by Matthew Thompson (Images from HBO. The Game of Thrones site can be found here)
It’s back! Game of Thrones returned last night with an episode that will help set the table for what is sure to be an eventful and action-packed fourth season. But it wasn’t content to just reestablish where things left off and where they might go. Along with the introduction of new characters and storylines, the show ends its premiere episode with an exciting sequence that helped wrap up Season 4’s initial outing titled “Two Swords” with a bang.
After a couple of introductory scenes sandwiched around the show’s glorious intro sequence (more on those below), we are introduced to one of this season’s big new players. Tyrion accompanied by Bronn and his squire Pod is sent out to meet the Prince of Dorne, Doran Martell, who is coming to King’s Landing for the Royal Wedding. He soon learns that due to illness Doran will not make it and his brother Oberyn has come in his stead. As Tyrion heads off to find the Prince, he utters a few lines of dialog that help introduce the new character before he even shows up on screen. Oberyn is promiscuous and more importantly dangerous and has no love for the Lannisters, something the southern Prince’s first scenes help to reiterate.
Oberyn Martell aka “The Red Viper” is first shown perusing some of Littlefinger’s offerings with his paramour, Ellaria Sand. Before they can all get down to business, Oberyn becomes distracted by the sound of “The Rains of Castamere,” the song of the Lannisters, being sung in a nearby room. The Lannister men he confronts have no idea who they are messing with. It isn’t long before the Dornishman has one of their hands pinned to the table with his dagger and both of them regretting hurling insults at the deadly Prince. It is here that Tyrion interjects and the two have words outside the brothel.
The conversation that follows manages to do a good job of showing the kind of person Oberyn is. It establishes he is here for more than just witnessing the King’s looming nuptials and helps shed more light on the history of his family, something the show doesn’t always have the opportunity to do in too much depth. In particular, it further informs us about his sister Elia, who was married to Dany’s eldest brother Rhaegar Targaryen before the war that crowned Robert Baratheon King, and the Lannisters supposed role in her death. It didn’t take long for actor Pedro Pascal to sell me on his ability to play the dangerous Dornish Prince. These first scenes also do a great job of giving us our first look at the people of Dorne, Westeros’ southern-most kingdom, who haven’t featured in the show in any large part prior to this season.
There were plenty of other scenes around the capital in this episode. Other than Oberyn’s entry into the series, I enjoyed Jaime’s portions the most. The Kingslayer has a few different scenes with various family members here. First he faces off with the intimidating Lannister patriarch, Tywin. Like most scenes with his children, he ends up belittling his son, but Jaime doesn’t back down, letting his father know that he wants no parts of heading home and would prefer to stay a part of the Kingsguard. In “Two Swords,” Jaime also sees his advances towards his sister rejected, his legacy called into question by Joffrey, and some of his actions questioned by Brienne. Things have changed in King’s Landing since Jaime was last there, but so has he. So while he’s taking some lumps in his return to the city, he does so in stride and with his trademark sense of humor intact. I couldn’t help but smile as he stiffly waved goodbye to Qyburn with his new golden hand or said “I use my left hand now your grace. Makes for more of a contest” when Joff called him out on his ability to do his job down a sword hand.
Elsewhere in and around the Red Keep, we see Tyrion trying to comfort his wife Sansa while dealing with the increasingly jealous Shae. A little bird hears them arguing and seems to be delivering this info to Cersei during her and Jaime’s conversation. Sansa receives a necklace from Ser Dontos who she saved from Joffrey’s wrath way back in, I believe, the Season 2 premiere. Margaery and Olenna Tyrell discuss the upcoming wedding before Brienne asks for a moment of the soon-to-be-Queen’s time where she explains how she believed Renly actually died. None of these sequences have the punch of the ones I discusses above, but they let us get a look at where the different chess pieces are being set up for the events to come.
Of course, Game of Thrones isn’t just about the happenings in King’s Landing. Up north we check in with Jon Snow who has returned to the Night’s Watch. He is trying to warn acting Commander Alliser Thorne, former head of the Gold Cloaks Janos Slynt, and Maester Aemon Tagaryen about Mance’s growing army and plans to attack The Wall. Only Aemon seems to hear his pleas, the other two seem more concerned with how he broke his vows. We are also introduced to the Thenns. They have come to join Tormund, Ygritte and their band of wildings for their upcoming attack. This tribe from north of The Wall sports an interesting look, pale and bald with brandings around their heads, and they have interesting habits to match as shown by them sliding off some rabbit meat from the skewer to cook up a human arm instead.
