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“First of His Name” featured two big breaks: one of some shocking news that rewrites the audience’s understanding of the actions that set the series’ plot in motion; and one of a giant halfwit to the neck of a cunning and villainous two-timer from House Bolton. But we’ll get to that stuff later.
We’re also reminded that a cloud of some sort hangs over everyone’s head, no matter how powerful the head or what crown might sit upon it. As was discussed last week, loyalty and allegiance aren’t the surest of bets as far as safety is concerned in the Game of Thrones universe. But sometimes, particularly in the face of great force, they’re the only options.
This is the realization that several characters in “First of His Name” found themselves submitting to:
The Queen-Regent seeks the aid of her dead son’s wife in helping to groom her next son, the new king of Westeros, as a true leader of men. The Mother of Dragons realizes she’s nothing to her subjects (whom she freed) if not true to her word, and elects to stay and defend Slaver’s Bay’s former slaves. The Lady of the Vale extracts her niece from King’s Landing in order to marry the girl to her son and strengthen their houses against those in power. The Hand of the King expresses to his daughter the importance of her marriage and her brother’s: to shed a rivalry by forming an alliance with that very rival, and (ever the multi-tasker, Tywin is) to gain their financial aid for relief of debts to the Iron Bank of Bravos. Amid his incompetence, the servant of the Master of Coin reveals his humanity to the knight for which he’s squiring. The daughter of the deceased Lord of the North attempts to run through her travel mate, who in turn responds with a slap to the face and a useful lesson about the importance of (heavily) accessorizing. The Queen-Regent and a prince of Dorne bond over their undying love for their children, despite those children’s varying levels of bat-shit crazy; she asks that he bring a gift to her daughter, who now lives in Dorne as part of a marriage pact. A seven-silver sellsword from Gin Alley and his band of merry raping mutinists deal with their abandonment the hard way: sharp objects through the body—usually by sword, but by ribcage and spine in at least one instant. We also find out that a letter (as deadly as any sword) dictated by the Onion Knight in last week’s episode’s purpose was to seek funding from the Iron Bank of Bravos in order to seize the Iron Throne, itself an alliance of sorts.
Of course, most alliances fall the way of the mutinists at Craster’s Keep. But as Littlefinger knows all too well, an allegiance is ineffective without an exit strategy. And even then, escape is anything but assured, as Locke, the Bolton muscle that cut off Jaime’s hand and infiltrated the Night’s Watch for the purpose of extricating Bran to Roose only to be ripped head-from-torso by Hodor (“Hodor, Hodor”), will tell you.
The episode opens with Tommen’s coronation. Immediately, backdoor dealings ensue. Margaery makes like Tommen’s cat Ser Pounce, practically purring at Tommen on his throne before Cersei can break their eye contact. But she approaches Joffrey’s widow with her claws withdrawn, drunk with either wine, a newfound sense of reality, or both. “He would have been your nightmare,” she tells Margaery of Joffrey. “The things he did shocked me. Do you think I’m easily shocked?” A worldwide gust ensues from 9 pm Eastern viewers shaking their heads no. As Tywin has taught her, Cersei knows that the best way to overcome a worthy adversary is by joining forces: “He (Tommen) will need help. … You’re still interested in being queen, aren’t you?” No fool herself, and with a dominating elder also teaching her valuable lessons on cutthroatery, Margaery accepts the olive branch with her teeth flashing: “I won’t even know what to call you. Sister, or mother?”
Cersei’s next sparring partner? Why it’s that quill-wielding Emperor Palpatine, her father Tywin! In his study, the Hand of the King speaks reverently of a cloud that’s been hanging over Westeros with only casual mentions throughout the series’ first four seasons: the Iron Bank of Bravos. Ironically, he speaks of it the way his underling enemies must think of him: “A temple is comprised of stones, one stone crumbles and another takes its place, and the temple holds its form, for a thousand years or more. And that’s what the Iron Bank is. A temple. We all live in its shadow, and almost none of us know it. You can’t run from them, you can’t cheat them, you can’t sway them with excuses. If you owe them money and you don’t want to crumble yourself, you’ll pay it back.” (It’s this knowledge that alerts us to the weight of Ser Davos’ letter to the Iron Bank from last week—seeking financial backing in order to dethrone the Lannisters for the IBB to seize what’s monetarily theirs.) Paired with this background, Tywin expresses to his daughter the importance of her marriage to Loras Tyrell and of her son to Margaery. She seems (all too) willing to submit for her family’s name.
