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GAME OF THRONES Re-Throned: “First of His Name” (S4, E5)

GAME OF THRONES Re-Throned: “First of His Name” (S4, E5)

Winter is coming, but not soon enough. So to help pass the time until season seven of Game of Thrones, we’re doing a weekly re-watch of the series, episode-by-episode, with the knowledge of what’s to come and—therefore—more information about the unrevealed rich history of events that took place long before the story began. Be warned, though: that means this series is full of spoilers for every season, even beyond the episode itself. So if you haven’t watched all of the show yet immediately get on that and then come back and join us for Game of Thrones Re-Throned.

Because the next best thing to watching new episodes is re-watching old ones.


Season 4, Episode 5: “First of His Name”

Original Air Date: May 4th, 2014
Director: Michelle MacLaren
Written by: David Benioff and D.B. Weiss

Any television show or movie based on a book should be judged on its own merits. As fans, it’s fun to discuss the decisions made in adapting the work–what got cut from the novel(s) that shouldn’t have been, what scenes or moment were better in which version, which actors fit their roles perfectly or not–but ultimately such vastly different art forms require vastly different standards. And yet, when it comes to one of the most shocking revelations from HBO‘s Game of Thrones, that Lysa Aryn poisoned her husband Jon Arryn on orders from Littlefinger, it’s impossible not to compare the moment to the books, because the show completely screwed it up.

In the fourth season’s otherwise strong fifth episode, “First of His Name,” a reference to the crowning of Tommen as king, we learn that everything that has taken place since the first episode has happened because of Lord Petyr Baelish. The entire sequence of events that led to the War of the Five Kings, and especially the destructive civil war between House Stark and House Lannister, was kicked off by the sudden death of Robert’s Hand of the King, Jon Arryn.


His death led Robert to travel to Winterfell to ask Ned to take on the position, which he only did after Catelyn was lied to by her sister–again on Littlefinger’s orders–that Jon Arryn was killed by the Lannisters. It was also there that Jaime pushed Bran out the window, and while Littlefinger couldn’t have predicted such a glorious/horrific act would occur, he utilized it by lying to Ned and Cat that Tyrion owned the dagger used by the assassin that tried to kill Bran after the fact. That led Catelyn to (quite stupidly) arrest Tyrion, and that set off the war between the two houses.

Until this episode it was always assumed that Cersei had Jon Arryn killed because he discovered Jaime was the father of her children, but here we learn the much more insane truth, that it was Lysa herself that did it, and she did so because she has always been obsessed with Littlefinger.


His reasons for killing Jon Arryn are of course ever so different. He doesn’t love Lysa, he views chaos as a ladder of opportunity, and by creating chaos at the highest level it has given him chance after chance to climb higher. Which he has expertly done in the shadows, playing one great house against another, making each think he is an ally, while never letting them realize he is maybe their greatest enemy.

As a result of his scheming he has earned more and more power during these dark days in Westeros, while other, more noble and influential houses have been weakened or destroyed. First he hurt both House Baratheon and House Arryn, which in turn hurt House Stark, who he decimated by getting Joffrey to execute Ned. Then he helped unite the Lannisters and Tullys, which got him named Lord of Harrenhal. That didn’t stop him from conspiring with Olenna Tyrell to murder Joffrey though, creating even more chaos, which he used to steal away Sansa Stark (and potentially the North, where he eventually will betray the Boltons). Also in this episode he marries Lysa, whom he will kill soon giving him de facto control of the Vale.

These wars that he set in motion have seen the end of House Baratheon and House Martell, with House Arryn, House Tyrell, and House Lannister on the verge of extinction themselves (and House Greyjoy isn’t in great shape these days either). It’s amazing House Stark is in as “good” a shape as they are, though Jon’s biggest non-Ice demon threat is currently–you guessed it–Lord Baelish.


He has been at the center of everything happening in the Seven Kingdoms the whole time, and in the novels this revelation is stunning. George R.R. Martin sets it up perfectly, and when the truth comes out it’s a book-dropping moment. It all makes sense, but we never saw it coming. I remember reading it and swearing out loud.

But somehow on the show it feels like a complete throwaway, understated to the point of feeling unimportant. There are no great musical cues or edits, no interesting shots or framing, it just happens and that’s it. None of the techniques available for telling a story visually are utilized, and it gives the moment an unfathomable air of apathy.

Lysa says to him:

“What wife would do for you the things I’ve done for you? What wife would trust you the way I’ve trusted you? When you gave me those drops and told me to pour them into Jon’s wine, my husband’s wine–when you told me to write a letter to Cat telling her it was the Lannisters–“

It’s as ham fisted as it reads, with the dialogue uncharacteristically not trusting of the viewers. Either drop “Jon” or “my husband.” The moment doesn’t hit, and then it doesn’t get to breathe, with Baelish kissing her to shut her up. His follow up is very good, with him saying, “The deed is done, faded into nothing. Only speaking of it can make it real,” but there’s almost no emotional impact or reward to what has just been revealed. You almost have to ask yourself if you just heard them correctly, because what is said is so much bigger than how it is presented.


It might have worked as a quiet moment (like Ned’s execution), instead of a big, stunning one, but it’s not even that because it’s rushed. It just happens, like a minor plot point rather than the monster, game-changing one it really is. If you’ve read the books you know how great this moment is there, and it’s hard to not to compare how it was handled on the show.

But we know we really should only judge an adaptation on the merits of its own medium. And in this case, this scene, one of the biggest, most shocking moments in the whole story, was shockingly one of its biggest disappointments. Completely independent of the novels.

But what do you think? Are we being too hard on this scene, or was it well done? Reveal what you think in the comments section below.

Images: HBO

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