TV REVIEW: Game of Thrones - First of His Name

Opening with Tommen's coronation, First of His Name is another episode which ranges across Westeros and Meereen, but rather than check in with everyone they possibly can, we get several focused scenes with select characters. In King's Landing, we follow Cersei through various conversations as she attempts to secure the future for Tommen as well as checking with Oberyn about Myrcella. Arya and the Hound have another confrontation, this time about what kind of sword is required to kill a man whilst Brienne finds herself coaching Pod into doing something useful as her squire. Sansa and Littlefinger have arrived at the Eyrie, greeted by her mad cousin Robyn and her mad aunt Lysa who promptly marries Littlefinger and lets the entire castle in on their wedding night. Finally, Jon's troupe closes in on Craster's Keep to take down the mutineers.

The previous two episodes have had a fair few issues with them, perhaps the most obvious of which was pacing. Oathkeeper was seemingly various long exposition scenes sandwiched between two outstanding sequences to open and close the episode. First of His Name has a similar problem, but this time, the strongest scenes are threaded throughout the narrative, which boosts the pace somewhat. It still feels like certain scenes are in there just to remind audiences of characters or to pad out the story until the next Big Event, but there were three key moments in this episode where it felt like Game of Thrones had begun to rediscover its groove.

Tommen's coronation was a nicely sombre affair tinged with humour as Margaery continued to apply her claws to the latest Baratheon on the Iron Throne. Her conversation with Cersei, in which the two acknowledged their mutual goals and respective ambitions was particularly well done and both Natalie Dormer and Lena Headey rose to the challenge admirably. Margaery and Cersei really aren't too dissimilar and seeing them exchange euphemistic conversation whilst actively trying to undercut each other is a delight. It also acts as a useful reminder of the ways in which women learn to survive in Westeros that doesn't involve some sort of sexual violence as a catalyst. Margaery is ambitious and knows her family affords her a certain amount of privilege. She can also work her assets in a way that no doubt Cersei once did. Cersei on the other hand resorts to her role as a matriarchal figure to get things done, namely by ensuring that Tommen will be married to a strong ally.

Speaking of females surviving, one who has done remarkably well for herself is Sansa, who believes herself to be in a safe place when she arrives at the Eyrie, only to discover her aunt and her son are quite bonkers. Kate Dickie's performance was gloriously unpredictable, calm and inviting one minute then all wild stares and accusations the next. Praise should go too to Sophie Turner who has managed to turn what was once a wholly unsympathetic character to someone we actively fear. Granted, Joffrey helped this transition, but it it was galling to see Sansa get to what she thought was finally a safe place only to have the rug pulled from underneath her once more.

Of course the big reveal in this moment is that it was Littlefinger and Lysa behind the poisoning of Jon Arryn which kickstarted all of these events way back when. With the death of Jon Arryn, Littlefinger put himself in a position through which to provoke the antagonisms between the Lannisters and the Starks whilst ensuring that he can keep the situation to his advantage. So far, so good. Long have people said that Littlefinger is the most influential man in Westeros and this goes some way to prove that. When Lysa asks why he cares so much about Sansa, she assumes it is because he fancies her for himself, which is a fair assumption really as Sansa is supposed to look how Catelyn did at the age when Littlefinger fell in love with her). However, with Sansa in his keep and Lysa in his marriage bed, Littlefinger has access to two of the most important strongholds in Westeros, the impenetrable Eyrie and the last known remaining heir to Winterfell. 

Michelle MacLaren is once again on directing duties and produces another stunning episode. I particularly loved the framing of the final shot in Meereen with Dany stood on the balcony with her back to both the camera and Ser Jorah, watching over her as ever. It was a beautiful visualisation of their relationship and how the power dynamic has evolved and shifted since their first meeting at her wedding. Another admirable sequence was the climactic fight between Jon and Karl, lit hauntingly by the central fire and shot at a frenetic pace. Then, of course, there was that final cathartic shot of Longclaw bursting through Karl's mouth which has to be one of the best non-Joffrey deaths of the series so far. Erlack.

It is that final sequence, coupled with the scenes in the Eyrie, that elevated this episode from another substandard affair. After what felt like weeks of the Night's Watch discussing the mutineers, something finally got done and in a suitably brusque and brutal fashion. It was also surprisingly emotional when Bran looked on to see Jon, failing to get his attention before being convinced it was probably best he didn't talk to his brother. Like Arya arriving at the Twins just in time for the Red Wedding, it was heartbreaking to see the two brothers gets so close without actually meeting (though for the longer narrative, it was preferable that they didn't). I also loved the simple scene with Jon as he is reunited with Ghost. It's a small moment but it's not often you get people reunited with friends or family on this show. Let's savour it when it happens.

It was in the minor scenes that once again those little niggles showed. Whilst Brienne and Pod provided some welcome relief, Arya and the Hound appeared again to re-tread the same ground they've already gone over in at least three episodes; life is hard, Arya needs to harden up. Maisie Williams and Rory McCann are one of my favourite partnerships on the series, but I can't help feeling they're being overused. It was welcome to see Williams' water-dancing which was beautiful to watch and to hear her finally say her list in front of the Hound, but again it felt like the scene went on to long to get their relationship to a point we knew they were at. It's a toxic one that Arya would do well to get away from, but it's belabouring the point somewhat now.

An improvement on last week's episode, First of His Name is all in all a mixed affair, but it is saved by two sequences which work to further the plot rather than delay it, injecting some much needed danger into the proceedings. We're now halfway through the season when things, traditionally, start heating up so let's hope this ascent continues.

- Becky

You can read Becky's review of previous episode, Oathkeeper, here.

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