The Lannisters have won the war. But don’t worry, it’s just for now. As we enter Season Four of Game of Thrones, not only is the viewing audience still in shock over the events of last season, so are the characters. The premiere, titled Two Swords, does what the show seems to do best by knowing when to pull back the reigns a bit and provide a quieter, but ultimately elegant piece of character-driven genre television.
The central focus of the episode is on how the characters in the Seven Kingdoms have adjusted since the news of “The Red Wedding” has spread to all corners. It is a time of “peace” in King’s Landing and the Lannisters sit smugly in their roost. Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) is less murder-y than normal due to the general calm of outright victory, not to mention his impending nuptials to Margaery (Natalie Dormer). But he does take time to belittle Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), who is trying to find his place now that he’s back home sans hand, but finds only an awkward (both for them and the viewers) reunion with Cersei (Lena Headey).
A new guest to King’s Landing brings some much needed danger to the ruling family with the arrival of Prince Oberyn Martell (Pedro Pascal) from Dorne, who has a not so pleasant “debt” that he’s looking to repay as the show’s advertisements have quoted. Oberyn has swagger, patience and an overall reckless abandon when it comes to Lannisters that you can’t help but watch what he’ll do next, with fascinated concern for his well-being. I’m looking forward to having him in a room with Joffrey and not poor Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) who seems beaten and exhausted in the premiere and is in no position to put Oberyn into check.
But far away from King’s Landing other highlights take place including Dany’s (Emilia Clarke) continued trek to the throne (those dragons got big), Jon Snow dealing with his desertion from wildlings after returning to The Wall, and the greatest part of Two Swords: the adventures of The Hound (Rory McCann) and Arya (Maisie Williams)! Their interactions are tense, fascinating, and dare I say heart-warming? Even with all the blood? Their scenes are backloaded for a perfect close to the episode with a final shot that really sets the tone of a Joffrey Baratheon-led “peace time.”
There is a lot going on in Two Swords and even more still to process from the aftermath of “The Red Wedding.” The Season Four premiere is a beautifully calm “toe in the water,” testing and daring the viewers to come back in after all the recent horrors. But not only does it charm you back with its song, it provides excellent nuanced character-driven performances that continue to unveil complex layer after layer. Oh, and the nudity and dragons.