Game of Thrones Season 4 Episode One – ‘Two Swords’ review

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The phrase “eagerly anticipated” seems almost redundant when it comes to Game of Thrones. It’s been hard to escape the deluge of hype surrounding the season four premiere, which hit Australian screens last night.
Those wondering whether the show could raise the stakes of vaguely justifiable nudity, brutal graphic gore and cunning political manoeuvring, can surely rest assured.
The opening episode of season four, Two Swords, is a brilliantly paced kick-back into action. The series sometimes displays a tendency to become bogged down in its attempts to cover too many storylines at once, drip-feeding scenes inconsequential to the self-contained narrative of the episode.
Show-runners DB Weiss and David Benioff noted in the lead-up to this series that their approach to adapting the story had changed. Instead of creating a series simply reproduces the book, they are starting to adapt the world of Westeros as whole entity. If the intention is to replace the patchwork sequence of scenes that dominate earlier seasons, with more consistency, then Two Swords is a raging success.
There’s no attempt to check in with every series regular, a flaw of many previous installments (Bran, Stannis and Theon will have to wait their turn), with the action leaping off right from where we left last season.
The ripple effects of the Red Wedding continue to resonate across the lands of Westeros. The new political paradigm is made clear with the pre-credits sequence. Ice, the gigantic heirloom sword of the vanquished Stark clan, melted down by Lannister patriarch Tywin, the wolf pellet scabbard thrown unceremoniously onto the fire. Later, in a more amusing aside, Sansa strides by a golden statue of Joffrey, crossbow in hand, striding atop a pierced wolf.
But not everything looks rosy in the lead up the wedding of Joffrey and Maregary Tyrell. The new snake creeping into the King’s Landing den comes in the form of Prince of Dorne, Oberyn Martell, aka the Red Viper. Oberyn may present the greatest danger through his cocky spontaneity; eschewing the courtesies of formal greetings he wastes no time in heading straight to a brothel and procuring the prostitute’s procurer. Displaying an Inigo Montoya-esque passion for revenge, it sees the only thing he enjoys more than sex is hurting Lannisters.
In the north, the bare headed, gruff speaking fans of 80s cult horror film Hellraiser, the wilding clan the Thenns, arrive on the scene with a sack of ‘crow’ meat for good measure. The tension between the wildings underscores that while vastly superior in terms of numbers, they remain a loose coalition of long-term foes, held together by the fear of a far more menacing presence.
Across the Narrow Sea, Daenerys dragons are growing larger, hungrier and wilder. Posing a greater challenge to audience comprehension is Daario Naharis, Daenerys’ Fabio dead-ringer companion, who has gone through the ultimate makeover (actor Ed Skrein has been replaced with Treme’s Michiel Huisman). With this striking change in appearance comes a whole new set of tactics. Only a few episodes ago he was presenting Daenerys  with severed heads in her bathroom, now flowers atop a cliff with striking views are the modus operandi of Daario.
Several characters from the distant past, make comeback appearances to the show.
Jon Snow’s training tormentor Ser Alliser Thorne and kindly Maester Aemon Targaryean reappear for the first time since season one. Sitting next to them is Janos Slynt, the man who betrayed Ned Stark and was sent to the Wall by Tyrion in season two.
In Kings Landing, Ser Dontas, the knight turned fool whose life Sansa saved, stalks her through the godswood to handover a precious family necklace.
And of course the sadistic Lannister henchman Polliver crops up long enough to be crossed off Arya’s revenge list, appropriately in a manner similar to which he had previously disposed of one of Arya’s friends.
One of the enduring fascinations of Game of Thrones is how characters twist and turn in fan favouritism based upon the new perspectives we view them from. Jaime and the Hound were two men presented as antagonists in earlier seasons, only to later reveal hidden moral conflicts that make them endearingly appealing. Both are men who have realised the inherent contradictions of their society’s ideas of honour, duty and valour, instead forging their own codes to live by.
The odd couple of the pint-sized tomboy killer Arya and foul-mouthed Hound may be providing some of the greatest moment of dark comic relief presently (interspaced with blood speckled skirmishes), but the last shots of the two heading off into a burning desolate valley, is an ominous forecast of the path they’re taking.

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