Game of Thrones: Season Four, Episode 1

HBO

As it has done in previous seasons, Game of Thrones has used its first hour of the year to give us plenty to talk about. Because even after so many of the characters we love were killed off at the end of last season, there are still plenty of people with whom we need to catch up.

The other primary goal of episode one — a goal it accomplishes swimmingly thanks to the ever-sharp writing of showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss — is introducing season four’s new faces. As Westeros takes a deep breath and begins to pick up the pieces left by The Red Wedding, the world of its fans lets out a long sigh of relief. It’s good to have Game of Thrones back on our TV screens, even better to have it back in top form.

“The Lannisters aren’t the only ones who pay their debts.”

As someone who’s blogged about this show for several years and as a reader of the “Song of Ice and Fire” books, I’ve been waiting to see how the show would introduce Prince Oberyn Martell of Dorne for a long time. He is hands down one of the most entertaining characters from the books. And in his first few moments on screen, personified by Pedro Pascal, you can see exactly why. He’s a freight train of sex and violence, he despises the Lannisters (just like you and me) and he’s not very concerned with what you, or me, or anyone thinks about it. His presence is electric, and I can’t imagine he won’t be a fan favorite before the halfway point of the season. His nickname is The Red Viper of Dorne, for seven heavens’ sake. How cool is this guy?

The episode also introduced a few other new players. In the North, between The Wall and Winterfell, Tormund Giantsbane and a broody Ygritte meet up with the Thenns, led by Styr (played by the monstrous Yuri Kolokoinikov). The world of the lands beyond The Wall continues to be revealed to us as a clash between the men of The Night’s Watch and Mance Rayder’s army approaches. We’ve seen all kinds on this show, but so far as I can recall, this is the first time we’ve been up close and personal with some gnarly cannibalism.

“Where is Daario Naharis?”

Did you notice how many times they said the full name of Daario Naharis while looking for or talking to Daario Naharis? It might has well have come with a VH1 pop-up video style note saying “Hey, person who doesn’t follow along with casting news, this is that same guy from last season — but a different actor.” Recasting Ser Beric Dondarrion from season one to season three or recasting Joffrey’s younger brother Tommen because he needs to stay young in the background is one thing, but this is the show’s big foray into a major recasting. The amount of time they’ll spend acclimating the audience to the change will feel stilted. And it’s not clear yet as to how we should feel about the new Daario Naharis, Michiel Hiusman. He seems a capable actor, but Ed Skrein did have that exotic swagger that defined the character’s introduction. Perhaps we’ll feel better about it after he kills a few people.

Before we move back across the Narrow Sea, we can’t forget one little note: those dragons are getting big and unruly. We can all agree to let the Daario Naharis thing go if the dragons do some damage this year, right? Right.

“Lots of people name their swords…”

Season four’s opening salvo is easily the smoothest of any season yet, carefully touching base with a number of characters while leaving others for later. All the people about which we had the most concern, for better or worse, get some time in this first episode. Jon Snow (Kit Harington) is okay, but still swimming in dangerous waters with the new leadership of The Night’s Watch. Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) gets a new hand. And Joffrey is still so very Joffrey. Let’s face it, who cares what’s going on with Bran or Theon Greyjoy (or any Iron Islander, for that matter). What matters is that Joffrey is still the worst.

The best is saved for last and it exists in the conversations that come before the violence, in the true form of episodes written by Benioff and Weiss. In catching up with the Wacky Adventures of Arya and The Hound, we get a taste of the show’s incredible wit. Maisie Williams and Rory McCann were a good duo at the end of last season as we watched them grow on each other. This season they are traveling together and having to coexist on another level. It’s the show’s most twisted friendship since Brienne and Jaime. Of course, it doesn’t take long for things like this to take a dark turn in Westeros. Those final moments, they show what season four is really about: sweet, delicious revenge. On one hand we get Arya Stark, a childhood marred with darkness and death, crossing off one of the names on her list. We feel good about that. But we’re also happy about a little girl murdering someone. This show has a lovely way of twisting us up, doesn’t it.

Episode one feels like a casual victory lap for the show’s producers. From some very slick (and much bigger) dragon effects to the introduction of characters that will bring intrigue and political strife to King’s Landing, they seem to be on a roll and very aware of it. As I mentioned in my review of the season’s first few episodes, this season really takes off like a shot. But episode one isn’t all of that shot. It’s the annual resetting of the pieces and a reminder that the gun is always loaded. Dragons, sellswords, political maneuvering, dead slave children on mile markers, steel of Old Valyria. It’s all here and it’s so perfectly locked and loaded.

The Spoiler Section (for book readers only — seriously)

- I was convinced that they’d kill off the Ser Dontos storyline altogether and streamline it somehow, but there he is. This gives me hope for other storylines I thought might get dropped.

- Tormund Giantsbane is still one of my favorite characters. Like Bronn, he gets some of the best little quips of dialogue and is a complete badass. This isn’t a spoiler, just a thing I needed to share with people who will understand.

- A lot of the episode was spent on what’s going on at The Wall. This being one of the bigger plot points at the end of “A Storm of Swords,” it feels like something that will happen early in the season.

- Dame Diana Rigg’s delivery of Lady Olenna’s reaction to meeting Brienne is so perfect. Again, not a spoiler, just a thought. Maybe I didn’t have very much to say on the spoilery notes end. This episode is pretty straightforward. Big things to come as season four continues to dish out the vicious and unpredictable Westerosi justice.

What did you think of the first episode?


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