I need to confess that with the ramped up sexual violence in the last few episodes, my enthusiasm for the show has waned quite a bit. This week that ongoing theme only expressed itself as the threat of sexual violence, and not an outright display of it, which I suppose is a small blessing. I don’t understand why a show that has so many incredible characters, stories, locations, and such a complex mythology has decided to keep turning to such an offensive and harmful theme over and over again, but I’m hoping that the minimal use of it in this episode means they are stepping away from it. It’s still unfortunate that just a “threat” of rape is seen as a positive move, but with the last couple of episodes, that’s sadly the position we’ve found ourselves in. Thankfully, many of my favorite characters had scenes that propelled their plots forward, so I was still drawn into the story despite the sour taste the past couple of weeks left in my mouth. I’m deeply invested in these characters and won’t be giving it up any time soon, but I hope that the show runners have heard our outcry and withdraw from their current method of stirring discussion.
Trigger Warning: The following review discusses themes of sexual violence and rape, which are present within the show.
SPOILER WARNING: The author of this article has read the books, but has made every effort to make the article SPOILER FREE. Any spoilers are completely unintentional and will be corrected as soon as possible. SHOW ONLY CROWD: Please continue without fear of spoilers.
The theme of sexualized violence at Craster’s Keep continued in First of His Name. One of Craster’s wives was seen being dragged away in a violent manner and Meera was sexually assaulted, but narrowly avoided actually being raped. Considering that one of the two most prominent scenes of this season’s sexualized violence occured at Craster’s Keep last week, I suppose we really shouldn’t be surprised that this theme was brought up again this week. Now that the perpetrators have been killed, though, I certainly hope we’ve seen the last of it. The message that these men were unsavory and horrible was conveyed loud and clear. The women are free, the Keep has been burned to the ground, and the Night’s Watch is victorious. Can we move on please?
Bran Stark’s story has veered off from the books, but I’m still enjoying it on some level. I may not like where they were or what happened to them in recent episodes, but that doesn’t change the fact that they are incredible characters – well written, well acted, and visually interesting thanks to their top notch costume design and settings. Despite my weariness over the trajectory of their plot, I still get excited whenever we cut to a scene featuring Bran, Meera, Jojen, and Hodor – and now that their story is continuing north, I’m expecting it to vastly improve. I’m not exactly the type of person who dislikes any plot point that is changed from the novels; I very much enjoyed Arya and Tywin’s story back in season two, and that was nowhere to be found in the source material. But the way this particular set of characters was treated threatened one of the major themes of the series, that being that the Starks are scattered across Westeros. If two of them had been reunited this early it would have been a major game changer. Of course my heart wants desperately for the family to reunite, but that’s part of what makes the series so tense and emotionally turbulent. Thankfully the writers managed to keep them apart despite their close proximity, so the horribly depressing atmosphere of the Stark family continues to be a theme on the show as it is in the books.
Meanwhile Sansa has reunited with a member of her extended family. She’d never met Lysa before, but considering that the family she grew up with are scattered all across the continent (with many of them either confirmed or presumed dead), it’s really the best thing out there for her. Of course, it’s not a perfect situation, and many people would argue that her being in the Vale is no better than King’s Landing – but I feel like, given her two options, the Vale is the better place for her. In King’s Landing she’d likely be on trial for murder, while in the Vale she merely has to deal with an unstable aunt. Lysa is extremely jealous of Sansa and is essentially forcing Sansa into an arranged marriage with her almost equally unstable cousin, but at least right now Sansa life isn’t being threatened. Whether Lysa’s jealously will grow into something potentially life threatening is something we’ll have to wait to find out, but overall I’m happy to see Sansa finally break free from the Lannisters.
Arya, on the other hand, is still very far from any actual family members, and it breaks my heart knowing that when she was so close to seeing her mother and brother last season. Now she’s stuck with the Hound on a trip to the Vale, as Lysa is really the only family the Starks have left. Given what we’ve seen of Sansa’s story we know it’s not a perfect option, but it’s the only one they have. Maisie Williams is proving to be an incredible actress through this intensely emotional series of events and I’m continually impressed at how well she stands toe to toe with people who have been acting longer than she’s been alive. In season two she held her own against Charles Dance and this season she’s with Rory McCann, whose brutal and sarcastic portrayal of the Hound has become one of my favorite aspects of the show. The Hound and Arya are like a weird murderous father-daughter duo – Arya hates the Hound, and he’s on her “list” of people to murder, but for some reason I feel like that elevates his opinion of her. She’s like the kill-happy daughter he’s always wanted! I’d tune in for a show that focused exclusively around their adventures through the countryside, no joke. The series struck gold with Maisie, and I’m excited to see where she goes once Game of Thrones is over.
Back in King’s Landing everyone is trying to get back on track after yet another death of yet another King. The episode may be titled First of His Name – clearly a nod to Tommen being crowned king in it – but most of the King’s Landing scenes revolved around Cersei and her political games. Not that this should be a surprise – Tommen is a child, and relatively innocent. He isn’t really expected to actively sit on the throne right now, and has therefore been pretty far removed from all the current politics. Cersei, however, has been playing the game from the start, and she has a huge amount of political influence in King’s Landing.
