Wow, guys. Can you believe it? A whole episode with no nudity whatsoever. An episode where Oberyn Martel spoke to people outside of a brothel! And only one character was gratuitously threatened with rape!
It's a freaking miracle.
The Meera scene aside (which... we get it, show. Bad people are rapists. Sexual violence is common in Westeros. All female characters are under constant threat of it. Etc etc), The First of His Name was a really good episode. Some great character moments, lots of tension, character continuity, scheming Lannisters, some emotional punches in the stomach, and a good bit of sword-fighting action to finish things off.
The stand out scene this week was Sansa as Alayne Stone in the Eyrie. Her scene was Lysa was truly heartbreaking, as we got to glimpse the real, young, excited, vaguely happy Sansa for the briefest of moments, before she realized that she had landed in another vipers' nest again. For a brief moment, it looked like Sansa had found someone she could trust. Someone who would tell her things about her mother as a girl, and who would take care of her, and care for her well-being, and give her lemon cakes. And you can see the exact moment when she realizes that something might be amiss, when she stops smiling and speaking genuinely and starts reciting what she believes are the right words once again.
Lysa's instability is terrifying to watch, but it's Sansa's denial of any relationship with Littlefinger that really hits you in the stomach. "I'm a stupid girl with stupid dreams," she says, and although she attributes the words to Littlefinger, it's clear that she's speaking for herself, and crying over her naivety. She thought she had found someone who cared. She thought she was safe. But it was another stupid dream. She will never find safety. And although it's interesting to see Sansa's transition into someone who can play the game, who says the right words and wears the right expression and never ever ever reveals her true feelings, that glimpse of the child she still is and the happy person she could be was enough to highlight how cruel it all really is. Sansa is fourteen years old. She shouldn't have to be a player. She shouldn't have to try and do what Margaery does, but without a brother or a grandmother or many more years of practice and experience to support her. I've always been a fan of the Sansa: Queen of the North theory, but I think I'm going to switch allegiances, to Sansa: safe and happy at last.
Meanwhile, Arya similarly had some great character moments with her list of names and her water dancing practice, Brienne was harsh with Podrick but I think consistent for the show, and Cersei and Margaery began their scheming and manipulative circling anew. Certainly not a bad week for the show's female characters.
We also got to learn about the consequences of Daenerys's White Savior moral crusade, as the cities she's "liberated" fall back under slaver control. In the books, I think Daenerys is a very intriguing and intriguingly flawed character, eager to be a good queen and do the right thing but incapable of actually doing it (perhaps, in part, because much of her power comes from deadly fire-breathing monsters). So far, the show has played the savior trope pretty straight, with her epic speeches and her victories and her determination to be the queen Westeros needs. It's good that the show is now exploring how her bold actions have consequences, and that she's not at all equipped to deal with them.
Also in the world of serious moral consequences, Bran possessed Hodor (again? I can't remember if this has been done in the show before), and although his actions saved all of their lives, the show took the time to linger on Hodor's reaction, and to suggest that possessing someone and forcing them to murder people against their will is very much Not OK. In fact, it's pretty horrifying. As moral greyness is a pretty major theme of the series, even for the supposed heroes, it's good to see that the show isn't flinching away from Bran's more questionable actions, or from their consequences.
But of course, Hodor is a male character, so his objectification (being used as a tool and not a human being by Bran) is worthy of consideration and horror.
Even the previous objectification of Crastor's wives was mildly (mildy) redeemed by their role in this episode. One girl stabbed Burn Gorman's character and contributed to his death. One actually had lines! And instead of accepting protection from the same group of people who had been abusing them, they chose to strike out for themselves, to work together to find a new and better life.
But then, we have to touch on the Meera scene. Because the show always has to ruin it, doesn't it? It has a good, solid, non-offensive episode going, and then it decides to throw in one gratuitous and totally unnecessary moment.
I think, in this case, the show was trying to raise the tension of the scene. To create fear in the audience and a desperation for Jon to make his appearance right now. And it is realistic for that threat to hang over the heads of captured female characters. But the show has ruined it for itself by making the threat of rape a narrative prop so often. It still shocks, but it also has an element of "oh for god's sake, again??" At this point, I think the only living young female character who hasn't either been raped or threatened with rape is Margaery. Otherwise, Meera has, Sansa has, Arya has, Ygritte has, Brienne has, Myrcella has (although not to her face), Daenerys has, Cersei has... am I missing anyone? After three and a half seasons, the only female characters who haven't been at least explicitly threatened are Margaery, Lysa, Olenna and perhaps Shae... and I'm not 100% sure that all of those have escaped either.
The constant threat (and graphic representation) is not innovative or gritty. It's not good storytelling. It's not even really shocking any longer. Frankly, it's tired. And it mars otherwise stellar episodes when it is constantly, needlessly shoehorned into the story. Westeros has rape. Rape is bad. We get it. Can we talk about something else now, please?