Out with the old king, in with the new one.
“First of His Name” opens at the start of a new reign for Westeros, that of King Tommen, although instead of signaling a time of peace or a few months of stability for the realm, it really means that everything is more precarious than ever. The Lannisters are hoping to rectify this by solidifying their alliance with the Tyrells – looks like Margaery might get another shot at being queen after all – which they need less for political reasons than financial ones.
The main thread of the episode seems to be power, and it’s one that’s told primarily through the show’s female characters, who get most of the focus this week. Even though Tommen is the one being coronated, the scene quickly shifts its focus to the battle of wits happening in the balcony between Cersei and Margaery. Both women are aware that the other is their only true rival, with Margaery angling for the throne that Cersei has always coveted. Lena Headey and Natalie Dormer play off of each other fantastically, Margaery all light sweetness and Cersei pure steel.
With a new, more malleable king on the throne, the stakes for this contest have been raised. Sure, it was more of a feat to attempt to tame Joffrey, but he was the kind of king who would only really love himself in the end. They could influence him, but neither woman would ever be able to control him, to rule through him, which is ultimately what they want. It’s an interesting position for Cersei, who has spent so much time trying to hold as much power as possible. Now that she is finally in a position to rule the kingdom vicariously, she’s losing a grip on all aspects of her power.
Much of the Lannister’s influence comes from their wealth, which Tywin reveals is completely gone. They need the Tyrells now, which means Cersei is facing down yet another unwanted marriage, one that would ultimately place her in a lower position than she currently holds. There’s no way that her marriage to Loras will ever become a reality, but it’s forcing Cersei to face the fact that her influence in King’s Landing is waning. It surely doesn’t help that neither Tywin nor Oberyn Martell is outwardly willing to let her decide their verdict at Tyrion’s trial. (Both Tyrion and Peter Dinklage were dearly missed this week, which was sadly light on witty banter.) The fact that he’s allowed a trial at all is upsetting enough to her, but her inability to convince her father to vote in her favor seems to be a harsh reminder of how quickly she’s falling in rank.
Meanwhile, across the seas, Daenerys is just rising to power. Now that she’s fought her way across the land, she seems poised to head to King’s Landing and attempt to take back her throne. But after finding out that much of her work in Slaver’s Bay has been undone by slave masters and opportunistic leaders, she decides to rule the land as Queen, in order to prove to the people of Westeros that she is capable of reigning over them as well. It’s a smart move for Dany, whose desperate desire to take back her throne has sometimes blinded her to the realities of what’s going on. Establishing herself as queen not only gives her the practical experience of ruling, but it also makes it harder for the assassins of Westeros to take her out. Nobody but her khal would have noticed if she disappeared before, but now that she commands armies and rules over a nation of her own, there’s a bigger chance that people will rise up against anyone who harms their queen. It’s also a much-needed shot in the arm for Dany’s plot, which had started to become stale over the past few weeks.
But “First of His Name” is not just about the queens and Khaleesis of Westeros, but about all women’s relationship to power. Over in the Vale, Sansa has given hers up almost entirely, hiding out with Littlefinger and her aunt Lysa Arryn in their fortress. Just because she’s safe from the Lannisters, it doesn’t mean that she’s entirely safe, as her aunt seems to view her as a rival for Littlefinger’s affections, since she looks so much like Catelyn. It’s a wonderful scene, one that turns from familial affection to bitter contempt in a second, as Kate Dickie reveals Lysa’s desperate need for Littlefinger’s love, and the lengths she’s willing to go for it, while Sophie Turner wonderfully handles the shock and terror that Sansa feels at finding out that the Vale might not be the safe haven she thought it was.
Lysa holds power of Sansa, who is not only pretending to be a lower rank than she is, but is also entirely reliant on her aunt’s protection. However, the real power in the Vale is wielded by Littlefinger, who told Lysa to poison her husband, Jon Arryn and tell Cat that it was the work of the Lannisters – you know, the little event that kicked this whole thing off in the first place. Littlefinger has manipulated his way up from a commoner to Lord of the Vale, but something tells me that now that he’s lord, his reliance on Lysa will end badly, either for her or Sansa. He’s got his power now, so it’s only a matter of time before he starts to wield it.
“First of His Name” also plays around with some other depictions and definitions of power: Arya, still travelling with the Hound, learns that sometimes all the preparation in the world isn’t a match for brute force, and Bran comes to rely on his power to save himself and his friends from Locke. Arya has very little control over anything right now, but what she can control is herself and her knowledge of combat, so when the Hound knocks her to the ground and that illusion out from under her, she’s forced to re evaluate what power she actually has. Bran, tied up in Craster’s Keep and being threatened by Karl, seems to have the least amount of agency of all the characters. Even if he could free himself, he’s unable to get away from there, and so he taps into what he does have: his ability to warg.
Having Bran inhabit Hodor’s body and kill Locke before he could hurt anyone was a bit of a surprise for a show that usually prefers to double down on the misery. It’s a victory, even if it’s a slightly twisted one, but more importantly, it gives Bran the ability to choose where his story goes next. He could call to Jon and go to Castle Black, where he would be safe and reunited with his family, or he can continue on his quest and discover something important about himself. The story gives Bran, a character who is almost wholly reliant on other people now, the agency to control his own story, to make his own decisions and pursue what he chooses.
Craster’s Keep also gives a different look at female power when the Nightswatch successfully defeats Karl and his merry band of mutineers. After Jon Snow and his brothers raid the keep, it’s one of Craster’s wives that ultimately wins the battle, stabbing Karl to keep him from killing Jon, and giving John the opening to pierce Karl through the mouth. But when Jon offers to bring the wives with him back to Wall to protect them, they decide that they’re going to make their own way in the world instead. It’s a dangerous choice, considering the rising threat of the imminent Wilding raid, but these are women, who have been mistreated by men for so long, decide that they’re going to revel in the little bit of freedom they now have. They would rather die on their own terms than live under another group of men that they will never trust, and so they’re exerting their power in whatever small ways they can. It’s the emphasis on power that makes the final image of Craster’s Keep burning to the ground so cathartic, a hard-earned victory for the characters on the show who needed one most.
Episode grade: B, or three Podrick Paynes burning dinner. HBO, I’m still waiting on that road trip sitcom spin off with him and Brienne.