If you ask five different people why they love Game of Thrones, you are likely to receive five different responses. One person might be in awe of the the captivating plot-line through which this story is told; another might love the richness of the story’s characters. One person might have great appreciation for the complexities and nuances that define the Thrones world, both present and past; and another might simply enjoy the relatability of a world that is so far removed from ours, that we should, in fact, not be able to relate at all. The acting, the dialogue, the mystical fantasy elements, the high-quality production and on-location shoots, the list goes on and on. The GoT series simply has so many layers to it; so many different reasons to love it. And when these reasons are all put together, we see why Game of Thrones is simply in a league of its own.
Yet, because there are so many layers to this series, it is sometimes difficult to really identify, at its crux, what the show is truly about. What is the message of the show — the very thing with which the creators, writers and directors want to leave their viewers. And, in the premiere episode tonight, this question could not have been answered anymore boldly. A powerful message was sent, reaffirming that above all else, this saga is about one thing — the journey and development of the story’s prized possessions — its characters.
Sure, we’ve always known that the Thrones characters are nothing short of awesome. But tonight, it was made clear that this show is not just about how the characters fit into the storyline. Rather, it’s about the very evolutions of these characters and the changes they will go through. And as each characters evolves, we as viewers are generally offered new insights into each character. This type of character development forces us to constantly revisit and rethink the way we feel about a character. A character we once loved, we may now hate. And for one that we once hated, we may now have developed feelings of empathy. In any event, the premiere episode made one thing clear: the powerful and dramatic events that took place in season three have taken their toll on the characters of season four. Though different in nature, most all characters were forced to endure a hardship. And as season four kicked off, it was more clear than ever, that each character’s journey leading up until now will play a major role in the development of who that character is to become.
The episode’s title, Two Swords, refers to the two swords that Lord Tywin creates using the Valyrian steel burnt down and forged from Ice, an ancient greatsword that belonged to Ned Stark and the Stark Lords before him for nearly 500 years. The episode showed two glimpses of when Ice was used: in the first episode ever, Ned uses Ice to behead a deserter of the Night’s Watch. Ironically, Ned would later be beheaded himself by Ice, swung by Sir Ilyn Payne on King Joffrey’s orders. In a world where swords have powerful connections with their owners, especially an ancient greatsword like Ice, this scene has tremendous meaning. For starters, it is a painful remembrance of the way that Ned Stark was killed. With the show moving as fast as it does, perhaps we are reminded that we did not have enough time to properly grieve the death of this monumental character. As Ned’s greatsword reached the end of its life, a life that lived for hundreds of years amongst House Stark, perhaps we are offered some semblance of closure on Ned’s death — it is final, he is never coming back and it is time to move on. Moreover, as the sword gets melted down into two new Lannister swords, it is underscored that the tides have turned and what once belonged to House Stark, most literally and figuratively, now belongs to House Lannister. The power has shifted to the very man melting down the greatsword — Tywin Lannister. Because Ice was such a massive greatsword, Lord Tywin decided to melt it down into two smaller swords. Though not important in itself, this is a classic example of a small nuance of a character that speaks volumes to what that character is actually about — the calculated and methodical Tywin Lannister is always strategic in any decision — why make one Valyrian steel sword when you could gain an advantage with two?
Jaime is fit with a new golden hand and has reclaimed his position in the Kingsguard, though he appears to be a very different man from when he last wore his shining armor. Not just his appearance, but his demeanor seems to have shifted as well. After presenting Jaime with his new Valyrian steel sword, Lord Tywin tells Jaime that he is no longer fit to serve on the Kingsguard and should return home to oversee Casterly Rock, while Lord Tywin remains in King’s Landing. Perhaps the old Jaime might have acquiesced to his Lord father’s demands, but not the new Jaime. Having endured years of being referred to as the honorless Kingslayer, and more recently being taken prisoner and losing his swordhand, Jaimie does not seem to care much for his father’s demands. Calm and resolute, Jaime tells his father that he will not go back to Casterly Rock. Whereas most others would not dare disobey Tywin’s orders, even Cercei and Tyrion, after what Jaime has endured, he does not seem to fear or care for his father’s orders, or what the consequences might be should he choose to disobey them. After Jaime’s refusal, Lord Tywin denounces, if not disowns his son.
