Thank the old gods, thank the new gods, and thank the Lord of Light—Game of Thrones is back and all is right (or horribly wrong) with the universe! The fourth season of the hit HBO series premiered last night, and as the die-hard fans we are here at LD, we’re ready to spend most of today looking for excuses to talk about the show.
The premiere was, well, a catch-up episode. This has been the theme for a number of episodes in the later half of the series, as characters move further apart and new ones are added. Last night’s episode, “Two Swords,” jumped from place to place, person to person, giving us an update on what everyone has been doing since the Red Wedding. As the story leapt around I couldn’t help but think about the pilot, wherein all the action took place in Winterfell and you were able to really focus rather than constantly orient yourself.
At the outset, viewers were given a greatest hits of the absolute worst things that happened in the first three seasons. It ended with the beheading of Ned Stark, a great segue into the melting down of Stark’s greatsword Ice and the reforging of the blade into two separate swords. Much of the episode was dialogue-driven, including the first scene following the magnificent opening theme song. The two oldest Lannister men share a tense gift giving as Tywin gives Jaime one of the swords forged from Ice, only to have Jaime shoot down the grand plan of his returning to Casterly Rock to serve as Warden of the West in his father’s place.
Tense conversations abounded in “Two Swords,” be it Brienne of Tarth trying to explain to Margaery Tyrell that a shadow monster killed Tyrell’s first husband Renly Baratheon or Jon Snow dissing hard on Janos Slynt, who was formerly the most annoying man in Westeros while serving as the head of the city guard. One tense conversation in particular introduced a character fans of the books have been aching to meet—Oberyn Martell, or the Red Viper. Along with his flawless paramour, Ellaria Sand, Oberyn swept into town looking for a foursome and revenge for his slain sister, Elia, who was killed by Gregor Clegane during Robert’s Rebellion. Oberyn is all swagger and poison, which Pablo Pascal pulls off perfectly. But was it really necessary to introduce these characters in a brothel?
In many ways, this was Jaime’s episode. We see him adjusting to life in the capital without his sword hand. As he feuds with his father, sister, and nephew (son? What’s appropriate in this case?), viewers see that Jaime, once thought to be the most Lannister of Lannisters, no longer fits. His exchanges with Brienne and Cersei are a rather stark contrast. Although both women are chastising him, he and Brienne share a common goal and she pushes him without being insulting. Cersei, on the other hand, hurls venom and lashes out at her brother because he “left her,” or what some might call “was captured against his will.”
The scenes with Daenerys Targaryen didn’t come off as well as the scenes between various Lannister family members, dragging somehow when she has long been the character bringing so much life. Her dragons have grown, she found a totally new Daario Naharis somewhere, and she’s still nowhere near Westeros. The attempts at humor fell flat, and despite Daario being everything a hormonal teenage dragon queen would possibly want, the chemistry just wasn’t there. However, the show reminded everyone just how heartbreaking it can be when Dany came upon the first child mile marker on the road to Meereen, the next stop on her freedom tour.
One issue the episode drove home was just how far the show has deviated from the books. Although at first this made sense—there are so many characters and so much going on—at this point it feels like it may be difficult for the show to cleanly tie in many of the still-to-come major moments. Much has been made recently of the concern that the show will catch up with the books if George RR Martin takes too long putting out the final two, and tonight was a reminder of why that may be the case. We didn’t check in with all characters—Theon, Bran, and Stannis were missing—but if the show is unwilling to let the storylines of any main character lag for a season, it will be difficult to do justice to them all. In a story as complex as this, small tweaks make a big difference down the road, and book readers will no doubt be left wondering how certain plot points will be played out after last night’s episode.
Another final takeaway from this episode was something that the show has thus far largely left alone: the toll of the war on the smallfolk. The book leaves no doubt in the minds of readers just how vile the acts carried out by soldiers on the side of any king are, whereas the show has primarily focused on battles and the highborn. Last night we saw not only the torment of an innkeeper’s daughter by some Lannister men, but Polliver fills The Hound in on some of the available spoils of war. It was tame compared to some of the things detailed in the books, but the final shot was striking as The Hound and Arya ride out of the greenery of the forest and onto a charred and smoldering battlefield.
But fear of massive deviation and the anxiety of not knowing when a Thenn is going to pull a human arm out of a bag and begin cooking it aside, it’s great to be back in the Seven Kingdoms. The Hound and Arya are still a fantastic and legitimately entertaining duo, Cersei and Jaime actually interacting is a fascinating thing to see in light of all their character development, and it’s nice to know that Joffrey is still the human equivalent of a menstrual cramp. Next week’s episode, “The Lion and The Rose,” sounds like it will be lovely—nothing like a wedding to get the season in gear.
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