Trying something a little different for the next few weeks. I'll be posting a recap of Game of Thrones episodes after they've aired. Since I work Sunday nights, the recaps won't go up until Monday morning.
April has arrived and with it comes a new season of Game of Thrones. It’s been just under a year since the last episode aired. The images from the Red Wedding are still haunting some fans of the show. The landscape of Westeros has changed and it will not be the same story it once was. This, as the old adage goes, is where the plot thickens.
“Two Swords”, the premiere episode of season 4 starts off with a wordless scene. A greatsword is unsheathed from a wolf scabbard. Keen-eyed fans recognize it from season 1 as Ice, the ancestral Valyrian Steel blade of House Stark. Tywin Lannister, everyone’s favorite abusive father, oversees a pair of smiths as they melt down the steel and begin crafting two new blades. The final moment is Tywin tossing the wolf scabbard into the forge to burn.
This opening is how to convey story through images. Dialogue will always be the hallmark of television and film but it is still a visual medium. The opening scene of Ice being reforged symbolizes the ascendancy of the Lannisters as the dominant House in Westeros as well as the proverbial nail in the coffin of House Stark. For three seasons, we’ve watched as the Lannisters and Starks have built their animosities. In a traditional story, that conflict would have been the focus of the show, with the Starks winning in the end.
Game of Thrones isn’t that kind of show.
The destruction of Ice is the destruction of House Stark’s legacy, at least in the eyes of Tywin. The haunting melodic version of the “Rains of Castemere” playing in the background highlights this scene as a perceivable victory for the Lannisters. Climbing to the top does mean the fall is more deadly than ever.
The interplay between Jaime and Tywin marks the first time the pair have been in the same room since midway through the first season. Tywin’s need to dominate the lives of his children is on full display in this scene. He expects his son to renounce his knighthood and become Lord of Casterly Rock. Tywin, as always, does not know his son well. He does not grasp that this Jaime before him with the missing hand is not the same Jaime that stood before him in a tent while Tywin gutted a stag (a wonderful bit of visual foreshadowing). Jaime’s refusal strikes Tywin as a queer statement. One would suspect that Tywin did not anticipate it coming. Just another example of his blindness to who his children really are. Tywin cutting Jaime out of the family is cold, even for such a magnificent bastard as Tywin.
Oberyn Martell. I’ve been waiting to see the Red Viper appear on screen since I read A Storm of Swords. His introduction establishes quickly the sort of man he is. Deeply passionate would be the best description. There’s nothing of the daintiness one sees in Loras Tyrell here. This is a man who knows his way around a bedroom and a weapon with equal poise. The scene involving the Lannister bannermen shows just how volatile his presence in the capital will be this season. It also served to establish Ellaria, his paramour, as both lover and counsel. She seems to be the only one who can speak sense to him but not always effectively from the looks of it.
Oberyn and Tyrion are similar in many ways. Both are second sons and do not have the ability to inherent. Both are well-known for their sexual appetites. And both of them bear little love for the Lannister family. Their scene together is masterfully played, with Oberyn displaying simmering fury while Tyrion is at a loss for words. Tyrion knows there is little he can say to sway Oberyn. For his part, Pedro Pascal allows the anguish over his sister’s death to be conveyed in his eyes, and there’s a moment or two where the mask falls away to reveal the pain he has carried for almost twenty years. Of all the Lannisters, Tyrion understands best what such a loss feels like.
Dany and her dragons are in an idyllic setting, peaceful for a change considering how she went on a rampage last season. The dragons are growing exponentially with each season, marking the passage of time better than any calendar. Dany is now beginning to get a sense of how dangerous her “children” are. While she is their “mother”, they are wild beasts. Their unpredictable nature matches the trials Dany will face this season. Meereen, the jewel of Slaver’s Bay, awaits her. The terrible mile markers, slaves crucified and pointing the way, are meant to frighten the young queen. Like Tywin, the Meereenese have greatly misunderstood what is coming their way. Emilia Clarke continues to shine as Dany, her steely expression filled with a mixture of contempt, wrath, and cold calculation.
