Game of Thrones: Two Swords

"There's a certain safety in death, wouldn't you say?"

IT'S BACK.

Arriving with much fanfare, including what feels like four years of trailers (it's only really been three months), several preview screenings and special Presidential favours, the fourth season of Game of Thrones is finally here. And this first episode is... a season opener.

That is not a criticism as such. I enjoyed this episode a lot (it helped that it was almost entirely focused on my favourite characters) and there were some great small moments. But, despite everything Benioff and Weiss have said about how the action is never going to stop this year, the reality is that this first episode has a more mundane job to do before we can start watching the doggy doo hit the fan during the rest of the season. The audience needs to be re-introduced to the characters and their world and reminded who everyone is and what they're doing - Dany is leading a slave army around the east, Tyrion is the family butt monkey, Tywin is heartlessness personified, Cersei is not far behind him (and also an alcoholic), Jon Snow is back with the Night's Watch, Ygritte is pissed, Margaery is not looking forward to married life with Joffrey, Arya is out for vengeance, Jaime has lost a hand, Brienne is almost fanatically devoted to keeping promises. That's basically the episode in a nutshell.

We also had to be introduced to Oberyn Martell and his girlfriend Ellaria Sand who make a dramatic first impression, knifing people, arranging foursomes, generally swaggering. I'm not as totally in love with this character as I know many fans are, but he was well introduced and well played, and the fact he is Eddie the freshman from Buffy season four will forever be amusing to me.

My least favourite parts of this episode were the scenes between Tyrion and Shae. I loved this couple and what the writers did with their relationship in seasons 1 and 2, but every since Tyrion married Sansa I've been increasingly annoyed by Shae's nonsensical jealousy (was she expecting Tyrion to refuse and marry her? She's far too realistic for that. Plus she knows full well nothing has happened between them) and Tyrion has suddenly become unusually sexually reticent in this episode. It feels like a strained way to create false tension between the characters, and I find it both annoying and depressing - it's the sort of plot development I've never been keen on, all based on misunderstandings and no one saying what they mean.

On the subject of moody Lannisters who aren't getting any, Cersei almost dumps Jaime, which is fairly extreme considering their relationship has lasted several decades in secret and they were so into each other that they couldn't get through a visit to Winterfell without finding a tower to have a tryst in. In Cersei's case this is rather more in character, since she has a tendency towards extreme and not always logical reactions to things (and she's probably very bothered by his missing hand, considering how she despises Tyrion partly for being a dwarf). It still seems a little bit over the top though, considering how desperate she was for him to come back throughout seasons 2 and 3.

Luckily, Jaime still has Brienne, whose position is extremely unclear (she seems to be dressed to match the Tyrells, perhaps wanting to serve Renly's two widows?) but their brief conversation made me laugh out loud more than anything else (the stink-eye she gave him was a thing of beauty). I liked the slight sense of a double meaning in the quote at the top of the page, which Jaime says in reference to Arya - I feel like he doesn't know whether she's alive or dead, but figures that either way, she's safer if everyone thinks she's dead anyway.

Another of my favourite scenes was the pre-credits opening, in which Tywin emerges out of the shadow to a glorious, deep strings rendition of his family song, The Rains of Castamere, to melt down Ned Stark's sword Ice into two new Valyrian steel blades while he oh-so-Symbolically burns the wolf pelt Ned kept it in. The opening credits are covered in Lannisters at the moment and that opening certainly reminds us just how badly Tywin has beaten the Starks down - but the episode ended with a very different scene indeed.

Like Tolkien's The Two Towers, which has sparked much debate over exactly which towers Tolkien was thinking of, the 'two swords' of this episode's title could refer to any two of three swords featured. It could be a straightforward description of the two Lannister swords Tywin creates from Ice, one of which he gives to Jaime. However, it could equally refer to Jaime's sword and Arya's Needle, which she recovers from Polliver (who stole it in season two) in the episode's climactic scene. The episode opened with a symbolic re-enactment of the Red Wedding as Tywin destroys the Starks to the strains of The Rains of Castamere, but it closes on Arya, more or less free (or at least, choosing not to run away from the Hound for now), having recovered her sword and taken vengeance on one of her list of enemies, riding away to a new arrangement of the theme music, which belongs to the whole series but is probably most associated with the Starks. The message is clear - the Starks are not done yet, and the Lannisters had better watch out.

