Another King, Another Day
A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
The best episode this season so far. Impeccably written by David and Dan with the astute Michelle MacLaren back to direct, First of His Name is astutely a transition episode, but one that brilliantly brings back a plethora of stories from the past into the now and future. First of His Name has a lot of focus on its women and the power they wield, which is in nice contrast to the controversial rapes of both previous episodes. Characters like Cersei and Daenerys drive the tension of the hour, and the episode is all the better for it. The women of Westeros and Essos are taking more charge without taking their clothes off and it’s brilliant. The script itself is much stronger than last week’s (no disrespect to Bryan Cogman, this episode largely completed last week’s and there was arguably a lot more to juggle) and MacLaren’s direction becomes much more subtle yet more nuanced at the same time. This is also an episode that would come into the rarity column with no Peter Dinklage for the hour (still stuck in a dungeon) and having no nudity either. Oh, and there was a wedding where no one died. Who knew?
This episode belongs to Cersei. She had three key scenes, arguably a ton of screen time in a typical episode of Thrones, where each characters gets a quick scene and then they move on to the next location. The advantage of having a shocking moment like Joffrey’s death in Episode 2 is that it allows for the next several episodes to have more of a breather that doesn’t feel like it’s dragging. The episode gets its name from the opening sequence where King Tommen I, the First of His Name, gets crowned in the Red Keep. He sits comfortably in the Iron Throne, as if he was born to sit in it as Margaery quips. He seems genuinely happy to be sitting in the chair, bless his heart. But he’s going to have to grow quite quickly, one thinks. Innocence has a very short lifeline in this world. He smiles encouragingly at the beautiful Margaery, and MacLaren stages this wonderful shot as the camera cuts between them to allow Cersei to abruptly slither in as a literal barrier between the two. Margaery’s smile quickly fades (who can blame her?) as she and frankly everyone else expects Cerse to potentially stab her to death and throw her body into the Blackwater with the remains of Stannis’s ships. But Cersei shocks everyone and Lena Headey begins her trek to fully own and command this episode. “He was a monster” she says heavily in regards to Joffrey, her voice imbued with tragedy and realization. She knew exactly what he was and if people often forget, she argued with him in “Baelor” as he ordered Eddard’s beheading in the first instance where she at least on screen realized her son’s madness. But he was her firstborn and in a life mired by tragedy and oppression, Cersei had increasingly clung to the little happy memories she had. Few can blame her for doing so. She acknowledges that he would have been a terrible husband to Margaery and asks if she still wanted to be queen. Margaery feigns politeness, noting falsely that she hadn’t thought about it. Cersei’s eye roll is perfect here with a “You really think I’m going to believe that?”expression crossing her visage. Nevertheless, Margaery adds that she will speak to her father and Cersei duly notes that she’ll speak to Tywin. Key note: Mace Tyrell is one of the judges on Tyrion’s trial. Cersei’s emotions are real here, but so is her penchant for manipulation and Lena Headey perfectly captures both.
Her next meeting was with as she promised, her loving and doting father Tywin. Jamie has been a disappointment with his hand being chopped off and refusing to return to Casterly Rock. Tyrion is on trial for regicide and he’s a dwarf. Cersei is a woman. But she doesn’t let that delay her and Tywin confesses to her that the Lannisters are broke virtue of their gold mines being empty and the crown being tremendously in debt to the Iron Bank of Braavos (we’re finally meeting them next week after hearing about them for what seems like ages, also we get to meet them in Braavos itself, which is sweet if you remember Syrio Forel and Jaqen H’gar were from there). “The Iron Bank is a temple” Tywin says somberly. Cersei is shocked but understands the importance of the Tyrells now more than ever. Margaery and Tommen will be wed in a fortnight and then a fortnight after that Cersei will wed Loras. Both of them will go swell, I’m sure. Cersei breaches Tyrion’s trial, but Tywin asserts that while as a mother Cersei can build her case, he as a judge can’t talk about the trial (as if he’s going to be totally impartial fair). But as Cersei leaves, she makes another important point. She’s worked to keep the Lannister legacy alive, what does Tyrion deserve for lighting that legacy on fire? “The Lannister legacy is the only thing that matters.” Indeed.
