Game of Thrones Season 4 Premiere – “Two Swords” Review & Synopsis
Every Game of Thrones season premiere consists in part of playing catch-up and season 4’s premiere, “Two Swords,” is no exception. In a show with so many characters and locations, it is necessary to remind the audience of who’s who and how they ended up where they are, both physically and in terms of plot. If you think of each season as a complete whole, this isn’t much of a problem. As a standalone episode, it’s not quite as satisfying.
The good news is that even a lesser episode of Game of Thrones, a contender for the coveted title of “best show on television,” is better than almost anything else you’ll watch. As usual, some character arcs are better executed than others. Arya and Hound, always crowd pleasers, get the best one. Watching the “Stark bitch” exact vengeance on Polliver with a newly reclaimed Needle is tremendously satisfying, providing a bit of a catharsis in a show where bad things seldom happen to bad people. The Hound’s interaction with Polliver is iconic and hilarious. Only in Game of Thrones does something as mundane as haggling over chicken lead to a brutal sword fight. What a way to build tension!
The King’s Landing scenes are solid, but not fantastic, loaded as they are with exposition and verbal flashbacks that the show has pulled off better on other occasions. Oberyn and Ellaria Sand’s introduction is a highlight, although their scene in the whorehouse exemplifies Game of Thrones’ infamous “sexposition” at its worst. It’s great to see Jaime and Tywin Lannister interact for the first time since season 1; the scene is emotional yet wonderfully understated and all the more effective for it. His reunion with Cersei is not as satisfying; the siblings both seem out of character. Jaime is too desperate and Cersei’s irrational anger at her brother is over the top, even by her own standards. Margaery and Lady Olenna Tyrell return in an inconsequential scene in which they discuss the former’s wedding attire. Lady Olenna’s needling of Brienne feels a bit out of character; the Tyrell matriarch has a sharp tongue, to be sure, but she is not a bully. The Margaery-Brienne pairing is intriguing for a multitude of reasons; whether it is consequential or a one-time affair remains to be seen.
I’ve never been crazy about Kit Harrington as an actor, but his scenes were some of the best in the episode. For the first time, Jon seems like a changed man, more quick-tempered and ragged in light of his recent experience going undercover with the Wildlings. In a hefty bit of exposition, he recounts his experiences before the leaders of the Night’s Watch. This time, the exposition is effective, highlighting Jon’s new demeanor and the personalities of Night’s Watch leaders whom casual viewers might have forgotten. Ygritte and Tormund Giantsbane make a fine return, meeting the cannibalistic Wildling known as Thens. The real highlight, however, is watching our key Wildlings come into their own as characters without Jon Snow at center stage. George R.R. Martin never revealed their precise whereabouts after Jon’s departure and it will be interesting to see where the showrunners take the plot. Oh, and a scene with Rose Leslie is never a bad scene.
And that leaves us with Daenarys Targaryen and her motley army. Aside from a clever sequence underlining the dragons’ emerging rebelliousness, this is the most disappointing part of the episode. The showrunners are best at portraying Daenarys when she has cities to burn, enemies to vanquish and rousing speeches to make. But, with the exception of a few scenes in season 1, they don’t seem to have a grasp of her character in the quieter moments. They choose to emphasize her relationship with Daario, never a fan favorite in the book, while underutilizing Barristan Selmy and Jorah Morment (who only get a handful of inconsequential lines). The former makes for an attractive, but one-dimensional “bad boy” suitor, while the latter are interesting characters with a lot of great book material to draw on. Game of Thrones has stumbled before when it comes to romance (Robb Stark’s relationship with Talisa being the prime example). It doesn’t help that the new Daario’s run-of-the-mill manliness is less striking than the old one’s slippery charm. Dany’s relationship with Daario is a necessary bit of character development, but hopefully it won’t crowd out other supporting characters with more to offer.
Game of Thrones got off to a solid if uneventful start, in line with prior seasons. A few classic scenes pop up amid a lot of necessary exposition, but for the most part “Two Swords” serves as a bookend to the past season that also sets the stage for some of season 4’s key narratives.