[There be spoilers for A Dance with Dragons and possibly beyond]
Still, once more it felt as if this was an alternate version of the story and not a story based on the books. In each scene, there is material, dialogue and confrontations that simply do not exist in the books. In one way, I am fine with that - it's like getting a sneak peak at scenes that could have been in the books; on the other hand, I find it frustrating because we lose material that is actually canon. And the canon material isn't exactly bad stuff to begin with. Also, I surprised myself by missing Bronn more than I missed Tyrion.
The opening scene was suitably grand, with the crowning of Tommen, and I liked the visual of seeing some of the lords coming up to bow before him - lest we forget of the existence of, say, Varys (who took the time for a quick chat with King Tommen, loved that tiny detail). The second half of the scene featuring a conversation between Margaery Tyrell and Queen Regent Cersei Lannister was less interesting, perhaps because Cersei apparently has done a full turn-around and is now seemingly forthcoming with Margaery. Of course, it might just be Cersei playing the game of thrones (which I hope and suspect it is). One of the harder things to buy (and this counts for the books as well) is how meek Tommen is compared to Joffrey. But then, it ties into the Targaryen story of a coin being tossed for children of incestuous relationships - and it came up on one side for Joffrey, the other for Tommen (and Myrcella, I suppose). Not saying the Lannister twins are Targaryens, just that the theme might run through their story as well.
The scenes in the Vale were my favorite this week, actually, regardless of my feelings about Littlefinger in the show. Lysa Arryn is just fantastic as she continually walks the fine line between enthusiastic and bat shit crazy, and Sophie Turner shines as poor, poor Sansa who just goes from bad to worse to even worse all the time. Again, these scenes in the Vale felt the most like A Storm of Swords to me, and maybe that's why they became my favorites this week - along with the warm Brienne/Pod scenes, which felt quite like A Feast for Crows - the scenes closest to the source material once again win out. Isn't it strange, D & D?
For the same reason I liked the single Daenerys scene this episode, even though it was a "talking heads" scene at least it kept true to the books. Even if I, like many others, would have loved to see her get on with her business of retaking Westeros in the name of her family, it was still a scene based on the books. I do think it is time they show one of her dragons, though. Looks like Drogon will have a shot in the next episode, judging by the teaser for next week, as it, well, shows a shot of Drogon.
The Tywin/Cersei economics discussion is important as it prepares the viewer for the introduction of yet another faction, the Iron Bank, but it was again a "talking heads" scene and not terribly interesting. I hope viewers unfamiliar with the books take notes.
Arya and the Hound were fine, though the first scene where Arya finishes her long list of people she wants dead was quite predictable (in that we knew what she was going to say when Sandor tells her to finish reciting so he can get some sleep). I did love Sandor's reply when Arya asks what he would do if his brother Gregor showed up; he'd tell him to shut his mouth so he can get some sleep. Speaking of Gregor, where the heck is he? He's often talked about but we almost haven't seen him. I guess he must be confusing for the audience but what do I know. I wonder if it is enough just to mention him occasionally to set him up for the big trial by battle later in the season. To think that we're already halfway through the season, and, if D & D stick to their plan of seven seasons, we're actually halfway through the story. Doesn't really feel that way, does it?
I admit I liked the Oberyn/Cersei scene, even though it doesn't appear in the books. The most poignant line in the episode was here, when Cersei says something about little girls are being mistreated everywhere. The way it is delivered, the look on her face - it gives depth to her character. Which is always welcome. I found Oberyn perhaps a tad too... friendly, compared to his hatred for anything Lannister earlier in the season. We'll blame it on playing the game of thrones.
Like 4.4: Oathkeeper, 4.5: The First of His Name ends with a long sequence north of the Wall. This time, however, they wrap it all up and Bran can get back to his journey. A lot of stuff happens, but the action scenes didn't have me terribly excited, probably because I knew that the heroes would overcome it all; I was surprised they offed Locke (though I loved the manner of it - Bran is warging Hodor again) as he gave the tale in the north a certain nerve; and I am not sure his actions made much sense, but Ghost and Summer are free, Hodor doesn't have to be hurt by the mutineers, and Karl got a sword through his throat, so in a way it's all fine; I have to say, though, that this show-only subplot feels a little tired and cliché; but I won't complain too loudly as last week I would have loved things to be more predictable. Jojen was a curious case this episode, what with his burning hand suggesting he will die soon (or in a fire); is Bran, without knowing it, leeching Jojen of his powers? Could be - and this, along with Jojen looking into the future, could also be tiny spoilers for The Winds of Winter. It also seems to support the "Jojen paste theory" (that Jojen, willingly or not, has sacrificed himself/been sacrificed by the Children of the Forest and grinded into a paste for Bran to eat; thus gaining the last vestiges of magical power from Jojen).
All in all a nice and entertaining episode that mostly serves to set up material for the remaining episodes as well as tie up some threads from the previous episodes - the perfect middle episode, in that regard. Favorite lingering image is Ser Jaime Lannister standing by the Iron Throne as Lord Commander of the Kingsguard (his only appearance in this episode, but then he had more than enough to do last week); favorite line goes to Cersei or rather Lena Headey for the delivery and poignancy; favorite moment goes to Pod trying to ride a horse (and he looks believably unskilled, loved it); and for once I could admire Aidan Gillen's portrayal of Littlefinger as I could really feel how miserable he felt kissing Lysa Arryn. A shame Littlefinger is so lackluster in many episodes, I wish they had kept him more like he's written, even though he looks the part.
Oh well, only five more episodes to go and we face another long year. Maybe in that time, we will hold The Winds of Winter in our hands. A man can hope. That feeling of cracking open a new A Song of Ice and Fire book happens WAY too irregularly. But I suppose you know that already.