TV review: Game of Thrones 4.1 — “Two Swords”

Game of Thrones Two SwordsIt’s pretty obvious why Game of Thrones showrunners and “Two Swords” writers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss saved the segment featuring Arya and The Hound for last. For starters, it’s the one bit of real action in season four’s kick-off hour, what with The Hound slamming dudes’ heads into the pointy end of a sword and Arya getting revenge for deeds that occurred several seasons back. There’s also the fact that after losing most of the Stark family at the end of season three courtesy of the Red Wedding, characters worth rooting for on the show are suddenly in short supply. Sure we all enjoy watching Jaime Lannister’s slick bastard of a swordsman, but we certainly don’t root for him, no matter how much sympathy the show has succeeded in working up for him. Arya, however, is someone all viewers can fully get behind, and her finally getting her own horse allowed the show to end on a feel-good moment, even if it was a small one.

The rest of the hour is largely devoted not to bloodshed, but to re-establishing where everyone stands as the new season begins. (Well, not everyone. Stannis and Bran both sit this week out.) Jaime is back at King’s Landing, all cleaned up and ready to go back to work defending the king and banging his sister. But he’s not welcomed home with the open arms he expected. Cersei rejects him, and his father Tywin treats him like he’s Tyrion. At least Brienne is around to needle him about remembering his oath to protect the Stark girls. Sansa is consumed with grief over her mother and brother’s murder. Tyrion’s still doing useless busywork at his father’s orders and trying to keep Shae calm about their current living situation. Jon Snow is back with the Night’s Watch, attempting to convince their governing council that the Wildlings are on the move in large numbers, preparing for an assault on Castle Black. Pretty much all of this amounts to resetting the game board for a brand new round and makes “Two Swords” feel very much like a season premiere that just wants to ease you back into this world.

We drop in with Daenerys this week too, and she’s busy doing … what she’s always doing: Marching off to some new location that has nothing to do with the rest of the show, presumably to cause mayhem, free slaves and recruit troops. There are two notable reveals here. One, her dragons are growing up big and strong, increasing their menace and, no doubt, the show’s CGI budget. Two, a brand new actor is playing her boy-toy Daario, and for some reason he neither looks nor acts anything like last season’s version of Daario. So it’s not just an actor change happening here. It’s as if the show has re-imagined the character from the ground up. Kind of an odd decision for a series this successful. (And, for the record, I liked the old Daario. He looked and acted like he stepped right off the cover of a cheap paperback fantasy novel, which helped the character stand out. The new guy looks like every other grizzled warrior on the show.)

There are also entirely new characters introduced this week, most predominantly Oberyn Martell (Pedro Pascal), who arrives at King’s Landing in the stead of his older brother to represent his House at King Joffrey’s impending wedding. It takes mere moments for him to find himself in a whorehouse, his blade pushed through the wrist of a lesser Lannister. This guy really, really doesn’t like Lannisters, what with his sister having been raped and murdered when the Lannisters raided King’s Landing and took the throne from the Targaryens. It seems reasonable to guess the Lannisters will end up regretting putting House Martell on the guest list.

“Two Swords” isn’t the most exciting episode Games of Thrones has ever put forth. Far from it. But I did enjoy the way it takes stock of all that has come before, beginning with a rather large “previously on segment,” which featured bits of each of the first three seasons, and then following that with an opening scene where Tywin melts down Ned Stark’s old sword to make two new ones. It’s like Benioff and Weiss wanted to remind us of everything that got us to this point — not just the still-fresh Red Wedding — before sending us down whatever horrific road this season will travel. It adds up to a solid, if unspectacular, opener.

A few more thoughts on “Two Swords” …

– “A one-handed man with no family needs all the help he can get.” Cold, Tywin. Very cold.

– We got to meet a new group of Wildlings this week. Ones that apparently carve their own faces all up so they sport bizarre, symmetrical facial scars. Even Ygritte’s posse seems wary of them, so you know they’re into some messed-up shit. Oh, like cannibalism!

– “Lots of people name their swords,” says Arya. “Lots of cunts,” replies The Hound. Sometimes I wish the show would be entirely about these two. And by “sometimes” I mean a lot of the time.