Saturday, April 12, 2014

Game of Thrones (S4E01): "Two Swords"

Episode 1 of Season 4 of Game of Thrones is titled "Two Swords." It aired last Sunday while I was in Washington, D.C. for a business trip so I didn't get to see the episode until Wednesday night and since I was out of town I was extra busy at work for the rest of the week when I returned. So it has taken me this long to blog about my thoughts about the return of my favorite television show for its fourth season. Many others have already posted their thoughts, with this episode universally getting high marks as the best "first" episode of the show's first four seasons. I will endeavor to be more disciplined in blogging my thoughts about the other nine remaining episodes of this season, starting with tomorrow's "The Lion and the Rose."

S4E01 is titled "Two Swords" and the episode is framed by our view of two swords of great significance to the story. The first sword we see is the destruction of the Stark clan's famous sword "Ice" being melted down for its priceless Valyrian steel by Tywin Lannister, sealing what he thinks is the ultimate victory of The Lion over The Wolf. The last sword we see is Arya Stark regaining her weapon "Needle" after a murderous and bloody fight in a tavern somewhere in the Riverlands with The Hound, who is ostensibly her kidnaper but also appears to be becoming a kind of substitute father figure, or at the very least someone whose behavior she is starting to emulate.

In between these two important scenes, we become reacquainted with most of the major characters in this vast cast, from Cersei and Jaime Lannister (siblings and incestuous lovers), Tyrion Lannister and Sansa Lannister nee Stark, Joffrey Barratheon and his fiancee Margaery Tyrell, her grandmother Lady Olenna Tyrell and Brienne of Tarth. In the North by the Wall we see Jon Snow and his friend Samwell Tarly and the Wildings Ygritte and Tormund Giantsbane with a gathering of cannibalistic mountain dudes called Thenns. Far off on the continent of Essos we see Dany Targaryen with her army of eunuchs and now pony-sized dragons trying to fend off the flirtations of Daario Naharis.

The most important event which happens in this episode is the introduction of a new character, Ser Oberyn Martell, who we learn through some artful exposition masquerading as typical dialogue, is the second son of the King of Highgarden (the Royal Seat of Dorne, one of the seven Kingdoms of Westeros). Oberyn is introduced interviewing potential bedmates for him and his paramour at Littlefinger's whorehouse and his bisexuality is revealed quite matter-of-factly. Another important aspect of Oberyn, his all-consuming hatred of Lannisters, especially Tywin Lannister is also demonstrated in the brothel when he verbally spars and tortures to unnamed Lannisters. The Lannister second son (Tyrion) and the Martell second son (Oberyn) have an important meeting that clarifies how they will relate to each other in the future.

There were many highlights of this episode
  • Jaime's Got A New Look. Jaime Lannister is beginning to cope with the reality of having his dominant right hand removed, and he has a gold prosthetic attached. However, the highlight is really his new haircut, which makes Nikolai Coster-Waldau look even hotter.
  • Oh Oberyn! As people who have read the books know, Oberyn Martell is a very important figure, especially to Tyrion, and it is exciting to see him on stage. It's funny that Bronn (and others) joke about the curious sexual habits of Dornishmen (How many Dornishmen does it take to f*** a goat?) in the same episode we see the Dornish Prince basically buy a male and female whore for his entertainment.
  • The Hound Is Hungry. The droll way that Sandor Clegane (The Hound) provokes the idiot in the tavern by telling him that he wants him to bring him a chicken (then two chickens) was scary and funny at the same time. 
  • Tywin Is A Bad Daddy. Charles Dance is doing Emmy-award winning work on this show but has yet to be recognized. His last line to Jaime "A one-handed man with no family needs all the help he can get" could be interpreted as a critique of Jaime's curious bachelorhood at age 40 and as a disinheritance.
  • There Be Dragons! The special effects on the dragons are incredible. In the short scene we see that they will snap at each other and their "mother" when distracted by food. After all, they are wild animals. But they look incredible.

Not very many low-lights in this episode.  The only one I think worth mentioning is:
  • New Daario SameAs The Old Daario. Daario is supposed to be one of the most handsome men on the continent of Essos and incredibly attractive to Dany. Even though they have now re-cast the character, it seems to me that they still have not quite successfully embodied the character as I remember it from the books.

Grade: 8/10 (B).
Overall, I thought S4E01 was pretty good start to Season 4, which may even surpass Season 3 for epic moments that occur in the ongoing adaptation of George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire.

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