All week we’ve been each featuring favourite episodes of Game of Thrones. To read the entire series, and all our other GoT content, please visit the GoT main page here.
What we discovered when we all started making our picks for our favourite episodes was that our choices say more about us than the actual show – just like gossip. So what does my selection, “First of His Name” (Season 4 Episode 5), say about me? Let’s start with what it doesn’t say about me. Duana thought for sure I’d go for the episode where Jon Snow shows us he knows something about eating pussy. This is not that episode. I thought for sure that I would go for an episode that doesn’t involve Jorah f-cking Mormont, I hate him so much. This is not that episode – but if we can go on a brief Jorah Mormont tangent for minute, WHYYYYYY are so many people into him, WHYYYYY can’t you see how gross he is? I’m not alone here either. Kathleen sent this to me yesterday and it is ONLY THE TRUTH AND NOTHING ELSE:
Jorah Mormont’s storyline: pic.twitter.com/Im9btAeqnT— registered flex offender (@kadeejra) April 10, 2019
If you split a room down the middle dividing people into two teams, one pro-Jorah and the other anti-Jorah, what do you think the observation would be? I have some theories, but that’s for another time.
Anyway, Jorah, unfortunately, shows up in this episode with his dick in his hand, as usual, while pining over Khaleesi. This is insignificant and we won’t speak of him again.
Because what they’re doing in “First of His Name” is what Duana and I just talked about on the most recent episode of Show Your Work as we discussed the conclusion of the series and how they’ve been building it. Duana calls it “backing in” and her point is that from here, for this coming season, it should be easy. Easy because they’ve been “backing in” to it, laying the track, setting it all up in previous seasons – that work is already done. And “First of His Name” is one of those episodes, maybe THE episode, that is all about those seeds of work that will get us to full bloom in the finale season. Or, you might say, the bombs that have been planted that will finally go boom.
The biggest bomb, of course, is That Reveal – this is the episode where we find out that it was Littlefinger Petyr Baelish who engineered all of this to begin with. He was the one who told Lysa to kill her husband and blame it on the Lannisters. He’s the reason we’re all here, why families were torn apart, why fragile peace became all-out war, why Winter is Coming. Literally, as “Winter is Coming” is the title of the first episode of this entire series, when King Robert Baratheon comes to Winterfell after the death of his Hand, Jon Arryn, to ask Ned Stark to fill the position. Backing in, see? Layers and layers of backing in and the payoffs.
But while the big bomb was the origin of conflict, it’s the smaller bombs sown in this episode that bring us to where we are today. “First of His Name” is a misdirect, a title about a boy/man who becomes king for an episode that is about women (and directed by a woman, Michelle MacLaren) as they secure their positions on the board. We open at Tommen’s coronation where Cersei Lannister and Margaery Tyrell are warily eyeing each other, chess-matching another uneasy alliance. Later on, we see Sansa Stark reunited with her aunt, Lysa Arryn, after fleeing King’s Landing with Littlefinger. Sansa has been tormented by Cersei, her mother has been killed, she thinks she’s lost her sister, and at the Eyrie she falls into the arms of a woman she thinks she can finally trust who, later on, plies her with lemon cake before accusing her of seducing her boyfriend. Every time Sansa gets lemon cakes from a woman on this show it’s accompanied by a betrayal, a metaphor for how women have related to each other in this story: sweet and sour, intermittent solidarity mixed with suspicion and rivalry. Cersei and Margaery will go on to battle for years, Lysa clearly resented her own sister and now her sister’s daughter – does history repeat itself with Sansa and Arya, who have finally started working together as a pack but may find their alliances and loyalties tested when Jon Snow comes home to Winterfell with a possible new sister-in-law/secret aunt? This is the set-up, the backing in, that we now know was being prepared for us in "First of His Name".
Preparation, though, is another key to the episode. These are all women who’ve been prepared by and therefore trained by men. We see Tywin mansplaining to Cersei about their family’s money troubles, about the power of the Iron Bank, about the marriages that have to be arranged for financial security. He may have not intended to but Tywin here is teaching Cersei about the relationship between accounting and power, lessons that she will put to full use when she sits on the Iron Throne, arranging marriages for herself for an alliance with Euron Greyjoy and sending him to enlist the services of the Golden Company. Despite the fact that Tywin used his only daughter as a pawn her whole life, Cersei worships him, her mentor and idol, and every move she’s made since he died she learned from him.
