Game of Thrones Review, “Two Swords”

Game of Thrones 4.1 “Two Swords”

We’re back! HBO’s behemoth TV spectacle Game of Thrones returned for its fourth season last night, but also, I’m back. After taking an almost two month long hiatus from writing any form of blog, I’ve decided to return with the ambitious goal of covering the whole fourth season of GoT. Hopefully you will bear with me as I iron out the format, as I expect these initial reviews to be pretty rough as I find my groove. That being said, let’s dive into the first episode, entitled “Two Swords”.

Disclaimer: While I will try my hardest not to talk about upcoming events on the show (based on reading the books), I will be discussing the plot of each new episode in detail, so this will definitely be spoiler-filled territory.

I think it’s all too easy to ignore titles when it comes to episodes of television. Titles can sometimes be used to reference plot points in a given episode, but the really well-thought out ones signify an important theme or motif. Tonight’s episode of Game of Thrones definitely falls into the latter camp. I actually didn’t even look up the title until after I watched the episode, but I really wish I had. The motif of Two Swords permeates the episode, with the most significant and obvious example being the pre-credits sequence in which Ned Stark’s Valyrian great sword Ice is melted down and re-forged into two new blades, overseen by evil-badass extraordinaire Tywin Lannister. The great thing about this scene (besides that it’s, to my mind, the first pre-credits scene on the show, which in itself is significant) and the scene between Tywin and Jaime that proceeds after the credits, is how the meaning behind the re-forging shifts. Initially, it acts as a visual representation of the Stark family’s decline, as the long-deceased patriarch’s great weapon is literally being repurposed by his enemies. However, in Tywin’s scene with Jamie, we see that the re-forging is a somewhat hollow act, as it does not seem to dawn on Tywin that Ned Stark’s greatness is being distilled into swords that are given to two broken men in Jaime and Joffrey. Joffrey’s shortcomings are numerous and well-documented, and Jaime, while formally a formidable warrior, has always been a broken man. There’s a line from Jaime that stood out for me, in which he grouses that “my bloody honour is beyond repair.” Jaime is physically and mentally a broken man at this point and not even a sword that belonged to the noblest character in the show can do much to fix him.

Like most of the bookending episodes that have come before it, “Two Swords” is in season set-up mode, establishing where the remaining characters are at right now and where they are headed. As such, the story jumps around to most of the main players, and so the episode doesn’t really have time to tell a focused story. That is not necessarily a bad thing, as pretty much every scene has something interesting going on. We’re introduced to a possible candidate for favourite new character in the figure of Prince Oberyn of Dorne, who arrives on the scene ready to get his sex on and stab some Lannisters – the makings of a truly great GoT character.  In one of the episode’s best scenes, Oberyn not-so-subtly tells Tyrion that his visit to King’s Landing is not just to engage in further sexcapades at Joffrey’s imminent wedding. You see, Oberyn’s sister was married to Prince Rhaegar (Daenerys’s deceased older brother) and is pretty much confirmed to have been brutally raped and murdered by the Hound’s brother Ser Gregor “the Mountain” Clegane (welcome back to the convoluted family trees of Game of Thrones!). Basically, it sounds like Oberyn is out for some old-fashioned revenge, which should help make Joffrey and Margery’s wedding one of the wildest events of the season.

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Speaking of Margaery, we get a brief scene this week that touches back upon how Renly was murdered by Stannis, thanks to Brienne’s explanation of the matter. There’s not really much happening in this scene, but it’s always great to see Diana Rigg chew the scenery as Lady Olenna Tyrell. Here’s hoping we see a lot more from her this season.  Meanwhile, we get to catch up with Sansa Stark, who may just be the most tragic and unfortunate character on this show. Much has been written about her character, a naïve girl whose dreams of noble kingdoms and charming princes were shattered pretty much the instant she arrived in the cesspool of King’s Landing. Sansa has a lot more to be upset about this season, as she is grieving over her murdered mother and brother. Season three’s final episode covered the fallout of the Red Wedding pretty well, but Sansa’s scene reminds us that the effects of this event are long-reaching and permanent.  Tyrion tries to be the most stand-up husband he can be to a girl who understandably despises him, by admiring Catelyn and Robb as strong and noble individuals, but it falls on deaf ears. Sansa appears to have taken a page from her sister Arya’s book, having no more time or patience for forgiveness or understanding. She’s cold and dead inside, and nothing Tyrion says will do anything to change that. Plus, his family was responsible for the ruination of his wife’s, so it’s out of his control anyway.

