Women are taking over in Game of Thrones and I’m super happy about it.
One of the most distressful things about the badly directed rape shown in Breaker of Chains was how it casually dismissed the growing female empowerment in this season. In nearly all of the storylines – south of the Wall, anyway – the women in the cast of the HBO show have owned the most memorable moments and delivered the best one-liners. In First of His Name we are still clearly in a patriarchic society but it is the females who are primary characters in this episode.
Tommen is crowned king by the High Septon in the long-abandoned throne room of the Red Keep. It’s nice to see the show return to this wonderfully gothic set, and the Iron Throne in all its sharpness. The gathered luminaries are happy to congratulate the new King, none more than Margeary Tyrell. But when Cersei intercepts the encouraging smiles Margeary throws to Tommen, the Queen Regent makes her way up to this upstart in the rafters. Oh man, this is gonna be gud! The blonde cougar is going to verbally swipe at the young and pretty girl to coldly insult and threaten her the way Cersei does with anyone she perceives at coming too near her territory.
But … the threats never come. Perhaps the death of Joffrey has affected her more than we thought; in fact, Cersei even admits her first born boy was a monster. “The things he did shocked me,” she says to Margeary. She then acknowledges that Tommen is a sweet boy, and even though he wasn’t born to rule, he will need more help than a mother can provide. Margeary for her part is a bit wide-eyed. Is Cersei helping her in her bid to become Tommen’s husband and queen of the Seven Kingdoms … again? The pragmatist in her expects a trap but none seems to close. Not yet anyway.
We learn a bit of Cersei’s motives with the Tyrells in her scene with Tywin. The two agree to have Tommen marry Margeary quickly – in a fortnight – and Cersei finally agrees to her match with Loras, a fortnight after that. For his part, Tywin tells her exactly why the alliance with the Tyrells is so important – the Lannisters are broke. The last gold mine in Casterly Rock went dry years ago. The Iron Bank of Braavos, which is angling to become a much bigger part of the series if the stirrings on Dragonstone and in the preview for next week’s episode are any indication, will demand repayment of the loans Cersei refused to pay before the Battle of the Blackwater. The Tyrells have the coin, and if all they want is a beautiful, kind queen to marry into the family, so be it.
Cersei now has her father’s confidence in matters of state, something she’s always craved. Her sex prevents her from holding ceremonial power, but she always saw herself as a more worthy heir to Tywin’s legacy than her brothers. Now that Cersei is all he has left, she seems quite content to do things “for the good of the family” and toe the party line – including marrying someone she does not desire. Her complacency in these matter will also sway Tywin’s judgment in something she does desire – the conviction and death of Tyrion to avenge her son. I don’t even think she thinks he really did it at this point, she just has to latch onto something.
It’s Cersei’s moment with Oberyn of Dorne that truly shows how much she’s changed. She was outwardly rude and combative with him at Joffrey’s wedding, insulting his paramour while vaguely threatening his country. But now, when she goes to see the Prince, she is open and raw. She shows how much she hurts and how it mirrors his pain regarding Elia’s death. She speaks of Myrcella, the daughter being fostered in Sunspear, and Cersei’s eyes tear up when she asks Oberyn to send her the gift of a new ship. He tells her not to worry, repeating that they don’t hurt little girls in Dorne. Cersei replies, “They hurt little girls everywhere.” What a line! And the performance clearly has an effect on Oberyn. Will he now be swayed to vote against Tyrion in the trail?
You see, I think it’s all an act. Cersei’s behavior in this episode is all orchestrated to secure allies and seem vulnerable, when she’s nothing of the sort. Sure, she is broken after the death of Joffrey, but I think she realizes she has an opportunity here in King’s Landing. She can still be a player in the game of thrones – she just has to get through the trial to remove the Imp and she will rule in Tommen’s name for years to come. It was wonderful to see Lena Headey’s portrayal be so multi-dimensional and I look forward to seeing her Cersei continue to evolve.
