WARNING: SPOILERS ARE COMING…
Season Four, Episode One: “Two Swords”
Written and Directed by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
It’s that time again. The welcoming party for this year’s return to Westeros is Tywin Lannister, but there are no streamers or champagne (lots of wine, though). There’s only a greatsword — Ned Stark’s greatsword, the one they used to behead him back in season one — glowing in the low light from a forge. With the help of a proper blacksmith, the blade — made of pure Valyrian steel — is melted down and recast to make two smaller swords. One of these weapons is given to Jaime Lannister as a gift from his father, and the other — well, we don’t know yet. But it doesn’t matter, really. These swords belong to the Lannisters now, and with them comes everything they symbolize.
The opening sequence to season four of Game of Thrones does a great job of summarizing the three seasons before it. The Lannisters have, with very few exceptions, owned the Starks, as troubling as that is. They’ve taken the lives of Ned, Robb, and Catelyn Stark, the legs of Bran Stark, and the innocence of Sansa and Arya Stark. The sword, an heirloom in the Stark family, was about all that was left to take.
Thankfully, at least if you’re in the group of people who want to see the Lannisters reap what they’ve sown, part one of season four introduces the possibility for justice. A new face rides into King’s Landing from the south. That face is Prince Oberyn Martell of Dorne (Pedro Pascal), who aims to the place of his brother, Doran Martell, at the Lannister-Tyrell royal wedding.
Oberyn’s not in town for even a day before he starts causing trouble. First it’s with a couple of Lannister soldiers in Littlefinger’s brothel, where he puts his knife through a man’s wrist and pins him to a table. Then, it’s in conversation with Tyrion Lannister as they walk the streets of King’s Landing. Oberyn, in a… friendly discussion with Tyrion, casually mentions that his sister was married to Rhaegar Targaryen, son of the Mad King Aerys. During the Sack of King’s Landing, Oberyn’s sister was brutally raped and murdered by Gregor Clegane (known as The Mountain), and Oberyn believes that Tywin Lannister is responsible for it. He seeks revenge. “Tell your father I’m here,” he tells Tyrion. “Tell him the Lannisters aren’t the only ones who pay their debts.” But, as we’ve learned from the first three seasons, words in Westeros often mean very little.
On the other side of the world, Daenerys Targaryen tends to her dragons. One rests its head in her lap while two more fly over the horizon in search of food. They’ve gotten bigger since the last time we saw them. Like, a lot bigger. Each one is at least twice her size now, and they seem more aggressive than ever before. She reaches out to pet one while it’s eating, and it snaps at her. “They’re dragons,” Jorah tells her. “They can never be tamed.” But these dragons are mostly responsible for how far she’s come. What happens if she can’t control them? Look for this to play a bigger role in the coming episodes.
Later on, Daenerys regroups with her army of Unsullied to begin the march to Meereen. Daario Naharis (played by Michiel Huisman, who replaced Ed Skrein from season three), Dany’s latest suitor and recent addition to her constantly-growing armed forces, does his best to court her with some fresh flowers. For some reason, it seems to work. His speech about strategy and learning the lay of the land earns a grin and a wink from the queen, and he skips on down the road with a song in his heart until they all run into what must be a warning sign to visitors of Meereen: the body of a young girl on a spike, pointing the way to the city. According to Jorah, there’s one for every mile until they reach Meereen. It’s gonna be a long walk, if that’s the case.
Up north, there’s Jon Snow, who’s cooped up in Castle Black recovering from a bad case of arrows-all-in-his-body. As soon as he’s up and moving, he’s brought before a council to answer for breaking his oath to the Night’s Watch, where he narrowly escapes execution — at least for now — by admitting to everything (even the stuff he totally doesn’t have to, like hooking up with Ygritte). He warns them of the coming assault by the Wildlings on Castle Black, who, by the way, are meeting up with another group of savages (they’re cannibals) in a place that isn’t too far away at the very same time. A few men want Jon dead, some others don’t, but, for now, his fate remains mostly undecided.
The Stark girls, for better or for worse, are right where we left them at the end of season three. Sansa is still (unhappily) married to Tyrion, and they still have yet to consummate their vows. This idea gets tabled, however, when it people realize that the girl refuses to even eat anymore. The deaths of her father, mother, and brother have numbed her, and any semblance of innocence left from when we first met her in season one is now gone. “I don’t pray anymore,” she tells Tyrion.
Arya, however, seems to be handling her grief in a very different way. She’s been traveling the Seven Kingdoms on horseback with The Hound. This is after making it to the Twins just in time to watch as her mother, brother, and most of his entire army are mercilessly slaughtered. The Hound claims again that his plans are to sell Arya back to a member her family, but I really doubt it — all of her relatives keep getting murdered, and I think he secretly enjoys the thought of being around a child who doesn’t shout orders at him or call him “dog” every few minutes.
Arya’s story arc is perhaps the saddest in all of Westeros to me, because it is by far the darkest. During their journey, she and The Hound stumble upon a local tavern where some Lannister guards are partaking, both of the ale and of a local girl in the tavern. Arya recognizes one as the man who stole her sword, “Needle,” and killed her friend back in season two. The conversations between the two parties are initially friendly, but they quickly end up in bloodshed. Arya gets two kills of her own — one of which is the man who took Needle from her years ago. She surprises him from behind, retrieves the blade, and then disposes of him in a way that is almost identical to how had he killed her friend before.
Normally, I’d cheer for this. By all accounts, that guy deserved a sword in his throat. He really did. But there’s a subtlety, not just in how she killed him, but in her eagerness to do it, that puts the brutality of this world on full display in a way we haven’t seen before, not even in the aftermath of the Red Wedding. Arya’s always had a penchant for sword fighting, but never for bloodlust. Not until recently. The development of this in her and her growing desire for revenge is definitely something to watch for. The smirk she flashes as she rides away from the tavern on her newly-acquired horse… There’s a creeping sense of satisfaction in it, and it’s chilling.
This season opener is primarily exposition — a necessary reintroduction to a rather large cast of characters and a bit of catching up. There are a lot of subtle moments of brilliance (especially the opening and closing sequences), but mostly what we got is a solid precursor to whatever is planned for the rest of the season — which is exactly what we needed.
There are a few notable absences in this first episode: No Littlefinger, Lord Varys, Stannis, or Bran. It’s almost guaranteed that we’ll touch base with them in episode two.
The relationship between Arya and The Hound is begging for comparisons to The Professional. It’s an interesting dynamic that neither character has really been in before and I’m interested to see how it plays out.
I’m undecided on how I feel about the recast of Daario Naharis. What’s odd is that he looks so different; his hair is much shorter and he has a beard. You’re telling me you couldn’t get the guy to shave? It’s only mildly distracting.
Now that they’ve gone and killed off pretty much any character on the show that could be considered “honorable,” guys like Tyrion and Jaime Lannister are starting to become more likeable. Tyrion’s always been entertaining, but now he seems genuinely sympathetic — especially toward Sansa.