Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Game of Thrones Season 4 Episode 5 "First of his name" review

“Everywhere in the world, they hurt little girls.” Kudos to Benioff and Weiss, with that line for Cersei and Lena Heady’s powerfully understated play to go with it, we got ourselves a theme for an episode that provided a consistency that is pretty rare as far as Game of Thrones episodes go. We start off with the crowning of a king and the reminder that children are only pawns in the Game of Thrones, and we end with yet another reminder: that at least at one place, at one time, the shields that serve the realms of men can actually make a difference and close one place of child molestation for good. But let’s do this in good order.
Stick them with the pointy end.
As always, we start off in King’s Landing, where Tommen Baratheon, first of his name, is crowned. The scene is well shot, with Tommen showing the trembling fear of a child set upon a much greater role than his age allows for, and only relenting when Margaery smiles her sweetest smile. On a side note, I loved Jaime’s face. So stern, like he bit on a lemon. Fitting the occasion. Ah, so beautiful. The scene is interrupted hilariously when Cersei blocks the line of view, setting up a confrontation that doesn’t happen. Instead, we see Cersei at her most vulnerable, talking to Margaery for the first time as an equal. She confounds her fears in the girl and asks her to help her with Tommen. Wow. I was stunned, I have to admit, but I quite like it.

Generally, the new, soft Cersei of this episode fits with the build-up from the last time we saw Tyrion, where he told Jaime that her one redeeming quality was her concern for her kids. Now with her firstborn lost, she is absurdly free to admit what he was, still mourning him because he was her firstborn, after all – this is a torn Cersei, and we can see her suffer. She’s losing her other boy, Tommen, to politics – after all, once they’re crowned, they’re kings, not children anymore – and her daughter is far off in Dorne. It is also nice to see Cersei and Margaery work in tandem to set up the new wedding with Tommen, especially since it gives us an opportunity to look at Mace Tyrell making a fool of himself.

The greater obstacle proves to be Tywin, who also has a moment of weakness, admitting that house Lannister is broke. That came as a surprise as well, but it fits. Tywin simply pretending that the Westerlands are still full of gold mines and the Lannisters a rich family that is in truth deeply indebted to the Iron Bank – that’s a clever move. Not only does it give Tywin another layer of character, it also further sets up the Iron Bank plot, interweaving it with all plotlines for maximum impact. This is actually a large improvement to the books, where the Iron Bank felt a little bit tacked on in “Feastdance”.

Back with Cersei, she also opens up to Oberyn Martell, turning down the violence. This is a Cersei much more shaken by death of Joffrey than her book counterpart, and for my part, I feel her emotions here are genuine. Oberyn seems quite moved himself, not being able to keep up his usual swagger as he and the queen momentarily bond over their daughters. I can’t shake the feeling that Cersei has a plan with that damn boat of hers (abducting Myrcella from Dorne?), but the moment is really an emotional highlight in the episode. Plus, Cersei delivers the line quoted in the beginning, which leaves Oberyn speechless for once, and rightly so. The Viper is planning something sinister, and nothing good will come off it for the children, be it in Dorne or anywhere else.

Speaking of children, we get two of them on the road. While Podrick Payne may technically be an adult, he’s just such an oaf that want to hug him as he stumbles around, not being able to ride and forgetting to skin a rabbit, much to the annoyance of Brienne. But then, when he gives his understated account of the Blackwater, the ice melts, and Brienne allows him to help her taking off the badass azure armor that Jaime gave her. Oh Pod, I love you already. This is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Not quite so beautiful, we find Arya still practicing her list of names. Oh Yoren, what have you done? Besides adding a real nice character moment that wasn’t in the books, I mean? The Hound wakes to Arya’s recital, and they momentarily bond over their hatred for the Mountain that Rides. There’s a lot of momentary bonding in this episode, come to think of it. Almost as if we reached the middle point of the season and things were slowing down a bit before accelerating for the finale. Oh, wait.

After Arya let the Hound in on the fact that he’s the last name on her list, which didn’t fail to impact him (yeah, she didn’t forget Mycah), he catches her training her waterdance, starting to mock her. I cannot help but agree with him – if Arya conducts these moves in a real fight, she’s dead meat. The face of the Hound when she tries to stab him is also hilarious, and the backhand after that richly deserved. After all, he really does get ass protected these days, if for his own goals. Perhaps in retribution, he destroys her idol, mocking Syrio Forel for being killed by Meryn Trant. And while he is uncertainly right that dying against such a sod with stick in hand is pretty stupid, he also totally fails to understand the larger meaning of Syrio’s death: he sacrifices his life so Arya could get away and to preserve his own honor, because the First Sword of Braavos doesn’t run. Hopefully, Arya won’t listen to the Hound here.

At this point, we should make mention of what we don’t see this episode: Tyrion, for example, which is more or less a first. I didn’t miss him. “First of his name” is the proof that, yes, you can have a good episode without Tyrion in it. Sad to say, you also most certainly can have a good episode without Stannis or Theon in it, which is a bit of a shame, because Stannis especially feels a bit underserved in this season so far. But let’s slide this and make a guided tour to Meereen. Here, Daenerys sits in her new lofty apartments on top of the Great Pyramid, situated strategically against the light of the sun, giving her an almost angelic aureole. Great filming at work here, making use of the whole repertoire a filmmaker has. 

