Game of Thrones
Game of Thrones Season 4 Premiere Review - Catching You Up

Greg Tito | 7 Apr 2014 02:00
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There's a lot going on in HBO's epic fantasy series, and the first episode of the season four gets the plot back on track before the brutality.

If you haven't caught up with HBO's Game of Thrones show since the last episode aired in 2013, we've got you covered with a gif-by-gif recap here. Even if you don't need to click on our guide, show runners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss do a good job of filling in the audience as to what's happening in the many, many plots and subplots of the story. The premiere episode is called "Two Swords", and the silent cold open immediately shows you why with Tywin Lannister overseeing a blacksmith at work on ... you guessed it, two swords. From there, the episode's locations jump around from the capital to the Wall to what the Queen of Dragons is up to on the other side of the world. Notable characters like Littlefinger and Varys are missing from the King's Landing bits, but we did get a nice return from that jerk who killed a kid in season two - no, the other one ... no, the other one - and a very necessary recasting of the mercenary captain Daario Naharis .

You know, the guy who plopped the heads in front of Daenerys last season? You don't remember? I'll get to that in a second, but first ...


Be warned - Some spoiler-ey stuff might sneak its way into our recaps of season four of Game of Thrones, but we'll be sure to call all of that out as much as possible so your experience isn't ruined. Anything that's happened in the show so far is fair game - so if you haven't seen up to season three and you care about spoilers, you better stop reading now.

/end obligatory spoiler warning.


The episode title "Two Swords" refers to the blades Tywin Lannister has forged from the greatsword wielded by the late Lord Eddard Stark. As I said, the cold open - TV-speak for a scene that appears before the credits of a show - doesn't have any dialogue. All we see is the hot metal being poured into two molds, and the blacksmith banging on the blades to make them sharp once they've cooled. Tywin is overseeing the process with the smug expression Charles Dance always brings to the role. At the end of the sequence, Tywin takes a wolf's hide and throws it on the fire. He smiles.

SYMBOLISM.

The Starks of Winterfell have the direwolf as the sigil of their house. Last season, Tywin Lannister engaged in an elaborate conspiracy with Walder Frey and Roose Bolton to kill Robb Stark, his pregnant wife, and his mother Catelyn Stark in a horrible scene known as the Red Wedding. It was pretty much the worst thing to ever happen to characters you've grown to love, and the show was just as good as the books in shocking its audience right down to the core. In Game of Thrones, it wouldn't stylistically work to show all that violence again in a lame visual recap, so this cold open with the blacksmith and Tywin is the closest we're going to get to the show being like, "Hey? Remember? Tywin is a right asshole."

Not only did he kill the Young Wolf without ever defeating him in battle, but he also secured the loyalty of the North by naming Bolton as Lord and giving the Freys what they wanted most - revenge. By out-maneuvering both Stannis Baratheon and Robb Stark in seasons two and three, the Lannisters are now in a pretty good position to rule the Iron Throne for years to come. That should work out well for them.

The opening credits roll, and we see the same old map we've seen a few dozen times before. I always enjoyed how it explained the geography of the series - and the locations shown often change with where the action takes place in the episode. In this sequence, we pan across the sea to the city of Meereen, with its pyramids topped by statue of a harpy, and I couldn't help but groan. "We're going to be here a while, Khaleesi."

If you were wondering just what the whole two swords thing was all about, the next scene pretty much tells you straight out. Tywin gives a Valyrian steel blade to his eldest son and heir, Jaime Lannister. Neither of them flat out says it, but the sword taken from Eddard Stark at his beheading in season one has been melted down and reforged. "You've always wanted one," Jaime says to his father.

Not much is made of the named Valyrian steel swords in the show - naming your sword is a fantasy trope that's hard to get across when there's already too many names to remember for television watchers. With Valyria gone in a massive cataclysm - this world's Atlantis - there's a finite number of swords made with the magic and metallurgy of the ancients. Many of the houses of Westeros have treasured their Valyrian blades as a family heirloom passed to the eldest son; they are priceless. The Lannisters lost theirs long ago, and attempts to purchase a Valyrian sword from lesser houses with the vast riches they are famous for have been refused.

So not only has Tywin Lannister elevated his house to the Iron Throne and defeated his two main rivals through battle and cunning, but he also finally got a Valyrian blade to be passed down to the sons of Casterly Rock. Except ... Jaime doesn't play along. He refuses to be dismissed from the Kingsguard. Jaime changed in his travels with Brienne last season, not just by getting his hand cut off but by choosing to rescue her from the bear pit at Harrenhal. "You've heard what people call me," Jaime tells his father. "Kingslayer, Oathbreaker, man without honor. You want me to break another sacred vow?" Tywin says he can keep the sword, because he's not a part of the family anymore.

Jaime's smirk as he leaves the Hand's chambers is glorious. Standing up to Tywin is a sure way to get on the audience's good side, and Jaime cemented his transformation from villain in this scene. In many ways, he's the star of this episode - appearing in no less than three whole scenes! - and we'll see even more hints that this Jaime is not the same guy who pushed a kid out of a window in the pilot.

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