Just How Game-Changing Was That Big Revelation on Game of Thrones?

Our roundtable on "First of His Name," the fifth episode of the HBO show's fourth season.
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Helen Sloan/courtesy of HBO

Spencer KornhaberChristopher Orr, and Amy Sullivan discuss the latest episode of Game of Thrones.


Orr: Well, that was satisfying. As the world’s preeminent hater of the Locke character—this side of Jaime Lannister, at least—I was of course delighted to see the nonsensical Bolton vassal shuffle off his mortal coil. More delightful still was the manner of his passing: skull-squeezed by a wargged-out Hodor.

Indeed, there was plenty to like in tonight’s climax at Craster’s Keep—which, as I mentioned last week, is an entirely non-canonical discursion from the novels cooked up by showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss. Let’s start with the superpowers. The Bran/Jojen/Meera/Hodor storyline is a relatively dull one (in the books and onscreen alike), so I appreciated the young ‘uns having a chance to break out their special abilities. Jojen’s “I saw you die tonight” to mutineer-in-chief Karl might have been the bossest line uttered by a kid since Gordie Lachance told Ace Merill, “No, Ace. Just you” almost 30 years ago in Stand by Me. As noted, Bran taking circumstances into his own hands—by which I of course mean Hodor’s hands—was moderately awesome. And as long as I’m recounting supernatural satisfactions, I should mention the happy reunion of Jon Snow and Ghost, right after the direwolf treated Rast, the final Night’s Watch mutineer, as so much kibble.

It was also awfully nice to see a little gender payback for once. Jon’s bringing-a-sword-to-a-knifefight tussle with Karl didn’t do much for me, but I liked that he was rescued by one of Craster’s wives. I also appreciated the attention paid to what the wives’ had endured for so very long and to their final, fiery vindication. (I’d been wondering what was going on earlier, when Jojen’s hand got all Human Torch-y.) I’m not sure that the idea of Craster’s wives “finding their own way” is the best of all possible plans north of the Wall, but I certainly wish them luck.

Back in King’s Landing, we crowned a new king—again. (Given the recent lifespans of kings in Westeros, one has to assume that the invocation “long may he reign” is taken about as seriously as the ’til-death-do-us-part was at Liz Taylor’s seventh wedding.) Perhaps in celebration of having a boy-king who is not devoted to the torture of animals and murder of prostitutes, everyone in the capital seemed to take a timeout from their plots and counter-plots, leading to the remarkable discovery that they can all get along pretty well when they try. Margaery and Cersei(!), Tywin and Cersei(!!), Oberyn and Cersei(!!!)—who imagined that the Queen Regent could go three consecutive scenes without uttering a single contemptuous barb or thinly veiled threat? This was her most human portrayal since the series began.

And the happy-vibe seemed to be catching. Can someone remind me when was the last time (if ever) that Tywin had a talk with one of his children that didn’t involve direct personal abuse? Tonight, he instead gently confided to Cersei that her inheritance might not be quite what she anticipated, now that the Lannister money-pits have run dry. (This might be a good time for Tywin to see if he can live up to the old joke and shit himself some gold.) And how hard must it have been for Charles Dance and Lena Headey to maintain straight faces when, discussing the question of how long is a suitable period to mourn Joffrey’s death before marrying his brother Tommen to his widow Margaery, Tywin suggests “a fortnight?”

Meanwhile, I continue to find Pedro Pascal’s Oberyn Martell the show’s best addition this season. (Insert gratuitous dig at Michiel Huisman’s Daario Nahaaris here.) How great is it that, in addition to a lover and a fighter, we now learn Prince Oberyn is a poet as well? I confess, though, that I was a tad disappointed that he was writing for his daughter rather than Ellaria Sand: I’d envisioned something in the erotic line, one part Pablo Neruda and two parts Catullus.

This week we also had not one but two mismatched-buddy road comedies, adding Brienne and Pod to our customary dose of Arya and the Hound. I thought our new duo got off to an unpromising start with the whole World’s Worst Squire routine: the burned rabbit, the lousy horsemanship, etc. etc. We’ve seen Pod played for comedy before—remember the Westerosian sex-god mini-plot last season?—and the results were not pretty. But as it did two episodes ago, when Tyrion sent him on his way, the show afforded Pod a share of quiet dignity by the end of his campfire chat with Brienne. Nice.

I was simultaneously elated and mildly heartbroken by the scene—again, added by Benioff and Weiss—in which Arya and the Hound invoke the ghost of Syrio Forel, one of the best supporting characters the show has ever had. (You have to love the Hound’s combination of incredulity and amusement when he asks, “The greatest swordsman who ever lived and he didn’t have a sword?”) In the books, as in the show, we never actually saw Syrio die, so I spent the better part of four novels—which is to say, about 326,000 pages—hoping he might reappear. (He hasn’t.) My challenge to the showrunners is this: If you can write a new scene discussing Syrio’s death, you can write a new scene in which it turns out he’s not actually dead. Somebody get started on the online petition….

Over in Slaver’s Bay, Daenerys got a stark lesson in the difference between conquering and ruling with the news that Yunkai has been retaken by slavers and Astapor has slipped under the despotic thumb of a (literal and figurative) butcher named Cleon. Faced with the question of whether to stick around and sort things out or take a pass and sail for Westeros, she opted for the former. But what I liked most about this scene was the way her discussion with Sers Barristan and Mormont—about whether 10,000 men might be enough to take King’s Landing—elegantly set up the next scene, in which Sansa and Littlefinger arrive at the Eyrie. Noting the narrow pass through which an army would have to squeeze to attack the citadel, Littlefinger explains, “Know your strengths, use them wisely, and one man can be worth 10,000.” The juxtaposition is exact: Who do you think is more dangerous, after all, Daenerys’s 10,000 men or one Littlefinger?

If there were any doubt, it should have been erased moments later, with one of the most game-changing revelations of the series: It turns out that Jon Arryn, former Hand of the King, was murdered not by the Lannisters—as we’ve believed all the way from episode one, season one—but by his own wife, Lysa, who poisoned him at Littlefinger’s behest and then framed the Lannisters in a letter to her sister, Catelyn Stark.

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Spencer Kornhaber is a senior associate editor at The Atlantic, where he edits the Entertainment channel. More

Before coming to The Atlantic, he worked as an editor for AOL's Patch.com and as a staff writer at Village Voice Media's OC Weekly. He has also written for Spin, The AV Club, RollingStone.com, Field & Stream, and The Orange County Register.

Christopher Orr is a senior editor and the principal film critic at The Atlantic. He has written on movies for The New Republic, LA Weekly, Salon, and The New York Sun, and has worked as an editor for numerous publications.

Amy Sullivan is a correspondent for National Journal and the director of the Next Economy Project. More

Amy Sullivan is a writer and former senior editor at TIME Magazine who covers politics, religion and culture. She previously served as the magazine's nation editor and as editor of The Washington Monthly. Her first book, The Party Faithful: How and Why Democrats are Closing the God Gap, was published by Scribner in 2008. She was a 2009 Templeton-Cambridge Journalism Fellow in Science & Religion.

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