At the fourth season's halfway point, a number of characters are accepting their changed circumstances
Chaos and loss are facts of life in Game of Thrones – if an ice zombie isn t stealing your baby, then a mad king is chopping your father s head off.
Still, three episodes after Joffrey s death, our characters are starting to figure out their way forward in Tommen s Westeros. In the somber, subdued “First of His Name,” we see what the fifth stage of grief looks like in Westerns; if there s one mode that pervades throughout Sunday s episode, it s a resigned, weary acceptance.
This isn t to say that the seven kingdoms have been transformed into a caring, sharing society. It remains a (literally) cutthroat world full of violence and deprivation, thanks in part to characters who aren t quite so far along.
Major spoilers below. Read at your own risk!
No one in the seven kingdoms is quite adept at fooling themselves as Lysa Arryn, Sansa’s aunt, last seen re-enacting this famous TIME cover. In her reappearance, we learn she s spent decades pining for her Petyr, all while coming close to realizing – but never quite processing – that he s been using her. She even went so far as to poison her own husband at Littlefinger s bidding, which as you may recall, was the event that kicked this whole series off in the first place. If only she d had a Miranda around, all of this trouble could have been avoided. At least she got a ring out of the deal.
Arya subscribes to the Rotten Theory of emotions: Anger is an energy. Before she lays her head to sleep, the lost Stark repeats the names of all the people she s sworn to kill, which happens to end with her current traveling companion: The Hound. As the angriest man in Westeros, he sees this as an opportunity, interrupting Arya s “dancing” practice to taunt her about Syrio Forel s death, until she tries to run him through with Needle. It doesn t work, of course, and he accompanies this metaphorical slap in the face with a literal one. The Hound then gives her a lesson of his own: All the practice in the world can t beat “armor, and a big f ing sword.” If she wants to kill him, she s going to have to do it his way.
What would you do if your only daughter was in the hands of a family who hated your family s guts? If you re Cersei, that means swallowing your pride and admitting to King s Landing s incorrigible poet-in-resident Oberyn Martell that you worry about her. She gives him a ship to take back to Myrcella,and it seems to cool the tensions that arose between them at Joffrey s wedding. “We don t hurt little girls in Dorne,” he says. She begs to differ: “Everywhere in the world, they hurt little girls.”
No Dragonstone or the Dreadfort this week, which means there s comparatively little depression on offer.
The rest of the story lines see our characters coming to terms with the consequences of their actions, and choosing to move forward. Sometimes it s a small thing, as when Brienne warms to Podrick after learning the lengths he d gone to protect Tyrion. Elsewhere, it s a split-second decision, like Bran s realization that fulfilling his purpose in life means giving up on his long-awaited reunion with Jon.
Daenerys, too, is all about the clear-eyed choices this week. When Jorah informs her that Yunkaii and Astapor have fallen back into brutality in her absence, she decides she can t abandon Meereen to the same fate. What good is winning a war if you don t have any plan for the peace, she asks, with an obvious nod to the past 15 years of American foreign policy. She tells Jorah, I will not let those I have freed slide back into chains. I will do what queens do – I will rule.”
With Cersei, it s a slower process. When she catches Margaery Tyrell making eyes at Tommen during the young boy s coronation, the Red Keep seems primed for another wine-fueled blow-up. But instead, she takes Marge aside for a shockingly clear-eyed discussion of Joffrey s flaws and Tommen s future. The cherubic pre-teen may grow up to be the first good king Westeros has had in decades, she says, and he deserves a queen who will do right by him. Better the flower you know than the devil you don t.
This spirit continues during Cersei s strategic discussion with Tywin, who informs her that the Lannisters gold mines have finally run dry; the wealth of the Tyrells is more necessary than ever to keep the Iron Bank at bay. They both accept the need for the unhappy alliance. “The Lannister legacy is the only thing that matters,” Cersei says, parroting her father s words from the first season. I m not sure how long this conciliatory version of Cersei will last, and given the events of the third episode it s hard to cheer it as a wholly positive change, but right now this portrayal is a welcome departure from the paranoid harridan of the books.
But this week s clearest message of moving forward comes from a slew of characters who have suffered the most of anyone else in the series. Craster s wives have spent three season lurking in the background, only emerging from the scenery when a man needed something to beat, rape or murder. Now, though, after Jon leads the Night s Watch on a successful mission to kill the mutineers, they step into the foreground for the first time. As they burn down Craster s Keep for good, the women refuse Jon s offer of sanctuary at the Wall, telling him, “We ll go our own way.”
Knowing this show, it won t be happy, but at least it s theirs.
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