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(Spoilers for the fifth episode of Season Four of Game of Thrones are below).
Like the previous episode, First of His Name acts as a transitional episode. Specifically we see the major characters making choices about whether or not to continue on their present course, or whether or not to change direction. Either or, most characters are practically forced into making decisions that won’t favor them or wont favor the common man. This episode had me thinking that a more accurate rendition of Cersei’s famous line from the first season might sound like: “when you play the game of thrones you always lose and everyone dies.” … or maybe that’s just Martin’s storytelling philosophy.
Firsts and Choices
A lot of firsts happen during the duration of First of His Name. This extensive list of firsts’ include: seeing Tommen become king, Sansa coming to the Vale and meeting Lysa and Robin, Lysa’s intense love for Littlefinger and her jealousy of Sansa, Bran and Hodor killing a man, The Hound physically abusing Arya, Daenerys deciding not to march on Westeros, Jon leading his first military engagement, the first mention of the Lannister’s not making any money, Cersei being pleasant to her father, Oberyn, and Margaery, Pod having to become a real squire, and Brienne finally being treated like a respected knight.
That’s a lot of firsts for a show that has the plot pacing of a tortoise (I mean that with all due respect). What is the point of all these changes and new events? The episode is opening the doors to what’s next and what’s possible with all of these characters. Specifically the episode is differentiating which characters will be having to make some new changes and who will be staying on their current course. Thematically speaking viewers are reminded that no matter what the characters decide, there are few beneficial choices that can be made.
Plots Staying The Course
Despite Joffrey’s death, a lot of the character’s in King’s Landing are still staying their course. Tywin tells Cersei that their alliance with the Tyrell’s is still necessary. They need the Tyrell’s because of their wealth, and because the Lannister mines stopped producing gold over three years ago. Additionally, the Crown owes a great deal of money to the Iron Bank.
What’s amusing about this situation is the fact that the Lannister’s don’t even bother to investigate whether their new allies are involved in Joffrey’s death … which it of course turns out they were partially responsible for. While Cersei might not suspect them, Tywin doesn’t even bother to investigate them because he needs the Tyrell’s more than he needs his son Tyrion, whom he likely plans to pin the murder of Joffrey on.
Jon Snow continues to play the “rising leader” role as he successfully ends the mutineers rebellion at Craster’s Keep. Despite a hard fought victory, Jon and his companions must still survive the trek back to Castle Black, where they will await an ungrateful Alliser Thorne – who had hoped Snow and his group would die killing the mutineers. And if that’s not enough, they have still have to deal with Mance Rayder’s huge army and the Wight Walkers. Jon may have made an honorable choice here, but it will cause him trouble as he as placed himself in a battle for power over the Night’s Watch and The Wall.
Bran decides not to reunite with Jon, despite having the perfect opportunity, and instead decides to continue his quest … another potential Stark reunion thwarted. What’s interesting about Bran’s decision is Bran has no idea what the hell this quest will even accomplish, yet here he sacrifices the safety of the Wall and the love of family for dangers of the far north and a mysterious Three Eyed Raven.
A Stark reunion may still be possible as Arya continues on her journey to Lysa’s with the Hound. Despite the verbal abuse, and now the added physical abuse, Arya must stick it out with the Hound if she is going to survive. This is demonstrated perfectly when the Hound wakes up and Arya is missing. She has the opportunity and ability to escape undetected, but she can’t leave the man that’s keeping her alive.
Perhaps the most disturbing plot that’s been secretly on course for four seasons, is the plotting of Littlefinger and Lysa. As Lysa passionately begs Littlefinger to marry her, she mentions that it was Littlefinger who persuaded her to write the letter accusing the Lannister’s of her husband’s death. For those of you who don’t remember … that letter has literally caused nearly all the suffering seen in the past four seasons. It’s what initially convinces Ned to split up his family and head to King’s Landing. While that reveal is new to the audience, it means that Lysa and Littlefinger have been on the same course for awhile. While this choice may benefit this new power couple, it has literally ruined everyone else’s life on this show.
Plots Changing Direction
Cersei was all sorts of nice this week to people she usually reserves her hatred for. Yet she has to make friends with Oberyn because she wants him to vote in favor of executing Tyrion, and in addition to that she doesn’t want to motivate him to mistreat her daughter Myrcella. Wishing for her children’s safety is what motivates Cersei to be nice to Margaery, as she asks him to prepare to take care of Tommen. She reminds Margaery of Tommen’s innocence and how he was unlike Joffrey.
Pod and Brienne both find themselves ironically in the roles they were meant to play, but haven’t been playing at all up until now. Pod was always a squire, but Tyrion used him as an errand boy. In his first attempts at being a squire he is failing miserably. He can’t cook dinner and he can’t ride a horse. To make matters more awkward he previously killed a Kingsguard, the former position Brienne held, until she swore into Catelyn Stark’s service.
Brienne is finally being treated like a respected knight for the first time since her service with Renly. Having a companion that doesn’t verbally abuse her every second has Brienne off-kilter of sorts. She doesn’t know how to handle the respectful and companionable Pod. Either way neither of these characters don’t have much choice to be in this situation. Pod needs to be safely away from Kings Landing due to his association with Tyrion. As for the honorable Brienne, she might be fulfilling an oath, but it’s important to mention she might be safer on the road. How long do honorable people usually live for in Kings Landing anyways?
Sansa begins her new life as Alayne, the niece of Petyr Baelish. While Sansa thinks she’s finally been rescued, she quickly realizes she’s in just as dangerous of a place as before. She’s going to be getting married to Robin – the little boy who likes to throw people out moon doors – and she has to deal with her psychotic aunt Lysa who thinks Sansa is having a sexual relationship with Littlefinger.
As Lord Baelish reminds Sansa when they’re walking into the Eyrie, there’s only one narrow dangerous pathway in. What’s left unsaid is there’s only one way out. The Eyrie will be like a prison, except this one’s much harder to escape from. Sansa has no choice but to survive in a home with three power hungry lunatics.
Tommen becomes the new King of Westeros. There’s a lot of hope for Tommen; he has the right personality characteristics to be a great king, and his potential greatness for leadership has been mentioned multiple times over the past couple of episodes. Unfortunately for Tommen he’s surrounded by his crazy Lannister family and the Tyrell family that covets the power of the Lannister family. Tommen has little choice in becoming King of Westeros, and he’s just taken a seat of power who saw it’s last three occupants murdered. His lack of choice in the matter and his innocence makes him easy to portray as a victim.
The other biggest plot swerve (besides the Lysa/Littlefinger twist) was Daenerys’ decision to stay in Meereen. For the first time in four seasons the potential rescuer of Westeros has decided not to come home. Furthermore we learn that Daenerys’ plots to free Slavers Bay are crumbling before her eyes. Astapor has a king now, and the slave masters have regained power in Yunkai. This motivates her to stay in Meereen. The consequences of this decision will like have a huge impact on the future of Westeros and now Essos. Like the previous couple of episodes Daenerys’ plot really sums up the idea of the entire Game of Thrones episode. Each choice by Daenerys – invade Westeros or quell resistance in Essos will result in violence, fighting, and more death … or also more choices where no one really wins.