Outside court politics and into the wilderness of the Riverlands, we get too very different women trying to find their place with their male companions. Brienne of Tarth now has new armor, a Valyrian steel sword, and a squire who can’t even ride a horse. Poor Pod is awful at serving his lady in most of the ways a squire usually serves – he can’t cook, he can’t ride, and she’ll be damned if he tries to get her out of that armor. Brienne releases him from his oath, basically tells him to bugger off, and he’s so loyal that he sticks with her even after being told to leave. She’s disgusted with Pod’s only duties to Tyrion, which consisted mostly of pouring wine. He did kill a man though, a Kingsguard, by the way.
Brienne stares at him. “How did you kill a Kingsguard?” “I pushed a spear into the back of his head,” he replies meekly. You can see the inner turmoil in Brienne as she sees just how badly she’s treated this poor, loyal boy. He’s not going to laugh at her. He will never mock her for being who she is. He is a good squire. The simple pleasure Pod exhibits when she finally asks him to help her with the straps of her armor is infectious. I couldn’t help but smile myself. Now if Brienne only knew his other talents.
Across the Riverlands, Arya is reciting her names as she and the Hound bed down for the night. The list is getting smaller; she doesn’t yet know she can scratch Joffrey off. Sandor Clegane tells her to shut up in so many words, but he does say hate is as good as anything to help you through your days. Maybe he’ll even help her kill his brother the Mountain if they ever meet him. Now go to sleep. “I’ve only got one more name left,” Arya says before she turns over and utters loudly, “The Hound.” He hears that one all right, but he’s not quite sure what to make of it.
After firmly establishing the bond between these two characters in the first episode of the season, the creators seem to want to drive a spike between them as much as possible. They have a lot in common, Arya and the Hound, not the least of which is a hatred of each other. When he mocks her water dancing practice the next morning, you can see Arya’s hate laid bare. She tries to stab him, and the Hound casually backhands her when his armor turns her little sword. Arya isn’t sure what to make of his words, but she’s learning more in his presence about the realities of the world despite her personal feelings towards the brute Sandor Clegane. I’m not sure how their relationship will play out in the series, but I hope a bit of sympathy develops again before they part ways.
Sansa is finally back with her family – in the Eyrie with Lysa Tully ne Arryn, her aunt. Except there’s one big problem, Lysa is batshit cray-cray. Her devotion to Littlefinger verges on psycho stalker, and the cries that fill the castle while her new husband is screwing her do in fact echo across the Narrow Sea. Of course she’s a screamer. Robin Arryn, perfectly cast back in season one and unchanged here four years later, is still nutso himself, obsessed with throwing things down the Moon Door to “make it fly.” Sansa sure doesn’t feel safe in the Vale, but at least she’s not as cowed as she was in King’s Landing. Even when Lysa grabs her hands and screams at her in jealous rage as to why Littlefinger’s interested in Sansa, there’s more fire in the young girl’s protestations than ever before. That’s going to be trouble.
Because, Lysa is crazy. And she admits to starting the whole trouble of the Game of Thrones in this episode with Littlefinger’s coaching. You remember the pilot episode of the first season? When Catelyn Stark gets a letter from Lysa blaming the Lannisters for poisoning her husband, the Hand of the King? And Ned Stark goes south to take over that position? Well, that was Lysa poisoning her husband with Tears of Lys. The entire time of troubles, the death of Ned Stark, the War of the Five Kings, the rise of the Tyrells and possibly even the bankrupting of the Lannisters to pay for the war is all due to the machinations of Littlefinger.
OK, so maybe the scenes in the Eyrie don’t pertain to women holding power exactly, but let’s hope Sansa begins to learn of the power she has over Littlefinger. He loved Catelyn Stark, that’s clear, and maybe her daughter is the only one who can stop him from stealing the Iron Throne out from the powerful Houses.
