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The Best of This Week’s Game of Thrones Recaps: ‘First of His Name’

This week brought a gentler Game of Thrones, at least by the show's traditionally brutish standards. Cersei, in particular, revealed a softer side; as Vulture recapper Nina Shen Rastogi writes, "Cersei knows a thing or two about being a difficult girl, and also why things are difficult for girls." This week, the critics felt sympathy for the Queen Regent, marveled in horror at the machinations of Littlefinger and Lysa (welcome back, creepy Arryn family!), and were relieved at the liberation of Craster's women in a world that tends not to be too kind to anyone carrying two X chromosomes. Your recap of the recaps:

“The Queen Regent is unusually forthcoming about her awareness of Joffrey's royally fucked-up nature, and she genuinely appears to want to a peaceful reign for Tommen, even if it means that she has less influence on him. Margaery, on the other hand, is every bit as deceitful as Cersei is open, although it's hard to believe that Cersei could possibly be buying her 'Queen? Me? Hadn't even crossed my mind!' act.” Previously.TV 

“When it comes time for a nuanced portrayal of a young ruler coming into her own and asserting her place and power on a world stage, will we be able to buy it without rolling our eyes? The hollow line readings on Sunday were not encouraging. In the nearer term, what happens if the revolutionary fervor that Grey Worm displayed last week sparks within Dany’s own ranks, demanding something more complex than the two-dimensional leadership we’ve seen so far? Could she persuade the Unsullied and/or the rest of us to stay the course? Perhaps I, like so many a Wise Master, am foolishly underestimating Ms. Clarke, who, at the moment I write her off for good, will torch me with the power of her acting. I hope so, as a fan of the show, but am not necessarily counting on it.” New York Times 

“The problem has always been that Dany has been moving so quickly through her conquests there was no space to explore the ramifications of her actions, and even in this case Cleon’s rise to power in Astapor takes place entirely offscreen (with Dany being unaware it even happened until Jorah informs her). In this brief sequence, Jorah effectively lays out the allegory, and Dany makes the choice that gives the show the opportunity to explore the actual dynamics of this white savior freeing slaves. Although the effectiveness of the storyline still comes down to execution, the episode did a nice job of emphasizing Dany’s agency: this will not be an easy task, but that’s part of the point. As Jorah notes, even if you take King’s Landing—the equivalent to which Dany has now done in Slaver’s Bay — you’re always fighting for something more. While this is telling more or less the same story as the books, the efficiency of the storytelling nicely emphasized that Dany has something to prove, making it less a delay mechanism to keep her from converging with the events in King’s Landing and more an effort to explore the character and her surroundings.” —Cultural Leanings

Tyrion has the jokes. Tywin has the power. Bran has the sight. And Daenerys has the dragons. But midway through this extremely engaging fourth season, I’m starting to think that Cersei Lannister is the most important character on Game of Thrones. No one else so perfectly captures the show’s myriad contradictions. She’s a queen who is often treated as a pawn, a mother who appears completely devoid of feeling. And yet, the more time we spend with her, the more sympathetic she appears. Her anger is earned; it’s an inheritance more real than any gold or holdings. It’s what keeps her human, even as her actions veer toward the monstrous.” Grantland

“Speaking of terrifying: Let’s all tremble and applaud at the return of Kate Dickey as Lysa Arryn. While it’s unclear whether the school-age Robin is still suckling on her, the Lady of the Vale has a real shot at the title of Most Viscerally Unpleasant Person in Westeros now that Joffrey and Karl are gone. Her only real competition is Ramsay Snow, a garden-variety SWM (sadistic white male). With her unique blend of fetid sexual energy, harpy shrieks, mercurial moods, and cavernously flaring nostrils, I suspect she might just eclipse the rest of the cast in terms of nightmare fodder by season’s end.” The Atlantic