My feelings about Cersei are incredibly complex. She’s technically an antagonist and other people’s frustration with her character are understandable, but I still find myself sympathizing with her and her situation. In the books I hated her right off the bat and I was well into Storm of Swords before I started feeling a great amount of sympathy for her. On the other hand, with the show my sympathy towards her has escalated much more rapidly, and I began feeling a great amount of pain over her ordeal as early as season two. When you strip away the political gaming going on, she’s a mother who lost her son and is being forced into a marriage with a man she barely knows. She’s also been subjected to being seen as “less” in her father’s eyes purely due to her gender, despite the fact that she seems to care more about the family legacy than either of her brothers. Once you add on the political actions she’s taken and the, you know, murder thing, it’s clear that she’s not exactly a simple character. Her complexities are why I like her so much, and her scenes are always an exercise in trying to separate my emotional responses to her situation and actions from her political motives.
Despite my generally sympathetic feelings towards Cersei, I’m completely on Team Margaery. Her response to Cersei’s inquiry over marriage to Tommen was obviously well rehearsed; she’ been raised to play the game and she’s doing it well. The tension between Margaery and Cersei can be cut with a knife, but as they’ve both been raised to be proper ladies, playing nice – despite secretly hating each other – is part of the deal. They both know what needs to be done in order for an alliance to be formed between their families, so they’re handling their intense dislike in order to achieve that goal. I’ll say this much – if I can’t have Daenerys on the Iron Throne, I hope it’s Margaery. Of course I’m still on Team Stark, but my hope for them is to take back the North and split from the Seven Kingdoms permanently, so that really doesn’t interfere with being on Team Margaery at all – in my idea end game, I can have both!
It seems as if Brienne and Podrick were meant to be the comedic relief of the episode. They are kind of an odd duo, but they seem to have found a common ground with one another. Sure, Podrick seems out of place, and his initial qualifications might make him seem useless outside of King’s Landing, but he did kill a member of the Kingsguard and that clearly impressed Brienne. Podrick’s true strength is in his loyalty, though. He was Tyrion’s squire, and his faith in Tyrion – despite pretty much all of King’s Landing naming Tyrion a traitor and a murderer – never wavered. Put simply, his heart is in the right place, and while Brienne at first resisted Podrick’s help, his awkward personality and lack of extensive battlefield qualifications don’t seem to be much a problem for her now. I’m looking forward to seeing how their dynamic develops in later episodes.
Daenerys didn’t get much screen time this episode, which is always a tad disappointing to me. But she is very much removed from the rest of the characters, so it makes sense that her separated storyline isn’t as prominent as all of the others combined. Despite just a few minutes on screen, though, we learned a hell of a lot about the trajectory of her storyline. She has enough ships to transport most of her army across the narrow sea, and that army should be enough to take King’s Landing…but she needs more if she wants to take the rest of Westeros. And then, before she could really make a decision about leaving for Westeros, she was informed that Yunkai and Astapor have fallen back into the hands of slavers. This left her with the choice to either take what she has and leave for King’s Landing, hoping that other families in Westeros will help her take the rest of the continent, or staying to fix the problems that have arisen since she’s moved on to Meereen. She ultimately decides to stay, which means that her attack on Westeros will be delayed for the foreseeable future. In my opinion the slaves that she freed are more her people than those who are in Westeros – she is the Breaker of Chains, so this isn’t really a bad decision on her part.
The relationship between Daenerys and Jorah is incredibly complicated and hurts my shipper heart a great deal. He’s been with her since she was just a tool for her brother and had no real agency of her own. He’s watched her rise as a Khaleesi and a Queen; he’s seen her grow into the Mother of Dragons and become a symbol of hope to thousands of people. The fact that she wanted to talk to him alone, instead of any of her other high ranking officials, speaks volumes as to how much she still trusts his opinion. Of course, we can’t ignore the fact that he started out as a spy. He may be loyal to her now, and I have no doubt that he loves her, but his origins will always be a dark cloud over their relationship. They work so well together, even when they become increasingly frustrated with one another, but ultimately that secrecy puts a taint on this otherwise beautiful relationship. It’s also becoming increasingly clear that Daenerys feels a strong attraction towards Daario Naharis, so while she might not trust him as much as she trusts Jorah, it’s another mark against this ship that has essentially been doomed from the start. There’s a reason why fandom has dubbed Jorah as “Ser Friend Zone,” after all. It’ll probably never happen, so excuse me as I sit in the corner and cry myself to sleep.
While my enthusiasm for the series has wavered due to the increased sexualized violence, I’m still very much invested in the characters and look forward to what’s to come. I’m hoping that now that Craster’s Keep has burned to the ground, we’ll see a marked decrease in that awful recurring theme and instead see more of the incredible characters and plots that the fans love so very much. The next episode marks the halfway point of the season; by the time we reach the end of the season we should also be reaching the end of book three. There are only two written books left in the series, and each one has a different set of characters as their main focus, so my prediction is that we’ll be moving further and further away from the books’ narratives as we head into seasons five and six. As I’ve said, this isn’t always a bad thing, but with the way this season has teased us with major plot changes, it is somewhat worrying. I hope this show corrects itself and continues to be as amazing as the previous three seasons have been.
Author: Angel Wilson
Angel is the admin of The Geekiary and a geek culture commentator. They earned a BA in Film & Digital Media from UC Santa Cruz. They have contributed to various podcasts and webcasts including An Englishman in San Diego, Free to Be Radio, and Genre TV for All. They’ve also written for Friends of Comic Con and is a 2019 Hugo Award winner for contributing fanfic on AO3. They identify as queer.
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