Her final meeting of the hour is with Prince Oberyn, who’s taking a break from fucking everyone in King’s Landing to write a sweet poem to one of his eight daughters (I guess college expenses aren’t that worrying for a Prince?). They have a discussion about the gods loving irony. Oberyn is a legendary fighter and one of the most feared men in Westeros who wasn’t able to protect his sister. Cersei has been queen for nineteen years and wasn’t able to protect her son from dying. Clever comparison, although I’m sure Elia and her children were much nicer individuals. Cersei asserts her belief in Tyrion’s guilt and as they reach the breathtaking Croatian, I mean King’s Landing coast, MacLaren focuses the shot on the two of them standing in an open door that seems like a precarious precipice overlooking the beautiful azure waters below. She stares at the ship across from the bay, a ship she had commissioned for Myrcella as a gift. Cersei asks about her daughter in Dorne and Oberyn assures her that she’s happy and that they don’t hurt little girls in Dorne. Cersei smiles wistfully and utters one of the series’ most memorable lines. “Everywhere in the world, they hurt little girls” she mutters softly before turning back from a disturbed Oberyn. I’m still haunted. It’s so true.
Daenerys is with her own small council in Meereen and she learns that Daario has taken 93 ships. Ser Berristan Selmy, ever the fighter, advises the Mother of Dragons (who will be back next week), to sail for King’s Landing as Joffrey is dead (I loved Daenerys’s subtly jubilant expression here). But Ser Jorah, in one of his best scenes where he demonstrates his intelligence, notes that Yunkai has been retaken by the Old Masters and that Astapor fell to a butcher named Cleon. Daenerys’s jubilation is wiped clean and is instead replaced with fear and worry. In her mind, if she can’t hold onto Slaver’s Bay, how can she hold onto the Seven Kingdoms? She decides to do what queens do. “I will rule” she declares before heading out regally towards the balcony. This is the best move for Daenerys and in her glory moments, I feel people often forget how young she is. It’s not as exciting a move as charging towards Westeros, but Daenerys has to prove herself as able a ruler as she is a conquerer. That gives her the legitimacy charging towards King’s Landing wouldn’t. It’s the quieter move, but the smarter one. MacLaren moves the camera subtly, the Small Council chamber filled with walls that are evocative of open doors leading into the sunlight. As Daenerys moves out into the open, the camera follows her as if to suggest she’s the new light herself.
Brienne and Podrick provide the comedy in this episode and it’s great. So, outside of sex and wine, Podrick doesn’t have many talents and has quite a bit of trouble riding a horse. And he tries to cook a rabbit without skinning it first. So it burns. Brienne is exasperated and asks him if he’s ever done anything close to resembling battle. Pod reveals that he killed a Kingsguard to save Tyrion at the Battle of Blackwater Bay. Brienne is impressed and touchingly allows him to remove her armor. #SPINOFF. That’s right. It’s in capitals, HBO.
Poor Sansa. Poor, poor Sansa. I don’t think lemon cakes are going to help her very much anymore. Lysa Arryn and her son Robin are back in the fold and they are crazy. Like, crazy. At first Lysa is perfecty sweet, reminding Sansa that she was now Alayne Stone, Littlefinger’s niece, for disguise purposes. Poor Sansa. Hearing your aunt have sex with Littlefinger isn’t the most pleasant experience in the world I bet. Or anywhere close, for that matter. Afterwards she visits Sansa with lemon cakes and begins to pressure her about why Littlefinger cares so much for her. She squeeze’s Sansa’s hands and MacLaren’s camera focuses on that knot so it seems like an intertwined series of vines. Sansa smartly rushes to her own defense as Lysa screams at her about being one of Petyr’s whores, screaming that he always tells her how stupid she is. Lysa then comforts her as Sansa bursts into tears, saying calmly how it was going to be okay, she was going to marry Robin and then become Lady of the Vale. Sansa’s expression of pure shock is tragically hilarious. “How the hell did I engaged to another psychopath again?” she seems to be thinking. Now a marriage to Tyrion doesn’t sound that bad, does it?
In other Eyrie-related events (it’s not in the opening credits for some reason), we learn one of the biggest bombshells of the entire series. Well, remember Jon Arryn’s corpse from the beginning? Everyone assumed it was Cersei and Jamie who had him killed because he learned the truth about Joffrey’s birth. It certainly made sense. But it was Littlefinger who convinced Lysa to murder her own husband and write that letter to Catelyn claiming it was the Lannisters who did the deed. This effectively started the whole war. Damn. Then they get married and now this couple can happily claim the throne of “most screwed up” and “bloody” couple in the series. Well, if that isn’t an achievement.
