A lot of people love Game of Thrones for its multi-layered story populated by numerous characters moving forward in action-heavy set pieces and plot-driven shockers, with episodic events like the “Battle of the Blackwater” and the “Red Wedding” satisfying this itch. I include myself among this group. A facet of the show that seems less appreciated, though, and one that I enjoy just as much as its fight scenes, comes with the quiet, understated character moments that the series has earned after three seasons of establishing who these various inhabitants of Westeros are.
“First of His Name” is heavy on the latter, the first two thirds of the episode being devoted to interactions full of subtle tension and duplicity, although for those solely interested in seeing men with swords duke it out, the conclusion to the saga at Craster’s Keep closes the episode with a healthy dose of bloodshed.
The showdown at Craster’s came somewhat earlier in the season than I was expecting, but that now seems understandable (and may be disappointing to some), given its deviation from the novel. Perhaps it was a good idea to strike while the setup was fresh in our minds from last week, with Karl capturing Bran and company and Jon and his new friend Locke bearing down on the mutineers, because it led to a terrifically executed payoff. We were treated to a lively clash between Karl and Jon that came to a satisfying conclusion after the horrors perpetrated by the leader of the betraying faction: with Longclaw coming out of his mouth. Additional narrative justice also came in the form of one of Craster’s wives, who was on hand during Karl’s disgusting rant in “Oathkeeper,” saving Jon with a timely knife in Karl’s back. We remember her from those heart-wrenching close-ups in the last episode, also directed by Michelle MacLaren, and her memorable face delivered even more satisfaction for this monster’s transgressions.
Furthermore, Bran’s development becomes even more exciting as he wargs into Hodor to bring Locke’s part in this story to an abrupt end (take that, Boltons!). The implications of this combination of Hodor’s untapped strength and Bran’s relentless will is startling, and the potential for Bran’s mysterious powers continues to be a source of anticipation. As intriguing and entertaining as the relationship with Hodor is, the connection between Bran and Jojen is one I love seeing explored, as it makes room for the visual abstractions that are the visions they see, which was beautifully portrayed here in casual flashes of Jojen’s greenseeing perspective. Interesting that he, like Melisandre, sees the future in flames. Most of all—and seemingly the purpose of this excursion involving the almost-meeting of Jon and Bran—the crucial moment comes when Bran is forced to choose between continuing on his providential journey north or reuniting with one of his few remaining family members, and he opts for the three-eyed raven and the Weirwood tree.
This all occurs in the scene that closes the episode, which also happens to be the longest scene, a trend that is emerging this season. The only unfortunate thing about this is that the previous 40 minutes of the episode are less fresh in our minds, but, for me at least, were still engaging and fascinating throughout. It also focused heavily on the women characters who spoke with each other in a way that I think would get a passing Bechdel grade?