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Game of Thrones: First of His Name by Donald McCarthy

Last week, we took some time to discuss changes from the books with the presence of the White Walker “priests.” Tonight, the episode’s deviations aren’t as huge in terms of plot revelation, but they are nice and give us some great character moments. Bran’s imprisonment by the mutineers is completely made up, but it’s a great way to keep Bran involved in the plot since the timeline is more dragged out than it is in the novels. Bran has long been one of my favorite characters (I’ve never understood fan complaints that he’s boring- I always look forward to his chapters) so I certainly have no objection to him getting some more plot and the show doesn’t deviate from his characterization unlike the change with Jaime made a couple weeks ago. I have no problem with the show creating new scenes and a lot of tonight was made up of them yet at no point did I feel like the episode was out of step with the books. Take, for instance, Tywin’s revelation the Lannisters are running out of gold. It’s not in the novels, but it fits with the books’ exploration of how certain people stay in power solely because they can keep up the appearance that they are useful as opposed to actually being useful. It’s a smart touch. Plus, extra scenes for Charles Dance are always appreciated.

A scene that is from the books is the one with Daenarys and it’s one of the episode’s weaker scenes thanks to Emilia Clarke. I hate to harp on an actor, but Clarke’s performance has long left me wanting more. Her performance comes across as forced and she has none of the gravitas or inspiration that she needs to for her to be inspiring as many people as she does. When watching Natalie Dormer play Margarey Tyrell I can’t help thinking Dormer would’ve been a perfect fit for the part of Daenarys. The work being done by Iain Glen playing Ser Jorah is phenomenal so the plotline across the sea would be gripping if there was a stronger actor playing Daenarys. I have no idea why she was nominated for an Emmy a year back when you compare her to the work being done by Michelle Fairley, Natalie Dormer, and, especially, Masie Williams in the show.

Speaking of Williams, she gets a great scene with the Hound tonight where he teaches her that brute strength can sometimes overcome intelligence and skill. It’s an important lesson, but one gets the impression the Hound would do well to remember that it’s not always the case. Arya has her eyes on murdering him and I wouldn’t doubt her intelligence or will. Arya can be so adorable that you can forget how tragic a character she’s become. A young girl has become, and defines herself as, a killer. You see the effects of the wars in Westeros right there.

Tonight’s episode is decidedly focused, narrowing in on Bran, Cersei, and everyone’s favorite character: Hodor. I’ve noticed this season has done this a bit, giving us episodes that exclude large parts of the main cast. Since we’ve been with the story for so long it seems like the writers trust the audience doesn’t need to be spoonfed what’s going on in every location in every episode. Tonight doesn’t even feature Tyrion, a rare occurrence (I believe there was only one other episode that didn’t feature him but I could be wrong).

I’ve noticed this season has had an odd structure overall and not just with invented scenes and more narrowed focus. In past years plots were always building towards specific large events, but this season doesn’t seem to be outside of the North with Bran’s intensified journey and the coming invasion of the Wildings (not that we’ve seen them recently). Even Tyrion’s trial doesn’t hold much weight as it doesn’t seem likely he’ll be executed. Mind you, I’m not complaining. I think it’s allowed the show to explore crevices of Martin’s world that it hasn’t in previous seasons. After the Red Wedding everyone knows anything can happen at a moment’s notice so it’s not imperative that the show keep assuring us something big is coming since we already know it is. That allows for somewhat quieter episodes like tonight (as quiet as an episode that features a sword through the mouth can be) to not feel like filler, but more like a widening of the world of Westeros and a closer look at some of our characters. If we lost this episode the plot wouldn’t be affected much, but the world and characters in it would be. This is a feature of episodes in many of my favorite shows like The Sopranos or Twin Peaks and it’s something episodic television cannot do.

So for fans of the books, what did you think of tonight’s episode deviations and additions?

HBO Mandated Nudity: None! What a change of pace, eh?

Donald McCarthy is a teacher and writer. His fiction has appeared with KZine, Cover of Darkness, and The Washington Pastime. His non-fiction has been featured in The Progressive Populist, Screen Spy, and AOL Patch News. And here, too, but that was probably obvious. His twitter is @donaldtmccarthy and his website is