Game of Thrones: 401 “Two Swords” Review
Reviewed by Thomas Firth.
After a year-long wait for the fourth season, I think many of us were relieved to hear those oh-so familiar notes as the credits rolled in for this season’s premiere! As with previous opening episodes we are given a symbolic pre-titles scene. The prologue is unique, with a first glimpse in a while of Ned Stark’s famous greatsword, Ice, which is melted down and made into two new swords of the same powerful material: Valyrian Steel! With an impressive directing style and Charles Dance’s watchful gaze, we are given a very symbolic remake of a Stark massacre as a wolf carcass is burnt upon the fire. Atmospheric indeed, but, more importantly, it also reminds us that winning is only an answer if you hold power and wealth.
Following the brutal ending to Season 3, it was important that the first chapter of the new series slowly pulled us back into George R. R. Martin’s world. As usual, the writing combination of Benioff and Weiss unveiled a tightly-scripted masterpiece, which is as easy as chocolate cake to enjoy. But, of course, there’s no easy way of eating the cake, and there are always some niggles to pick up on.
For instance, the opening scenes are too mild, and perhaps, as we swing across to Oberyn Martell’s point-of-view, those of us who have not read the books, will feel a little detached from the Game of Thrones we once knew. But all that quickly dissipates as we begin to understand the true extent of Pedro Pascal’s character. He is evidently confident (he’s in King’s Landing to have revenge on the Lannisters), ruthless (he stabs a dagger through a Lannister soldier’s hand) and already wields a reputation (choosing prostitutes before he’s even welcomed to the city). All these characteristics will come in handy as we develop a liking or a disliking to his character over the next season. A daring introduction by the head writers, but I believe it was handled well.
The one area that seemed entirely negligible, almost, was Daenerys Targaryen’s story in Slaver’s Bay. Despite the fact that we received a reintroduction to the now adolescent dragons, her discussion with [new] Daario Naharis was weak and unfulfilled. But, I must be honest, the horrific display of the crucified child came as a realistic backslap to me, as we are reminded that while Thrones is a fantasy, some elements are quite close to historical truth.
The best scenes in this episode were undoubtedly Giantsbane meeting the detested Thenn, and the Hound and Arya’s display of revenge in the final moments. It’s interesting to see how this plan of Mance’s pans out, and with Jon’s sudden exchange back to the Night’s Watch means it could be in jeopardy. But Styr appears to be a dominating opponent, with his determination to destroy the men of the Night’s Watch emphasised by the detached arm being spit-roasted on the fire. The shining moment for this new chapter, however, went to Arya’s depiction of revenge in the final scene. In a clever concoction of humour, violence and bad language, we see a new and exciting side to Arya’s character. Following the death of both her parents and a brother, soon her list of names she is targeting will be overwhelming. But she crosses off a few (including the Hound), as she neatly cripples Polliver and recites the same words he said to Lommy not two seasons ago. This is definitely a coming of age for Arya and as she gains an ally in the Hound a horse of her own and her Needle (her bespoke sword); there’s no doubt she’ll be a sparkling character in future episodes and the strong female lead, which makes this show universally appealing.
Looking back at the episode in a retrospective view, we can see that the show has matured again from Season 1. Predominantly, visual aspects have improved from the time when we were gawking at the forest scene as Will, Grenn and Ser Waymar Royce find themselves in amidst some ancient creatures who want every one of their kind dead – not three seasons ago. Now we have giant dragons, impressive scenery and some wonderful views through our television screens. But, when referring to maturing, I’m also considering the confidence that the show has to portray those minor scenes of dialogue between characters. For example, the scene between Ser Dontos Hollard and Sansa Stark, who’s small encounter is not only intriguing. but clever as well. The knight’s contribution to Sansa’s jewellery has given her hope in her dark times of sorrow. And that’s what she needs to pull through this next season.
Overall, Game of Thrones remains as strong as Valyrian Steel! Whilst there are a few weak aspects to this opening episode, the rest is a delightful variety of storylines to develop to satisfy everyone’s tastes. Consequently, it succeeded in drawing us slowly back into Martin’s world and while a quarter of the main characters didn’t appear, it still stood out strongly. We were promised a foreshadowing, and whilst nothing truly epic has unfolded yet, I’m sure these early flames will develop into the familiar Game of Thrones conflagration.