TV Review: "Game of Thrones" 4x01: "Two Swords"

If you’re me and you’ve been following this blog for a while, you’ll probably know that I’m a gigantic fan of both the “A Song of Iceand Fire” books, and the HBO adaptation “Game of Thrones”. I don’t think in all my time writing reviews, I had ever written reviews for TV show episodes, but this is a good a time as any to start. I really believe (or rather, know) this is going to be the best season in the series.

So, the reviews will be divided in two parts. First, the bulk of the review, will be my spoiler free thoughts on the episode as it stands, without polluting my opinion as someone who’s read the books. The second part, however, will be observations and theories that will include book/tv show spoilers. Unless you’ve read at the very least “A Storm of Swords”. But just to be safe, don’t read those unless you’ve finished all the books. Either way, spoilers will be color coded for safety, according to the last book you read:

Green will be spoilers for “A Storm of Swords”.
Red will be spoilers for “A Feast for Crows”.
White will be spoilers for “A Dance with Dragons”.

The colors of the paperback books! Simple enough. Let’s get to it!

Watch as Foreign Sun Person redefines "condescending".
It’s a bit hard for me to understate the excitement I got when I finally got to see the theme song begin playing, showing the new locations in the opening (loved the Dreadfort animation). This is the only show I can watch weekly without ever being disappointed or wanting it to end. Add the year-long wait and the fact that “A Storm of Swords”, and especially the last segment which this season covers, are by far the best part of the series. The excitement was high.

Naturally I very much enjoyed the episode, even if some minor choices made by D & D didn’t really jive with me. There was a lot of stuff that was made pretty much exactly as I expected it to be done, and a lot that blew me away—so much so that it’s easy for it to outweigh the stuff I didn’t like. I’ll start with that.

The Magnar of Thenn. Reading the books, it was always the Wall storyline I had the most trouble reading (wait no, it’s Dany’s; it’s always Dany’s) because for every Tormund and Mance, there are a bunch of less interestingly badass characters, and this dude was one of them. He was never a character I liked,  but this show has made me love a lot of characters I didn’t care about in the book (Ygritte, Margaery, Renly, et al). He wasn’t in the episode much, but I didn’t like what he was. The “cannibal” thing was uncharacteristically blunt for this show, and I can only think of another instance when they beat us over the head with a reveal (Selyse’s children in season 3 being the other one). I didn’t like the dude’s over the top acting and dialogue, and I didn’t like the makeup.

I certainly didn’t like how they made Tormund look like a puppy. He’s fucking Tormund! The baddest of the bad!

That's right, Dany. Don't get too comfortable.
The other issue I had is that I’m not entirely sure I like what they’re doing with Shae. Her story with Tyrion should be very interesting, but there were moments in the episode when, again, I felt like I was being beaten in the face with character development that seemed too obvious and would be more at place in lower-tier TV. It was very minor, but it did bother me for a moment.

As always, it’s Dany’s scenes which make me want to fast-forward. Well, no, not really. She’s a million times more interesting that she was in the books, and I’m glad the show writers are giving her some material, because Martin didn’t for too many pages. The new Daario is way better than the last one, and it’s always great to see Barristan and Jorah on screen because they’re just the baddest characters. However, after that first scene that establishes the dragons beginning to become unruly as they mature (oh ho ho boy!), Dany’s scenes felt like filler featuring everyone’s favorite Khaleesi. Which is what they are, really.

Onwards to the good stuff! With the exception of the first, the season premieres are generally a bit of an establishing shot without too much going on. I feel like season finales and the following premieres are “chip shuffling” episodes wherein not a whole lot of things happen, and this one wasn’t the exception. After a year it’s important for us to remember stances and relationships while introducing new characters. Oh and the new player of course is Oberyn Martell, one of my favorite characters in the books and holy shit did they nail the casting.

Pedro Pascal makes a fundamentally interesting character impossibly charming and just bleeds personality. Ellaria Sand was also great, but Oberyn stole the scene they were in. Also, I know it wasn’t very subtle but the way they established how much he hates Lannisters and how few fucks he has to give was awesome. The people I watched it with who hadn’t read the books gasped when they heard his story. The build-up to you-know-what scene hit the ground running.

Stick a chainsaw in there and forget this iceberg, Jaime.
Jon Snow was a pleasant surprise too. For the first time in the entire show he’s appeared to be a man and no longer the emo kid with the perpetual Natalie-Portman-in-Black-Swan eyes. I’m glad they’re finally starting to gear this guy into a badass; who would’ve known that a couple of arrows in the ass was what would take to make him a man. Kit Harrington finally grew into his character and improved his acting by far. Now that's brooding.

