Game Of Thrones 4.01 “Two Swords” REVIEW

Game Of Thrones “Two Swords” review

“It’s as good as a real hand – and worth a lot more on the open market.” 

 

 

Episode 4.01
Writers: 
David Benioff and DB Weiss
Director: DB Weiss

THE ONE WHERE
With two weeks to go until Joffrey and Margaery’s wedding, the infamous Red Viper arrives in King’s Landing, Jon Snow tells the elders of Castle Black what happened on the other side of the Wall, Jaime readjusts to life the capital, Tormund and Ygritte have an unwanted guest for dinner, Daenerys makes her way to slave city Meereen, and Arya and the Hound get into a bar brawl…

VERDICT
Season premieres haven’t always been Game Of Thrones’ forte. Traditionally they’ve creaked under the weight of getting all those plot lines in motion again, but “Two Swords” picks up where the brilliant season three left off – both in terms of story and quality, as the repercussions of the Red Wedding are felt on both sides.

As ever, the episode makes little concession for casual viewers, but if you have been paying attention to one of the most complex shows on TV (and done your revision), you’re rewarded with a thoroughly engrossing tour around the key players in Westeros. And what it lacks in all-out action – until the closing scenes, at least – is more than made up for by the show’s trademark verbal sparring. As the show’s evolved, the dialogue’s become sparkier, wittier and further from Tolkien, and this episode (by series creators David Benioff and DB Weiss) shows its characters off to the full

In King’s Landing, the main focus is Jaime, back in town with a new golden hand after returning from his grand tour of Westeros. From shallow, flashy beginnings – a throwaway line about Jaime taunting Ned Stark in season one is a reminder of how much he’s changed – Tywin’s number one son has become one of the show’s most complex characters. Indeed, there’s something rather tragic about the way his family doubt the potential of a 40-year-old, one-handed knight to serve in the King’s Guard, while he makes hollow boasts about his left-handed sword skills. Even Cersei – his main reason for staying in town – seems to doubt her brother/lover. His scene with Brienne – arguably his closest friend in King’s Landing – is great too.

There’s also the small matter of the arrival of Prince Oberyn Martell, aka the Red Viper. He only needs a few minutes to establish himself as one of the key players of “the game”, owning a pair of Lannister soldiers, before telling Tyrion that he’s not just in town to see Joffrey getting hitched – at last, it seems, there may be someone who can instigate some Lannister comeuppance. Those guys have had it their own way far too long.

Elsewhere, Tormund makes it clear that he believes Ygritte had no intention of killing Jon Snow, while Jon himself struggles to convince the senior partners of the Night’s Watch that his behaviour north of the Wall was entirely (well, mostly) above board. Thank the old gods and the new for Maester Aemon, then, for giving him the benefit of the doubt.

Across the Narrow Sea, Daenerys continues her march to free slaves to join her army, but has the added complication of romantic advances from Daario Naharis, and her dragons entering a difficult teenage phase – when they answer back you know about it.

But the best segment belongs to Arya and the Hound, who have a brilliant face off with a group of the King’s Men in a tavern. It’s a brilliantly choreographed fight, but more importantly the scene is funny (the Hound hoovers up some of the episode’s best lines), brutal, and reveals how ruthless Arya has become. There’s a real twinkle in her eye when she realises something’s about to kick off, while the way she clinically executes soldiers shows that she’s not at all squeamish. The prize for the duo’s exploits? Plenty of chicken, a horse for Arya – and she’s finally got Needle back. Job well done.

NEWBIES
This week’s most prominent newcomer is Prince Oberyn Martell (Pedro Pascal), aka the Red Viper. The Dornishman is the brother of Elia, the late wife of Rhaegar Targaryen (heir to the Mad King Aerys, and older brother of Viserys and Daenerys). Oberyn blames Tywin Lannister for the murder of Elia and her daughters, and has revenge on his mind – Lannisters aren’t the only ones who pay their debts, apparently.

He’s joined in King’s Landing by his lover Ellaria Sand (Torchwood and Luther‘s Indira Varma), who appears to have similarly voracious appetites in the bedroom.

And speaking of appetites, “Two Swords” also marks the first appearance of Styr, the Magnar of the Thenn (Joseph Gatt). He’s one of Mance Rayder’s Wildling lieutenants, and he and his followers are rather partial to human flesh, it seems. Nice.

He looks more like the “Orange Viper” to us.

RECASTING
Dutch actor Michiel Huisman takes over from Ed Skrein as Daenerys’s sellsword recruit Daario Naharis, and the jury’s out on the change so far – though, to be fair, he hasn’t really had enough time to make the role his own yet. We do know, however, that Huisman has previously appeared in Treme and Nashville (what’s the odds he does some singing in Game Of Thrones?), and will soon be seen in the second season of Orphan Black (you can read more about that in the current issue of SFX).

THE SWORD
Unless we’re very much mistaken, the “absurdly large” Valyrian steel sword Tywin uses to forge those two smaller swords belonged to Robb Stark – that would tally with the wolfskin sheath, and Tywin’s remark that the previous owner “no longer had need of it”.

[CORRECTION] As many of you have pointed out, the sword Tywin melts down is actually Ice, Ned Stark’s old sword (and the sword that was used to remove his head).

PREVIOUSLY SEEN IN… 
The knight turned “fool” who comes to see Sansa in the woods is Dontos Hollard, who turned up drunk to a tournament in season two episode “The North Remembers”. When Joffrey ordered his guards to force feed him wine (likely to death), Sansa stepped in to save him.

ABSENT FRIENDS
Notable absentees from the episode include Varys, Littlefinger, Stannis, Davos, Melisandre, Gendry, Theon, Ramsay, Bran, Jojen, Meera and Hodor. Wonder how many have got invites to the upcoming Purple Wedding…

BEST LINE (EDITED)
The best line arguably belongs to The Hound, when he expresses his feelings about people who name their swords. Alas, it’s not repeatable here, so here’s a couple of others…

BEST LINE 1
Oberyn:
“You know why all the world hates a Lannister? You think your gold and your lions and your gold lions make you better than everyone. May I tell you a secret? You’re not a golden lion. You’re just a pink little man who’s far too slow on the draw.”

BEST LINE 2
Oberyn:
 ”What are you, his hired killer?”
Bron: “It started out that way, aye. Now I’m a knight.”
Oberyn: “How did that come to pass?”
Bron: “Killed the right people, I suppose.”

Richard Edwards

Game Of Thrones airs on Sunday nights on HBO in the US, and Monday nights at 9pm on Sky Atlantic in the UK. Read more about Game Of Thrones in the current issue of SFX, and in the SFX Fantasy Special Edition, also on sale now.

Read our Game Of Thrones season three reviews, or watch our sister mag Total Film‘s weekly video reviews of season four episodes:

 

“I know it’s distressing, but in the ’70s, tables like this were fashionable.”