[Review] - Game Of Thrones, Season 4 Episode 1, "Two Swords"

Previously on Game of Thrones...

And now, on Game of Thrones...

There are very few shows that manage to turn out practically perfect episodes every week. Hannibal, Veep, True Detective (most of HBO's line up, actually), Luther held it steady. And Game of Thrones. GoT, with it's ten episodes a season, has ironed out whatever kinks they might have had left in their formula a season ago. So, for the duration of the season, you're all but guaranteed a stable, reliable, and quality television programme. And that makes this show hard as hell to review, week to week. It very quickly becomes  difficult to think of things to say about it, and I'm sure it becomes uninteresting to read. The performances were good, the CG looked solid, the plot didn't feel rushed, etc. There might be one of two minor things I can pick on to up my word count, but on the whole, the show is too consistently good.

Now, you might be thinking, "Clark, you review other series that are 'too consistently good,' what makes them different?" To which I'd reply, "how'd you get in here, and what are you doing with that ladle?" After we've got that sorted out, I'd agree with you. I never find myself at a loss of words when reviewing the likes of Hannibal or Continuum. And the difference, as I see it and I don't mean this as an insult, is that Game of Thrones is a simpler show. Other shows have narrative flaws, or arc based mysteries, or complex character motivations that I can dissect and opine on. Game of Thrones features huge sprawling stories, and rich dramatic characters... that do basically exactly what you'd expect them to do. The characters are consistent with themselves, which is fantastic, far more than most network shows can pull off. And because I've read the books, the big moments, like last year's Red Wedding aren't a surprise, just a delight. But even without that, how far can you analysis the Red Wedding? The reasoning was spelled out on the show. The immediate repercussions were immediate, and the eventual ones I know because of the books.

I deeply, deeply enjoy this series, but I'm realizing for the first time how much my foreknowledge is undercutting my passion. I love the show, but I'm not in love with the show. And that makes writing about it every week hard. Last year I doubted that I'd cover the series any longer. I'm still having those doubts. I figure, I'll take it week to week this time. So, some Tuesdays, there might be a review. Some weeks their might not be. That's the best I can muster. And frankly, from my perspective, that's alright by me. I'm currently covering four other series, with Fargo starting next week and Penny Dreadful at the end of May, plus a weekly films and frankly I've been a little disappointed in the quality of my posts of late. I'm one guy with way too many opinions on things, and what has been described as a tendency to over criticize. And even I'm feeling drawn thin. So, we'll see how this goes.

If there feels like more of an organic narrative flow to the start of this season, it's from the fact that show is currently in the middle of adapting the third novel (actually closer to 65% of the way). So, we start off on a strong foot than usual, with everyone off settled in their corners, itching to get going again. The Red Wedding has happened, and folk have moved on, for better or worse (mostly worse). The upside of this is that the cast has been well whittled down, allowing more elbow room for those remaining, and some extra space for new faces to squeeze in. The old faces are looking additionally well worn.And then there is Tywin, who looks like he shits gold, but he always looks like that. Though, he had special reason to look... happier(?) than usual. The war is nearly over, Lannister rule is almost secure. Point of fact, it took twelve minutes of screen time before a non Lannister appeared in a scene. It also took twelve minutes before there was any nudity, and nineteen minutes until someone was maimed. This show isn't like others...

There were two scenes that stood out for me. The first was the introduction of Oberyn Martell, the Red Viper of Dorne. If you know any book readers, this is the guy they've been excited about for a while now, and now you know why. And credit to Weiss and Benioff, they crafted a perfect introductory scene for the Viper. Establishing moments are important for characters and audience alike. And like I said earlier, this show wears it's complexity on it's sleeve. Characters tend to be who they are, and undergo growth gradually. And one thing they've excelled at is spelling out exactly who someone is the first time we meet them. Tyrion, we met in a bed of whores. Tywin, dressing a deer while monologuing about family. Oberyn mixed a seduction scene with a personal vetting, then capped it off with a physical assault. Thanks to that pair of events, we understand how he judges people, the qualities he looks for in a partner (which speaks to the qualities he balances in himself), and that he is dangerously cool and calculating under pressure. He stared down a Lannister (flunky), essentially told him he was going to stab him, then did with nary a flinch. What else do we need to know? Very little.

The other scene is the one everyone will be talking about, the final scene with The Hound, Arya and the former Harrenhal employees of the Mountain. And it's less about the wonderful building of tension as the sell sword and the Hound banter about this, that and chicken (and the mental journey the Polliver went on once he figured out that the Hound was rabid). And it was less about the foreshadowing Oberyn had offered earlier about long swords and in-door fighting. And it isn't so much about the way the fight just kept going and going, skewing most conventional pacing and framing methods in favour of something that felt far more gritty and "real." Or the strong undercurrent of humour that the entire episode sat upon, exemplified by the Hound's dispatching of one of the sell swords in a "stop stabbing yourself" kind of way.

It was none of those things. It was the continuing mystery of Maisie Williams, and how wonderful an actress she is growing up to be. What is her magical property that pairing her with another character makes them that much more interesting, engaging and fun? In season two, it was Tywin. Last season, it was Thoros. This season (as it was at the end of last), it's the Hound. Rory McCann is a fantastically cast actor in a show of perfect casting decisions, but by pairing Arya with anyone apparently creates the perfect environment in which to breed comedic duos. Williams has a bright future ahead of her, in whatever genre of film she wishes. She's clearly adept at comedy, lays waste to drama, makes easy craft of psychopathy and shows grace in action. I'm excited for her. In the meantime, we can all delight in her continued growth as a character, watching her carve pieces of herself away, surrendering to the darkness as she dances. A lovely call back to her lessons in season one, as she stabs the first, then hamstrings the second, with twists and glides rather than thrusts and turns. And the slow, content, fulfilled Grinch grin that coiled on her face after she had bloodied herself.

Game of Thrones is like having a vacation house, the kind that you wait all year to get back to, spend the summer enjoying, cry when you have to leave, and begin again. While you're there, the world seems a little easier. I, for one, am glad to be back in Westeros, for however long it lasts.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.


  1. I have been reading your reviews for both this show and continuum! I am loving them to bits! Keep up the good work! In terms of this show, I have the same feeling as you. After inhaling seasons 1 & 2, I read through the books and found season 3 well, not as impactful as I hoped. Knowing what is coming up ahead does hurt the passion so to speak.

    But as you say, it is the character moments both big and small that make this show interesting to watch. Thank you for noting the call back to season 1 for Arya. I didn't realize until you noted it, that her actions were following the training she received. I will have to re-watch it, cringing at the uber violence along the way.

    I have to say I was really surprised at the introduction of Oberyn, so even with knowing the big plot points, there are surprises in store.

    1. This will be the third season I've reviewed, and it has gotten harder with every episode for me to provide insight that is 1) interesting for good folk like you, and the various library hobos that make up my page views, to read and 2) interesting for me to sit down and write about. I still love the show and enjoy every minute of it while I'm watching it, but from a critical perspective it doesn't interest me anymore.