Winter has returned. Or, more accurately Game of Thrones season four returned to UK TV screens at 2AM this morning, a simulcast with the USA. Blood and violence, and a surprising lack of sex throws the audience back into Westeros. The credit sequence is as impressive as ever, with new and old locales growing from the ground, reminding us of the scope of Game of Thrones – it covers a very large space of land now with the characters all spread around.
Throwing us back into the action immediately, we see Tywin Lannister having Ned Stark’s priceless Valyrian steel sword melted down into two swords for himself and his son Jamie. We are reminded of some of the events of the previous series, of Jamie’s hand being removed, of the Red wedding, and the implications for the now drastically reduced Stark family. A tense interaction between father and son follows as Tywin questions Jamie’s place on the Kings Guard as a one handed swordsman. Cersei’s presentation of a golden replacement hand merely serves to remind Jamie of all that has changed in the time that he has been away. Joffrey, meanwhile, is as detestable as ever as he mocks his father/uncle for his ‘lack of great deeds’, and I am just itching to see the man child knocked down a peg or two.
Peter Dinklage as Tyrion is as compelling on screen as ever, and his interactions with his sworn swordsman Bronn are as sharp as they always have been. And of course, it would not be Game of Thrones without some obligatory female nakedness, this time it serves as our first introduction to Prince Oberyn (who has the interesting nickname ‘The Red Viper’) and Ellaria Sand. The show has faced a lot of criticism for its inclusion of female nudity, and lack of male nudity, and it seems at this point that they have not made a change to this status quo – barely fifteen minutes in and we’ve already seen two fully naked women. However, add in some violence, and it does serve as an interesting introduction to the characters, and the prejudices of those at King’s Landing, and sets up ‘The Red Viper’ as a character to watch in the coming episodes. A dark conversation later and we are reminded of the blood soaked history of the Lannister family.
One of the strengths of Game of Thrones, and how it manages to offset, at least a little, its proclivity for female nakedness, is in the strength and range of its female characters. Arya and Sansa Stak, Margery Tyrell and Daenerys Targarygen, all of these women are fully formed characters, with their own strengths and unique plot lines. Emilia Clarke’s Daenerys Targaryen and Sophie Turner’s Sansa Stark certainly provide contrasting images of womanhood, as they are often placed side by side because of the order of scenes. While Daenerys is preparing her army, Sansa is still stuck in Kings Landing, mourning the loss of the majority of her family. Even as you feel Sansa’s pain, you can’t help but pity Tyrion in his attempts to try and reconcile and make a good go of their forced marriage.
A return to the Wall reminds us that there is more to be concerned about in Westeros than just the political machinations of Kings Landing, and Daenerys’s campaign in the desert. The Wildlings, and Ygritte have made it south of the Wall, in running from the White Walkers, and tensions rise as a new faction appear, a group who are cannibals. Lovely. Meanwhile Jon Snow has returned from the his time away from Castle Black, and has a rather different reaction to the murder of the rest of his family to Sansa, focusing on the fact that he used to be very jealous of Robb. The events at the wall should prove to be the most exciting part of Game of Thrones given the high stakes of everything that happens there, but it falls flat a lot of the time. Maybe it is because I don’t find Jon Snow a remotely compelling character, but I suffer through his sections, rather than enjoy them.
The episode does feel a little like a whistle stop tour through the major characters in the aftermath of the Red Wedding, and in anticipation of next week’s royal wedding, but that does not make it any less interesting. It gives us a good grounding in where all of the characters are, and what they are facing, particularly if you haven’t seen the show since the season three finale first aired. Next episode sees the wedding of King Joffrey and Margery Tyrell, and we can only assume that there will be fireworks, with the tensions between everyone who has come to the city for it.
8/10 – A solid start to the season, particularly given the high expectations we have of the show, and promises exciting things to come.
Game of Thrones airs Monday morning’s a 2:00 AM, and is repeated Monday nights at 9:00 PM on Sky Atlantic.