Game of Thrones – 31 (Season Premiere)

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“Two Swords”

Curse you, HBO.  Of all the days in the year you could have broadcast the Game of Thrones 4th Season premiere, you did it on the day when half the shows in my Spring anime elite list premiere too?  Thanks a pantload.

That said, here we are again with probably the best show on American television, and probably the most expensive.  It says something about how good GoT is that it has many flaws that are increasingly showing as it progresses (as a direct consequence of the source material rather than anything the adaptation is doing wrong) and still be head and shoulders above almost everything else. Almost ten months away from this series is more than enough to remind us unequivocally just how unique and magnificent it is.

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“Two Swords” takes a more or less comprehensive approach in re-introducing us to most (though not all) of the major plotlines running through the series (I believe the quasi-official count is 17 of them).  It opens with one of my favorite characters, the magnificent bastard Tywin Lannister, melting down Ned’s Valyrian steel sword (too heavy for a Lannister) and re-forging it into two, one of which he gives to Jaime.  But all is not wine and roses between father and son – Tywin wants Jaime to return home to Casterly Rock and stay out of trouble while he “officially” carries on the Lannister line, but Jaime only wishes to stay at King’s Landing as head of the Kingsguard – despite his handicap.

What this episode really shows for me is that whatever criticisms one might level against George Martin in terms of pacing and letting his story grow out of control, he’s virtually unparalleled at creating fascinating anti-heroes.  Tywin, Jaime, The Hound, even Tyrion himself – these are only a few of the incredibly interesting characters in this story who blur the line between hero and villain.  And we meet another such figure in Dorne’s Prince Oberyn Martell (Pedro Pascal), the second son sent to attend Joffrey’s wedding in what appears to be a slight against the Lannisters, but who in truth is in town to settle some old scores.  He dominates a stretch of the narrative starting with a visit to a “Lannister whorehouse” and running through an incredibly tense conversation with fellow second son Tyrion (I especially loved the moment when Bronn – yet another of Martin’s indelible rogues – responds to the accusation that he’s a hired killer and the question of how he became a Knight with “I guess I killed the right people.”)

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Things are generally a mess with the Lannisters – pretty much no one is getting along, including Jaime and Cersei, who tells him he “took too long” being a prisoner and getting his hand cut off.  In truth Jaime’s experience has profoundly changed him more than just physically, and I think it’s that more than anything that’s putting Cersei off her incestual feed.  Also at King’s Landing, Sansa is growing increasingly depressed and generally indifferent to life – you can’t begrudge her the grudge she holds against Tyrion for the Red Wedding, though Tyrion himself would never have condoned it.  Her only solace (though unknown to Sansa Brienne is arguing her case with Jaime) is the knight turned fool Dontos, whose life she saved from one of Joffrey’s many cruel whims.  He gives her a necklace – the last vestige of a once-proud house – and begs her to wear it so that his name can have one last moment in the sun before it dies away forever.

The other interesting arc this week is Arya’s – now inexorably tangled with that of The Hound.  Arya is undergoing a transformation just as fundamental as Jaime is, though of a rather different sort.  I’ve come to really adore The Hound over the course of the series, and Rory McCann is a standout even in this standout cast.  When Arya wonders why he didn’t simply steal from Joffrey before he left King’s Landing, he haughtily replies “I’m not a thief.”  This man, for all the blood (including the Butcher’s Boy) on his hands, does have a code – and Arya, who once saw the world so clearly in black and white, is being forced to reassess her assumptions about the man whose death she wished for every night.  Game of Thrones is a great series for odd couples, and Arya and The Hound have become one of the best.

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There’s not much time spent with the genuinely good members of the cast this week – that brief scene with Brienne (and another where she tells Margeary Tyrell of how Renley died), and a check-in at The Wall with Jon and Sam.  Quorin Halfhand’s order to Jon isn’t so easy to defend without Quorin around to confirm it, and it’s only the old Maester Aemon – so respected that he commands enough respect even to check the idiots now running the show with the Night’s Watch – who manages to win him a reprieve.  We also meet The Thenns, genuine cannibals and no friends to Tormund even if allies; and a new face playing an old face, as Michael Huisman takes over from Ed Skrein as Dario Neharis.  he looks less like Fabio, which is a plus, but – as has usually been the case with the HBO series – he’s still way too pretty based on how Martin described the character in the books.  Next week, we catch up with at least two of the major arcs for the first time this season – Bran and Stannis – but hopefully not Reek and Ramsey Bolton, a blind alley that amounts to the adaptations most obvious misstep so far.

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  1. D

    The Viper was my favourite character from Storm of Swords, I'm pretty pleased with his presentation in the series. I don't quite remember him being described as a bi-sexual, but I guess they do things differently in Dorne.

  2. They seem to be taking every opportunity to depict ambiguous characters as openly gay or bi-sexual in the TV version.

  3. k

    Really? Maybe I missed something but so far the only gay or bi characters are Loras, the late Renly, the male prostitute, and now Oberyn and Ellaria, all in line with the books (well, I don't remember the prostitute guy from the books).

