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It’s hard to tell just what direction Game Of Thrones is headed in. After an incredibly strong start to the season, the past few episodes have failed to provide any sense of resonance or even be memorable for much beyond the controversies that followed them. There have been some plot advances, to be sure, and a few radical changes, but often it’s felt like the writing has been treading water. “First Of His Name” was another episode that occasionally seemed to suffer from the same narrative lethargy. The biggest problem is a sense of stasis that affects some of the scenes, where you simply feel like you’re watching it unfold, but without any sense of stakes or consequence, as if the story is aimlessly meandering in the hopes that it will bump into something interesting.
It began with Tommen’s coronation, a rather subdued affair given the events that preceded it. It was also uneventful, save for a brief but rather marvelous exchange of looks between Tommen, Margaery and Cersei. A wealth of stories were told and promises were made through just a few quick glances, and it led to an intriguing exchange between Cersei and Margaery, one where we got to see just how subversive and manipulative young Margaery can be. Yet it also featured a version of Cersei that I’m not sure that I like. Cersei has always been dedicated to her family, in particular her children, but she’s also always been fiercely independent, cruel, calculating, and utterly ruthless. Yet over the past few episodes, there’s been a change to her that goes beyond the depiction of a grieving and desperate mother. Instead, it’s almost as if they’ve been deliberately softening her edges by focusing on little else than that motherhood. In point of fact, in each of Cersei’s three exchanges during this episode — with Margaery, with Tywin, and even with Oberyn Martell, there was little spoken of beyond her bloodthirst towards Tyrion and her devotion to her children. Admittedly, there was a good deal more to her dealings with her father, particularly in light of his revelation of the crown’s debt to the Iron Bank (and a wonderfully ominous description of just what the Iron Bank is and is not), but overall, it never felt like the powerful, dangerous Cersei that we’ve been seeing over three seasons. The writers have slowly weakened her character, and I must admit that it’s making her less and less engaging to watch.
Across the Narrow Sea, we see Dany learning of Joffrey’s death (word travels fast on the backs of ravens, I suppose). I have to admit, this scene was dreary to the point of somnolence, with no real weight to it. Even as Dany learns that her efforts as the liberator of Slaver’s Bay have been undone, even as she renews her determination to be more than just a symbol to those free and in chains, there was still a strange lifelessness to the entire exchange. If anything, the only thing that saved the scene was the insouciance of Daario Naharis, and that was far too short-lived to be worthwhile. I have a terrible fear that once again, Daenerys Targaryen is going to be reduced to simply replaying the same scenes, over and over, until we get to a point where it’s worth continuing her story in a meaningful fashion.
As for Sansa and Littlefinger, I have to say that I enjoyed the scenes in the Eyrie, for two reasons, the foremost being that I’ve always felt that Kate Dickie does an absolutely brilliant job of depicting the utter lunacy of Lysa Tully (now Baelish, I suppose). There is no exception to this here, where it is first glimpsed in her meeting with Littlefinger and Sansa, but then fully unleashed when she sweeps poor Sansa up in her delusions of jealousy and bitter madness. But what was equally enjoyable was that Aiden Gillen was allowed to slink back into the more subtle deviousness that was the Petyr Baelish that I enjoyed so much prior to the past two episodes. This was more of the slightly sinister, cleverly scheming Baelish, not the overtly evil one, and it’s a far more alluring performance. Yet despite that return to subtlety and smoothness, we also learn the horrible truth of Jon Arryn’s death, one that shows once more that the depths of his viciousness truly has no bottom.
The best exchanges were both far too brief, and with too little purpose. For Arya and The Hound, little progression occurred, but it made their interactions no less enjoyable. There was something remarkable about the Hound listlessly enduring Arya’s list of names, only to have her chillingly reveal his own as the final one. Yet despite that, he still teaches her, in his own rough manner. That water dancing scene was rendered wonderfully, with all of Arya’s grace and fluidity contrasting with the brutish, unfettered violence of the Hound. It’s curious — despite all she has done and endured, there remains a slight air of romanticism to Arya, and it’s something that the Hound appears determined to break her of, even if he knows that in the end, she wants him dead. But then, a man like the Hound has little to live for, and perhaps setting her on a path to her own survival is all he has left.
That said, there is a new pairing that threatens the top spot that Arya and Sandor Clegane share, and that is the marvelously entertaining duo of Podrick Payne and Brienne of Tarth. There’s some amazing work being done here, both in writing and performance, and once Pod has been removed from his silly sex-god fantasy land, and allowed to actually do something, it’s clear that Daniel Portman can really bring something to the table. Of course, we also know that that something isn’t rabbit. That second interaction was remarkable, for it took but a few minutes for it to be so wonderfully revealing of both of their natures. As such, while the scene is comically brilliant, it also gave us a terrific glimpse of not only Brienne’s fierce independence, but also Pod’s relentless loyalty, loyalty that she grows to respect in the wake of his straightforward, almost mortified telling of his role in the Battle of Blackwater.
We concluded at Craster’s Keep, with both a scene and a plotline that I can now officially deem completely and infuriatingly pointless. Letting go of the horribleness of last week’s rape-o-rama, the storyline itself has been revealed to have almost zero purpose other than to show us more of the white walkers last week, something that could easily have been incorporated in another fashion. Because here’s what we had at the beginning — Jon returning to the Night’s Watch, as Bran and company sought out the three-eyed raven and listened to Jojen Reed’s dreams, Craster is gone, and his women were but a memory. After all that happened — the rapes, the skull-drinking, the captured direwolves, the threat of sexual violence against Meera — after all of that, what remains? Well, Jon returns to the Night’s Watch, and Bran and the Reeds and Hodor continue to seek out the three-eyed raven and listen to Jojen’s dreams, Craster’s is gone, and his women will be but a memory. Sure, there was the revelation of Locke and his killing by the hand of possessed-Hodor, but even those events don’t matter since they will never be revealed to anyone — not Jon, nor Roose Bolton, no one. As such, the entire sequence has effectively been rendered moot. It was essentially an interminably long, incredibly awful, and ultimately completely pointless thread that should have been snipped before it ever made it in front of a camera.
“First Of His Name” was, at best, a thoroughly average episode. There were a couple of high points, often due more to some excellent performances rather than inspired writing, but otherwise there was a sense of being stuck in the mud for this episode. The good news is that we’re finally done with the Craster’s Keep story, one that never should have been told in the first place. We’re also on the verge of a new series of events — Brienne and Pod’s quest, Littlefinger and Lysa’s scheming, and the continued nest of snakes that King’s Landing has become — that will hopefully inject new and much-needed life into the show. But we shall have to wait until next week to see.