Game of Thrones returns for what will likely be the best season with an episode that displays everything I like about the show. There's intrigue, there's sex, there's excellent violence... and there's humor. This felt, to me, like a particularly funny episode, and I welcomed the dark, sardonic humor coming on the heels of the Red Wedding and various other unpleasantness from season three.
I can't figure out how to review this show properly since I've read all the books and so everything I think about what's happening is spoilery. Let me instead hit you with some bullet points of thoughts:
- I loved Pedro Pascal as Oberyn Martell. The Red Viper of Dorn is a great character, and Pascal arrives full of life and menace in a way that helps him stand out in a very crowded field of characters. And I like that he's polymorphously perverse from the start, and that his motivations are quickly and succinctly described.
- Also great was the cold open, with Tywin melting down Ned Stark's sword Ice. How nice is it that we have a cultural phenomenon TV show where the destruction of a greatsword is a true moment of pathos and meaning? Where a discussion about the mystical origins of the steel of that sword is taken for granted?
- Speaking of Ice - the Valyrian steel in that sword became Jaime Lannister's new blade. George RR Martin did it in the books, but I think the TV show has done an even finer job of turning Jaime from a truly despicable character into someone you can get behind. Who would have thought that in episode one, when he was shoving Bran out the window? And I love the continuing BFF business between Jaime and Brienne.
- And while we're on BFFs, the continuing saga of Arya and the Hound keeps getting better. When she rode out of the inn with her own pony - how great was that? Not to mention her slow motion kills. I like that 2014 is the year when we can cheer on a 9 year old girl becoming a cold blooded murderer. And where we can get dialogue like this:
"Of course you name your sword."
"A lot of people name their swords."
"Lot of cunts."
- We've come to a point in the Tyrion story that I wasn't wild about in the books, but the show is handling it better. I like Tyrion as a scoundrel, not as a man of responsibility, and watching him chafe at Shae and Bronn isn't much fun. Thankfully Peter Dinklage is a great actor, and so he brings across the Imp's desperate attempts to keep his head above water as King's Landing goes from a straight-forward war footing back to the far more dangerous intrigue.
- Up at the Wall Jon Snow learned to keep his mouth closed when he's not speaking, and he's finally turned into a character I can get behind. Too often a weiner in the past, this episode's Jon Snow showed a man changed by his time north of the Wall and ready to take charge. I've never been a fan of the character - on the show or in the book - because he was so two dimensional, but if he keeps being portrayed like this on TV I can get behind him. Samwell Tarly is still going to take some work, though. Especially if he's dropping more Dragonglass blades all over the place this year.
- And across the sea we have a new Daario Naharis... and they still haven't gotten him right. I don't mind the actor exactly - he has more swagger than the stiff who was in the role last year - but this character is supposed to be exotic looking, with purple hair and a crazy beard. In the book it sets him apart from the standard Medieval dudes from Westeros, dudes like Sir Friendzone and Barristan Selmy. But once again the show has made Daario just look like every other guy, and I honestly don't understand why. It's actually maddening, because Daario's weird look was one of the things that made him something other than an interchangeable hard-on. The show has stripped his ethnic identity!
- The dragons look great. This episode I found myself musing on how far the show has come, in terms of production value. Only the scene where Tyrion is waiting for the Martells had that season one cheap feel (the main road to King's Landing would probably be wider and grander than the forest back road we saw). Everything from the dragons to the inn to the Red Keep interiors feel big and expansive and expensive. Watching Dany walk down endless columns of Unsullied offer the scope the show was lacking early on, and that I hope we keep getting as Khaleesi takes over the slave state of Mereen.
I'm excited for this season; knowing the books I know we're in for great drama, and seeing how strongly things begin I believe that everybody behind the scenes at Game of Thrones is fully, completely in control this year. Like I said, I think this is going to be the best season.