Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Game of Thrones, Season 4, Episode 1: Two Swords

Is it bad that I skipped back to listen to the opening credits 3 times? (you know you did the same!)

In a beautifully symbolic scene showing the fall of so much of House Stark, Tywin Lannister has the Stark Greatsword Ice melted down into two smaller swords – and burns the wolf pelt scabbard it was sheaved in. The sword if for Jaime (who needs a one handed sword now, since he’s one handed) who is surprised to see a new Valerian steel sword since one hasn’t been made for a very very long time. Tywin handwaves where he got the precious steel from but it’s something the Lannisters have wanted for a while. Tywin does note that one handed and with his left hand Jaime won’t be as good – which he concedes. But so long as he’s better than everyone else, it doesn’t matter. Ah, Lannister confidence.

Despite that, Tywin wants Jaime to leave the Kingsguard and go back to Castlery rock and rule the Lannister lands while Tywin is King’s Hand (and, it often seems, the only one who can control King Joffrey). Jaime doesn’t want it, he doesn’t want to break another oath, doesn’t want to be Lord and doesn’t want a wife and kids – he even tells his dad no!

Tyrion and party are waiting on the road to meet the Prince of Dorne (that would be the one nation of Westeros that has avoided all the troubles up to now) – and Tyrion, the least liked member of House Lannister, is meeting the Prince because House Lannister and House Martel are not the bestest of friends. Pod shows off his encyclopaedic knowledge of Dornish houses and Tyrion makes his greetings to the silent Dornishmen – the Prince isn’t there, he has chosen to stay home. He’s sent his brother, Oberyn, instead and he’s already arrived early to skip the whole greeting thing. The rest of the party just rides off without bothering to listen to Tryian

The Dornish are masters of the snub it seems. Definitely no love lost between the houses. But that leaves Tyrion to track down Oberyn

Not that that should be hard, in theory, since Oberyn us renowned for his promiscuity. But then, as we’ve said before, the sole industry of Kings Landing, indeed, all Westeros, appears to be prostitution so maybe it will take a while. Yes, Oberyn is in a brothel – and it’s the first gratuitous nudity of the season! I’m impressed Game of Thrones, you waited a full 12 minutes before breasts appeared. Oberyn and his lover Ellaria Sand (Sand is the Dornish version of the North’s “Snow” – indicating she’s illegitimate) pick a prostitute who suits both their tastes and Oberyn orders the male procurer to stay and join in as well.

Festivities are broken up when Oberyn hears someone singing The Rains of Castamere (this song keeps coming up – it’s the Lannister’s anthem) and goes to track down the singer, despite Ellaria trying to stop him. The Lannisters he finds then make some rather foolish comments about Dornishmen. Oberyn stabs one of them in the wrist – and Tyrion arrives. He tries to talk to Oberyn while he busily makes out with Ellaria before finally making introductions.

Posturing at least delayed, they can talk politics, just Oberyn and Tyrion and they both remark on being the “family insult” as second sons. Oberyn also expositions us a little on the history of House Martel, how his sister Elia was married to Rhaegar Targaryen (the son of the last Targaryen king, Daenerys’s older brother – keep up) and the Lannister army that took Kings Landing during the civil war raped and killed Elia and her 2 small children – killed by Gregor at Tywin’s order. Oberyn is clear that he holds a grudge.

Speaking of Targaryens, to Daenerys, Oberyn’s sister-in-law and her now much bigger dragons. One seems much bigger than the other two – and when Daenerys tries to touch him when squabbling over food, he snaps at her. Jorah notes that dragons cannot be tamed.

We’re reminded how vast Daenerys’s army is (and we have a flock of POC civilians to hail her as “mhysa” because she’s their super saviour woman) and she makes a point about who is in charge to Grey Worm (leader of her former slave legion who are now her free legion and indistinguishable from the slave legion but are totally free, honest) and Daario (hey there re-casting! Leader of her mercenaries). They’re heading to the city of Meeren, next on Daenerys’s “let’s conquer it because it’s there” list. Daario continues to try and flirt with her, trying to present her with a bouquet under the excuse of teaching her about local flowers, honest. Of course, it does remind her why Daario and his local knowledge may be useful to her. The road to Meeren is decorated with a hundred dead slaves (the one we see a young girl) because we have to be reminded how brutal and savage this exotic foreigners are and how noble and righteous Deanerys’s invasions are.

