Game of Thrones tones it down a notch and the plot thickens
In the middle of a series where each has episode played as 'The One where Joffrey Dies', 'The One with the Rape' and 'The One with the Snow Zombies', First of His Name marks a transition point, with no great landmark event but plenty of plot development.
Tommen is crowned without fanfare, his brother a distant memory (a fortnight is deemed long enough to mourn the king that nobody misses?). Daenerys commits to ruling her existing territories before further invasions, and we see Arya showcase her dueling skills and reciting her kill list by heart, which, said in her child's voice, feels poignant and incredibly creepy. We also learn a little more about Oberyn Martell, specifically that he has eight daughters back in Dorne and enjoys writing poetry (oh Oberyn Martell, what can't you do?).
First of His Name sets up two different plans of attack: let's call them the 'Big Sword' versus the 'Littlefinger approach'. The Hound tells Arya that her mentor, Syrio Forel, died because his opponent had ?armour and a big fucking sword?. But meanwhile over in the vale, Petyr Baelish demonstrates that secrets and schemes can bring down a throne.
The pairing of Littlefinger and the breathtakingly creepy Lysa Arryn is what makes this episode memorable: Littlefinger returns through the Bloody Gates with Sansa posing as his niece, to a fianc?e first wooed by the poisoning of her husband, Jon Arryn (Littlefinger, you sly dog!).
Guest star Kate Dickie is unnerving as Sansa's mad-eyed aunt, flipping between romance ?and paranoid delusion. In the course of her two brief scenes she manages to talk Littlefinger into a wedding and accuse Sansa of being pregnant with her new husband's child. Bonus creep points go to Lysa's son Robin, a hollow-eyed little boy clearly disturbed by his upbringing, whom his mother is planning to marry off to Sansa (yay, another delightful match.)
At King's Landing, Tywin and Cersei sit down to talk finances. And, as it turns out, the Lannister Lion might be on the wane: their gold mines are empty, and they're heavily in debt to the Iron Bank of Braavos, perhaps the true seat of power in the land. "That's what the Iron Bank is," says Tywin. "A temple. We all live in its shadow, and almost none of us know it."
One gets the feeling the Lannisters sold their souls long ago in return for the throne, but the day-to-day costs of ruling are stacking up. A surprising number of journalists have addressed the economics of Game of Thrones?David McWilliams even spoke on the subject at last year's Kilkenomics?and it appears the show is finally making a concession to their interest. This links neatly back to the plan Davos hatched in episode 3: is he about to convince the bank to recall their loans? Does Westeros have its own equivalent to NAMA? At the very least, they could consider seeking advice from 'The Westeros Wing'
Death and destruction 8/10 Some mild slayings as the Night Watch take Craster's Keep (a head on a pike can be seen, faintly, in the background). The squeamish might want to hide their eyes during the fight between Jon Snow and Karl, because things get rather messy?
Westeros Stylewatch 4/10 We're spared scenes from the wedding, but Lysa and Littlefinger, with their his-and-hers dark cloaks, make a marvelously goth-y pair. They're the closest Game of Thrones has ever come to a Tim Burton film. There's not much else to report, except that Jon Snow looked rather dishy in his suit of black armor.
Dragon sightings 0/10 Come on, Game of Thrones. Did you blow the dragon budget on maintaining Daario Naharis's hair?
Other scenes of note
-Hodor unchained! The giant breaks out with a little supernatural warg help from Bran, then takes a swift and brutal revenge on Locke.
-The Crow is back with a vengeance: for the first time in forever, Jon Snow gets to be genuinely heroic. Swag back intact after leading the raid on Craster's Keep, we see him pull off this episode's goriest moment, driving a sword into the back of Karl's skull and through his open mouth, before reuniting with Ghost, his albino direwolf.
-Sex in Game of Thrones is frequently traumatizing (just ask those prostitutes hired by Joffrey?), but rarely has such effect been achieved without any visuals. It's hard not to pity Sansa as she tries to sleep, listening to the banshee screeches of Lysa on her wedding night (*shudders*).