First of His Name" a partial masterpiece, and that's pretty impressive at the midway point of a season, where the plot progression episodes normally like to show up.
Here you'll find my reviews on just about any film you may have seen. I try to avoid major spoilers as much as possible. I structure my reviews in the following way: