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Game of Thrones, Ep. 4.01: “Two Swords” just enough to sustain us through long periods of exposition

Game of Thrones, Ep. 4.01: “Two Swords” just enough to sustain us through long periods of exposition

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Game of Thrones, Season 4, Episode 1: “Two Swords”
Written by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss
Directed by D.B. Weiss
Airs Sundays at 9pm ET on HBO

As per usual, kindly avoid revealing future book spoilers in the comments.

“Two Swords” isn’t necessarily the most explosive season opener, but it is smartly bookended around two blades belonging to the Starks, beginning on the death of Ice and ending on the resurrection of Needle; the title, of course, evidently refers to the pair of blades Tywin has forged from Ned Stark’s enormous Valyrian steel sword. Ned Stark’s most prized weapon (and also the sword that took his head), Ice is melted down into two smaller blades, with one of them given to Jaime Lannister, now without his fighting hand. The mythology surrounding Valyrian steel is interesting in itself: it’s nearly indestructible and Ice is an heirloom that has been in the Stark family for four centuries. Then there is the final scene – in which Arya Stark regains possession of Needle, exacting vengeance for Lommy and crossing one of the names off of her list. It’s a fascinating closing scene, setting the stage for what seems like a season hellbent on bittersweet revenge. D.B. Weiss, directing his first episode of the show, does a fantastic job staging the bloody bar fight and showcasing just how dangerous The Hound really is. Considering how much the Starks have lost, this reckoning, although minor, feels large on an emotional level. In the end, Arya Stark keeps her promise, and she gets the pony that she’s always wanted.

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Tywin opens the season with a moment of great victory and with the weddings of Joffrey and Cersei on the horizon, the Lannisters’ power continues to grow. Under the banner of the lion, there are many who pose a threat, but it is the Lannisters themselves who are their own worst enemies. Jaime’s role within his father’s army and his relationship with his sister has changed dramatically since he’s been away. Tywin expects Jaime to rule over Casterly Rock, only Jaime would rather stay on the Kingsguard in order to stay close to Cersei. Unfortunately for him, Cersei has grown cold and tired of waiting for him to return and no longer desires his company. Tyrion, meanwhile, struggles to balance his relationship with Shae while married to Sansa. The fact that Tyrion has lost his sexual urge speaks volumes about his feelings towards both Sansa and Shae. And while Peter Dinklage doesn’t get much to do here, he does find time to deliver one of his cutesy lines: “I admired your mother. Sure, she tried to have me executed, but I admired her nevertheless.” And of course Joffrey is still a little shit, provoking and aggravating everyone who surrounds him, regardless of their relation or political status. But how great is it to see that statue of Joffrey standing triumphantly with his crossbow – and later watching him stand in a similar pose; his expression is priceless.

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With so many characters killed at the end of last season, there is now room to introduce a few more. Thanks to some sharp writing on the part of David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, “Two Swords” introduces four new faces, while carefully touching base with the majority of the already established fan favourites. Of the newcomers, the standout is clearly Prince Oberyn Martell of Dorne (Pedro Pascal), nicknamed The Red Viper. He is hands down the most promising new addition and he steals every scene he’s in. Apart from his sexual libido and smooth talk, his deep hatred for the Lannisters is what makes him most interesting. Not only does he despise the Lannisters for the rape and murder of his sister Elia (who was married to Prince Rhaegar Targaryen), he’s not afraid to show it – even in King’s Landing. And when we hear two men sing the Rains of Castamere, he’s quick to address the situation with complete and utter confidence. His presence is electric, and judging by his reputation, we should expect some big moments from him in the near future.

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“Two Swords” could benefit from trimming some expository dialogue, such as when Sansa feels the need to remind Tyrion (and us) just how her mother and brother died: “Do you know what they did to my brother? How they sewed his direwolf’s head to the body? And my mother? They say they cut her throat to the bone and threw her body in the river.” Unfortunately we already know all this, and while it is always good to check back in with certain characters, she takes up way too much valuable screentime this week. Do we care if she’s eating breakfast or not? Luckily Sansa gets her first truly great moment of the series when Dontos, whose life she saved back in season 2, shows up to thank her for her kindness and gives her a family heirloom to wear. The episodes of Game Of Thrones that focus on fewer characters tend to be the most successful. “Two Swords”, however, checks in on too many people, without feeling like we’re learning anything new. Tormund Giantsbane questions whether or not Ygritte actually aimed to kill Jon Snow (as if we didn’t know she purposely missed), and in Daenerys’ first scene of the season, she’s reminded that dragons cannot be tamed, in case that wasn’t already made clear. Speaking of Dany- when will we ever see her and her army reach their destination? Despite the disturbing knowledge of a dead slave being posted at every mile marker, all we get this week from her storyline is some half-baked romance between her and Daario (the role newly recast with Michel Huisman) and her dragons fighting for food. Luckily, between the unnecessary romance and the expository dialogue there is some much need black humour provided by Tyrion, the Hound, Jaime, Cersei and yes, Lady Olenna Tyrell.  

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The episode also introduces a few more key players. In the North, between The Wall and Winterfell, Giantsbane and Ygritte cross paths with the Thenns, led by Styr (Yuri Kolokoinikov). Meanwhile Jon Snow addresses the council at the Night’s Watch, as they put him on trial for breaking his vows and temporarily siding with their enemies. Snow, with the help of Maester Aemon, manages to escape punishment, but the council doesn’t seem willing to completely forgive nor forget his actions. Needless to say, the Night’s Watch, like King’s Landing, is ruled by greedy old men who put themselves first over everyone else. “Two Swords” sets the stage for the season to come, but makes the talky 60 minutes feel like a homework assignment; with a sharper narrative focus and a livelier sense of forward movement, this could have been a stand out entry. As is, “Two Swords” is subpar – which by Game of Thrones standards, is still pretty damn good.


– Ricky D

Other thoughts:

Arya and The Hound make the best pairing since Jaime and Brienne.

“The Lannisters aren’t the only ones who pay their debts.”

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

“If we beheaded every ranger who lay with a girl, the wall would be manned by headless men.”

Jaime gets a golden hand.

Since when is cannibalism en vouge? Hannibal, The Walking Dead and now Game of Thrones.

The Hound – “Fuck the King.”