“The symbolism of the first and final scenes of 'First of His Name' almost seem to hint at a kinder, gentler show. Those terms are extremely relative, of course. But after rape became the dominant plot point of the last two episodes, it was hard not to notice the promise of better days in how the show started and ended. First, Tommen Baratheon officially took his place on the Iron Throne — 'a good boy, a decent boy,' one who seems to be the complete opposite of his late, sadistic older brother. And then there was the final scene, as Craster’s Keep, basically an outpost for soulless depravity, burned to the ground. Plus there was even a reunion between a boy and a dog! A feel-good episode if there ever was one.” Washington Post

“Littlefinger played the contented, reactive yes-man well enough to fool two kings and probably most viewers. While it’s always been clear that, like Varys, Littlefinger sought to enhance his pot of gold and his stockpile of secrets, he often seemed more profiteer than mutineer. But now we know that Littlefinger is playing a long game — one he started years ago, and obviously plans on playing years into the future. Which brings us to two competing theories of what exactly Littlefinger wants: the crown itself, or the kind of continuous upheaval across Westeros that will allow him to keep playing puppeteer?” The New Republic

“'First of His Name' opens with a completed task, as Tommen is coronated as the new king of Westeros, and closes with another one, as Jon Snow and friends kill all the turncoats and burn Craster's Keep to the ground. But it's an episode that brings us to season 4's midpoint, and as such it mainly features characters recognizing that their jobs are far from over, and that they — many of them misfits, rejects, or otherwise overlooked figures who now play an enormous role in the future of this story and the world in which it takes place — need to figure out what particular strengths are and how they can apply it to the task at hand.” HitFix 

“It’s intriguing that 'First Of His Name' should arrive at the halfway point of Game Of Thrones’ fourth season, the year in which the show has received the loudest criticisms of its depictions of sexual violence. The episode is by no means a corrective for what occurred between Cersei and Jaime during 'Breaker Of Chains.' It is, however, indication that showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss (credited once more for the script) recognize their show’s degree of cruelty and how it’s disproportionately directed at its female characters. When Cersei and Oberyn engage in the exchange above, it’s not only an acknowledgement of what her brother has done to her, but also an acknowledgement that such trauma is a frighteningly common occurrence in this world. People like Oberyn are attempting to turn that tide, but change—as it is in our world—is a slow and frustrating process.” —The A.V. Club 

“Next on Cersei's Friend-Making Tour, Oberyn Martell (Pedro Pascal)! They stroll the gardens and talk of their daughters (he has eight). Cersei is super cynical about the 'power' or lack of she has in her life, especially when it comes to her kids. As Oberyn promises the safe-keeping of her daughter Myrcella, Cersei very tellingly states, 'everywhere in the world they hurt little girls.' Sad, and true. As they look over the water, Cersei asks him to take Myrcella a present—a tall ship sitting in the harbor. Is this for Myrcella to make an escape? Start a revolt? Take an afternoon sail? It's a poignant and humane moment for Cersei.” The Playlist

“Why did he kill Jon Aryn, and why did he steer Catelyn Stark, the woman he professed to love, into a fight with the Lannisters that would ultimately cost her her life? Well, we know from an earlier episode what he wants ('Everything'), and I suppose having the Starks, Lannisters, and Baratheons at war with one another creates a convenient opening for him to establish the Royal House of Baelish. Clearly, he’s quite fond of the strategic properties of Lysa’s mountaintop domain, so it stands to reason that he intends to continue sowing chaos while building up an unconquerable presence in the Vale.” Vanity Fair

As so many things in Game of Thrones do, this brings us back to rape. It may be that Game of Thrones has overused it as a plot turn and a threat–back at Craster’s Keep, this week it’s Meera who is nearly raped by Karl before he dies, which, we get it already, he’s a rapist. But the episode doesn’t overlook the act’s consequences here. (If Cersei’s bitter comment about little girls does not refer back to the was-it-rape by Jaime, it certainly refers back to her abuse by her despised husband Robert.) The brutalization of women has a context: it’s part of a social chain that has highborn women traded in alliances at the top end and treated as plunder at the low end of the scale.” Time

