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Monday, 5 May 2014

Game of Thrones S4E5: First of His Name.

Game of Thrones S4E5: First of His Name.

I spent far too much time this week picking the music to which I would write this review, which personally I blame insomnia for. I eventually settled on the Pacific Rim theme, because what says 'Westerosi intrigue' like electric guitars and a thumping drumbeat?

Nothing, that's what.

Halfway through. It feels like Series 4 of Game of Thrones has barely started, although of course we've had more than a few quite major plot developments, including several in this episode alone. This episode focuses on Cersei and Sansa, with brief appearances by Arya, Daenerys and Brienne, in the first three quarters, and then switches to Bran and Jon for the last quarter or so – which is not so dissimilar to the last episode, which also settled much of its action in King's Landing and Essos, before moving to colder climes for the episode's conclusion.

It's nice to see some focus on Cersei. Previous King's Landing sections have revolved around Jaime and Tyrion in the main, and refreshingly (despite my great Tyrion love), neither of them even show up in this episode. Well, Jaime does. From afar. In one scene. In our opening scene, we see Tommen being crowned king, and having to bow to various people and make niceties with them. Queen Elizabeth II feels you, bro. She feels you. Please don't summon dinosaurs to destroy her nation.

Truly, you are a wise and noble king.

We get some Margaery and Cersei interaction which is, strangely, not particularly hostile at all, bar one snide remark from Margaery. I never like Cersei more than when she's talking about Joffrey, because it's some of her most humanising moments: Hearing her talk about how deeply she loved Joffrey because he was her son, but how much she hated who he had become and who was going to become, and how she felt helpless – well, there's been more than one mother in history who has looked at her son and thought those same thoughts, I imagine. It's rather heartbreaking to see Cersei calmly but sadly admit that Joffrey was a nightmare and a monster, because while we all know it, it brings crashing back just how much pain Cersei has to deal with: Her husband was abusive. Her daughter was sent somewhere she can never see her. Her father doesn't care about her. Her first born son was an absolute monster. Her brother recently did awful, vile things to her for reasons that are still absolutely unclear and will apparently never be brought up again.

The wine helps her forget that one glaring plot snafu.

Cersei's one of my favourite characters just in general, despite the fact that I can fully admit that she often behaves in a wholly unpleasant fashion. She actually gets more scenes in this episode than most of the other viewpoint characters, having conversations with Tywin in which she organises Lannister-Tyrell weddings and discusses the Crown's deep, deep debt to the Iron Bank (who Tywin finally expands upon, explaining them to be a nigh-mythical, implacable organisation who would never make terrible decisions with other people's money and bring about a Westerosi recession), and with Oberyn Martell, in which she discusses vengeance and Myrcella. Vengeance, we can imagine, will be an important plot theme soon, what with Tyrion's trial coming up, and Oberyn's clear intent on some kind of Lannister-targeted revenge.

Daenerys, meanwhile, is faced with a choice, in her only scene of the episode. She has a navy, so she could travel to Westeros now, although she really lacks the numbers to do so. But the cities she has freed have slipped back into bondage with her departure, and as their sort-of-ruler, she has a duty to them. So does she go to Westeros, or stay in Essos?

Call me heartless, but I was almost yelling at my screen for her to pack up onto the ships and go to Westeros. After four series, I'm kind of inured to the suffering of the Westerosi and Essosi masses, but what I'm not inured to is giant armies with dragons besieging King's Landing, and I'd like to see that happen as soon as possible, and finally get Daenerys involved in everything that's taking place in Westeros.

She chooses to stay in Essos for the moment and rule, instead, which I think everybody knew she would. It's just not in Daenerys' character to abandon those cities, for a start. Secondly, it would, admittedly, rather put the kibosh on several plot lines if dragons were to appear and start wreaking havoc across Westeros.

It's at this point in writing the review, about seven-hundred words in, that I switch to a Spanish version of 'Pegasus Fantasy' for music. Because what fits young women in untenable situations in which their lives are controlled by cruel men better than people joyously singing about the stars and protecting the earth?

Nothing, that's what.

I'm talking, naturally, about Sansa and Arya – um, I mean, I'm talking about them when I say 'young women in untenable situations' not 'people joyously singing about the stars', because neither of them do that this episode. Maybe next one. Keep hoping.

Sansa arrives at the Vale in the company of Littlefinger, who while certainly not in the running for cruelest character in Game of Thrones, has already won the gold medal for 'least trustworthy'. They head straight to the Eyrie, where Lysa, Sansa's aunt, and Robin, her cousin, are waiting for them. For those that don't remember, we last saw Lysa all the way back in Series 1, when Catelyn took Tyrion to her. She was quite, quite mad, and her son wasn't much better.