Tyrion isn’t the only Lannister getting the cold shoulder from family members. Jaime, having returned from war and imprisonment minus a hand, is eager to ease back into his incestuous relationship with his sister Cersei. Unfortunately, Cersei has become even more of a hardened bitch since they last met, and can’t look past Jaime’s abandonment of her (her words, not his) or his physical deformity, neither of which are his fault, as he tries to explain. Adding to Jaime’s humiliation, his own bastard son/nephew King Joffrey spits all over his honour by pointing out how his heroic deeds pale in comparison to past members of the King’s Guard, not to mention that he doesn’t feel safe being protected by a one-handed knight past his prime. Jaime’s character arc remains one of the most intriguing, and frankly, amazing components of this show, as I’m sure viewers would never have predicted that the man who pushed an innocent boy out of a window in the first episode would become one of the best characters in an already stellar cast. Jaime’s scenes really underscore the great character depth on this show and it will be interesting to see whether his actions coincide or differ from the Lannister fold.

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There are a trio of storylines not set in King’s Landing that fill out the rest of the episode. Dany and her dragons return, and they’re a lot bigger and threatening this time out. In one of the episode’s standout scenes, Dany is cuddling with her lead dragon Drogon while the other two hover in the distance. Things get a bit tense once the dragons join together and fight over food, as Drogon snaps at Daenerys as she tries to calm him down. Ser Jorah comments that dragons are creatures that cannot be tamed, even by their mother. This is a quick scene that more or less just establishes that the dragons are growing (and that the CGI for this show is still quite impressive), but I think it definitely foreshadows that Dany is in for some trying times when it comes to handling her dragons. As one of her main sources of power, this cannot bode well for her future plans.

Also of note this week in Dany’s scenes is another example of the two swords motif, as Dany breaks up a sword-balancing duel between the mercenary Daario Nahariss and the loyal Unsullied leader Grey Worm. This one’s a bit harder to read into; both men are competing to be the one sword who accompanies their Queen at the front of the army, but as Dany explains, she already has two swords with her in the form of Ser Barristan Selmy and Ser Jorah.  This scene is perhaps not as significant as the earlier one with Ned’s sword, but still interesting. Dany’s story closes out this week with her march on the slave city of Meereen, where she encounters the corpse of a young slave girl posted on the road in defiance.. She is informed that there is one of these bodies every mile on the road to the city, and in typical Dany fashion, she tells her men that she wants to look into the eyes of every dead slave they pass. If her past encounters with slavers are any indication, Daenerys is definitely not going to play nice with the rulers of Meereen once she gets there.

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The scenes set in the North this week do little to advance the plot, besides confirming that Jon Snow faces opposition among Castle Black’s defenders, suggesting that the inevitable battle between the Night’s Watch and the Wildlings will be complicated by inner turmoil among the Watch’s members. Ygritte returns for a brief scene with Tormund Giantsbane, who surmises that Ygritte deliberately let Jon Snow live. I think that was kind of obvious, but it’s still good to receive confirmation on that point. Also, some northern cannibals join up with them! These guys look like they could be trouble for both the Night’s Watch and the other Wildlings, as they seem wilder (sorry!) than the rest of the bunch. We’ll see how they fit into everything in the coming weeks.

