Game Of Thrones season 4 episode 1 review: Two Swords

Review Ron Hogan 7 Apr 2014 - 07:45

The Game Of Thrones season 4 opener introduces new threats and proves it's still a masterclass in staging on-screen violence...

This review contains spoilers. Our spoiler-free episode review is here.

4.1 Two Swords

With every visit to Westeros, there are new faces to learn, new characters to learn, and new relationships to figure out. Who swears fealty to whom? Who wants to kill who over what slight from ages past? Just what is Daenerys going to do with her army of ex-slaves, disgraced Westerosi, crabby teenage dragons, and three remaining Dothraki (remember them?) all the way over on the wrong side of the world?

Between characters dying, new characters joining the regular cast, and the occasional actor recasting between seasons, Game Of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have gotten really good at explaining, as entertainingly as possible, just who these new folks are and why we're supposed to care about them. Take, for example, the introduction of the Dornish Prince Oberyn Martell (Pedro Pascal) and his paramour Elleria Sand (Indira Varma). As Tyrion waits for them to arrive, he is told in no uncertain terms by the Dornish party that their Prince is already in King's Landing, and has been for some time, leaving Tyrion to track down the elusive royal.

Seamless cut to Prince Oberyn and Elleria hanging out at Littlefinger's brothel. They're perusing the wares and indulging in a little sexposition, which tells us pretty much all we need to know about Oberyn and Elleria: they're pan-sexual, always on the prowl, they get what they want, and after they hear a couple of Lannister guards singing The Rains Of Castamere a few rooms down in the brothel, we find out they really, really hate Lannisters (Oberyn goes into greater depth there when talking to Tyrion shortly after stabbing one of the Lannister men in the wrist, showing that he's great at both being a lover and a fighter). It turns out his sister Elia was the wife of Rhaegar Targaryen, the last dragon, and she was raped and killed alongside her children by everyone's favorite Mountain That Rides, Gregor Clegane.

It's a really great introduction for the characters from Benioff and Weiss, who wrote the episode, and Pedro Pascal's delivery is what really helps sell the lines more so than anything else. It has to be intimidating to walk onto the same set with an actor the calibre of Peter Dinklage, yet here we are. Pascal and Indira Varma more than hold their own with the rest of the folks of Westeros, and there's an unhinged mania behind the eyes of the Martell family that suggests that their thirst for vengeance against the Lannisters won't be sated with the blood of some underlings.

Speaking of blood, once again Game Of Thrones proves itself to be a masterclass of how to stage violence on screen. D.B. Weiss (along with Benioff, who directed the episode with him but doesn't get credit due to DGA rules) gets to take his seat in the big chair as the director of this episode, and it ends up paying off really well. He makes strong use of the show's big special effects budget by giving us some great scenes of the dragons fighting with one another over the corpse of a sheep (the dragons look better than ever), and he also manages to have some impressive crane shots in the process: Dany and her army on the march through the wastelands leading to Meereen and Arya and the Hound riding through a smoldering, charred hellscape that used to be Westeros.

However, the most stand-out element of the episode is the claustrophobic, impressively-staged sword fight between the Hound, Arya, and a collection of Lannister men, including Polliver (Andy Kellegher), the man who took Needle and put the spear to Lommy Greenhands. It manages to be both frenetic, tightly-shot, and well-executed all at the same time. Arya and the Hound together make a great odd couple for most of the episode, but it was the execution of the combat - the slow burn by Rory McCann as The Hound slowly loses his temper, the sound of the drinking and clattering cups, the screaming and squealing of servant girls being threatened, the way Arya takes her time as she slides Needle into Polliver's throat, repeating back to him word for word the things he said to Lommy before sticking him with a spear - that really pulls it all together and creates a satisfying moment, capped off with the little satisfied smile Arya has on her face as she rides onward with the Hound.

After the hiatus and the events of the Red Wedding, it's only natural that Game Of Thrones returns with the need to get on its feet and restock the show's rogues' gallery with creepy new Wildling threats like Styr, Magnar of Thenn (Yuriy Kolokolnikov) while returning some older faces Janos Slynt (Dominic Carter), Ser Dontos the drunk (Tony Way), and a recast version of Daario Naharis (Michiel Huisman). We don't get any mention of Bran and his fellow wanderers, but there's plenty of time for them to show back up before all is said and done. Better to stick with victorious Lannister clan and their sniping, Arya and the Hound's two-person comedy team, and awesome CGI dragons; these are the show's breakout characters, may as well lead off with strength and catch up with the rest later on.

Read Ron's review of the season three finale, Mhysa, here.

