Arya Stark is back to training now that she's got Needle again. Courtesy: HBO
The irony of this week’s episode, “First of His Name,” is that it’s all about the women of Westeros finally taking their destinies in hand and setting their own terms. And it only took until midway through the fourth season!
At the vanguard is Cersei Lannister, who’s done being a pawn in her father’s politics, being a victim of Jaime’s violent affection, and being tormented by Tyrion. Luckily, the one man in King’s Landing whom she still cares about is in capable hands. Tommen Baratheon may have just have been crowned before the entire court of King’s Landing, but if you asked him, Margaery Tyrell is the only person in the room. Despite swearing to keep their midnight rendezvous a secret, they trade smitten glances (though their age difference might qualify her as a cougar) until Cersei interrupts - to acknowledge that Tommen is her good son, and that her love for Joffrey was perhaps a bit too unconditional: “The things he did shocked me,” she confides in Margaery, who seems similarly disconcerted at her frankness.
But, while Tommen is nothing like his brother, Cersei tells Margaery that he is still just a boy and will need help and guidance to rule. Margaery plays it cool, saying that she must consult her father about this (third) chance at her heart’s desire to be queen, but then blows it by pressing her luck wondering whether she’ll call Cersei sister or mother when she marries Ser Loras Tyrell.
Cersei Lannister's tolerance for Margaery has been exhausted. Credit: HBO
And that’s the limit of Cersei’s tolerance for bonding, as she’s made abundantly clear that she has no intention of doing any such thing. That’s not what she tells Tywin, who accedes to two weeks’ mourning for Joffrey before proceeding with the business of the kingdom, namely her own outstanding wedding - which emphatically won’t feature a 77-course feast. Cersei agrees, to every suggestion Tywin makes, in fact, and there’s nothing more suspicious than an agreeable Cersei Lannister.
At least Oberyn Martell was smart enough to pick up on that. He lets himself get drawn into a conversation about their children and the gods’ cruel jokes: “What good is power if you cannot protect the ones you love?” she muses. With securing Oberyn’s promise to bring her daughter Myrcella a ship as a name day gift, the last piece of Cersei’s plan is in place. Her influence over Tyrion’s jurors complete - Tywin wants to keep her in line, Margaery will lean on her father if she wants to be queen again, and Oberyn sides with her on the utility of vengeance - and with her last remaining son’s future secured, the smart money is on Cersei secreting herself away in that fancy schooner to the sun-kissed shores of Dorne.
To the North, a woman who’s been waiting all her life for one man is preparing a welcoming party. Much to both their dismay, Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish and Sansa Stark-Lannister have arrived on dry land in the Vale of Arryn. They walk the militarily unassailable gauntlet to the Bloody Gate, where Littlefinger gives Sansa the single most important piece of advice ever spoken on the show: “Know your strengths, use them wisely, and one man can be worth 10,000.”
He’s speaking about himself, of course, in the closest thing anyone is likely to hear to an admission that Littlefinger has been behind many of the major events that have shaped the course of recent history, from the death of Lady Arryn’s husband (which led to Ned Stark being appointed the Hand of the King) to effectively starting the War of the Five Kings by framing Tyrion for crippling Bran Stark. All the king’s horses and men couldn’t do what Littlefinger has with his talents for strategy and money.
But for all his maneuvering, he’s still back in the Eyrie, where Lady Lysa Arryn is no less unstable than when we last saw her in Season 1, putting Tyrion on trial for her husband’s murder. She and Petyr were raised together along with Catelyn Stark, whom he loved desperately. Lysa was just as uselessly taken with him, but she’s been biding her time until this day, which won’t end without she and Petyr getting married.
Petyr Baelish is not nearly so pleased to see Lysa Arryn. Credit: HBO
But waiting for him to return has suited her mind like mad cow disease, chewing away at her sanity until all that’s left is the unrequited (so, so unrequited) love she’s been nursing since childhood. She and her siblings may have given him the Littlefinger nickname, but that’s no euphemism if her enthusiasm echoing through the halls of the Eyrie is any indication. Sex has been many things on this show - pleasure, pain, a bargain, an obligation - but this is the first time that it has been against a man’s will. It’s not exactly progress in the arena of sexual politics, which the show riled two weeks ago with a troubling scene between Jaime and Cersei.
