“Perhaps that’s why she’s difficult.”
Cersei says this to Oberyn Martell as they go strolling through the gardens of King’s Landing. Oberyn is telling her about his “difficult” fifth daughter, who’s rather unfortunately named after his beloved dead sister — unfortunate, that is, because he can’t say the girl’s name without getting sad, and once he gets sad, he gets angry.
Cersei knows a thing or two about being a difficult girl, and also why things are difficult for girls. Later on in the scene, as Oberyn tells her that her daughter Myrcella is safe with his family in Dorne, where they “don’t hurt little girls,” Cersei retorts, “Everywhere in the world, they hurt little girls.” The line resonated throughout several scenes in the episode, from Sansa encountering her new protector/tormentor — her ferrety, paranoid Aunt Lysa — to the liberation of Craster’s women. The ship Cersei made for her daughter, gone now for a year and possibly forever, was a heartbreaking gesture. Ships have meant something special to the girls of King’s Landing; as we’ve seen with Sansa or Shae, a ship can be a symbol of hope and freedom. But this one seems unlikely to bear either, just a powerless mother’s love-come-lately.
“First of His Name” opens with Cersei cutting off her rival by stepping into Margaery’s line of sight at Tommen’s coronation, interrupting the younguns’ game of eye-footsie. But it seems Joffrey’s death — and perhaps Jaime’s betrayal? — has made Cersei realize that if she’s going to protect Tommen and Myrcella, the last two people she truly (if, in the past, somewhat abstractly) loves, she will need to ply her enemies with somewhat more honey and somewhat less vinegar. She also seems to anticipate the truth of what Tywin will tell her later, that you don’t need to make formal alliances with people you trust. Cersei tells Margaery, in a rare moment of softness and seeming candor, that Joffrey would have been “her nightmare,” and that even she was shocked at what he’d become. She tells the younger woman, who’s probably pretty shocked herself, that “a mother is not enough” and that she should marry Tommen. Margaery plays it off as if the thought had never crossed her mind — her consummate acting skills will always give her a leg up on the emotionally naked Queen Regent — but they both promise to talk to their fathers about the plan. And so plans are set in motion for Tommen to wed Margaery in two weeks, and for Cersei to marry Margaery’s brother Loras two weeks after that.
(As a side note: I’m on record as a Cersei fan, even though I know that’s a minority opinion. I find the thrum of pain and rage that underlies her actions compelling and moving, and I love the way Lena Headey owns the stage and then chews the scenery clean off it. But even though I think Cersei’s more interesting when we can see her gooey human center, I found the wide swing her character took from last week’s episode, where she was in high-ice queen mode, to this one a bit of a head-scratcher.)
Meanwhile, in the Eyrie, Sansa is meeting her Aunt Lysa and cousin Robin for the first time. Lysa welcomes Sansa, “her flesh and blood,” but watch how fast that smile drops once she knows Sansa can’t see her face. Robin, for his part, has the tact of a wet paper towel, telling Sansa he heard they killed her mother and chopped off her brother’s head. Sansa, not one to back down, responds, “And my father’s.” Also note the little pushback she gives when Lysa, shuddering, says she can’t believe the Lannisters made her marry that “filthy troll” Tyrion, and Sansa responds — defending Tyrion, almost unconsciously — that he was forced, too. Sansa will stay with the Arryns, posing as Littlefinger’s niece “Alayne,” and Lysa finally marries her beloved Petyr, the foster-brother who always loved her elder sister more.
But marriage (and all that healthy wedding-night screaming) doesn’t seem to temper Lysa’s fundamental sense of paranoia: Later, she turns an innocent-seeming conversation about desserts and Catelyn’s childhood sweet tooth into a scary interrogation of her niece, whom she’s sure Petyr has done “vile things” to, just as he does with his “whores” back in King’s Landing. Momentarily mollified by Sansa’s terrified protestations to the contrary, Lysa drops the news that the girl will marry her cousin Robin as soon as she’s a widow.
Kate Dickie has fun with the campy aspects of her character. With her obsessive focus on sex and uncleanliness, Lysa’s like something out of the V.C. Andrews-George R.R. Martin mash-up of my dreams. And Lino Facioli, as Robin, puts his floppy features and under-eye bags to good use as the most stoned-seeming kid in Westeros. Lysa and Robin are like the highborn versions of Craster’s brood; extreme isolation has made them a little … odd. They’re like those cavefish that evolved to have no eyes. You’d be forgiven if, while you were worrying that Lysa was going to start breastfeeding the boy again, you missed the giant reveal embedded in the Eryie scenes: That it was Lysa who killed Jon Arryn, her husband and King Robert Baratheon’s first Hand; that Lysa lied in her letter to Catelyn when she blamed the assassination on the Lannisters; and that it was Littlefinger who put her up to all of it. These are the events from season one that put the entire season into motion, and yet the moment was tossed off the way pouty Robin likes to toss people out the moon door. I can only guess that the writers and director ran through that bit so fast because they were really looking forward to showing us exactly how loud Lysa was going to scream when her husband made love to her. (Eep.)
