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Saturday, April 12, 2014

"Swords" Abound As GAME OF THRONES Returns

Article first written for Seat42F.

GAME OF THRONES has more than “Two Swords” in the season four opener, which aired last night on HBO. The first episode back is one with references to the past, bring back faces we haven’t seen in a long while, often people viewers may not have taken much note of before, popping up at unexpected times. This is combined with a number of stories of our familiar characters picking up the pieces after last year’s major tragedies, and it makes for an enticing new beginning for this batch of installments.

Starting with the Starks, Arya (Maisie Williams) is still traveling with The Hound (Rory McCann), but he has little respect for her, refusing even to let her have her own horse. A run-in with Polliver (Andy Kellegher), who stole Arya’s sword, Needle, and murdered her friend, changes that as Arya practically forces The Hound into a fight, then even scores a couple of kills herself, including one with her now-recovered blade. As a reward, The Hound gets her a pony.

This is a side of Arya we haven’t seen really developed yet, and begins to move her in a new direction. Her stubbornness and bravery have been noted in the past, of course, but here we see how she can take a life without regret as she begins to remove names from her vengeance list. I wouldn’t call her cold, but neither is she warm. This will definitely play into Arya’s future, assuring the fans that all is not lost for her, even after most of her family has been taken from this world.

Sansa (Sophie Turner) isn’t nearly as strong as her sister Arya, and takes losing her mother and brother, on top of the other deaths she’s mourned, very poorly. No one can get her to eat, and she sinks into depression. But then Dontos (Tony Way), a man whose life she saved, gifts her a necklace, and that elicits a smile. Is this a sign she’ll be able to go on with her life, or merely a brief respite from her dark thoughts?

Sansa may have protectors she doesn’t even know about. Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) is quick to remind Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) of his oath to return the Stark girls to their mother. Jaime is exasperated, since Arya is missing and presumed dead, and the woman he made the promise, too, is deceased as well. Yet, Brienne presses him, and if there’s one thing Jaime takes seriously these days, it’s his duty. As well as not disappointing Brienne, whom he respects.

Duty may be all Jaime has to cling to. His sister, Cersei (Lena Headey), has lost interest in him since he lost his hand. His father, Tywin (Charles Dance), makes Jaime a new sword (from Ned Stark’s, a pretty cool sequence in of itself), but then wants to send him home to Casterly Rock. Jaime, feeling adrift, clings to his position in the King’s Guard, refusing his father. It’s really nice to see Jaime soften and become so likable after a rough start on the series, and now he’s earning his own fans. Brienne has made him better. If Jaime is this committed to his professional duty, hopefully he will at least honor the spirit of his promise to Sansa’s mother, too.

It’s funny to see Jaime outside of the personal politics of the Lannister clan since the rest of them are constantly at war with one another. Cersei may have an edge on Tyrion (Peter Dinklage), now that one of her spies seems to know something about the imp’s relationship with Shae (Sibel Kekilli). While Tyrion is shown to be a good person, especially in how he treats his wife, he’s also feeling the pressure of events, which he vents out to Shae, not to mention during the hilarious scene where the Dorne party snubs him. In a family this dysfunctional, it’s interesting to see Jaime emerge as a balanced, normal, compassionate individual and protector.

Speaking of Dorne, “Two Swords” introduces us to two of that kingdom’s leading family, Prince Oberyn (Pedro Pascal, Graceland, The Adjustment Bureau) and Ellaria Sand (Indira Varma, Silk, Luther). They enter with a splash, grabbing a man and woman at the brothel to have some fun with, stabbing a Lannister in the hand, and Oberyn is up front with telling Tyrion he’s come to King’s Landing for revenge. It’s not clear exactly how these two will shift the story, but they seem to be serious players who will be shaking things up. Given how entertaining their early moments are, that’s good news.
At The Wall, Jon Snow (Kit Harington) faces justice for breaking his oaths to the Night’s Watch. At first, it looks like be punished, possibly even executed, but Maester Aemon (Peter Vaughan) steps in and absolves him. Still, while Jon may be off the hook for now, the fact that the current leadership seem to have it out for him cannot be a good sign. How can he get them ready to defend against an imminent attack if they don’t trust him? And will he need to keep watching his own back while trying to protect the realm?

This attack will definitely be coming, as the Thenns join Ygritte (Rose Leslie) and Tormund Giantsbane (Kristofer Hivju) to prepare for war. Unlike the two wildlings Snow traveled with, though, the Thenns appear to be scary and brutal and enjoy the taste of flesh, at least if it comes from a man of the Night’s Watch. While it’s hard to believe these are friends of Ygritte and Tormund, who are reasonable individuals, I guess all is fair in war, and they all follow the same leader. So Castle Black better prepare for some very heavy conflict.

Finally, across he narrow sea, Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) is marching her troops towards Mereen, which seems more prepared for them than the other slaver cities, leaving a dozens of grisly warnings. Dany doesn’t seem too worried, and given her success rate, I’m not sure she should be concerned about outside enemies. Within her own camp, though, her dragons have gotten bigger and more unruly, which likely will definitely present her with issues going forward. Is it about time she start riding them, reining in their animalistic impulses for her own mission? And who might join her on a dragon back?

A likely choice may be Daario (Michiel Huisman, who unfortunately looks nothing at all like the previous actor playing the role). Daario oversteps a bit in his interactions with his queen, but always plays it off without crossing a line. Berely. Daenerys, for her part, seems receptive to his flirtatious charms, so one can only assume that love is in the air. If her protective advisors allow it, of course. Though I have the feeling Dany wouldn’t let them tell her what to do, which means Daario has the potential to cause friction in the ranks, thus making him just as dangerous as the dragons themselves.

It’s impossible to do a short GAME OF THRONES review because of the sprawling cast. What’s impressive, though, is how well each of these various players are served, with even more that didn’t make it into this episode. The individual personalities are extremely well-defined, with a talented cast backing them up. There isn’t a weak link among the group, so as the story jumps from place to place, I don’t have a preference for which person it gets to next, knowing whatever it is will be great. “Two Swords” is yet another fine example of this, with no weak point in it (other than re-casting Daario without even trying to match the look, though I like the new actor).

GAME OF THRONES airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.

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