Though it mostly feels like another table-setting episode for Game of Thrones (which it most certainly is), “First of His Name” is quietly one of the most philosophic episodes of the show, an audio/visual translation of one of A Song of Fire and Ice‘s favorite things to explore: perspective. It’s an idea it approaches from a number of different angles throughout the series: sometimes it’s on a character level, pitting a character against their view of the world and how things actually operate (Sansa, Dany, and Ned are all great examples of this). More often, it’s simply about perspective of events and people – and specifically, how that alters one’s perception of true power.
The most appealing personification of this in “First of His Name” is when Arya’s water dancing with Needle, and The Hound (who just found out he’s on Arya’s kill list) stands nearby chiding her for her style. Where Arya saw art and beauty, The Hound sees ineffective fighting: like many characters in Game of Thrones, Arya was seduced by the bravado and style the finest swordsman in Braavos offered to teach her – but in armored combat, Needle is easily crushed by the power of thick steel, stopping the delicate blade of Needle without even leaving an imprint.
For three seasons, Game of Thrones has taught us one very specific thing: those who proclaim power – and those who actually wield it – are never one and the same. Tywin and Tommen may have control of the Iron Throne, thanks to their battlefield victories; problem is, the crown’s in massive debt to the Iron Bank, and Tommen’s claim to the throne is only as strong as the army lending their banners behind him: in other words, their “crushing” victory has only threatened to crush them, a family fracturing on the very foundations they’ve been built on. Their “power” is about as strong as their “family” is right now, with Tyrion siting in a cell, waiting for Cersei to prosecute him in front of their father – now that they’re in power, the Lannister family is tearing them apart.
And why? Well, the Lannisters always pay their debts – at least, that’s how they see it. But the Red Wedding was less about debts, and more about petty arguments: Baelish simply sowed the many planted seeds from decades of ignorance between the two families. Again, the idea of perception: the man in charge of the whore house turned out to be the one pulling all the strings, even ones the short, stubby fingers of The Spider couldn’t grasp. By giving up the allusion of power and “running away”, Baelish is enacting a plan that began years ago on the “wedding night” (I say “jealousy/pity relations that turned advantageous”) he shared with Lysa – a plan that not only allows him to crush the families who denied him his true love (the Starks) and one who constantly reminded him of his low-born origins (the Lannisters).
While I could do without all the Super Insane And/Or Uber Expositional Lysa material that comes with it (“They’ll hear me scream across the Narrow Sea!” she exclaims as she hangs off her soon-to-be-husband’s shoulder), the knowledge we gain about Littlefinger speaks volumes to the episode’s central theme, and in a devilishly entertaining way not too dissimilar from Baelish’s smile as he tells Lysa that sure, they can get married tonight. Littlefinger is a man who relies on other’s assumptions of him (and their assumptions of power): their subjective views make them ignorant to other possibilities, the ones that bring complex minds to the foot of the Iron Throne (or in the case of Varys, at least very near to it). Men with no allegiances don’t have to behave a certain way to keep the name of someone else’s house clean, something we see when Littlefinger isn’t around Lysa, concocting plans to marry off Sansa and grinning about what he convinced Lysa to do to her first husband.
Across the sea, Dany’s learning the same lesson: the “freedom” she gave the slaves in the other two cities she recently visited haven’t gone over well: one’s been taken over by the people she ‘defeated’, and the other is in the control of some unpleasant-sounding man named Cleon. What ‘power’ she has amassed has brought her 10,000 soldiers and nothing for her to rule over: even her role as Mother of Dragons seems to be a placeholder, at least while they’re going through adolescence and being difficult. Like the classic ‘half-full’/’half-empty’ paradox, Dany finds herself unable to discern what angle to view her current position in. Is she working towards her true destiny (at least what she and a few others think it is) as the great unifier of kindgoms, or just participating in the same endless cycle of rape, pillage, repeat that’s come to define the current world of Westeros?
Again, it’s all in how you choose to look at it: from Sansa to Locke’s death (Jon sees him as a honorable man who died a horrible death; he was really a Bolton sellsword trying to kidnap Bran), it’s all in what we choose to see in other people. Game of Thrones never forgets who and what people are (even though with Lysa and others, it’s willing to push the definitions of that a little too far) – and its in the dichotomy between reality and perception that Game of Thrones explodes in blood spray and wildly entertaining, ambiguous exchanges (Cersei and Margaery/Oberyn… friendly banter, or impatient circling of predators sizing each other up on the battlefield?), the moments that define “Fight for His Name”, a strong hour that begins to gather some much-needed steam as the season crosses its midpoint.
– Podric and Brienne!
– “You’re the Mother of Dragons!” “I need to be more than that.”
– Baelish’s speech about the defenses of the Eyrie’s construction speaks to his own plan: if you can force the enemy to mold to the shape you need them to (like he did with Ned, making him the King’s Hand to start the Lannister/Stark beef and quickly create a power vacuum), it’s going to be very, very hard to penetrate your defenses, or even surprise you.
– How much is the throne in debt? “A tremendous amount.”
– Jojen sees a vision of Bran at the godswood while they sit in Craster’s Keep – then Hodor snaps a guy’s neck. Interesting day for that particular group.
– Cersei: “What good is power if you can’t protect the ones you love?” Oberyn: “You can avenge them.”
– Ghost returns!