'Game of Thrones' Season 4 Premiere Review: "Two Swords"

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Game of Thrones’ season 4 conjures its first and premiere episode of the season, “Two Swords,” as Tyrion greets the vengeful Prince Oberyn Martell for Joffrey's wedding, while Jaime has difficulty adjusting to life back in Kings' Landing, Jon Snow prepares the Night's Watch, and Arya encounters an old friend.

Previous ‘Game of Thrones’ season finale “Mhysa” saw Kings’ Landing greeting the aftermath of the Red Wedding, while Bran made his way north with the help of Samwell Tarly, Davos defied Stannis Baratheon once more, and Daenerys awaited her reception at the conquered city of Yunkai. So, what does the season 4 premiere bring?

Read on for your in-depth recap of everything you need to know about ‘Game of Thrones’ season 4 debut, “Two Swords!”

Tywin Lannister watches as blacksmiths break down Ned Stark’s Valyrian steel blade Ice, reforging it into two smaller swords. Later, Tywin gives the first sword to Jaime, tasking him with leaving the Kingsguard and returning to Casterly Rock to rule in his stead, but Jaime insists on remaining true to his oath, despite his handicap. Just outside the city, Tyrion greets the arrival of several Dornish royalty guests to the wedding, learning the troubling news that Prince Oberyn Martell will be attending in place of his brother, and has already arrived to the city.

Prince Oberyn inspects several offerings at the brothel with his paramour Ellaria Sand, deciding on one woman and the male procurer for himself. Before long however, the sounds of a Lannister man singing “The Rains of Castamere” draws his attention, and Oberyn follows to trade barbs with the man over their respective houses. Oberyn stabs the man’s wrist just as Tyrion enters, insisting on formally greeting the prince. Outside, Oberyn relays that he was last in Kings’ Landing for the wedding of his sister Elia to Rhegar Targaryen, before she and her children were slaughtered by the Mountain in Tywin’s siege of the city. Reminding him that Lannisters aren’t the only ones who pay their debts, Oberyn asks that Tyrion tell Tywin of his arrival.

Daenerys watches her increasingly vicious dragons fight over a lamb, nearly attacking her as well, before finding Daario and Grey Worm testing their endurance for the honor of riding with her. Meanwhile in Kings’ Landing, Sansa Stark refuse to eat, even at Shae and her husband Tyrion’s insistence, still traumatized by the death of her family. Tyrion returns to his chambers to find Shae waiting for him, though Tyrion continually insists that it isn’t a good time to be together romantically, and that he has no true feelings for Sansa.

Maester Qyburn fits Jaime with a gold hand, before Jaime admits to staying with the Kingsguard to be close to Cersei. Cersei rejects his advances, noting that he left her alone for too long by his disappearance, just before one of Sansa’s handmaidens arrives with news overheard from Shae and Tyrion. Elsewhere, Tormund Giantsbane chides Ygritte for failing to kill Jon Snow, just before the vicious, bald and scarred Thenn tribe arrive to join forces. Their Magnar Styr menacingly puts aside his differences with Tormund to work together, noting how much better meat tastes south of the wall, and placing a human arm on the fire.

After Jon and Sam catch up, Jon faces the Night’s Watch council to defend his actions and the killing of Quorin Halfhand. Jon insists that Mance Rayder has amassed an army of 100,000 wildlings, while Maester Aemon stops the council from ordering Jon’s execution for his honesty. Meanwhile in Kings’ Landing, Brienne of Tarth interrupts an afternoon with Maergary and Olenna Tyrell, hoping to explain how a shadow of Stannis Baratheon killed Renly, not she herself. Elsewhere, Joffrey, Jaime and the Kingsguard plan the security at his wedding, Joffrey insisting that that they’ve successfully won the war, and taunting Jaime for his inability to protect anyone anymore.

Daario Naharis brings Daenerys flowers in the guise of teaching her about the land, before the Army stops by the sight of a young crucified slave. Ser Jorah points it out as a milemarker on the road to Mereen, one of 163 along the path, which Daenerys insists on seeing personally, and removing the collars before giving the slaves a proper burial. Back in Kings’ Landing, Brienne presses Jaime to uphold his vow and get Sansa Stark (now Lannister) to safety. Sansa meanwhile finds herself followed through the Godswood, before the pursuer reveals himself as the drunk Ser Dontos, who offers her an heirloom necklace for saving his life earlier, something Sansa happily accepts.

The Hound and Arya pass some dead bodies on the road as Arya laments the lack of her own horse, before the two spy a tavern in the distance. Arya recognizes Polliver outside the tavern, as well as her old sword Needle, and forces the Hound to accompany her inside. Polliver quickly recognizes the Hound, and friendlily invites the man to join them in their reign of terror over the countryside, now that Joffrey’s rule is absolute. The Hound curses Joffrey’s name, for which Polliver gathers his men, and begins a brutal brawl. The Hound succeeds in killing all but one, as Arya retrieves Needle and puts it through Polliver’s throat, in the same manner as he’d killed Lommy with it in the past. The pair leave the inn behind, Arya, now with her own horse.

OUR REVIEW:

‘Game of Thrones’ is an increasingly difficult show to review, at least outside the major event episodes, which a few years ago would surely have included a season premiere. Of course, with the future of HBO’s adaptation continually in question from seven seasons to eight, with two books not yet released, and major events like the Red Wedding behind us, it’s tough to get a sense of how a premiere might set up the season to come anyway. In the case of “Two Swords” at least, the ‘Game of Thrones’ we’ve come to know feels a bit old hat by now, as if to say that we know what to expect quality-wise, and we’ll catch up with a few characters at a time, without very much to connect them inherently.

We’ve also been given the sense that season 4 will contain multiple climaxes, rather than build up to the all-important ninth episode, as in previous seasons, and events like Joffrey’s wedding on the horizon certainly promise some strong material still left to play with. For now at least, tonight’s installment really only served to ease us back into the world, introduce a few new characters, and suggest a few new promising threads to follow. Chief among them would be the introduction of Pedro Pascal as Prince Oberyn Martell, who certainly proves memorable in his limited screentime, though so far we’ve little more to go on than his promises of revenge, and some light foiling with Tyrion.

If we’re to take ‘Game of Thrones’ season 3 as the most transformative to date, it certainly proves exciting to have Jaime Lannister back in Kings’ Landing at last, throwing a few shades back onto the character in his relationship to Cersei and Tywin that had been absent seasons 2 and 3. Particularly with regard to Brienne, the series tended to look past some of Jaime’s more villainous deeds to humanize the character, and his presence in Kings’ Landing already feels a bit regressed in a manner we can expect to see tested in the coming episodes. It’s also nice to see Ygritte and the Wildlings given a bit of their own spotlight, amid the introduction of the memorable Thenns, while Jon mostly gets back to business at Castle Black.

And that’s it, really. All on par with the usual ‘Game of Thrones’ we’ve come to expect, with a bit of movement on all sides, but nothing particularly standout for a premiere. It was certainly exciting to see Arya’s adventures with the Hound, and a bit of earned revenge for poor Lommy, but it isn’t entirely clear how the season could shake out just yet, at least until a more eventful hour.

Well, what say you? Did you get your fill of sword-swinging ‘Game of Thrones’ action?  What did you think about tonight’s premiere, “Two Swords”? Check out all our other ‘Game of Thrones’ season 4 coverage, and join us next week for the all-new episode recap of ‘Game of Thrones’ season 4's latest installment, "The Lion and the Rose" on HBO!

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