When watching Game of Thrones, HBO’s contentious, wildly popular fantasy series, it’s easy to get caught up in the Big Moments, the ones that light up social media and generate a week’s worth of think pieces: Ned Stark’s beheading; the Battle of Blackwater; the Red Wedding; so many deaths. But the show isn’t all about shock and awe. In fact, some of the best, most memorable moments this season have been the quiet ones, often involving nothing more than characters talking. There’s the circuitous beetle-crushing anecdote that Tyrion tells Jaime in “The Mountain and the Viper,” delivered with tortured intensity by Peter Dinklage, just before the climactic, explosive duel scene. Daenerys’s flirtation with Daario in “Mockingbird.” Any scene between Missandei and Grey Worm, whose tender relationship is perhaps the show’s most welcome addition to George R.R. Martin’s novels.
There’s a reason why, even in a season teeming with game-changing, water-cooler-ready incidents, “First of His Name” remains my favorite episode. Although relatively uneventful, it contains a wealth of perfect little moments that might seem inconsequential on the surface, but actually have profound implications for the characters and their world. Take, for instance, the scene where Podrick Payne confesses to Brienne, “I killed a man.” It’s a simple, four-word line, but for a character that had previously functioned as little more than comic relief, it constitutes a miniature, heartbreaking revelation. Pod may be hopelessly earnest and awkward, but he’s far from the naïve simpleton we and Brienne thought he was; despite his lack of formal training and experience, he’s just as capable of taking a person’s life as a knight of the Kingsguard.
At its heart, season four is a narrative of disillusionment, watching as each character is deprived of his or her innocence. In the premiere, Arya Stark, not yet a teenager, sticks her newly reclaimed Needle into Polliver’s throat to avenge her friend, Lommy Greenhands. A contemptuous smirk lingers on her face even as her victim chokes to death on his own blood, yet whatever catharsis this death brings is only temporary. Arya doesn’t hesitate to revel in her victory; instead, she simply wipes her sword clean and continues on her journey with the Hound. In an interview, Maisie Williams says that Arya is “being eaten from the inside out… She's got a hole in her heart. She fills it with all these eyes that she's going to shut forever, and she's just turning black from the inside out.” Ultimately, killing Polliver is not the act of a girl obtaining justice for her fallen friend; it’s the act of a girl who has lost – or is in the process of losing – her soul. A deliberate, cold-blooded murder, devoid of feeling, performed with matter-of-fact calmness. With this, Arya has officially been indoctrinated into the culture of violence that reigns over Westeros.