The scene in the Wall was short but great. I’m glad to see Jon react to Robb’s death (and oddly no word of Cat’s death) and reveal a little about his true feelings towards his half-brother. I also love what little dialogue Sam had this episode. Sam is a severely underrated character and I hope to see him shine this season. It was very efficient.

And speaking of efficient, I really like how this show economizes scenes. We finally get to see Jaime and the White Book, a bit that had many layers in the book. In here, they used it to fill many purposes, including giving us a bit of the mythology of King’s Landing and the Kingsguard. I don’t think Ser Arthur Dayne had been mentioned before.

Jaime doe. He gets a scene with every important Lannister except Tyrion, and they managed to expand so much on his relationships with his family members. Well, relationship or lack thereof. It’s easy to forget that Jaime’s been away since halfway through season one! The only one he really has left, apparently, is Brienne. I don’t need to talk about Brienne, really. You can’t not love Brienne. I’m so glad they respected her relationship with Jaime. They have a lot of chemistry together, and it’s great to see them so far away from where they were last season. A quick mention to Charles Dance who continues to transform a character that in the books was no more than a huge prick into an extremely intimidating figure. I think I double Tywin’s size but I would never ever want to confront that man. Holy shit.

Will you guys sign my petition to make the "Hound And Arya
Murder Team" spinoff, please?
Finally we come to The Hound and Arya. The Hound is by far my favorite character in the books, and his arc with Arya is, maybe, my favorite segment. Let me tell you something, if you didn’t read the books: they’re doing an even better job with these two. Looks like D & D got the positive reception their last scene in last season got and decided to kick it up a notch. What they’re doing with these two, like the presence of Talisa in the Red Wedding, is another very good example of how the writers are two steps ahead of everyone, even the ones who have read the books (I know that might sound like a spoiler but trust me, it’s not).

This fight at the Inn was dimensional and served too many purposes, not the least of which being making The Hound a more endearing character, moving Arya along in her own story arc, giving us all a bit of a laugh (“What the fuck is a Lommy?”), and ending the episode with everyone cheering. The Hound/Arya arc is an eons-old dynamic, but I’m glad to see it appear as fresh for once. The Hound is the monster with a heart of gold you’re learning to love, and Arya is . . . well, Arya Stark. I know amongst all the crazy badassness it’s easy to forget that she is just a child. There is a duality to this badassness, and seeing a once innocent girl become a cold-blooded killer like her monstrous companion is also pretty tragic. How she killed Polliver was brutal as fuck, almost hard to watch even for “Game of Thrones” standards. Almost as brutal as the eye stab.

Overall, with the exception of one of the new players and some blunt foreshadowing, this is probably the strongest season opener, which is great because this is probably the strongest season in the show. If you haven’t read the books, you can be sure shit will hit the fan like no shit has ever hit no fan.

It's clear that D & D are aware that a lot of the show's fans read the books between seasons 3 and 4. A lot of changes here seem to be there on purpose to keep book readers guessing.

Reader Observations:
  • It took me ages to put two and two together about The Strangler in the necklace Ser Dontos gives to Sansa. When I saw Olenna talking about jewlery, that's where I was expecting it.
  • I have absolutely no idea what Cersei meant when she said "You took too long." What the hell is she up to? 
  • As a Hound fan, I cannot tell you how anxious I was during the fight at the Inn. "I'm not ready for this! This isn't supposed to be happening yet!" I'm still trying to avoid the tiny bit of fear that Hound got hurt and is just hiding it. He would do that.
  • Which makes me wonder what the hell they're planning to do with the Hound. I sincerely hope he sticks around for a while and that his bittersweet sendoff happens like it did in the book. I really don't want Arya to straight up kill him like she threatened him last season.
  • I don't expect Arya will get to Braavos until the season finale, so her plot with the Hound is anyone's guess at this point.
  • Not a whole lot of Joffrey but there was enough of him to make everyone hate him a little bit more. I can't wait to see Twitter explode next week. For every tear of pain shed for the Red Wedding, there will be a tear of joy for the Purple Wedding.
  • How long will it take for the wildlings to attack the Wall? I'm counting the days Ygritte has left. I wonder if they're going to wait and kill her during the big attack in episode 9. Again, anyone's guess.
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About The Damn Beast

Pre-op trans-minotaur, sci-fi/fantasy/horror author, metal singer, videogame journalist, pop culture blogger. I also lift heavy things and put them down again repeatedly to occupy more space.
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  1. It's funny. Seems like everyone in America was either watching this or Wrestlemania.