The Moment: Cersei and Oberyn talk about their daughters
Setting the Scene: Cersei visits Oberyn to talk about her daughter Myrcella, who has been sent to Dorne. As they talk, she learns about his eight daughters, and they discuss the way neither of them could save the ones they loved, despite all the power they’re believed to possess.
Why It’s Awesome: “First of His Name” was quite possibly my favorite episode of this Game of Thrones season so far. And I think much of my love for this episode comes from the performances we were treated to throughout. This was especially true in the scenes in King’s Landing, where little plot movement happened (beyond Tommen being crowned king), but I was reminded that this part of the cast is so talented that I would watch most of them talk to each other about nothing of plot importance for a whole episode because they would still manage to give it weight.
In an episode anchored by great acting, no one was better than Lena Headey. From her opening scene with Natalie Dormer to her conversation with Charles Dance, I found her to be the perfect scene partner in “First of His Name.” But my favorite moment of Headey’s came opposite another actor who seems to be an excellent partner for anyone he shares a scene with: Pedro Pascal. Both Headey and Pascal bring so much weight to even the most seemingly innocuous pieces of dialogue. In this scene, there is such understated tension between both of them but also an odd but beautiful kind of understanding that comes from both of their roles as parents to daughters in a world that is often too cruel to little girls—a fact both of them know very well.
I’ve loved everything about the development of Oberyn Martell as a character so far. Pascal brings an unexpected softness to the role that makes his pain and grief feel more accessible than they did without having his point of view in the novel. When he talks about his daughters, you can feel his love for them, but you can also feel the sadness and rage he still feels over what happened to his sister. The fact that he can speak so freely and so softly about wanting to avenge his sister’s death to the current matriarch of the family who ordered her death is chilling when you really stop to think about it.
But for as much as I loved Pascal in that scene, Headey stole the show. Cersei’s sense of helplessness (because of her gender) becomes a major point for her character in the novels, so I love seeing the show already exploring her thoughts about being from a powerful family but ultimately having no power in the things that matter most. And I have always loved the way Headey plays Cersei as a woman whose love for her children is something you don’t doubt. Cersei may be a lot of terrible things, but she is a mother who loves her children; Headey makes sure we never forget that. When she talked about hoping Myrcella was happy in Dorne, I felt her pain for having to give up her baby girl. It was subtle, and that’s what made it even more affecting.
Sometimes Game of Thrones has a moment of dialogue that will stick with you for a long time. “We don’t hurt little girls in Dorne.” “Everywhere in the world they hurt little girls,” is one of those moments. Both actors said those lines perfectly, and for me to break it down into further analysis would be discrediting everything they did in those few seconds. It was brilliant because it didn’t need analyzing. It said everything—about the differences between Dorne and King’s Landing, about Cersei’s anger over being born a woman, and about the gender politics of this world—without needing to bash us over the heads with the idea that this was an important moment.
The beauty of Game of Thrones is the way it can give characters more depth and flesh out their stories more fully than the novels because it isn’t burdened by limited points of view. Cersei and Oberyn are two characters who have benefitted immensely from this broadening of the storytelling, and we as an audience are reaping the benefits, as we get to watch these two great actors share moments that never existed in the novels.
Honorable Mentions: Cersei and Margaery discussing Joffrey, Cersei and Tywin discussing the Lannister legacy, Sansa being threatened by Lysa, Jon reuniting with Ghost