When Game Of Thrones returned for its third season a year ago, it started out at too leisurely a pace and wasted a couple of episodes. Season four clearly isn’t making that mistake.
Obviously, when you’ve got a cast of hundreds, you can’t easily fit all of their storylines in one episode without feeling like you’re cramming, but co-showrunner D.B. Weiss made sure his directorial debut flew past, while managing to find time to spend everywhere it was needed.
Two Swords is the first new Game Of Thrones episode I’ve seen since reading all of the Song Of Ice And Fire books, so there were lots of plotlines here that I could see starting to take us to exciting places, like the arrival of the Red Viper and the return of drunken Ser Dontos, whose lengthy novel storyline has been condensed without really missing anything crucial.
Pedro Pascal’s introduction as the Viper was excellent, bringing the series its first tastes of sex (almost a foursome) and violence and offering us a credible threat to the Lannisters, right in their own capital city. Meanwhile, it was a delight to see Jaime interacting with Tywin, Cersei and Joffrey again, finding little joy in each encounter. A dysfunctional family in more ways than one.
There wasn’t a scene with Tyrion, who was busy with his own messed-up family (mourning wife, sulky mistress) and his motley crew (Bron and Pod, who has shot up since the last season), but you can bet there will be soon. He did have a nice moment with Brienne, who was trying to guilt-trip him into rescuing Sansa from her marriage to keep his word to the late Catelyn.
Ah yes, the Starks. Their poor showing in season 3 was reflected at the start of the episode, with Ned’s sword Ice being melted down by Tywin to make two new Lannister swords. The symbolism was hammered home by the ceremonial chucking-onto-the-fire of a wolf’s pelt.
But they’re down, not out, with Jon Snow fighting off the negative attentions of Janos Slynt and Ser Alliser Thorne on the Wall, while trying to get them prepared for a (cannibalistic) Wildling onslaught. Of course, they aren’t listening. He also had time to reflect on the loss of his brother and step-mother, though less brutally than Arya, who added to her personal death toll in a great scene with The Hound.
She chalked Polliver off her death wishlist, retrieved Needle and got herself a horse, making her very much The Hound’s partner in slaughter rather than just his prisoner. Odd couples don’t come much odder, but they’re a good match for each other, and he’s still got her mad aunt to try and auction her off to.
Across the sea, we also caught up with Daenerys, whose dragons are big, scary and showing signs of disobedience, much to the consternation of the permanently furrowed brow of Ser Jorah. Also disobeying her is the new look Daario Naharis, who is probably closer to his literary incarnation now, but seems to still lack a bit of flamboyance.
Dany’s storyline took a turn for the dark with the discovery of a slave girl’s dead body hanging from a waypoint on the road to Meereen, with one hanging from each of the (I forget how many, but LOTS) rest of the markers. Provoking the Mother Of Dragons is never a great idea, and even though it’s fair to say there’s impatience surrounding her long and winding road to Westeros, there’s plenty to enjoy about it too.
If the start of season three maybe felt a bit too leisurely, there’s no sign of that this time around. We covered a lot of ground, saw some good action and got set up for what seems like it could be a lively wedding next week. Ready for the Purple Wedding, everyone?