Back in King’s Landing, Shae tries to coax Sansa to eat before her husband, Tyrion takes over (Shae giving Tyrion a look to remind us she’s not happy about Tyrion’s new marriage). After the Red Wedding (I’m not even going to link to that, everyone knows what happened at the Red Wedding), Sansa is not feeling all that hungry. Nor does she want any comfort from Tyrion. Tyrion returns to his rooms to find Shae ready to seduce him even as he points out the many many people who hate him or want to kill him or both which is rather a distraction. Shae takes his lack of interest for him being in love with Sansa (he earlier turned down prostitutes as well – he may not love Sansa, as he points out he barely knows her, but he tries to respect her). When Shea asks if he wants her to stay, he is silent.

Big brother Jaime is given a new, pretty golden hand by Cersei though Jaimie points out how utterly useless it is. Cersei brushes over some “symptoms” the ex-maester is also treating her for. Jaime notes her greater drinking for which she throws out a litany of reasons to drink (including very disparaging remarks about Margaery and Loras) – and she rejects Jaimie’s advances which rather upsets him, especially since one of the reasons he stayed in the Kingsguard is to be near her. She blames him for leaving her – and taking too long to return.

To the north, where random-wildling-whose-name-I-had-to-look-up Tormund remarks that since Ygritte is a great archer and she put three arrows in Jon Snow, if he’s still alive it’s because she let him live. They’re hanging around waiting for orders from Mance Ryder (leader of the Wildlings). First they get a visit from another group of Wildlings, the Thenn who all look eerily similar with the same ritualised scarring – and they practice cannibalism.

To Castle Black, with the injured Jon talking to Sam about Robb’s death. And Jon has to explain his actions to Alistair Thorne (Acting Lord Commander since the actual Lord, Mormont, is now dead). Jon also admits to having sex which breaks the vow of celibacy! DEATH! Well, until Aemon points out that if they ever actually enforced that celibacy thing there would be no Nights Watch left. Jon warns them of the huge army – and giants – Mance has gathered. Aemon declares he’s telling the truth and won’t be executed – much to Alistair’s annoyance since technically Aemon doesn’t have the authority. He also wants to know how sure Aemon can be that he can always tell when a man is lying “I grew up in Kings Landing.” Hah.

Speaking of – it’s back to Kings Landing, wedding planning and Olenna being super awesome and formidable. Brienne drops in for a visit and tries to be all formal in the face of Olenna (which never really works). Brienne is there to warn Margaery about the Shadow Assassin Stannis used to kill Renly.

Poor Jaime then has to go on and spend some time with his odious nephew/son, Joffrey, who is convinced everyone loves him now, he’s won the war and everything’s hunky-dory. And after dealing with his nasty little nephew/son, Brienne finds him to point out Jaime did swear to Catelyn to keep Sansa and Arya safe. He tries to play loopholes. To absolutely no-one’s surprise, Brienne does not play with loopholes. Meanwhile Sansa has a touching scene with the drunken ex-knight Ser Dantos giving Sansa his family necklace in payment for saving his life way back in the day.

Next character in our little visit round Westeros – Arya is still in the Hound’s custody and is still snarking away. In their travels, Arya recognises one of the men from her vengeance list – Polliver who killed Lommy and stole her sword. (The Hound is contemptuous of the idea of naming swords), she goes forwards, forcing the Hound to join her in the Inn. Many stare at them – but not enough to distract them from molesting the innkeeper’s daughter. They recognise the Hound – but not Arya (which is a little galling all things considered) and Polliver complains about how torture has become so boring following Gregor Clegane (the Hound’s brother). Hound doesn’t appreciate their company which he makes clear (along with his contempt for Joffrey) and appreciates them less trying to trade chicken for Arya. The Hound drinks the man’s drink and he’s quite willing to kill them all for chickens. Battle commences and The Hound kills most of them – Arya stabs two – including Polliver to claim her sword back. As she kills Polliver while he lies helpless on the floor, she recites what he said when he killed Lommy, repeating it word for word.