THE RED VIPER AND HIS VENGEANCE
Finally, we are introduced to House Martell through the lens of Prince Oberyn, otherwise know as the Red Viper. House Martell is expected at King’s Landing for Joffrey’s royal wedding, but when Tyrion goes to greet them, he learns that the cunning Prince Oberyn has already entered King’s Landing. In the very first scene, we see that the Martells of Dorne are different from the people of the other regions of Westeros. Their accents, appearance and general demeanor appears unique. This is because the Dornish carry a bloodline that is traced back to Princess Nymeria of Rhoyne, an ancient civilization on the continent of Easteros. During the expansion of the Valyrian Freehold, approximately 5,000 years ago, the Valyrians defeated the ancient civilization of Rhoyne. Warrior Princess Nymeria of Rhoyne evacuated with 10,000 men and sailed across the Narrow Sea, arriving at Dorne. After marrying a Martell King, the Martells, backed by the power of Princess Nymeria and her 10,000 men, conquered all the lands of Dorne. House Martell emerged as the ruling house of Dorne, and they adapted the Rhoynish culture that Princess Nymeria brought over from Easteros. Today, the Dornish carry the blood of the Rhoynish and this is why they more resemble, both in culture and appearance, the people of Easteros than those of Westeros.
With a sharp tongue, the Red Viper makes it very clear to Tyrion why he has arrived at King’s Landing. He seeks revenge for the death of his sister, Elia Martell, who was married to Rhaegar Targaryen. After Robert’s Rebellion, when the Mad King was overthrown, Lord Tywin ordered Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane to eliminate of the rest of the royal family. The Mountain killed Elia’s two babies, before raping and killing her as well. For many years, House Martell was sought revenge for these actions. The Martells, especially the Red Viper, are generally thought to be hot-headed and quick to act. Though they seek revenge against the Mountain and the Lannisters, they are currently outnumbered and far from home.
SANSA & TYRION
Another example of the character development that has ensued since last season, and will likely continue to unfold before our eyes. Sansa, once a sweet and innocent child with romantic ideas of one day becoming a queen, is now living a nightmare that no person should have to endure. Forced to watch the beheading of her father and then being held prisoner to endure the abuses of King Joffrey. Next her mother and and brother are both murdered at the Red Wedding. She is also under the impression that her two youngest brothers, Bran and Rickon, are both dead. Winterfell, her home, has been burnt to the ground. What does she have left to live for?
Enter Tyrion, the imp in a terribly awkward and twisted situation, wed to the girl whose family was murdered by his own. Tyrion’s character has developed in his own right; once a man who appeared to only care about wine and whores, we have begun to see a more empathetic side to his character. Though he understands there is nothing he can say to make Sansa feel any better, that does not stop him from trying. In the end, we see just how morose Sansa’s situation is, when she tells Tyrion that she goes to the godswood not to pray, but rather because it is the only place she can go where she does not have to hear somebody talking to her.
When Tyrion returns to his chambers, he finds an impatient Shae who has become increasingly more frustrated with the dynamic of their relationship. Though he probably still loves her, it is clear that he hasn’t the time for her. Tensions are as high as ever — King Joffrey wants Tyrion dead, Lord Tywin has ordered Tyrion to put a baby in Sansa’s belly, and now the Red Viper has arrived in King’s Landing, seeking Lannister blood.