The third and final stop on Cersei’s tour of misery is a walk through the South Park Garden of Betrayal with Oberyn, where they lament the struggles of their difficult children, but connect over the undying love they share for their respective offspring. She has a request of Oberyn: take a ship to her sea-loving Myrcella, living in Dorne under another one of her father’s marriage contracts. “Please tell her … her mother misses her very much.” It almost makes you feel sympathy for Cersei, this wine-stained verbal beating at the hands of a Tyrell, then of her own father, then a submission to these surroundings in the form of an exposed weakness to a man she should just as well hate … wait a tick. A Tyrell, Tywin, and Oberyn?! She’s not wallowing, Cersei is appeasing the three judges in her brother’s trial for the murder of her son! (She’s getting to Mace Tyrell indirectly … by encouraging his daughter’s marriage to Tommen and by accepting her own marriage to Ser Loras.) Sympathy sensors officially down.
The Starks continue to be the Scooby-Doo-chase-in-a-hallway of highborn families.
Back to that bit of earth-shattering news mentioned all the way back in Paragraph 1: In a fit of clothed exposition, Lady Arryn reveals that she and Littlefinger conspired to kill Jon Arryn and misled Cat Stark about the perpetrators of his murder. Let me reiterate, with slightly different wording: LITTLEFINGER IS SOLELY RESPONSBILE FOR PRETTY MUCH EVERY SHITTY THING THAT HAS HAPPENED SINCE EPISODE 1. To what end, we’re not sure (as he said last week, “A man with no motive is a man no one suspects”). But I’ve got an inkling it has something to do with the perpetual hardon he bears for Cat Stark.
Meanwhile, it still sucks to be Sansa. Finally stolen away from King’s Landing, she’s living in secret as Littlefinger’s “Niece Elaine” (actually, knowing Westerosi spelling, it’s probably something more like Eliayne), with her insane aunt, who is already trying to crush our favorite redhead’s hands in a fit of lemon cake-induced jealousy. She’s still confined to her chambers, and once again primed against her will to marry an insane child. At least this one prefers to mutilate in the silent method of dropping people and objects thousands of feet to their death instead of stringing them up for target practice.
Meanwhile, at Craster’s Keep …
Bran and Jon narrowly miss each other yet again. Locke, on his double-agent mission to bring Bran to Roose Bolton, is thwarted by the duo of a warging-out little lord and his manipulatable giant. After which, Jojen points out that being found by Jon Snow almost assuredly would end their quest for the three-eyed raven; Bran’s brother would insist on taking the traveling young’ns back to the wall. So he, Hodor, and the wonder twins slink away under cover of night, but not without first literally releasing the hounds.
Jon Snow gets a lesson in fighting dirty from Karl Tanner of Gin Alley, and uses it to turn the back of his enemy’s face into a sheath. He then reunites Ghost, the CGI best friend you wish you had. At the suggestion of Craster’s daughter-wives, the Night’s Watch burn the keep along with the bodies of the mutineers.
If last week you thought, “Wait a second, Dany’s got more resources than she knows what to do with, the undying loyalty of those she presides over, and an entire bay’s worth of former slaves and land at her disposal. Why not chill for a bit and live like an actual queen instead of rushing into the certain doom that comes with Westerosi air?” Well congratulations, dick. Looks like she’s not going anywhere for a while, and that massive dragon-sporting clash of West and East that we’ve been building to for four seasons is now placed on hold, indefinitely. Damn you, logic!
There a few more bits at play here: The Slavers have re-taken control of Yunkai, and a brutal butcher named Cleon is violently ruling Astopor. Although she has enough take over King’s Landing, her ability to sack all of Westeros is still in doubt. Daenerys elects to stay and hold herself to the values she stood on to reach this point. She wants to make sure those chains she’s spent so much time breaking stay broken.