In other plot lines, we check in briefly with our road-tripping odd couples, Brienne and Podrick and Arya and the Hound. Brienne is barely putting up with Podrick, who may be a fine lovah-man but can’t ride a horse or roast a bunny rabbit worth a damn. He is adorably determined, though, and wins a measure of respect from Brienne when he tells her how he killed a Kingsguard who was trying to kill Tyrion at the Battle of Blackwater.
The relationship between Arya and the Hound, on the other hand, is curdling into something increasingly volatile and bitter. After their encounter with the Tully man and his daughter, Arya doesn’t bother to hide her disgust at him — she pointedly caps off her death-wish litany by speaking his name — and he grinds things further by mocking her water-dancing and her beloved Braavosi teacher, Syrio Forel, dead at the hands of Ser Meryn Trant. He challenges her to a fight when he comes upon her practicing, and though she sticks his armor with Needle, he knocks her back with a blow to the face, telling her that her “friend” is dead and Meryn isn’t, because Meryn had “armor and a big fucking sword.” The Hound’s main role in the past few episodes has seemed to be convincing Arya that might is the only truth, and he’s hammering it home in proper Clegane fashion.
Across the seas in Meereen, Daenerys, in this episode’s 45-second appearance, realizes that despite all the pomp and circumstance with which she won Yunkai, Astapor, and Meereen, the cities she’s conquered are falling into chaos, with a despot occupying one and the masters returning to power in another. So rather than take her chances in Westeros — which is at a supremely vulnerable point now that Joffrey’s dead — she will stay in Slaver’s Bay and try to prove herself not just a toppler of the one percent or the mother of dragons, but a genuine queen who can rule more than mobile armies.
Finally, the last big setpiece of the episode took place in that pit of vileness, Craster’s Keep, as the Bran/Reeds/Hodor story line finally intersected with Jon Snow’s — only to have Ned Stark’s children diverge from one another once again.
Locke locates Bran and, in the melee of the Night’s Watch raid on the Keep, carries Bran off to fulfill his promise to Roose Bolton. Bran wargs into Hodor, first making the gentle giant rip his chains out of the wall and then knock down Locke, choking him before cracking his neck. We’ve seen Bran possess Hodor once before, to calm the man down when clashing wildlings were surrounding their hiding place. I remember that it felt like an uncomfortable breach then, or some kind of psychic violation. Was last night’s even more intense possession a kind of mind rape, as Vulture’s Jennifer Vineyard asks in her interview with actor Isaac Hempstead-Wright? It’s certainly a dark turn for Bran, who’s now made his first human kill and demonstrated that he has the capacity to turn his friends into tools. (Though you might argue he’s been doing that all along with Hodor, the friendly human wheelchair.)
There were some teary eyes in my living room as Bran, free from Locke, starts shouting for Jon over the din of the fighting, but stops when Jojen points out that Jon will want to protect him and take him back to Castle Black. Earlier, a gray-faced and glassy-eyed Jojen urged Bran to not let anything stop him. He has a vision of a red-leafed weirwood tree and tells Bran, “He’s waiting for you.” (“He” being, perhaps, the three-eyed raven?) As Bran and Meera ask how they’ll know when they’ve come to the end of their journey, Jojen has a vision of his hand engulfed in flames and says that they’ll know. The scene where Bran turns away from his brother is a moving one — let those Stark kids hug it out just ONCE, for chrissake — but the opacity of Bran and Jojen’s visions are starting to become a real plot weakness for me. I love me some mystic mumbo-jumbo, and I buy that these visions have utterly transformed Bran, but the scene would have landed harder if we’d had a clearer sense of what, exactly, Bran was placing above his brother. (Hempstead-Wright may not know, either; in the Vulture interview, he describes Bran’s dilemma as “a choice between seeing his half-brother, or whatever this higher-power destiny thing is.”)
Meanwhile, as the fight rages on between the Night’s Watch and the mutineers, Jon duels with Karl, the most notorious cut-throat in Flea Bottom and the most noxious man in Craster’s Keep. The writers (showrunners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff) and director (series vet Michelle MacLaren) continued to lay it on thick with Karl, like when he comes slavering over to the hut to hang Meera from a hook in preparation for raping her, bearing some painfully on-the-nose dialogue about her being a “highborn girl” who “likes it rough” and “the gutter.” I personally got nothing out of Karl’s two-episode arc; he felt like an icky, depraved straw man who’d been set up just so we could have the pleasure of watching him be killed. I felt like my assumed bloodlust was being pandered to, and Karl’s death — courtesy of a sword thrust into the back of his head that burst, Alien-like, out again through his mouth — did not dissuade me of that notion. I’m with Craster’s daughter-wives: Let’s spit on that story line and burn it to the ground.
See you back here next week. But take a shower first. I bet your hair is greasier than you-know-what.