US Correspondent Ron Hogan is very pleased by the long-awaited return of Game of Thrones to television. It's been entirely too long since we've murdered alongside our Westeros friends. Find more by Ron daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.

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It's _Tony Way_ as Ser Dontos.

Fixed, thanks!

Sandor Clegane is The Hound, Gregor Clegane is the Mountain (and the one that Oberyn wants to kill).

I liked the previous Daario, this new guy is hella bland and corny. Daario is supposed to be a shitcunt but a cool one..

Gregor is the Mountain, not Sandor

I think I prefer this new Daario, the last one was just ridiculously pretty.
Overall a great start to the new series, and so wonderful to see Arya continuing her journey to the dark side. They made her wait a strangely long time to get involved in the fight though, I thought she'd step up and take out the guy who got face stabbed. Did anyone notice she took the water dancer pose to slice Polliver from behind first... nice.

Excellent episode - very satisfying from a book reader's POV to see how they integrate the new characters along with the old lore whilst moving the action forward.
The Hound was excellent, especially the way he dispatched with that guy in close combat.
Can't wait to see the rest of this series now as the first episode has kicked it off to an excellent start.

Excellent opening episode (although my Sky satellite signal decided to start breaking up during Oberyn's introduction scene). This is the most ballsy, confident start to a Game of Thrones season yet. I'm sure the quality and momentum will keep going through the series!

I thought there was a touch of Inigo Montoya about Prince Oberyn (not a bad thing) and Arya finally getting her revenge on Polliver was a satisfying conclusion to a great bar brawl. I wonder how far down this murderous path Arya will go? Some nice wince-inducing deaths too.

Its too bad that because of Benioff and Weiss's fan-fiction rewriting of the actual story by GRRM that somehow people think the Hound is always either seen eating, or out after some chow for some inexplicable reason and together with Arya "a comedy team"! Wth?? At least he had a great fight because he IS one of the best fighters in Westeros; Rory is a great actor but they dont have him playing the Hound with the real and constantlyly simmering rage within that he is known for; he doesnt DO "slow burn", ever...he is always burning and ready to fight in the ACTUAL story: also, he is a lot snappier and sarcastic in the books, on a par with Jaime in fact, although obviously rougher. Oh well. Arya is perfect, just perfect!
Daario...mehh. Though last one was too pretty boy and slick.
Ok Hollywood we get it: Oberyn is bisexual!!! At least in the books we arent distastefully bludgeoned with that fact by the more discreet Martin who wrote him that way but somehow manages to make it less eye-roll-worthy (as in, oh bother, THIS agenda again!)...for the majority of us at least.
Game of Boobs....yup. And what is WITH the contortionist whore acts??? In Season 3 we got an eyeful already. Wierd.
I think the actual story suffers from these wasteful-of-precious-airtime little fan fictions...but you know Hollywood. Ugh.
Dany is cool, but little was advanced there either.
Im kinda disappointed with how Martin let these people trample on his truly great series by creating this fan fiction(which he supposedly frowns upon elsewhere, ha!)...Dontos is only NOW by the 4th season appearing?? Wow.
Ho hum...by now I am just watching bc of Tyrion, Sansa, Arya, The Hound, Dany and Jaime. Jon is a flat character to me. Hope springs eternal that the writers will keep the annoying fluff and eye-rollingly bizarre stuff to a minimum(no more Pycelle with whores, please!!)

hah nice one. could not agree more i just watched watched this episode and was regularly pausing to scream corrections at it. fan fiction is a great term for a lot of the deviation they do in the show from the actual story. i do not think oberyn is a hopeless cause but i was not wowed, styr was pretty cool but i do not know why they are bothering with a wilding side story that will not last long anyway. god help us if the narrative is concluded by these writers and not beloved grrm

I liked the way they drew out Arya's intervention. Don't forget, it was only last season that she was screaming at the Brotherhood Without Banners to kill The Hound. Can't remember if he is on her kill list or not, but she certainly has reason to hate him for killing her friend the bakers boy.
Delaying her intervention in the fight seemed to show a calculating side to her character which meshes well with her revenge lust. She hates the Lannister men. She hates the Hound. But she saw she could use the Hound to help her achieve some of her kills

I agree it was the best opener yet. I think this might be down to the fact that the show picks up half way through book 3. This means that it has a lot less heavy lifting to do than the previous season premiers.

Agreed. He looks too much like the actor playing Oberyn. The last actor was a bit weird looking but kind of compelling - exactly as I imagined Daario Naharis to be.

I liked that too. The Hound is on Arya's kill list, but she's too small to take him on. Plus he's taking her home so for the moment, he's useful.