An extended scene featuring Arya and the Hound closes out the episode, and to be honest, prior to this scene I was prepared to write off “Two Swords” as merely a good Game of Thrones episode. Historically, every scene that features either Arya or the Hound has been a winner, so it really didn’t surprise me that their storyline pushes this episode into ‘great’ territory. In yet another callback to Season Two, Arya spots Polliver, a soldier under the command of the Mountain who stole her sword ‘Needle’ and killed her friend Lommy with it (how great was it when the Hound commented that only cunts name their swords?). What follows is the Game of Thrones equivalent of a Western saloon stand-off, as the conversation between the Hound and Polliver gets increasingly hostile and more likely to erupt in bloodshed. Naturally, violence is imminent once the Hound utters ,“Fuck the King”, which might just be the line of the episode. What follows is one of the best and most gruesome fight scenes in recent memory on this show; the Hound butchers Polliver’s men (with one unfortunate guy becoming a victim of repeated eye-gougings from an upturned dagger, which surely must be a nod to the Joker’s pencil trick in The Dark Knight), and Arya gets to brutally dispatch the man who stole her sword and friend. It’s interesting to note how practically witnessing the murders of her mother and brother has pushed Arya over the edge into not only exacting revenge on her enemies, but revelling in their suffering too. Don’t get me wrong; Arya’s kill is totally badass and justified, as she kills Polliver in the same way that he did to Lommy. However, Arya’s completely stone-faced execution is rather terrifying because of its lack of feeling, suggesting that Arya has no feeling left. It’s easy to see why, and she remains one of the best characters in the series, but it’s difficult not to worry that she may go too far in her quest for revenge so as to be indistinguishable from the terrible people she wants to kill.

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Arya and the Hound’s story this week also prominently features the motif of two swords, this time represented in how each character differs in their attitudes towards weapons. The Hound sees a sword as just a tool to get a job done; the best sword is the one that gives you the best chance of not ending up dead. On the other end of the spectrum is Arya, who is willing to endanger both of their lives in order to retrieve her ‘Needle’, the sword Jon Snow gave to her the last time they saw each other. For Arya, her sword is literally the only tangible item that still links her to her family, which makes it more than just a tool to her. So, maybe I jumped the gun a bit in my analysis of Arya, as in this case she resorts to brutality in order to obtain something precious – an item that reconnects her to her family and her past. Then again, Arya probably would have snuffed out ol’ Polliver even if he hadn’t stolen her sword, so maybe I’m right about her after all. We’ll have to see how her story develops this season to find out.

Random Notes:

-Charles Dance is still killing it as Tywin Lannister. We receive confirmation that he treats all three of his children like shit, as he undermines Jaime’s abilities as a swordsmen and his desire to remain in the Kingsguard. Always great stuff from Tywin, and can’t wait to see more from him this season

-Boobies return! As much as I am a fan of the female body, I involuntarily eyeroll every time there’s a sexy scene on this show. It’s really not needed. I don’t think the nudity hurts the show, but it doesn’t elevate it in anyway either. Oh well, can’t do much about this one.

-Nice touch hearing that Lannister man singing the Rains of Castermere, which the more observant viewer will note is the song that played before Robb and Catelyn met their bloody ends last season. Great reinforcement of the significance of the Houses and their traditions in this show.

-Shae is still annoying. She’s jealous and dumb, and Tyrion should really just get rid of her before she causes him too much trouble. Of course, it looks like it’s already too late for that, as Cersei’s spy sees her leaving Tyrion’s room. Poor Tyrion.

-Return of Ser Dontos from season 2 – Sansa has a friend!

-The Hound’s not a thief – a man’s gotta have a code, after all.

 

Overall, this was a great episode that did a pretty good job of setting up the conflicts that will play out this season. While “Two Swords” is guilty of the Game of Thrones cliché of trying to cover too many characters and storylines in one sitting, there are enough standout moments to elevate the episode as a whole. As usual for this series, I think we’re in for a treat this year. Welcome back Game of Thrones, we’ve missed you.

Grade: A-

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