  4. It's more of a question of stuff that Martin left as implied in the books being portrayed in explicit terms in the TV version.

  5. A

    Just curious, have you heard of or checked out True Detective? It ended a few weeks ago but it's probably one of the best opening seasons I've seen of any show, period. Really riveting stuff.

  6. S

    Didn’t know you were a Game of Thrones fan, I presumed you only watch anime ;). So do you read the ASOIAF books? Do you watch other American Television shows?

    I caught up with the show earlier this year and subsequently read the first book and I have to agree that it’s currently the best TV show, especially since Breaking Bad ended. I’m normally not into fantasy, I thought the Lord of the Rings movies were a 10 hour waste of time, but this show really grabs me with its plot and characters. So I hope HBO will adapt the whole story, though I believe the latest books aren’t even written yet by GRRM.

  7. M

    BrBd was the undisputed king until its reign ended. GoT is a rightful successor but has the slippery job of maintaining consistency of previous seasons. I'm intrigued to see how they'll tackle the latest two volumes beyond the current one, and whether they'll embrace them with all their flawed complexity or break off into more accessible original material.

  8. A

    Since the HBO GoT creators intend to finish the series in either 7 or 8 seasons, there will be a lot of compression from the novels. Since Martin had to split the plotlines from book 3 in half, and publish them as book 4 (A Feast for Crows) and book 5 (Dance with Dragons), and the current season will delve into book 5, at least regarding Daenerys' plotline, then the show will succeed where Martin failed.

    Martin fell in love with his story and couldn't control its unchecked growth. But the showrunners Beikoff and Weiss don't have the luxury of print (they're playing with HBO budgetary constraints) they will be more critical with the pace and the direction the various plotlines will take.

    I expect the show to improve on the books after this season for that reason alone.

  9. The showrunners have talked of finishing in theatrical films after the TV run is done, so I'm not sure just how much compression you're going to see. Martin has also publicly admitted that he's struggling with finishing the books, so it's entirely possible we'll get an "original" ending whether on HBO or in a theater. Martin has told them how he plans to end the novels, but I don't know how he'd feel about that being revealed by someone who isn't him.

  10. A

    Actually, only Martin spoke about theatrical films. However, if the HBO show doesn't complete both Feast for Crows and Dance with Dragons in 7 seasons, then they'll need films to finish off Winds of Winter and A Dream of Spring.

  11. m

    I didn't know you blog this show. It''s easily the best show in a decade (True Detectives was a close one but too short IMHO), and I'd personally only rank it behind Lost for my personal favs. It shows what you can do when you have multiple seasons and longer episode run time. I still say anime needs to take note of the way American shows do that. A non WSJ battle manga based anime that runs long. I know you hate Bakemonogatari, but its popularity is undeniable and its had a large number of eps. I think it's easier to gain overall popularity if you keep something going for years. It helps you get truly invested in the characters, and allows storylines and characters to be much more in depth.

  12. G

    The Shannara series of books (currently at 14) is coming soon. WB is developing it as either a TV series or movies. Its more close to LOTR then GOT but still a exciting series.

  13. I loved the first three Shannara books, even realizing as I read them how blatantly they were ripping off Tolkien even in a medium that Tolkien effectively created. I sort of lost interest when it seemed to me that Brooks was milking the cash cow pretty openly.

  14. G

    There is still alot of good stuff in the later books. Some even take place in our time (prequel) and show how our world became the world popyuated by elves, dwarves, dragons, and trolls.

  15. M

    The internet supplies the answer to one of those. :]

  16. d

    Speaking of fantasy series, it's funny that Wheel of Time almost got an anime adaption. Too bad the studio wanted it to end at Book 3, so RJ called it a no-go.

    Will probably never happen now; that was the one medium I thought it could have worked for. A live-action series, even with HBO's budget, would probably be too much.

  17. J

    It's baaaaaaaaaaaaaack! Staying up all Sunday was totally worth it. Now, to watch it with or without subtitles, that is the question…

  18. m

    Subtitles? Game of thrones?

  19. A

    It's possible he just likes to use subtitles, or isn't a native English speaker.

    English is my first language but I use subtitles for all media simply because I like to both read and hear the dialogue at the same time. It just helps me understand things better.

  20. A

    I need subtitles myself, because I can't hear a damn thing. 😛

    God bless Subscene!

  21. Z

    "but hopefully not Reek and Ramsey Bolton, a blind alley that amounts to the adaptations most obvious misstep so far."

    Not a book reader here. Why is that (in your opinion) a misstep?

  22. M

    Looks like it was renewed for season 5 & 6 simultaneously. Maybe they'll shoot stuff for both seasons? Season 5 is supposed to cut off half way through books 4 & 5. I don't envy the job of David Benioff & D. B. Weiss at all.

    I'd be down for a 12 month timeskip. The younger characters' hormones could use a wee buffer.

  23. J

    By the way Michael Husiman is actually called Michiel Huisman. It's a dutch name.

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