Pop Culture Spin

Game of Thrones – ‘Two Swords’: Waiting, Steel, and Chicken

Brought to you by our friends at Talk Thrones.

[dropcap]F[/dropcap]or one of the most anticipated hours of television in over a year, “Two Swords”, the Game of Thrones Season 4 premiere, sure involves a lot of waiting.

The Hand of the King stews as one of the few living smiths capable of forging Valyrian steel turns one sword into two. The Master of Coin mills in anticipation of a prince of Dorne. An angry, vengeful prince awaits and welcomes any excuse to take the life of a Lannister (or at least the time it takes for a quick trip to the infirmary for excessive projectile wrist-bleeding). The Mother of Dragons finds two of her lieutenants actually playing the waiting game, while she herself can’t wait to get to Meereen. The Master of Coin’s fiance, to everyone around her’s dismay, can do nothing but wait to die, while his mistress, her handmaiden, is waiting for some affection, or at least the tenderness he offered to his wife-to-be. The most beautiful woman in the world and Queen Regent has been waiting for her brother-lover for too long, and now that he’s back he’s waiting on her consolation. And viewers of the show are waiting for this cruel joke of a Daario Naharis replacement to end. Soon. (More on this later.)

Yes, in a series predicated on sharp turns and unexpected death, all these characters and plot lines waited.

And it was glorious.

At the outset of its season premiere, Game of Thrones hasn’t progressed from the Season 3 finale chronologically for but a few weeks (as Jaime so handily points out in his wordy tussle with his sister), and geographically for however far an army of former slaves and a large man and young girl on a horse can travel in a few weeks’ time, respectively. Yet, somehow, so many characters that seemed to have been working their way uphill near the end of Season 3 have now peaked, and are facing downhill with momentum, ready to rip like dragon talons into a new season of betrayal, battle, and full-frontal nudity.

Arya has graduated from that goth freshman you knew in high school with a fetish for ancient weaponry to a full-fledged killer. Jon Snow has returned from his time beyond the wall and with the wildlings a hardened man, in more ways than one. Jaime, on the other hand, has returned home softer than when he left, in his own heart and in those of viewers. Brienne has found a landing spot her herself in King’s Landing, and has at least one rather powerful fan.

For those expecting major plot hammers to fall and fall hard for the season premiere, well, as Tyrion notes in the most repeatable line of the season’s trailer (as my friends are unfortunately finding out the hard way)…

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Perhaps, then, the biggest surprise of the episode wasn’t in the machinations of the characters, but in the minds of the show’s producers: a cold open. And, thanks to the unfazed, intent gaze of Tywin Lannister, it is a particularly frosty one. As he’d tell Jaime, Tywin summoned one of three smiths capable of forging Vlyrian steel (the best of the three, of course) to transform Ned Stark’s greatsword Ice into two more appropriately sized pieces, one for Jaime, and a smaller one, for either a young king or a dwarf … who are we kidding? Joffrey’s getting that steel. Still stained in blood, this is the same Ice that severed the first head of the series in Episode 1, that of the deserter, and would also be the blade that ends Ned’s life. It’s his blood being burned into new swords for Tywin’s sons.

Jaime, to no one’s surprise, rejects Tywin’s order to preside over Casterly Rock in his father’s stead. Not without his loving sister. Impressively, he reinstalls himself into the King’s Guard with little pushback from Tywin or his immensely powerful desk. But he’s not as successful at winning back the affections of his sister. Cersei tells Jaime he’s been away “too long,” which makes one wonder if those trysts with her cousin were more meaningful than they appeared to be, or if her irrationality is borne of the constrictions her father is placing her under, trapping her into a paranoid, bitter box. Or both.

After a few weeks back in King’s Landing, Jaime is starting to realize that not only does his family offer him little sympathy for his capture and subsequent misfortune, but, if anything, they resent him for it. “Busy getting captured,” Joffrey scoffs at his father, unbeknownst to the king, before reviling Jaime for his lack of noted good deeds in the apparently famous Book of Brothers. This after a season spent learning what sort of sacrifices the Kingslayer underwent to preserve the lives of thousands, including his family.

Tyrion and Bronn stand about in a forest to receive the first son of the Martells of Dorne. “Yellow balls?” the former sellsword says quizzically while he attempts to make out the arriving sigils. Tyrion informs Bronn of the bad blood between the Lannisters and Martells, which, deservedly so, warrants no reaction from the dwarf’s champion other than to suggest that Tyrion was sent for a reason: “In case the Martells of Dorne are looking to spill some Lannister blood … may as well be yours.

To which Tyrion rationalizes, “I happen to be an accomplished diplomat.”

