Opening with a bravely symbolic sequence involving Tywin Lannister melting down the Valyrian steel blade once belonging to Ned Stark to make two new swords (giving the episode its title), season four of ‘Game of Thrones’ promises not to shy away from the political (and quite literal) mess left in the wake of season three’s Red Wedding. If the re-purposing of ‘Ice’ for Lannister ends was too subtle for you, Tywin throws a wolf pelt onto the fire to drive the message home. Indeed, although Sunday night’s première may not shock like Bran’s fall from the Winterfell battlements nor thrill like Daenerys’ liberation of the Unsullied, ‘Two Swords’ (at a pace far more subdued than viewers of ‘Game of Thrones’ are used to) develops into a powerful and nuanced character-centric episode: character-driven at the expense (quite rightly!) of the action. Don’t get me wrong, ‘Two Swords’ is appropriately bloody, with an utterly riveting action sequence starring the Hound and Arya occurring near the end of the episode. But, all in all, characters in this episode are in a state of flux rather than activity. Jamie, Tyrion and Cersei struggle to come to terms with the changes forced upon them last season rather than driving the action relentlessly forward as we’re used to. Peter Dinklage as Tyrion in particular treats us to some first-class acting in his battle to patch-up his relations with his young bride, Sansa, after the brutal murder of her family at the hands of his father (Sophie Turner’s acting was remarkable for her unique blend of numb-shock and melancholy, incidentally).
Certainly, for a show famous for its blood, guts and breasts, ‘Game of Thrones’ refuses to succumb to the temptation to ram its first episode full of brainless battling and pointless plot developments. Instead, ‘Two Swords’ continues to subtly and masterfully develop the myriad of plot-lines which D.B. Weiss and David Benioff have to balance their own quiet, assured manner. Indeed, with some magnificently-phrased profanities from the Hound and some ominously sadistic smirks from Arya (coupled with their fearlessly bloody, squirm-inducing encounter with some Lannister goons), the character-development of this simultaneously moody and surprisingly funny ‘duo’ is definitely the highlight of the episode (and perhaps, at this rate, the entire season to come).
A particular challenge addressed in this episode is also how to introduce new characters and plot-threads, appearing, most obviously, in the form of the side-smiling, yellow-clad, Oberyn Martell (otherwise known as the ‘Red Viper’), and his smoulderingly beautiful ‘paramour’, Ellaria Sand. The explanation of Oberyn’s backstory was a little rushed, perhaps, given its emotional importance. However, within minutes of being on-screen, Oberyn lifted the pace with some bloody and erotic (not at the same time) antics at the brothel. Plus, Oberyn’s threatening reworking of the Lannisters’ vow to ‘pay their debts’ shows that his back-story did pack some hefty punch when it needed to. The appearance of Brienne with the Tyrells, although neither are new characters, was also a pace-enhancing sequence. With more girl-power than you can shake a stick at, the Tyrells and Brienne are a match made in Heaven…it just remains to be seen where their relationship will go.
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