I also found her scenes with Daario Naharis quite cute. As Barristen Selmy observes in one of the later books, Dany may be wise beyond her years and a powerful queen, but she still has a young woman’s heart. The handsome, daring Naharis is captivated by his queen. The switch in actors this season is not without notice but I think it is a vast improvement. Not to discount Ed Skrein but he was simply a pretty boy. Michael Huisman carries himself as man equally capable of cutting down an opponent as he is cutting through the walls surrounding Dany’s heart. Like Oberyn, he wears smoldering sexual power and lethal violence as easily as we would wear a shirt.
And then there’s Sansa, my least favorite character from the books. Sophie Turner has made me a fan of the character as presented on the television show, though. The weight of her family’s vile murder sits heavily upon her. Her description of Catelyn’s death is directly from the book, although it was not shown during the Red Wedding. Tyrion certainly does get the shit end of the stick, though. By trying to comfort his wife, he pushes away Shae. The scene in the godswood with Ser Dontos seems innocuous. By now, viewers of this show should know nothing is innocuous, especially in King’s Landing. That goes double for the dynamic between Shae and Tyrion, which is building to a blow-off few fans of the show will suspect. I won’t spoil that one but it is deeply satisfying.
Jaime’s other scenes show his displacement in the world quite eloquently. The passion he shared with Cersei has diminished, at least on her side. She has her lover back but he is not the same man, no longer a mirror image of herself. He is lesser in her eyes. The bitterness in her voice and the almost-reveal of her lack of fidelity sets the stage for what’s to come nicely. For the first time in her life, Cersei had power as Queen Regent but it was swiftly taken away by her father. There is something unraveling inside of Cersei, slowly coming from beneath that mask of disdain she generally carries around. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Gwendoline Christie still have wonderful chemistry together, with Brienne acting as Jaime’s conscience. His remark about them being related sounds like a jab but beneath it reveals the connection these two have developed.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Jon Snow. Jon’s tribunal is well-shot, with constant looks at Janos Slynt (who returns after his absence for almost two seasons) and Alliser Thorne (who reappears as well). Jon’s honor forbids him to not to reveal all his transgressions. Thorne and Slynt are obviously in cahoots. The scene marks a change in Jon, though. He holds his own against Thorne and Slynt, showing the backbone he developed among the Wildlings. Jon doesn’t know that Janos Slynt betrayed his father Ned. If he did, the scene would have played out much differently. It was a short but effective scene, establishing Jon as being on the outs with the leadership of the Night’s Watch.
Arya and the Hound still work well as a pair. The resentment of her predicament is clear on young Maisie Williams’ face. She wants nothing more than to kill the Hound but she’s smart enough to understand she won’t last long in this world without his protection. Her reacquisition of Needle, the gift Jon Snow gave her back in season one, allows the audience to see just how far into the darkness this child has gone. When she stabbed the stable boy in the first season, she was shocked and dismayed at what she had done. Now, with Polliver on his back, Arya plays with her prey, reciting his lines back at him. His recognition of who Arya is before dying is priceless and Maisie sells the scene exquisitely. This isn’t a little girl anymore. In her place is a calculating creature, capable of performing murder (justifiable though it may be) without batting an eyelash. The shot of the Hound and Arya riding into the burning Riverlands, into the chaos of the war is fitting as an ending. She is as much a part of the bloodshed as the Hound is now.
The next episode is titled “The Lion and the Rose”. Fans of the book series will call it the Purple Wedding. Don’t Google the phrase. Savor the moments in the next episode. We’ve been waiting almost four years to see them happen. The road forward in Westeros is much like the burning fields the Hound and Arya ride off into. The War of Five Kings may be all but over but dark days still wait ahead for the people of Westeros.
· Nice to see even some Wildlings have standards. Tormund might be willing to kill an old man but I doubt even he would stoop to cannibalism. The Thenns make an appearance finally, showing that among the Wildlings there are some truly nasty individuals.
· Brienne, the Queen of Thorns, and Margaery. Dame Diana Rigg is such a joy to watch. The quiet scene between Brienne and Margaery was a nice change of pace from the introductions made in this episode.
· Jack Gleeson has the most unappreciated part of the series. I’ve seen interviews with him and he appears to be one of the nicest, most well-spoken young men you’ll ever encounter. The fact that he plays such a complete monster so well is a demonstration of his talent. Personally, I wanted Jaime to reach out with that golden hand and wallop him one.