Grumpkins and Snarks

 - I'm not very good at observing changes to the fantastic opening sequence, but I saw that Ramsey Snow's Dreadfort has been added, and Meereen is in there as well, though I can't remember if we saw that last year or not.

 - Oberyn tells Tyrion the entire story of what happened to his sister Elia, which Tyrion clearly knows perfectly well already, but of course the audience don't.

 - Qyburn is treating Cersei for something she won't tell Jaime about. That can't be good.

 - She also knows what a dead cat smells like, which is not at all surprising.

 - Man, Jack Gleeson is a fantastic actor. The nervous energy he gives Joffrey, constantly quivering with pent-up aggression, is genius.

 - Nice little shout-out to Ser Duncan the Tall, known to readers of Martin's prequel novellas.

 - Ser-Not-Appearing-In-This-Episode: Bran and the Reeds, Theon, Yara, Varys, Littlefinger, Ser Loras (though he's discussed and the other Tyrells are out in force), Stannis, Davos, Melisandre and company, Roose Bolton, Ramsey Snow, Gendry. Whether Osha and Rickon will appear this season at all is as yet uncertain.

Quotes

Tywin (on one-handed swordsmanship): You'll never be as good.
Jaime: No, but as long as I'm better than everyone else I suppose it doesn't matter.

Tyrion (on Catelyn Stark): I admired her. She wanted to have me executed, but I admired her.

Jaime (to Brienne): Are you sure we're not related?... Maybe you're a Lannister too. You've got the hair for it (this is almost a twisted compliment, coming from Jaime) - if not the looks (and then it turns into 'but I find you less attractive than my sister'. Ew.)

The Hound: What the f*ck's a Lommy?

Not a Game-changer, but I enjoyed this a lot - it's so good to be back in Westeros. Three out of four pretentiously-named swords.

Reminder: The comments on this episodes are appropriate for newbies. If you haven't read the books, you're safe! If you have read the books and would like to talk about upcoming events, please do so here, in our new Season Four spoiler thread.

Juliette Harrisson is a freelance writer and ancient historian and will get back to her reviews of Star Trek: Voyager and The West Wing this summer, once Community is done and The X-Files is under way. She blogs about random sightings of ancient Greeks and Romans in popular culture at Pop Classics.

13 comments:

Freeman said...

I enjoyed the set-uppy nature of this episode. I feel like I've been a way for a while and a refresher helped. Even if it did have two Lannisters say a list of things that happened on two separate occasions. That was pretty amusing.

As usual I don't really care about Dany's plotline that much. Especially now with her new flirtations with Daario, who by the way I totally didn't know was him because of the actor change. Not only did he look different, but he also seemed to act different. It was kinda jarring. I did like her scene with the dragons though. The way it highlighted the untamed nature of the dragons was interesting.

My favorite scenes were The Hound and Arya's scenes. While it was a hoo rah moment when Arya poked Polliver in the throat, I took that scene as more of a negative in Arya's trajectory. The way she reveled in the kill doesn't bode well for her mental well being. That last shot of them walking towards a razed no mans land reminded me of The Witcher.

I'm also finding Jaime's scenes interesting. And as of right now he's kind of replaced Tyrion as my Lannister to watch. I loved his little wave with his his new hand in the background. Shae's kind of unbearable right now but at least Tyrion has Bronn and the increasingly reliable Podrick are still great.

sunbunny said...

Really good episode considering it was largely a HERE'S WHERE WE LEFT OFF IN CASE YOU'VE FORGOTTEN.

The fate of Ice has always really upset me. I don't know if it was ever stated in the show, but in the books Catelyn requests the sword and Ned's bones from the Lannisters but Tywin keeps the sword and it's like…don't you have enough?!?!

New!Daario is perfect. Much better than old!Daario.

I love Olenna Redwyne.

Luce said...

This episode was exactly the kind of "Let's all catch up with everyone in the Seven Kingdoms" I'd expected. It worked because it had been a long time (at least in TV terms) since episode 10 of S3 aired.

I really dug most of the different threads, especially Sansa's and Cersai/Jamie. Sansa is in the middle of processing all the horrible things that have happened to her and is mere inches away from breaking apart. One hopes she manages to step back from the abyss before it's too late.

