Game Of Thrones season 4: Two Swords spoiler-free review

Review Louisa Mellor 26 Mar 2014 - 06:45

Two Swords is as good a season opener as Game Of Thrones has ever had. Here’s our spoiler-free review…

4.1 Two Swords

It spoils nothing to reveal that Game Of Thrones’ season 4 opener begins with an act of forging. The glossily directed, wordless sequence is typical of the series’ visual power, and a symbol of what showrunners David Benioff and DB Weiss have achieved by this point in their adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s A Song Of Ice And Fire. A weighty object is melted down, remoulded, hammered, and finessed into something new. Its forgers are experts in their craft, and their toil creates something magnificent from what once was; something handsome, deadly and legacy-making.

Two Swords, written and directed by showrunners David Benioff and D.B Weiss, is as good a season opener as Game Of Thrones has had. It’s a packed 58 minutes that still manages to devote ample time to its introductions and set pieces. We’re introduced to new characters - vipers and savages - and catch up with old ones, some newly reunited after seasons apart.

The newcomers are broadly drawn, admittedly, but subtlety and nuance has never been Game Of Thrones’ purview. Sex, violence, intrigue and world-building is where it continues to flourish. (Incidentally, the new face of Daario Naharis, Michael Huisman, fits in seamlessly and is a vast improvement on last season’s Tyroshi lothario.)

As you’d expect from any returning episode of a plot-heavy drama whose stories span centuries, there’s a fair amount of recapping going on, but in the mouths of characters like Tyrion and Cersei Lannister the exposition trips off the tongue. In the capable hands of Charles Dance, Diana Rigg, Lena Headey and Peter Dinklage, the dialogue whips along as it ever did.

A series of two and three-hander scenes with fan favourites quickly establishes this season’s rivalries and threats, capped off by an exhilaratingly bloody brawl and interspersed with lofty, vast shots of the Targaryen army across the narrow sea.

When it does epic scale, Game Of Thrones still looks like nothing else on television. It’s a triumph of investment; its creators have dug into HBO’s deep pockets to give audiences sweeping landscapes, convincing dragons, and armies thousands-strong. Wherever Weiss’ camera lingers in Two Swords, the resultant image could (and, knowing the size of the PR machine and fandom behind the series, likely will) be repackaged as a beautifully composed poster or digital wallpaper.

In its more contained moments too - a bar-room fight or a chase through the woods - the episode’s action and tension are well-honed, and the violence is as bloody as ever. However many slit throats and decapitated heads we’ve witnessed thus far in the Seven Kingdoms, there’s a death in Two Swords sure to make you audibly wince.

Humour too, is a strong suit for the series. Two Swords is sunnier and lighter-hearted than many Game Of Thrones episodes - necessarily so in light of what’s gone before and what’s on the horizon. There are visual gags, banter, and laugh-out-loud obscenities across the episode. After what fans were put through with The Rains Of Castamere, it’s only fitting that we’re given some laughter and triumph at this point.

It’s not only the fans still reeling from the Red Wedding. The events of last season’s ninth episode reverberate around Two Swords, just as previous season openers were shaken by the deaths of Ned Stark and the Battle of the Blackwater. 

Thematically, Two Swords is about retribution and legacy. Revenge is sought and reputations continue to be built. If season 4 is to be, as reports have suggested, the halfway point in Game Of Thrones, then this episode’s geographical expansion and trek into backstory is a recalibration that paves the way to the saga’s second half.

If seasons 1 to 3 were Game Of Thrones as molten steel melted from George R.R. Martin’s unwieldy source material into spluttering, explosive lava, then season 4 promises to be that steel reforged. Rather than see its blade dull with the passage of time, Game Of Thrones emerges stronger, brighter and every bit as sharp.

Game Of Thrones season 4 starts on HBO and Sky Atlantic on Sunday the 6th and Monday the 7th of April.

Read our spoiler-filled review of the season 3 finale, here.

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