Storywise, I suffered from a bit of knowledge-gap: I knew what the scene was about because I read the books, and I guess that’s why it didn’t have the impact it should have. It was well filmed and all, but for some reason, it didn’t really move me. I’m intrigued that the whole political setup is there, though – Astapor and Yunkai are mentioned both, and Dany’s pain was obvious enough. Perhaps it’s simply that the emotion from the other memorable scenes drowns out this one, I don’t know.

We also get a bit of dissent in Dany’s advisors, with a much more pronounced and clear-cut choice than in the books: Daario casually admits to having seized the Meereenese fleet, 93 ships in total, with his men, which would easily suffice to transport them to Westeros. I’m not entirely sure whether or not they’ll keep these ships around, but for the moment, it makes Dany’s decision to stay and “do what queens do” more forceful and clear-cut, which may be a good thing for first-time viewers. The same is true for the clear and antagonizing positions that Barristan and Jorah are taking in advising her. Let’s see where this goes. We’re only mid-season, and we have reached the end of her arc of “A Storm of Swords”, which means we have a full five episodes left to take in stuff from “A Dance with Dragons”. Or they’ll make up a new storyline, we’ll see.

Back in Westeros, we’re with Littlefinger and Sansa. Finally, we see the Bloody Gate. The damn thing isn’t really big, but I guess that’s kind of the point – as Littlefinger points out, only three men can march abreast, and we see the Arryn archers on top of the slope. It adds nicely to the impregnable feeling of the Eyrie, which we see for the first time since season one. And haven’t we all yearned to be back with adorable Robin Arryn and his mother again. Not.

Sansa is obviously horror-struck at the cold receipt they’re getting and Littlefinger being creepy as always, but the warm welcome he receives from the Knight of the Gate (including the formal address!) stuns her. This is Petyr’s home base, it is clear. Sansa’s feeling of security is soon offset, of course, when she meets with her aunt Lysa, who’s already in the know, cutting the crap and welcoming her warmly as her “flesh and blood”. Sweetrobin presents himself by throwing Petyr’s present out the Moon Door, and I guess Littlefinger really has to restrain himself from throwing the last Arryns right after it.

And then it happens: When Lysa breaks down emotionally in front of Littlefinger and admits to being responsible for the murder of Jon Arryn, basically upsetting the whole plot from season one (or “A Game of Thrones”, for that matter), I liked his reaction in quickly kissing her before someone could overhear them. But of course, for me it was not especially noteworthy – it isn’t like we know the resolution of that particular storyline since 2000 (or, in my case as a Johnny-come-late, 2005). I guess in such moments, the disconnect between book readers and show watchers becomes most apparent, because other than the Red Wedding or Joffrey’s death, where there is a tension-filled build-up, this one comes out of the blue – provided you don’t already know. I guess the two groups feel rather different about this one.

But there’s a treat or two for all of us in the wedding (Lysa’s grin and Littlefinger slipping of his mimic) and the first one-on-one that Lysa and Sansa have. In the beginning, Lysa is love-filled for Sansa, and pretty rational, but that façade quickly cracks. She starts talking about how Petyr must surely have taken her virginity because of her body, and what Petyr does to the bodies in his brothels, and how she will marry Robin (at which point Sansa’s despair becomes all the more obvious) – it’s just a rollercoaster of bad and worse that Sansa is thrown in, with no end in sight. Her storyline really kicked some gear this season.

Aaaaaand that takes us to the North. I’m honestly surprised at the quickness of the resolution of that plot; I thought they’d milk it longer. Wisely, they didn’t. I still somehow think they wasted Locke; I’d have loved him as a regular on the Wall. The fight between the Night’s-Watch-men was intense and brutal, if not exactly breathtaking. I’m still not really in the camp of the fight choreography of “Game of Thrones”, it always looks a bit phony to me, offset by a spectacular amount of violence. But the scene did work in most parts. Qarl stating to rape Meera for the bloody fun of it with Jojen foreseeing his death worked, and Bran’s anguish at having to leave Jon behind mirrored the original scene from the book at Queenscrown a little bit.

Bran’s now on track again, and his warging into Hodor (and especially his looking at his hands afterwards) was a real effective piece of character development, also showing the dark side of Bran’s powers that become more apparent as “A Dance with Dragons” progresses. Jon lost four men (nearly half his group, but of course only redshirts) and should be able to get to the Wall preserving the status quo, with the losses denying hero status and the pieces set for the battle of the Wall with the Allister-Thorne-conflict unresolved. I like where this is heading.

5 comments:

  1. Konrad KroppsnesMay 7, 2014 at 8:06 PM

    Thanks for another wonderful review Stefan, I always enjoy your thoughts on the episodes. Considering Cersei's out-of-the-blue change of character, don't you think she could be putting on a show to sway the judges of Tyrion's trial towards the death sentence? After all, she pushes the right buttons with all of them, getting at Mace through his beloved daughter, appealing to Tywin's sense of responsibility for the family name, and lastly manipulating Oberyn's bitterness of losing a close family member. This theory at least justifies the weird change of personality. What's your take on this?

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    1. Very well possible, but I don't think that there as a drastic, weird and unexplained change in personality.

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  2. I personally thought Cersei was just working each of the judges. She was getting all nicey with Marg to get to Mace.

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  3. Cersei was absolutely not being genuine with Margaery. She's not buying that 'oh I didn't even think about being queen again' act for a second.

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  4. at one time, the shields that serve the realms of men can actually make a difference and close one place of child molestation for good. Got Episodes

    ReplyDelete