As for Jamie and Cersai, it's fascinating to see their relationship cool off after the massive pining both of them (but especially Cersai) carried on when they were apart. They've both changed so much that it'll be very interesting to see how they do (or don't) reconcile.

I don't know what to think about Oberyn (other than he's a scary dude). Seeing Indira Varma as Ellaria made me smile since she's played several of my favourite characters in BBC shows (Torchwood, HBO's ROME,).

The one storyline that I disliked, just as noted on the review, was the Shae/Tyrion slo-mo break-up. OTOH, I understand that Shae might feel the need to fight for Tyrion's love. OTOH, though, I'd think that she'd be more practical about Tyrion's marriage to Sansa. The reality is that there is no way Tyrion could ever acknowledge his relationship with Shae and I get that must suck. Still, throwing jealousy fits doesn't match at all with Shae's personality or characterization.

Luce said...

I forgot to mention that I did get confused for a second or two when Dany kept talking about Daario. I would look around for last season's actor.

FWIW,I'm with Sunnybunny: the new!Daario is deffo better.

Juliette said...

I don't really understand why they changed Daario - I thought the old one was fine and as as Freeman mentioned, the new actor and new manner he's acquired is confusing. But I've never liked Daario in the books, so I guess I was never very invested in him!

Paul Kelly said...

I think they recast him because Skrein was unavailable. He was off filming the new Transporter movie or something equally as tedious.

Jess Lynde said...

Great to be back in Westeros! My favorite bit was the ending stuff with Arya and the Hound, because I love the way they simultaneously manage to make us root for Arya to dispatch her enemies, and be completely horrified by what it's doing to her. As Freeman said, the way she reveled in the kill was deeply unsettling. And yet, I was still happy to see her get her sword and a horse. It's so sad to see the way the war has torn Arya apart. She's just as ravaged as the land at this point, even as she seems to be growing in "strength."

Ben P. Duck said...

Juliette, first off, great review!

I don't want to repeat the many good comments, so let me just agree with most of them.

For my part, I was really struck by the absolute brutality of the Hound/Arya fight in the tavern. It takes a bit to make a fight "brutal by Game of Thrones standards" but this succeeded. I was thinking that it reflects just how dark Arya's journey is going to get when she is ruthless and murderous enough to gain the Hound's respect.

Sooze said...

One of my favorite parts was Olenna Tyrell's reaction to Brienne. I don't recall if they meet like that in the books, but I thought her reaction was perfect. I thought this was a great reintroduction/reminder of where everyone is at...the hour flew by for me, but it didn't seem like we were blowing past each person. I prefer the new Daario. LOVE the Red Viper!

Juliette said...

Thanks Ben! :)

Sooze, I agree, that moment was fantastic! Poor Brienne. I love the way she just stands there stoically. Margaery trying to do her 'take the girl's arm so we can be besties' move was hilarious when tried on Brienne too.

Josie Kafka said...

Excellent review, Juliette! I'm really happy that we're all sharing the reviews for this season.

[Oberyn] is Eddie the freshman from Buffy season four will forever be amusing to me.

But I'm less happy about how you totally ruined Oberyn for me. :-(

Juliette said...

Sorry Josie! Eddie the freshman just got a lot cooler though....!

Iago said...

I love the alternate interpretations of the title. For me there was another one: characters fighting together and characters who are isolated. Oberyn and Ellaria, Arya and the Hound, Jamie and Brienne, Margaery and Olenna, Dany and take your pick: she's got an army.

The isolated characters make for an interesting list as on the face of it's some of the most powerful people in Westeros: Tywin, Cersei, Joffrey.

I think this episode worked better than any of the other series openers because of this depth, alongside the two swords, there was also the wonderful contrast between the characters saying the war is over, and characters like Oberyn, Arya and the Hound still fighting it. That last scene, of the Riverlands burning, was an absolute doozy.

I enjoy it when the series drives home points the books didn't quite make. Oberyn still fighting the last war, nearly twenty years after it ended, was one of them. Each war leaves scars, scars that take a long time to heal, and for the war to be truly won you need someone to be able to put things back together. How long will Arya be fighting the War of the Five Kings I wonder? How long will the Hound be battling his brother? For all the gore and sexposition, GoT poses these very cool questions.