When the party the Master of Coin is to greet arrives, even Tyrion’s opening statements hint that Tywin is behind the controls and happy to inform other houses of that fact. “Well met, my lords. His grace King Joffrey welcomes you in his name…. My lord father, the King’s Hand, sends his greetings as well.” When he’s informed that Prince Doran does not feel well enough to attend the royal wedding, Tyrion seems well aware of the danger this could spell. He also does well to track down Prince Oberyn, Doran’s brother and replacement, soon after to give him his formal greeting. After a few seconds of screen time for the prince, I don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest that his being found at an upscale whorehouse is anything but surprising.

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Daenerys sits on a rocky perch above a cool blue beach, the head of her largest dragon resting in her lap, eyes closed and welcoming its mother’s touch. Her two other children approach in the distance, looking like seagulls from afar before arriving, dwarfing any man and crashing its dinner, a Jurassic Park-style bloody goat, to the ground in front of Dany before all three dragons feed. A stray touch to the largest yields a snap of the neck and a hiss at the dragon’s mother, and she and we are reminded, before Jorah comes along to state the obvious to Dany (as has become his role) that “Dragons cannot be tamed, Khaleesi.”

Remember Daario Naharis? The dangerous, exotic, pragmatic sellsword that had Dany swooning at the sight of his former partners’ decapitated heads? He risked his life to provide the Khaleesi with the Second Sons army, and his progressive stance on lovemaking and slaves had thoroughly weakened her knees. But all that is gone now. Not the character—just the danger, the mystery, and the sexuality that formerly resided in the character. Actor Michiel Huisman has taken over for last season’s Ed Skrein, a regrettable replacement. Now, the lieutenant of the Second Sons is nothing more than a mild-mannered Shia LaBeouf impersonator, unable to intimidate any slave girl on the road to Meereen, and concerned more with flower arrangements than arriving at roll call on time.

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Sansa paces through King’s Landing in a depressed daze if she moves at all. She refuses to eat, against the pleading of Tyrion and Shae. Tyrion, in typical fashion disregarding his physical stature, acts as a man much larger than he, making every attempt to console his future wife, knowing neither of them could ever love one another. His appeal to her is genuine, speaking well of her fallen kin. But she can’t hear any of it, tossing back what would later be realized as a paltry attempt by excusing herself to the prayer ground.

“Of course, of course. Prayer can be helpful … I hear,” he offers.

“I don’t pray anymore … It’s the only place I can go where people don’t talk to me.” So neither of them pray, at least they have something in common.

[pullquote cite=”Sansa Stark” type=”left”]I don’t pray anymore … It’s the only place I can go where people don’t talk to me[/pullquote]

After months of me asking my friends “What in the seven hells are you doin’ with the Stark bitch?!” viewers are treated to the best budding relationship on the show, the Arya and the Hound Best Friends Murder Tour, for the final 10 minutes of the episode. While complaining that she needs her own horse to escape the Hound’s stench, the two come upon five King’s Guard. Arya presses the Hound and herself into a tavern so that she may get Needle, her trusty toothpick of a sword, back from the officer who killed her friend in front of her. A hearty conversation between Joffrey’s former body guard and Arya’s victim-to-be starts off friendly enough, but the threats continue to pile up, the most delightful being the Hound’s insistence that if the officers don’t cooperate, he’ll eat every damn chicken in the bar. This only minutes after the Hound told Arya that, not dissimilarly to The Wire’s Omar, “A man’s gotta have a code.” And his is that he’s not a thief. A killer, sure. But not a thief. Shockingly, it doesn’t end well for the five King’s Guard. It takes a bit longer for Arya to join the fray than I thought it would, but when she does she hardly disappoints, bashing one man over the head, then rendering her target immobile with a sword to the back of the legs, before recreating her friend’s murder, word for word, puncture for puncture.

Arya and the Hound exit the tavern in good health and better spirits. She gets her horse. And he gets his chicken.

OTHER NOTES

– Although no one else in the family garnered enough screen time for an entire HOUSE MARTELL heading, Prince Oberyn is at the forefront of badassery. Open, both with his sexuality and with his bloodthirsty intentions, he’s a refreshing turn from the norm of King’s Landing (refreshing for us, life-threatening for him). It seems he doesn’t have many friends in King’s Landing, but that likely won’t last long.

– Margaery Tyrell is warned by Lady Olenna not to joke about Joffrey’s grim tastes, even if just in front of her grandmother. A lot about Lady Olenna is a mystery, she doesn’t offer much into the hand she holds. Which only means the advice she actually offers up should not be ignored.

– Not seen: Bran, Theon/Reek, Ramsay, House Bolton, Stannis, Sir Davos, Varys, Littlefinger, Whitewalkers, and a whole mess of others.

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