Once again, we close out the episode beyond the Wall, with a sequence as cathartic as last week's was horrific. Jon Snow and his merry men make short work of the mutineers at Craster's Keep — and yeah, we all felt a little swell of way-too-invested-in-this-show pride considering how green those dudes were just a couple seasons ago. Though the dramatic visions of Jojen Reed and the telepathic powers of Bran Stark intrude on the imagery and plotting like such things rarely have before, it's ultimately the fate of Craster's daughter-wives that's most moving as the episode draws to a close. Since the Night's Watch turned a blind eye to Craster's abuse of his wives for years before a gang of them tried their hand at it themselves (even a valuable hostage like Meera Reed was just one more potential victim to these men), the women refuse Jon Snow's offer of so-called safety at Castle Black. They burn the keep and the bodies, and they go their own way. 'Everywhere in the world, they hurt little girls,' Cersei had said. But not here. Not anymore.” Rolling Stone

During last night’s episode of Game of Thrones, the former Queen Regent, the self-proclaimed 'daughter of the most powerful man alive,' fretted over the safety of her own daughter even as her second son was crowned way before his time. Brienne realized the ineptitude of the squire with whom she’d been saddled. Sansa marched through the Bloody Gates with a whoremonger, murderer, and the most devious powerbroker in King’s Landing. Arya was backhanded across the mouth by a man four times her size in the name of her education. Meera was nearly raped in front of her brother, his hands tied uselessly behind him. And the women of Craster’s Keep, once freed from the abusive grip of a band of mutineers, opted to go it alone rather than commend themselves to the hands of their liberators.” Salon 

“But we still do have heroes to root for. Even though Thrones puts so many characters to death and so many others in morally compromised positions, we're still supposed to be rooting for them. The Stark children, especially, continue to be the moral bedrock of the show even as they are taught lesson after harsh lesson about how to survive in Westeros. Bran Stark got a real hero moment this week while tied up in the shack, but he accomplished it (saving his companions from the villainous Locke) with a real violation—mentally jumping into Hodor's body and using him to kill. It was easy to cheer when Hodor snapped Locke's neck, but the episode made sure to show us Hodor's haunted face as Bran left him and he examined his bloody hands.” The Wire

“For Petyr Baelish, master of the carefully chosen aphorism, is also the first of his name and he has built a career on exploiting people's tendency to underestimate him. Where Tywin Lannister does all he does for the preservation of his family name (and I can't have been the only person to be amused that 'ourselves alone' is frequently used as a translation of Sinn Féin) Petyr is a lone campaigner, advancing his cause one machiavellian step at a time. Yet this army of one has all but brought a kingdom to its knees: not only was he involved in the poisoning of Joffrey but we learned last night that his were the words that killed a Hand and kicked off a war. The news that Lysa Arryn killed her husband and then lied about it to her sister leading to Ned Stark's whole doomed investigation was a lovely twist. So now this one-time brothel owner is Lord of the Vale, high in his impregnable Eyrie with the Stark heiress as his captive in all but name, and his new wife happy to do whatever he commands. I don't know about you, but if Petyr Baelish offered me a game of chess, I'd respectfully decline.” The Guardian

“North of the Wall is where the big action took place, as Jon Snow lead his brothers up Craster’s way in order to plow down the nasty mutineers. Karl — ugh he so looks like a Karl, doesn’t he? — and his clan are pretty quickly butchered (that’s what you get!) and ultimately, the Keep was burned down to the ground. The real crime of the whole affair, though, was that this was the SECOND missed connection between Bran and Jon Snow. UGH, these two are forever icy ships in the wind, aren’t they? It’s so unfair, why can’t they just like, I don’t know, have a moment to hug it out?” —Nerdist

Photo: Helen Sloan/HBO