You know, the female character that arguably holds the most power in the series is Danearys Targaryen, but she never gets the chance to exercise it in the show. Here in First of His Name we see her in a new throne room atop the Great Pyramid in Meeren. She learns of Joffrey’s death, and debates with her advisors whether now is the time to strike at the Seven Kingdoms with her Unsullied army. She also learns the two cities she’s sacked and conquered before Meeren – Yunkai and Astapor – have risen up against her. Daenerys considers her position, and decides to rule Meeren for a while because if she can’t rule then she is just a conqueror. She then goes out onto the balcony to do what? Brood? (Incidentally, I think this is where the sweeping shot of Dany on top of the pyramid inserted at the end of her quick “conquest” of the city was supposed to go. It would have fit better here.)
Man, I hope we never go back to Craster’s Keep again. We burned it? Good!
The sorry sots who killed Lord Commander Mormont are being scouted by Locke, the totally not evil guy with a scar that Jon Snow trusts for some reason. Locke reports there is nothing to worry about the building over there – your cripple brother isn’t there or anything. My one question is how the heck did Locke know he was going to find Bran Stark here on this expedition? Was it just dumb luck? If so, he takes his good fortune at having nearly completed the equivalent of finding a needle in a hay stack, or one Stark boy north of the Wall, completely too well. Of course, it’s not meant to last.
The Night’s Watch attacks the deserters led by Stabby McStabberson. That’s not his name? It’s Karl? Oh, well. In the dark of the new moon the battle goes surprisingly long for only being 10 on 10. The element of complete surprise should have worked more in Jon Snow’s favor, me thinks. Locke predictably goes to the hostages and cuts Bran’s leg, proving he’s a cripple. Bran take a nod from Jojen Reed, and goes all puppet master on Hodor, breaking the big man free of his chains. One wonders why Bran didn’t try that before, but … details! Hodor is a strong guy, and essentially rips Locke’s head from his shoulders with his bare hands. Bran then breaks his warging of Hodor and then tells him to do a whole bunch of stuff. Again, wouldn’t it make sense to just, you know, do that stuff instead of telling him if you’ve got that power? I guess he wanted to yell out to his brother.
With the Reeds, Bran and Hodor free, they watch Jon still fighting what seems like 20 minutes later. The whole point of this made up storyline was to have Jon and Bran have a tender moment, and I was willing to go along with the show’s deviance from the books for that to happen. But then Jojen Reed tells him not to. He literally says he can’t talk to his brother because Jon would never let him go north to meet the three-eyed raven. And Bran is so caught up in the quest that he actually believes him. To my chagrin. No Stark reunion in this episode. Dang.
Jon Snow has a fight with the McStabberson, who is wielding two short swords or daggers. Jon swings Longclaw, the Valyrian steel sword he was given by Mormont, and the two styles of fighting are evenly matched. Karl, of course, does the villain fight thing where he has to talk and taunt Snow during the whole thing, and he eventually gets the upper hand. A woman of Craster stabs him in the back though, and even though he’s not that hurt, Karl is distracted. Snow ends him with a push of the sword through the back of the head, just like Pod described earlier. The way it was shot looks like a Karl was vomiting a sword on the girl. Creepy.
The battle of Craster’s Keep is over. Jon looks over his battlefield, counts the casualties, and takes in a bit of the weirdness of how Locke died, but doesn’t think much of it. He doesn’t even seem surprised when Ghost returns – fresh after killing that asshole Rast the direwolf terrified at Castle Black back in the first season. “I missed you, Lassie,” Jon Snow says, knowing nothing. I’m glad the direwolves have returned to the story, but I wonder how much they’ll be used going forward. It would have been cool to have Summer and Ghost have a moment together as it would have been for Bran and Jon, but I guess that was too much to ask.
The surviving women of Craster are gathered up and Snow offers to take them back with him to the Wall where they will have work and be fed. The crone who gave the baby up to Karl last episode says no way, basically. She thinks they are better off on their own, even with an army and icy ghosts out in the woods. “Are you going to stay here at Craster’s Keep?” Snow asks incredulously.
“Burn it,” she says.
OK, so maybe the women north of the Wall are strong and powerful characters too.