Out east in Slaver’s Bay, Dany and her army continue to march towards Meereen. Not a whole lot happens out here. The dragons have gotten quite big and look as spectacular as ever. She finds a young girl crucified on the road into the city which seems to further fuel her fire for taking it. The biggest thing of note on this side of the world in “Two Swords” is probably our first look at the new Daario Naharis. Out is Ed Skrein, with Michael Huisman filling the role of the sellsword with a soft spot for Daenerys. The original actor seemed to get a mixed reception last year. I felt he had the look and mannerisms right. It takes a certain kind of guy to play someone who can be seen fondling the lady-shaped hilts of his swords and won’t give a second thought to lopping off his fellow sellsword captains’ heads to impress a beautiful woman. Huisman, on the other hand, looks like he could have been easily cast as a younger brother of Ned Stark or the late King Robert. But that isn’t nearly as important as having acting chops. I’ve heard good things about Huisman’s work in Treme, so while I didn’t find him memorable in Nashville (the only thing I recall seeing him in), I’m hoping he can do a good job in the role. He seemed to be off to a fine start in what little we saw of him in the premiere.
I have saved the best for last. My favorite scene of the show and one I was really looking forward to capped off this first episode. We get to see Westeros’ foremost odd couple, Arya Stark and Sandor Clegane, out on the road again after The Hound failed to deliver her to her family before their demise in last season’s most blood-drenched wedding ceremony. They have such a fun dynamic, so a scene of them bickering about ponies and The Hound’s odd value system provides a good dose of humor before things take a dark turn at the crossroads’ inn. Here The Hound gets into a fight with a bunch of his brother’s men. Game of Thrones’ penchant for violence is on full display as Clegane finishes off a few guys in particularly brutal fashion, but it is Arya’s actions in this sequence that really make it shine. She gets to take her own revenge on Polliver, the man who killed her friend Lommy back in Season 2. She does so with some flare, firing his own words back at him and finishing him in a similar way to how he murdered Lommy, all the while reclaiming her sword, Needle, which he had stolen. Arya has always been destined to be a badass since we saw her learning to “dance” from Syrio Forel back in King’s Landing and it is great to see that arc continue to play out. And it is good to see Arya get a taste of revenge after having such rotten luck for the past couple seasons. I loved the final scenes of them riding out into the countryside as well where we get a nice look at the sort of destruction the war had on the Westeros landscape.
A few more things:
- Scene of the Week: I will go with Arya’s, but Tyrion and Oberyn’s conversation outside the brothel is a close-second.
- Game of Thrones couldn’t resist taking another shot at Ned Stark. It’s been seasons since they chopped off his head and repeatedly stabbing little baby Ned Stark while he was still in the womb was a whole two episodes ago. So in the rare Game of Thrones’ cold open, they make sure to show us Ned’s sword, Ice, being melted down and its wolf scabbard being thrown in the fire.
- Those that know me, know I love to geek out over the opening credit sequence when it adds new locations. This week we see the Dreadfort for the first time (though it doesn’t figure into the episode in any way) as well as Meereen.
- “A man’s got to have a code.” The Hound is clearly a fan of The Wire.
- Ser Arthur Dayne and Ser Duncan the Tall references in the scene with the White Book!
- Missing in Action this Week: We don’t check in on Bran, Stannis or Theon/Bolton storylines this week.
One of obstacles Game of Thrones will continue to face in Season 4 as it did last year is juggling the many storylines that are strewn about its expansive world. Even with the loss of Robb and Catylen and pushing some of the pieces back together in King’s Landing, there are a lot of characters to cover. I think this fourth season premiere did a good job touching base with many of them without each storyline feeling too sparse while also managing to introduce new characters and even finishing with a memorable sequence. “Two Swords” acted as a great way to kick off the fourth season of HBO’s epic fantasy drama and I’m already counting down the minutes until the second episode arrives.
What did you think of the lastest episode of Game of Thrones? What scenes and characters stood out to you from this first hour of Season 4? Let me know in the comments below. I will be back with reviews of each new episode this season the Monday after they air, so look out for them over the next few months (hopefully they will be a bit more succinct… this premiere just had a lot to cover!). And as always, thank you for reading!