Game Of Thrones Returns, And The Knives Are Out
The first in our series of Game of Thrones recaps. Warning: there are spoilers.
This is the first in our recap series of Game of Thrones’ fourth season. Spoiler alert.
Over the past three seasons, Game of Thrones has demonstrated what blades can do with such prolificacy that the show’s turning into the Gillette 3000. And last night’s episode, the first of season four, offered plenty more keen, destructive edges.
Having put Robb Stark, his mother Catelyn, wife Talisa and her unborn child to the sword, Tywin Lannister is perpetrating a more symbolic destruction of House Stark. He’s melting down their ancestral greatsword, Ice, and incinerating its direwolf-skin scabbard.
It’s a shocking act of vandalism. This sword is over 400 years old, made from spell-forged Valyrian steel. Since the secrets of creating this magical alloy have been lost with old Valyria – the civilisation whose only survivors are the Targaryens – the remaining weapons are passed down through noble Westerosi families as heirlooms, with names and histories much like Dyrnwyn, Excalibur and other mythological swords.
Ser Ilyn Payne used Ice to behead Ned Stark back in season 1. Now, Tywin has had it reforged into two swords. One is for his prodigal son Jaime – “a one-handed man with no family needs all the help he can get”. The other is a thoroughly undeserved wedding present to grandson Joffrey, who treats Uncledad Jaime with undisguised contempt.
But if one Lannister really knows cutting, it’s Cersei, who’s fuming about that “wicked little bitch from Highgarden” Margaery Tyrell and her brother Loras, “the renowned pillow-biter”. She’s not really in the mood for a twincestuous romp with Jaime and his new golden hand.
“I murdered people so I could be here with you!” Jaime pleads.
“You took too long,” replies Cersei.
That Jaime even hopes for sympathy from his terrible family reveals how much his ordeal has changed him. There’ll be even less sympathy for Tyrion now a nosy maidservant has spilled the beans that Shae is his mistress.
Severed from her entire family, married into the family who had them killed, Sansa just wants to be alone. But she’s being watched… by Jaime and Brienne, my favourite ’shipmates! Nobody is more into keeping oaths than the Maid of Tarth, who leans on Jaime to fulfil his promise to Catelyn and keep Sansa safe.
“Are you sure we’re not related?” Jaime says, after Brienne lacerates him with her eyes. From him, that’s totally a come-on.
Also stalking Sansa is Ser Dontos Hollard, the drunken knight whom she saved from death by convincing Joffrey to make him a court fool.
He corners Sansa in the godswood, seemingly just to thank her by giving her his mum’s necklace. To Sansa, it’s a trinket from one shattered family to another… but what if, like Ice, this heirloom is a double-edged sword? Just a thought for next week.
Meanwhile, Tyrion is stuck welcoming a legendary swordsman to King’s Landing for Joffrey’s upcoming wedding – Prince Oberyn Martell, the ‘Red Viper’ of Dorne. But Oberyn, with his paramour Ellaria Sand, has headed straight to a brothel for some swordsmanship of another sort.
Twelve minutes in, the sexposition is back! Even Littlefinger’s twinky stooge is gearing up for a steamy bisexual orgy — until Oberyn overhears the notorious strains of ‘The Rains of Castamere’ and can’t resist putting a dagger in the wrist of a smug Lannister. Tyrion arrives just in time for this display of Dornish music criticism, and for Oberyn to admit that he’s really in town to avenge the murder of his sister Elia and her two Targaryen children.
Meanwhile, Elia’s sister-in-law Daenerys is still the Great White Hope of Essos, on her way to liberate Meereen, another slave city. And in the grand tradition of TV recasting, we’ve got a new Daario Naharis this season. (Hellooo, Michiel Huisman.)
He’s introduced holding one of his two sexy swords in an endurance contest with Unsullied leader Grey Worm, whom he mocks for having no balls. Let’s be clear: in the Hottest Eunuch stakes, Grey Worm > Theon Greyjoy > Varys. But new Daario is pleasingly dashing – he rivals Oberyn in the Inigo Montoya stakes.
Daario also gives Dany a quick lesson in winning the Meereenese over via their local flowers, which include a blue rose from Copperart and something called ‘Harpy’s Gold’, that’s “beautiful, but poisonous”.
It’s also a waratah. Search your feelings; you know it to be true!
Up north, Ygritte, Tormund and the remnants of their wildling raiding party are waiting for Mance Rayder’s signal to attack Castle Black. They’re joined by a sinister party of Thenns, a ritually scarified wildling race who look a bit like the Reaper vampires from Blade II. The cannibal Thenns assure Tormund that he “really ought to try crow” because it’s “fat, and marbled”.
Cut, hilariously, to a shot of Samwell Tarly! He’s commiserating Robb’s death with Jon Snow, who’s back in black and almost recovered from Ygritte’s parting shots last season. She may reckon Jon knows nothing, but he has a fair bit to tell the Night’s Watch about Mance’s pending attack. Janos Slynt, the former crooked King’s Landing cop whom Tyrion exiled to the Wall, wants Jon’s head. But Maester Aemon’s more tolerant approach wins out; Jon lives to sook another day.
Jon was the one who gave his kid sister Arya Stark her sword, Needle. Now, as Sandor ‘The Hound’ Clegane escorts Arya to be ransomed by her aunt Lysa Arryn at the Eyrie, they stumble across Polliver, the very guy who stole Needle from her… and used it to kill her friend Lommy.
“Of course you named your sword,” snarks the Hound.
“Lots of people name their swords,” Arya replies.
“Lots of cunts.”
I’m still jonesing for these intellectual sparring partners to get their own spin-off talk show, My God Is Death. (“Listening to talkers makes me thirsty” – the Hound.) But there’s something wrong and chilling about the methodical way in which Arya checks Polliver off her prayer list.
By Game of Thrones’ bloodbath standards, this was a subdued start to the season. But Jaime and the Hound are taking a stab at new codes of honour, while Arya and Oberyn are positively bleeding revenge. For me, it’s more intriguing to see characters going rogue than to kick off another season with yet more cut and thrust in Westerosi politics.
Game of Thrones airs on Showcase at 3.30pm on Mondays, fast-tracked from the US.
Mel Campbell is a freelance journalist and cultural critic, and author of the book Out of Shape: Debunking Myths about Fashion and Fit. She blogs on style, history and culture at Footpath Zeitgeist and tweets at @incrediblemelk.