The moment that geeks everywhere have been breathlessly awaiting has finally arrived. The Game of Thrones Season 4 premiere has now come and gone. After the crazy events of last season, is our favorite show going to be able to meet the high bar it has already raised? For those of us who read the books, we know that much more magically delicious drama is to come, but you won’t find any spoilers for future episodes from me– I’m just here to announce that the premiere episode, “Two Swords”, despite being mainly expository, thoroughly rocked.
We open with the melting down of the late Ned Stark’s mammoth Valyrian sword, Ice, and its reforging into a new piece gifted to Jaime Lannister by his father, Tywin. Tywin has an ulterior motive, of course: he wants Jaime to retire from the Kingsguard and go back to Casterley Rock, having little faith in his now one-handed son as a protector of the crown. Yeah, right. Jaime essentially tells Dad to piss off, he’s not going anywhere, and Tywin washes his hands of him. Speaking of hands, Cersei has had a new prosthetic one crafted for Jaime out of solid gold, but still can’t seem to find the old “brotherly” love with him (*giggle, snort*) or even let him touch her. After all the hardships Jaime endured to get back to his sister/lover, she coldly informs him he “took too long.” Ouch. That Cersei, always the life of the party! Meanwhile, Tyrion has been entrusted with escorting the newly arrived Prince of Dorne, Oberyn Martell, to King’s Landing for King Joffrey’s upcoming wedding celebration, but he finds Oberyn and his lover Ellaria Sand are already in town, cooking up a foursome in Littlefinger’s famous brothel and stirring up trouble with some minor Lannisters. There is no love lost between House Lannister and House Martell– Oberyn’s sister was the wife of the last crown prince of the Targaryens, and was murdered by Lannister bannerman Gregor Clegane during Robert’s Rebellion– and it looks like Prince Oberyn might be spoiling for revenge. As if that weren’t enough drama for Tyrion, his unwilling bride Sansa has understandably hit rock bottom following the murders of her mother and brother, and in this case misery doesn’t want company–she wants to be left alone. Tyrion’s mistress Shae is jealous of Tyrion’s attempts to comfort Sansa, but he turns down her seductive moves. Brienne and Jaime butt heads about his promise to release the Stark daughters upon his return to King’s Landing, which he helpfully points out is impossible since Arya is missing and presumed dead and now Sansa is his brother’s wife. Sansa is approached by Ser Dontos, the knight whose life she spared from Joffrey’s wrath way back when she was still engaged to the nasty little weasel, and he gifts her with a jeweled necklace. (A side note to ASOIAF readers– is this necklace going to stand in for the jeweled hair net? I wonder…)
Approaching the next slaver empire she intends to conquer and liberate, we find Daenerys enjoying some downtime with her dragons, who are growing ever bigger and more unpredictable, causing even Dany to be a little afraid of them. A new actor, Michiel Huisman, is now portraying Daario Naharis, thank GOD, since last season’s He-Man wannabe was woefully miscast and won’t be missed; the newcomer has far more chemistry with Emilia Clarke as Dany, evidenced by their flirtation over some local flora– Ser Jorah must be gnashing his teeth and looking baleful somewhere close by. As Dany and company begin the march to Meereen, they are met by a gruesome sight– a crucified slave has been placed at every mile marker on her path to the city (talk about a major “Up yours!”). Rather than taking this as the warning it was obviously meant to be, Dany is instead filled with anger and resolve, demanding to see each dead slave’s face before they are taken down and buried. Did I mention there were 163 of them? That’s 163 more reasons for Dany to go Dracarys on Meereen’s collective kiester when she gets there… a prospect I’m definitely looking forward to. The Mother of Dragons in ass-kicking mode is a force like no other.
We’re treated to some northerly angst in the form of Ygritte angrily fletching arrows and refusing to talk about Jon Snow, whom she ventilated with a few arrows as he made his way back to Castle Black last season. The wildling raiding party is joined by some creepy bald cannibals, and Jon Snow, mostly recovered from his ex’s longbow attack, finds the time to grieve for his murdered brother in his stoic Jon Snow way before coming to trial for his actions beyond the wall, namely for killing Qhorin Halfhand and breaking his vows of celibacy with wildling Ygritte. Maester Aemon spares his life, believing in Jon’s reasonings and loyalty.
We touch base with the King’s Landing set again as Margaery and her grandmother prepare for the wedding and Joffrey insults Jaime over his lack of a hand and lack of great deeds in the history of the Kingsguard, before joining Arya and the Hound on the road. Arya is tired of riding the same horse with the Hound and wants her own, which the Hound informs her is out of the question, since she will certainly flee and he won’t collect the sweet ransom money he hopes to get out of her loony Aunt Lysa at the Aerie. They come upon an inn and the jerkass who captured Arya and her friends back in Season Two, Polliver. Arya sees he still has her sword, Needle, which he stole from her at her capture, and wants revenge for his killing her friend Lommy with a stab to the throat. Polliver tries to suck up to the Hound, who’s having none of it, and mayhem ensues. Once Polliver is down and defeated, Arya takes back her sword, taunting Polliver with the very words he said to Lommy before she calmly skewers him in the throat just as he had done to her friend. Cut to Arya and the Hound riding away together, Arya finally on her own horse… and fade to credits.
This episode was all the stuff I love most about GOT— the greatest strength of this sprawling world is its characters, both as they were originally imagined by George R.R. Martin and as they are brought to life by their respective actors. My favorites have always been Clarke as Daenerys and Maisie Williams as Arya, but they are currently joined by Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as Jaime and Rory McCann as the Hound. Jaime’s journey has been particularly interesting, as he has evolved from the arrogant attempted-child-murderer of Season One to the maimed, conflicted, and ultimately sympathetic character of tonight’s episode. Jaime has learned a lot, and Coster-Waldau’s world-weary performance has given the Kingslayer a humanity that a lesser actor could not have accomplished. McCann has the even less savory task of making the Hound– an actual child-murderer with highly suspect motivations– an appealing and yes, FUN character to watch. He and Williams are a crack team. They play off of each other effortlessly, two very dark characters with very different M.O.’s, who somehow each bring out the best bad (and highly watchable) traits in the other. If tonight’s episode is any indicator, this season is shaping up to be a stellar one.