On the road toward the Wall, a woman entirely sworn to her duty finds herself once again pondering the value of companionship. All her life, Brienne distinguished herself through service and loyalty - but it was her friendship with Jaime that saved her life in a bear pit not so long ago. But the ill-suited Podrick at her side, a squire only by name who can’t ride a horse or cook a rabbit, is at best an inconvenience, and at worst a liability. But she’s reminded that relying on someone doesn’t make her weak when Podrick recounts his one relevant accomplishment amid pouring wine: killing a member of the Kingsguard to protect Tyrion at the Battle of Blackwater. The road to the Wall is a long one, and if a man who can barely stay astride a horse can shove a spear through a trained swordsman to save his lord, then they just might have something else in common.
And sometimes, no companion is better than any port in a storm. Arya Stark has continued her nightly ritual of reciting the names of those she intends to kill, ending on the Hound. He encourages her to embrace hate as a means to survive, and the next morning she’s back to practicing her “water dancing” with Needle. She takes a stab at the Hound, utterly futile - the lesson is that swordfights are won with heavy armor with big swords. But Arya has met a man who knows another way; all she has to do is whisper his name, and that day is coming.
Daenerys Targaryen is going to hone her queenly skills in Meereen. Courtesy: HBO
Meanwhile, the one woman who’s had the good sense to stop living by the whims of the men in her life back in Season 1 continues to thrive. Emboldened by the slave uprising in Meereen and now in possession of its navy, Daenerys turns her sights across the Narrow Sea. But there’s already trouble at her back - the cities she’s conquered are in open rebellion. She may be the mother of dragons, but if she’s to be queen, “I need to be more than that.” She must learn to rule if the fractured powers of Westeros are to unite behind her, and Slaver’s Bay will suffice as the seat of her empire for now.
For another group of women, a long, cold night is finally coming to an end. Jon Snow and his band raid Craster’s Keep, and it’s the quick action of a Craster sister-wife that keeps him from becoming one of the casualties. Once the compound is secured, Jon yields to the women to decide their fate, and the fire they set to the keep blazes brightly enough to serve as a warning to anyone else who would try to hurt them again.
Amid the melee, the captured Bran Stark and co. narrowly avoid having to watch a group of mutineers rape Jojen’s sister, Meera. (Someone should tell the “Game of Thrones” writers that leveraging sexual violence against women to move the plot along is wearing thin.) They’re interrupted by Jon Snow and his band raiding the camp, though they’re led away from Bran’s tent by their newest member, who seems to have his own designs on the Stark son. Bran wargs into Hodor again, first to rescue himself but ending with Hodor nearly taking the would-be kidnapper’s head off with his bare hands. (Isaac Hempstead-Wright did promise more moral ambiguity when it came to Bran’s powers, and that’s certainly crossing a line.) Their small band leaves without being seen by Jon’s party, knowing that they’d only be taken to Castle Black, and three-eyed ravens apparently prefer the eternal winter north of the Wall.
Next week, Theon Greyjoy’s sister arrives at the Dreadfort, Mycroft Holmes expands his political influence to Westeros (read: Mark Gatiss of the BBC’s “Sherlock” guest stars), and Tyrion stands yet another trial for something he didn’t do.
Before Tyrion returns next week to stand “trial,” Daario Naharis takes his opportunity to claim the mantle of Quote of the Week with his justification for commandeering Meereen’s navy for Daenerys: “I heard you like ships.”
Lysa Arryn’s son, Robin, who still sleeps pillowed on her bosom, asks Sansa not three minutes after she’s arrived about her family’s slaughter at the Red Wedding, then throws Littlefinger’s gift of a glass bird through the Moon Door to illustrate how he’d wanted to make Tyrion “fly.” Oh, and he’s to marry Sansa, because Lysa suspects Littlefinger’s affection for Catelyn transferred to her daughter. Which is … not as implausible as it ought to be.
It may not be the reason she was so welcoming to Petyr Baelish, but Lysa is still grateful for the way he helped dispatch her husband - the Hand of the King to Robert Baratheon before Ned Stark got roped into the job. With poison, naturally; seems by the time it was Joffrey’s turn, Littlefinger had already fine-tuned his methods (specifically, tying up loose ends).
Feeling like Cersei’s finally come around to his thinking about doing her duty for the good of House Lannister, Tywin reveals that their mines haven’t produced any gold for three years, and that the Iron Bank of Braavos is pretty much underwriting their reign. But how much longer will their line of credit last?