Weiss and Benioff earned their money on this one. This episode is a prime example of why you actually write the teleplays instead of just sitting there with the books cutting and pasting together an episode. Consider how much we as an audience gained from the “Craster’s Keep” deviation over the course of the last two episodes (so, credit to Bryan Cogman as well) and culminating in the climax of “First of His Name.” We have a wonderfully gory action sequence that provides a punctuation to an episode that despite its overall quality felt a bit stationary.
Perhaps more importantly, we also get two important character moments from Bran and Jon as both of their metal and leadership is tested, proven, and subsequently grows. Bran’s moment of decision is incredibly powerful as he watches Jon, who’s changed and grown so much since the last time he laid eyes on him. He reaffirms his decision to continue on his own path. It’s a crucial moment made possible by the narrative tweak from the adaptors, giving us a visual moment you can’t quite get from the page of a book. I love the books and I approve.
As a screenwriter, I truly believe that this is how one should almost always adapt material: respect the source material but mine it and internalize it for the purpose of creating a separate, autonomous piece of material; create your own story. The show is its own entity now, an independent work based on but not copied and pasted from the source material and must be evaluated as such. I do not accept the phrase “the book was better” in any scenario. The book was the book. We are, after all, talking about separate media here. People don’t go around complaining that Spiderman was better than the evening news or Gravity’s Rainbow. But I digress; this is just a particular pet peeve of mine.
Overall, this episode reminded me of the “Hurley episodes” on Lost; story and character were advanced in the middle part of a season, but nothing unique from the overarching main story lines occurred. Additionally and relatedly, this episode had a lot of talking relative to most of the rest of the series thus far. That, of course, doesn’t mean we didn’t get some really nice moments. I don’t know Pedro Pascal outside of Game of Thrones (I’ll have to revisit his Buffy episode), but this dude’s got some chops. I’m probably sounding like a broken record at this point but Oberyn is one of my favorite characters from the books and I think this is yet another example of the series note-perfect casting.
There seemed to be a concerted attempt in this episode to “humanize” Cersei, an exercise I don’t think is in very dire need of addressing; one could never accuse Cersei of being dispassionate, regardless of how one feels about her or her behavior. All the same, I love watching Lena Headey. The way she uses her face is so skillful; so much going on at once but so subtle she demands that you pay attention. She has a really unique manner and pattern of speech as well.
I’ve been really impressed with Sophie Turner this season. She’s always looked and felt (for lack of better terms) like the Sansa of the books, but more recently she’s done quite a good job at bringing out the complexities and layers of Sansa that her detractors frequently short-change her on. Its erroneous to simply dismiss Sansa as a spoiled princess with her head in the clouds because she’s not an idiot. Her personality tends toward the romantic and fanciful, but she’s increasingly aware of the world around her an the realities of her circumstances. She’s also very aware of the way people view her and subsequently, how much she is underestimated. Her manners, beauty, perceived innocence, and high-born status are tools she she’s able to sharpen throughout her growth.
Staying there, the Eyrie sequences were strong. Obviously, watching Little Finger trying not to squirm at Lysa’s every touch was hilarious but even beyond that the Eyrie is completely fascinating to me. The way that living in a place such as that affects someone’s psychology, especially someone like Lysa is really interesting. I’m also basically obsessed with sibling dynamics and birth order (I’m the only child of two parents with large immediate families; I can’t help it), so Lysa’s “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!” scene with Sansa where she went through the full spectrum of “ugly little sisterdom” and projected all her resentment towards Cat onto her eldest daughter was fantastic for me. And again, Turner is really good here. I’m really looking forward to her scenes with Robin.
I’ll conclude with a friendly reminder of something followed by a simple rhetorical question. The reminder, in case anyone needs reminding or didn’t know in the first place is that Maisie Williams is right-handed and trained herself to use her left as her sword hand because Arya Stark IS left-handed. That, my friends, is a professional actor.
The rhetorical question, as I mentioned, is simple: how could anyone not love Brianne and Pod? By far the two most loyal and sincere characters in the stories and so funny. They both get me every time.