Not necessarily the sanest people around.

Time hasn't changed her for the better. She seems fairly gentle and friendly at first – which is more than can be said for Robin, who cheerfully talks about how he wanted Tyrion to die – but cracks start to show fairly quickly. I'm not even talking about her behaviour towards Littlefinger, where she grabs him and kisses him repeatedly, convinces him to marry her that very day, and then throws open a door and then reveals she had a septum waiting all along (to whom she then eagerly remarks that she's going to scream when her new husband has sex with her). No, that's just standard romantic comedy stuff, right down to the discussion of how she murdered her first husband, Jon.

Actually, we should probably talk about that, because in case anyone forgot, the death of Lysa's husband and her letter to Catelyn about how she believes the Lannisters did it is what started this entire story. It's why Ned Stark became Hand of the King, why he moved to King's Landing with his family, and how he ended up discovering Cersei and Jaime's incest, which in turn led to Robert's death and Ned's execution, which led to the war.

Remember Ned? Ned from the party?

The reveal that this was actually all Littlefinger's plot is presented in such a throwaway fashion here that if you were in the middle of eating a crumpet at the time, you'd probably completely miss it. It's not really important for future events, but it does establish something very important: That Littlefinger's involvement in this whole story is much greater than it had previously appeared.

Anyhow, loud sex which we don't see but do hear ensues, and later we encounter Sansa eating lemon cakes with her dear aunt. A casual discussion of Catelyn's own taste for sweet food quickly devolves into Lysa grabbing Sansa's hands and ranting, less and less coherently, about how Catelyn never cared for Littlefinger, and whether Sansa has slept with Littlefinger or not. The anger and ranting fades almost as quickly as it started, and Lysa is back to being sweet and kindly again, but it's an absolutely terrifying scene that hammers in that Sansa isn't really safer here than she was in King's Landing.

She may even have been safer with the Lannisters. They're cruel, but they're pragmatic. Lysa is kind but irrational, and could fly off the rails at any moment.

Arya's storyline, meanwhile – I don't know. She only has two scenes, the same amount as Brienne, and neither hers nor Brienne's scenes really advance the plot at all, or tell us anything we don't know. Brienne gets a free pass because it's Gwendoline Christie, who is amazing, and … and someone else. Someone with hair. He was wearing orange-y red? Or was it blue? I … can't …

... So foggy ... Blinded by ... Christie ... 

Moving swiftly on, Arya's scenes don't add anything, and I really wish that her and Sandor would get to somewhere that has a point. They feel like filler right now. They are worse than Bran, that's how bad they are. Did you hear that? Worse. Than Bran.


Brandon Stark.

It's at this point in the review that I switch to a jazz/swing arrangement of the Pokemon theme, because what fits vicious, brutal battles in the frozen North better than Pikachu?


Bran, Jojen, Meera and Hodur have all been taken prisoner, and despite my undying hatred for all Bran scenes, I actually quite liked their scenes. Probably partly because it's less about Bran and more about Jojen, both his visions of the future (which we actually get to see, and include the wall fading away to reveal a hill with a bright red tree on it, and Jojen's hand on fire – iconography of trees and fire is never a positive sign in Game of Thrones, really) and his willingness to calmly and cheerfully predict a man's death to his face, which takes some stones.

Their imprisonment is short, because it isn't long until Jon arrives and murders all the mutineers, including Karl, who set himself up for death in single combat last episode when he started ranting about how nobody could defeat him in a fight. Rather satisfyingly, Jon doesn't do it on his own – instead his victory is owed in large part to one of Karl's imprisoned women, who stabs him in the back, thus distracting him long enough for Jon to also stab him in the back.

Which I think shows us something important. If you live in Game of Thrones, don't have a back. Have two fronts.

Craster's Keep is burnt down, and Bran and company escape without Jon ever seeing them, but I'm left feeling that although more happened here than in Arya's scenes, that Jon and Bran's scenes were nearly as pointless. As much as I enjoyed seeing Jojen's visions, I don't feel like these scenes really achieved any movement on the plot, and when you have so much plot to stuff into ten hours, I'm not sure the writers have the luxury of wasting any time.

Speaking of fire and Jojen, here's Jojen on fire.

But I'm not a TV writer. It was a solid episode, at least, probably one of my favourites this series, if only because I adore any episode that humanises Cersei, just on principle. Clearly, she should marry Margaery instead, and they can rule together. Tommen doesn't seem that fussed.  

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