They leave, with chicken and a horse for Arya across a devastated landscape.

The race of the Dornish is ambiguous – they could be southern European, Middle Eastern or North African – that ambiguity is kept in this episode and played upon. There’s a definite “otherness” in how the Dornish are treated – and their clothes and even accent (which feels distinctly Spanish – the actor is Chilean) seems markedly different from the other Houses. Oberyn plays this up as well when he references the Lannisters being “pink little men”, emphasising the differing skin tones. I want to see where they go with this.

Daenerys continues her white lady saviour tour which we have already vomited over at length

Oberyn and Ellaria are a bisexual couple and I’m interested to see how that plays out; is it a one off introduction to be forgotten? Is it to be used for much sexy time? Either way I suspect both (or Oberyn at least) will be far more prominent than the vanishingly irrelevant Renly and Loras. There is an issue of stereotypes though – Loras and Reny got the endless gay jokes, the “knight of flowers”, medieval manscaping and fainting at the sight of blood (and one of the greatest knights of the realm never seeming to win a battle – nor looking particularly able to life a sword, let alone his armour). Oberyn and Ellaria have got the “swashbuckling bisexual” trope, which is less overtly demeaning and offensive, but is still a trope – the promiscuous, random, hard partying bisexual who brings a party wherever they go (with an edge of true love for opposite-sex, fun and games with the same sex). But it’s early days yet – let’s see what develops.

This episode did a phenomenal job of telling us where most things stood and where most the characters were and, in turn, how the Houses stood in their Game.

Oberyn Martel rather excellently (if a little info-dumpingly) introduced himself, House Martel and his motives in the city.

Jaime returns to find everything not as it was, without his hand he’s not quite the golden warrior everyone respects (as Joffrey mocks), he’s scorned by his family, scorned by Brienne and generally not having fun. Cersei is bitter and angry, hating her upcoming marriage and fully recognising Margaery’s power. Joffrey is completely and utterly unaware of how things are and who is really in control. Even Tyrion is much reduced, unable to even hold his family life together, with little power or influence – his was a story of frustrated helplessness. Put that together and look at Tywin, even though it should be one of his most victorious moments, so fiercely putting down the Starks, but he commemorates it alone and without celebration or advertisement. Ok, I don’t think Tywin is particularly emotional or fond of displays, but this victory is followed quickly by Jaime’s rebellion. Tywin may have won, but his family can’t hold what he’s gained.  There’s no great victory for the Lannisters.

Contrast with the Tyrells – happy, gleeful, merry – and throwing around wealth and power with that little necklace stunt. And a nice little reminder that even if Renly had won, the Tyrells would have held the reigns of power – no matter the outcome, they were ready.

While Sansa’s shattering grief and Arya becoming an unrecognised, nameless force of hatred and vengeance (who now has a near photographic memory of the horrors she’s seen) pretty much epitomise House Stark’s collapse.

Then there’s Daenerys – clearly and firmly in power, confident, in control… and overreaching. Yes, Daario’s flirting, but it also has another point – Daenerys knows nothing of the lands and people she’s conquering. Even her dragon snapping at her – she’s presuming she can tame a dragon. Daenerys is confident, but her character is now being shaded with arrogance, with over-reach.

And the Hound? The Hound tells us how ridiculous and pointless it all is. How ludicrous it is to name swords. How little honour matters. How service to a king matters so much less than chicken to feed your belly. In the end the closing scene is a devastated landscape – perhaps the end message is that absolutely no-one’s winning but everything’s falling apart – and no surprise that the Hound, the walking reality check, is the one walking among it.

I think there’s a lot of thought and art gone into this episode which I appreciated.