Coming to terms with reality, the Hound laughs at Arya’s impressive work on Syrio Forel’s routine. #notcool, Hound. Fancy sword work doesn’t kill as good as a long sword and armor he explains, knocking Arya down after she tries to stab him with Needle. Naming him on her kill list isn’t helping their budding antagonism, is it? Maybe it’s just me, but the Hound looked a little stung. I can’t really blame either of them, but I hope they reach amicable relations before they inevitably part paths like over other pairing on that show.
The Craster’s Keep sequence with the mutineers was impeccably directed by MacLaren and thrilling in its execution, pun intended. The sequence provides the action climax to the episode and giving MacLaren her most action-packed sequence to direct to date. Although you have to wonder about one thing at the least. Why, with holding the element of surprise, does the Night’s Watch consider it necessary to yell at the top of their voices and charge? Don’t get me wrong here. It looks cool, but it is ultimately unnecessary. They lost five members and maybe they would have lost less if they were, you know, quiet and stuff. Anyhow, it looks great but let’s unpack it a little bit so we can get to the awesome moments (the one above being one of the sweetest).
Locke somehow finds that Bran and Co. are in a little hut and tells his fellow Watch members to ignore it because of the hounds inside. Everyone believes him, so there’s that. Before Locke arrives, however, Karl (still an odd name for this show somehow) threatens to rape Meera and comes pretty darn close as Jojen describes that he sees Karl’s body lying burning in the future. But then the Night’s Watch arrives and thankfully Karl and Co. are distracted. As Locke cuts Bran free, he makes his intentions very clear by slicing Bran on the leg (#notcool Locke) and kidnaps him. Bran wargs into Hodor and has him first his chains and then snap Locke by the neck, a few of his shoulder bones sprouting as a nice direction. It’s great to see Kristian Nairn give Hodor expressions of furious anger. Yet the expression of confusion and sadness after the warging had completed and he saw Locke’s blood on his hands was heart wrenching. Poor Hodor.
Bran has a beautifully rendered weir wood tree moment and Jojen underscores the idea that even if him, Meera, and or Hodor don’t make it, Bran still has to continue on his journey. I hope none of those three die anytime soon frankly. This story is finally kicking in. We almost have a Stark reunion with Jon and Bran, but Jojen ultimately puts a stop to it. If Bran reunited with Jon, he reasoned, Bran would never continue on his quest and ultimately they leave into the night as the battle rages on around them. It’s frustrating but it makes sense – there is no way in the Seven Hells Jon would allow Bran to go up into the region where he just came from. Alas.
As the battle winds down, Jon and Karl engage in a brilliantly choreographed fight sequence, Jon relying on his longsword Longclaw and Karl using two daggers to great effect in the enclosed space. In a moment of immense validation, as Jon is about to die at Karl’s hands one of Craster’s wives the mutineers had long abused stabbed him in the back. He lumbered forward to kill her and in that moment erupts (pun intended) one of the most satisfying deaths on the entire series. Longclaw shatters through the back of Karl’s head in a moment of great poetic justice and erupts right through his mouth, unleashing a torrent of blood. Ghost kills Rast in a wonderful dire wolf moment greatly shot by MacLaren and Jon is reunited with his direwolf.
Jon offers Craster’s wives and daughters refuge with the Night’s Watch, but considering that the mutineers were from the same group technically that had just tortured them for who know how long, they weren’t too keen on that idea, nor where they keen on remaining at the Keep, either. I love Craster’s wives not allowing Jon to make their decision for them. For the first time perhaps they were able to make a decision for themselves. “Burn it down.” And with that, the Keep comes burning down the fires lighting up the night sky, the embers of symbolic justice settling upon the frigid ground.
Title: The First of His Name
Written By: David Benioff & D. B. Weiss
Director: Michelle MacLaren
Image Courtesy: LA Times Hero Complex, Ghost Volta, Geek Legacy, SoHo Channel @ Tumblr, Cinematic Corner, Alice in Westeros, Panda Whale, Movie Pilot, TV.com, The Wire, The Geekiary, Geek Binge, The Big Lead, Daily Mail UK