Sansa too has a mentor. In this episode, it’s Littlefinger who brings her to “safety” at the Eyrie, telling her upon arrival to, “Know your strengths, use them wisely. And one man can be worth ten thousand”. Over the next few seasons, Sansa will continue to study at Littlefinger Academy until, of course, the student becomes the master. Sansa was able to see through her mentor’s manipulation and beat him at his own game.
Arya, meanwhile, is training too – on the run with The Hound, she’s reciting her list, practising her swordplay, as taught to her by Syrio Forel. Think of all the men she’s learned from: during her time with Tywin, she learned the value of properly assessing her enemies; during her time with The Hound, which is explored in this episode, she learns the value of properly assessing her heroes – and how to strike a fatal blow; later on, during her time with Jaqen, she learns the value of properly assessing oneself, how to become No One before becoming the Someone who outsmarted all the men who underestimated her.
And then there’s Brienne, who’s been training her entire life to serve, and must now learn how to be served as Podrick auditions to be her squire. Brienne’s been let down repeatedly by the men she admired, in whom she placed her faith. Here’s a man who’s not her equal or superior and she’s learning that he’s the one who may be the most faithful.
These are the seeds from the episode that we’ve been waiting for to grow. What will these women do with their training as they battle for survival? What are the lessons they have to un-learn, lessons inherited from men who have failed, as they attempt to do better, be better?
How will Daenerys be better? She has vowed to be better and in this episode, she’s in Meereen, taking council from her advisors, ultimately deciding that “I will do what queens do: I will rule”. Will she though? Is she a good ruler? In Sarah’s post about House Stark’s chances of winning the Iron Throne, she quite rightly pointed out that while Jon’s courageous and inspires courage, he’s not actually that good at leading, at managing. Same goes for Daenerys. Daenerys is great at conquering, there’s no doubt she can fight, but can she govern? She told Jorah in “First of His Name” that she would do what queens do and rule… but her version of “ruling” in Meereen was pretty much setting fire to the mess that she was trying to rule. Which is kinda the same sh-t that her forebears did, and she was supposed to be the one to break that wheel. Can she un-learn the lessons of the past to forge a new future?
These are the questions that “First of His Name” was laying down way back then that have to be answered as we move to the end. Can these women fix what the men have started?
And that, for me, has always been what this show has been about, why this episode stands out for me so much. Because this episode gives us what I consider to be the most important line of the entire series, the line that I hope everything else points to as we approach the finish, a line that could only have been delivered by Cersei Lannister:
“Everywhere in the world they hurt little girls.”
Well isn’t that the f-cking truth. That’s what they should have called this show – Game of Thrones: Everywhere In The World They Hurt Little Girls.
This is an episode about hurt little girls and what happens to them, what they do with that hurt. This is an episode that “backs in” to how that hurt will manifest itself over time, and sets the question that must be answered in the final season: Will hurt little girls always hurt more little girls… or can hurt little girls be the ones who will eventually stop the hurting of little girls?
And so we end at Craster’s Keep, where hurt little girls demand that the place of their abuse be burned to the ground, and decide they’d rather be homeless than have to live under the protection of yet another group of men, the Night’s Watch this time. For these hurt little girls, a man will never be their hero. Think about that then on May 19, 2019, the night of the series finale: who’s going to be the hero that stops hurting little girls?
While we’re here though – one more question, because there’s one more bonus in this episode that makes it my favourite: Ghost! “Where in seven hells!”
I have watched this moment more times than I can count:
Jon Snow has smiled wide probably only 5 times this entire series. One of those times was for Ghost. Ghost did not show up at all last season because, as the producers keep telling us, they either don’t have the money for direwolves or they can’t figure out how to make them real. We did see Nymeria though in Season 7. Nymeria has her own pack now, the Alpha Wolf Leonardo DiCaprio only wishes he could be. Not sure if Nymeria’s ever coming back but Ghost for sure will return for Season 8. And that’s the last seed planted in “First of His Name” that makes this episode so special: what role will Ghost play in the war?
WILL GHOST SURVIVE?
If Jorah f-cking Mormont lives and Ghost dies….
I can’t even think about that possibility. Please, please, please, protect Ghost.
Attached - Sophie Turner and Maisie Williams promoting GoT in Belfast today.