Yeah, agree with what you say about the Oberyn stuff. He's bisexual but we only see naked women and a naked contortionist at that. The pretty boy didn't have to get his kit off. It is a shame because for me it is the only eye-rolling moment in an otherwise fantastic show.
To be honest though, having read the books as well, I think Benioff and Weiss have done a pretty good adaptation of what is, let's face it, a long-winded meandering series. And they are planning on wrapping it up in 7 seasons so, stuff they're changing now may well mean something a bit further on.

I wonder how far down this murderous path Arya will go?

Judging by the content little smirk she sports in the closing scene, she's going all the way. Arya has found a new father.

Arya Stark and Tywin Lannister: the two scariest people in Westeros.

Thank you! A screen adaptation is just that: "adaptation". Some of my favourite bits were trimmed from LotR as well.

I'm led to believe that they are George R. R. Martin's favourite characters, which does mean that they've got a chance of surviving until the last book.

So far their "fan fiction" has improved on numerous aspects of the story.

Certain characters such as robb in the last season were far more developed which made certain events more shocking.

Dontos has been in it since the 2nd series

I think they're both pretty bad. The last one had the right amount of vanity and self-confidence but was too much of an oily prettyboy to really pull off the character. The new one is less grating but hasn't exactly had the chance to show off any strong personality yet. Neither of them seem to have the flamboyance and swagger that I picture Daario having, nor the wicked blue beard!

needs more penis

Funny how the show can dedicate time to allow the prostitutes to get fully naked, but as soon as the pimp starts to remove his clothes there's a convenient distraction!

The "pretty boy" got all his kit off last season. He played with Ser Loras as a spy with Littlefinger. From memory that scene was rather dark in lighting but there was enough to see everything the guy had.

The ACTUAL story huh? "Game of Thrones" and the books it's based on are entirely seperate properties. Sure, it's an "adaptation" but they're being quite free with it, so get over it. They're not going to make it the way you want. They're going to make it the way they want. It's laughable to see the amount of fanatics who debate endlessly on forums about which changes were good and which weren't, what changes are coming up, why this character shouldn't have been removed, why this actor isn't good at this character, blah blah blah. Don't they have anything better to do with their time? It's not the same story. For starters, it's not a book, it's a TV show. So there's the first fundamental difference. Labelling it as "fan fiction" is absolutely ridiculous, considering the budget and production values of the show, amongst other things. It might have the same general plotline and protagonists, but apart from that it's a different beast. Haven't you realised that by now?

exactly! not one, but TWO, sets of lady garden complete with chest muffins within the first 5 minutes. then when it comes to the male prostitute we get a nipple and then a convenient 'cut to graphic stabbing violence'. either stop with the gratuitous female nudity, or even the stakes a little. either gimme some cock, or else stop wafting unnecessary minge at me.

i mean "spy FOR Littlefinger"...my typing must have gone a bit queer as, folks.

I've got to say, "wafting unnecessary minge at the audience" is possibly the most concisely accurate description of Game of Thrones that I've ever heard.

I know just what you mean. I find myself "screaming corrections" every time I see a Picasso. If only he'd tried a bit harder, he could have got them to look much more accurate.

It is a funny thing, it seems to me, how people ascribe their own opinions to the "majority", without any reason to do so.

Go back and watch last season again then. The same "pimp" got naked and showed everything in a scene with Ser Loras. Am I the only one who recognises actors with small parts?

We want Ramsey Sno!
The boy's a star.

This episode was low key.....

he certainly did - in a few second darkened shot that needed to be paused at the right moment and significantly lightened in order to see the goods (there was a fab ass shot tho). certainly, there is a hint of knob in game of thrones from time to time, but you'd have much more success spotting the clitorati than the cockerazzi when it comes to un-enhanced viewing of each episode.

The previous guy reminded me of Fabio

I have to ask, was the 'small parts' intended as a pun?

I think the recast of Daario is poor, as the character has changed from smooth operating pretty boy to a much gruffer and less charming character.

That said it's early days and a very good first episode.

"small parts"

:hinhin:

One day your balls will drop and you will enter the exciting world of puberty. Til then STFU on matters sexual. Srsly. It's embarrassing.

Game of Thrones is catnip for sexually insecure little geeks. Who knew?

Couldn't agree more....this "new" Daario is lacking all the swagger & coolness of the previous version (for me the "original" Daario came across as a more lethal Han Solo!) I am just not buying this version as being a love interest for Daenerys.

Yes of course. Glad to see it was noticed...

I'm perfectly secure thank you. The ropes and boards see to that.

It was the show we love back in force. Brilliant television.
I did wonder though - The Dreadfort showed up in the title sequence but we didn't get any scenes there. Is that because it's now the new seat of the North and will get an honorary zoom-in for every episode?

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