JAIME & CERCEI
As Jaime makes an attempt at intimacy, Cercei has no interest. All is not well between the two and viewers did not get the passionate reunion that we might have expected after all the time they had been separated. Cercei has grown resentment for Jaime and she tells him that while he was gone, she was all alone. Once again, we are offered a new perspective into this character, as we begin to understand some of the things she had to endure while her other half, Jaime, had been gone. The usually tough and impenetrable Cercei now reveals some of the fears and vulnerabilities she had to live with while Jaime was gone. Their time apart appears to have hardened her even further.Though being captured and losing his hand was not his choice, Cercei tells her twin-brother that “everything has changed” and that he “took too long.”
JON SNOW & THE WILDLINGS
Speaking before a Night’s Watch tribunal, Jon Snow shares the truths of his journey with the Wildlings. Facing death for desertion of the Nights’ Watch, Jon speaks true and strong. As his character evolves, he appears to be more confident than he once was. He tells them that he was following an order from Qhorin Halfhand’s in which he had to kill Qhorin to gain the trust of the Wildlings, at which point he could infiltrate their order and learn of their plans. He shares all that he has learned: Mance Rayder, the King Beyond the Wall, has successfully united all the Wildling clans — more than 100,000 men that plan to march on the Wall from the north, while the Wildlings that have already infiltrated the wall will attack from the south. Maestar Aemon decides that Jon Snow has done nothing wrong. Though, Jon Snow tells Samwell Tarly that he has done plenty wrong. Most likely, he is referring to the way he deceived Ygritte, his one true love. Despite her willingness to fight for him against her own people, Jon deserted her and never looked back.
Further south, Tormund, Ygritte and their Wildling clan awaits word from Mance Rayder. They are joined by a group of Thenns, a different clan of Wildlings, who appear to be savage cannibals.
KHALEESI, MOTHER OF DRAGONS
As expected, Khaleesi’s dragons have grown larger and more ferocious. Khaleesi is startled when one of her dragons lashes out at her. Ser Jorah tells her that “they can never be tamed, not even by their own mother.” As the dragons grow larger, it will be interesting to see to what extend Khaleesi will be able to tame her dragons. As Khaleesi continues with her army towards the slave-city of Meereen, they witness a mile-marker in the form of a crucified slave child. Ser Jorah tells her that there will be one at each mile for the next 163 miles. She orders to leave them up so that she can look upon the face of each crucified child, before providing a proper burial.
It is also worth noting that Daario Naharis is being played by a different actor than last season. Click here to find out why.
Brienne of Tarth demands of Jaime that he honors his oath to Lady Catelyn and set free Sansa. Jaime contends that King’s Landing is the safest place for Sansa, though he does not truly believe that. As Sansa’s makes her way from the shore, she is approached by Ser Dontos, the man whose life she saved during Joffrey’s nameday. At the time, Joffrey was going to kill him, but Sansa convinced Joffrey to let him live. Ser Dontos presents Sansa with a necklace that has been in his family for many generations.
ARYA & THE HOUND
The evolution of their respective characters continues, as does the dynamic of their relationship. Whereas Arya once wanted to kill the Hound for killing her friend Mycah, the two appear to have formed a bond, even if on the surface Arya still proclaims to hate him. With the rest of her family dead, the Hound now plans to take Arya to the Eyrie to receive ransom money from her aunt, Lysa Tully. En route, they stop at an inn and Arya spot’s Polliver, the man who captured them and brought them to Harrenhal. Polliver took Needle, Arya’s sword, and used it to kill Arya’s friend, Lommy. Continuing on her path for revenge, Arya heads for the inn and the Hound follows her in. After the Hound makes it clear that he does not support King Joffrey or the Lannister cause, a fight ensues where the Hound kills many men. Finally, Arya gets involved and kills two men before taking back needle and repeating to Polliver the words he said to Lommy before he killed him. Arya then inserts needle into Polliver’s neck, killing him the same way he had killed her friend previously. Arya now has a few kills under her belt, and she leaves the inn with her sword, Needle, and a horse of her own.