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Game Of Thrones S4.01 "Two Swords" review

There’s plenty in this episode to get us excited for the rest of Game Of Thrones' fourth season, from Oberyn’s introduction to the impending invasion of Meereen and the steadily encroaching threat of wildlings at The Wall. It’s funny and almost light compared to past seasons with occasional moments of melancholy to remind us of the heartbreak that came before.

The first episode of the season opens with a stark reminder of what has come before. No, not the “previously on” show reel, but the first scene itself. We watch as Tywin Lannister unsheathes Ice, Ned Stark’s sword and the ancestral Valyrian blade of House Stark, and then melts it down like it was common iron, forging two swords where once there was one. The Lannisters have two new blades of legendary steel, the Starks have nothing. Even the wolf pelt used to sheath Ice is thrown on to the flames. No swords, no Winterfell, no King in the North; just ashes. If you needed a reminder of how badly things are going for northern rebellion then this should hammer the point home and leave you feeling bruised.

Like many opening episodes Two Sword is a little bit of a slow burn. We’re reintroduced to characters we haven’t seen since last season, and generally reminded of what happened. But that doesn’t mean the episode lacks memorable moments.

The introduction of Prince Oberyn is one such moment. It’s very clear after just a few minutes in a Littlefinger’s brothel with Oberyn and his paramour Ellaria Sand that he’s going to be a fan favourite. And rightly so – he’s funny, handsome and he hates Lannisters. There’s not much to dislike about the Red Viper. Pedro Pascal is the perfect casting choice, which comes as a surprise to exactly no one, because Game Of Thrones is always on point when it comes to casting. He’s got the swagger and confidence of a deadly man down perfectly but is also capable of showing that Oberyn is a man who is still mourning the murder of his sister. He’s a lover and a fighter, and a man very clearly used to getting his way, and if it were up to us he’d get it. He was right when he said all the world hates a Lannister and his Inigo Montoya-esque quest for vengeance is just what the Lannisters deserve. (Except Tyrion. Tyrion’s alright.)

The one where...

Dorne’s sexiest prince Oberyn Martell comes to King’s Landing, Jon admits to his transgressions with the wildlings, Dany finds a grisly surprise on the way to Meereen, and the Hound and Arya get in a fight over some chickens.

There’s a touching scene between Sansa and Tyrion, where he tries desperately to help Sansa with her bereavement. Peter Dinklage is brilliant, as always, and Sophie Turner’s Sansa is more than used to sitting and looking miserable; she’s perfected the shat-upon noblewoman look. It’s a heartbreaking scene, because we’re looking at the human aftermath of last season’s Red Wedding. And if Sansa just opened up to Tyrion perhaps they could help each other. But you can’t blame her when she leaves for the isolation of the Godswood.

As always the script is near flawless, with plenty of funny moments to balance out the ever present grief. The scene between Brienne and Lady Olenna provides a few laughs, and as with every scene featuring Olenna is utterly brilliant. Game Of Thrones is filled will excellent duos; Tyrion and Bron, Davos and Stannis, Arya and Gendry, people who, simply put, have excellent chemistry. Olenna and Brienne could be once such pairing; two women, both formidable for very different reasons. They’d have this mess of a war sorted out in days.

Arya and The Hound are fast becoming another top partnership. Sandor Clegane may be Westeros’s worst babysitter. He certainly can’t control Arya. But it does lead to some of the funniest lines in the whole show including “what the fuck's a Lommy” (that’s Arya’s dead friend) and “lots of c*nts” (his response to Arya’s assertions that lots of people name their swords). The sight of the two of them, hidden in the bushes discussing what to do next only heightens the sense of comedy. When Arya storms the Inn to retrieve her sword, Needle, it’s easy to forget this is a Serious Drama and not a buddy comedy about a very small very angry girl and her very grisly captor/bodyguard/whatever The Hound is doing. And the scene with the chickens... Well if you didn’t laugh out loud then we’re not sure what that makes you. There’s also a cracking fight scene and Arya gets to add another kill to her ever-growing tally chart. She’s pretty scary for a little girl.

The final shot of Arya and Sandor riding through the smoking ruins of the The Riverlands brings us back full circle to the reminder that all is not well in Westeros. They might be planning a wedding in King’s Landing but out where the smallfolk live their lives it looks like the world is ending. It’s one of the few times we get a good look at the devastation the War of The Five Kings caused, and you can’t help but wonder if things can get any worse than this.

But this is Game Of Thrones. So it can. And no doubt it will. And we can’t wait to watch it.

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Episode 4.01Two Swords
WritersDavid Benioff, DB Weiss
DirectorDB Weiss

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Available platformsTV