Game of Thrones Review: Season Four, Episode One, "Two Swords"

Season Four of Game of Thrones has arrived.

Our reintroduction into Westeros is one that is riddled with foreshadowing. And, while it will not be remembered as a landmark episode in the series, it functions as a foundation for anticipated story-lines.

In the first episode of Season Four-- entitled "Two Swords"-- we still feel the consequences of the Red Wedding. This is coupled by the foreshadowing of events that will occupy future installments of the series.

So, with minor spoiler warnings, let's dive back into Westeros.

Opening the season is Tywin Lannister, who has the Stark's ancestral sword destroyed. The valyrian steel from the weapon would be used to create two new swords for Jamie and Joffrey, respectively. This is an example of what the episode does well--reestablishing the dire consequences of the Red Wedding. This is also seen in Sansa's arc, where she spends much of her time mourning in solitude after the slaughtering of the Stark Family. In contrast, Arya is impacted by the event, but she is hardened by her travels with the Hound.

With a greater sense of confidence, Arya seeks vengeance while Sansa hopelessly ruminates. The younger Stark daughter is seen as one of the stronger characters in the show due to her self-reliance; she is wandering the wilderness with The Hound, and she still manages to function better than Sansa--a woman who constantly spurns Tyrion Lannister's attempts to comfort her.

Both characters eventually experience respite from their dolor, but it comes about in contrasting manners. Arya kills the man who took her sword "Needle," while Sansa's past kindness to a stranger gets reciprocated.

With the Red Wedding in the past, Season Four's premier also brilliantly lays a foundation for future events. This is seen in a portion of Tyrion's arc. Opening with him at the edge of King's Landing--waiting to receive guests for Joffrey's wedding--the wittiest Lannister serves as the greeter for Prince Oberyn Martell. Met with scorn, Oberyn tells Tyrion why he holds contempt for the latter's family. Later, Tyrion confides in Shae that Oberyn seeks retribution against his house.

The retroactive shadow of future events is also felt when Dani Targaryen's arc is examined; playing with her dragons, one of the flying beasts snaps at the Khaleesi for coming too close to their midday meal. This scene succeeds in many ways.

While other foreshadowing scenes become excessive with exposition, this brief scene says much about the nature of Dani's dragons. In addition, it allows the viewer to know that Dani's persona as a strong--yet merciless-- ruler is not pervasive.

But, the episode is heaviest with foreshadowing when Jon Snow faces his judgment for abandoning the Night's Watch. Mercy is shown, and the bastard son of Ned Stark manages to walk away with his head still atop his shoulders. However, concern pervades Snow as he tells the higher ups of the Watch what he saw during his time north of The Wall. And, to worsen the scenario for those who took the black, the Wildlings team up with a rival tribe--all in the effort of sacking Castle Black. Executed well, the show gives us both parts of the conflict.

With a concerned Snow telling the Watch's Council of what horrors approach, a new and imposing looking warlord is also introduced. And, to make this bald man more menacing, he is shown with a sack full of dead human bodies-- presumably belonging to former members of the Night's Watch.

Hence, the episode manages to tell us what will happen via Snow while showing us who will do it with the Wildling's tenuous new ally.

Other themes are in "Two Swords," such as Tyrion and Jamie Lannister being driven to an unprecedented common ground. Previously earning the approval of his father, Jamie's return hasn't been one of fanfare. Rather, Tywin urges Jamie to return to Casterly Rock. Later, the eldest Lannister son confides in Cersei-- saying that he's been disowned by their father. Spurning him, Cersei tells Jamie that everything has changed during his absence.

Blaming him for events that are beyond his control, it appears that Jamie and Cersei's incestuous relationship is in jeopardy. Likewise, Tyrion's relationship with Shae remains in peril. The forced husband of Sansa, Tyrion avoids Shae in order to protect her from his merciless kin-- something that his lover will not accept.

Hence, the episode is aptly named.

With "Two Swords" literally referencing the Stark heirloom being reforged, the title also paints a broader reference to the mixed nature of Jamie's return, the contrast of the Arya and Sansa, and the multiple threats bearing down on Tyrion.

"Two Swords" won't be heralded as the gem of the series. But, that is not its role in the overall story. A building block for future events, it serves its purpose while keeping the expository information to a minimum.

(Image Source: npr.org)

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