Given we last saw the show in June, it’s certainly been a long time.
Back then we were still recovering from the Red Wedding and the death of Robb Stark (Richard Madden) and Catelyn (Michelle Fairley). Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) had arrived to Queen Cersei (Lena Headey) at King’s Landing with Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) but sans one of his hands. Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) had not impregnated his wife Sansa (Sophie Turner), and was at odds with King Joffrey (Jack Gleeson), leaving Tywin (Charles Dance) to intervene. Jon Snow (Kit Harington) was shot by the arrows of Ygritte (Rose Leslie) before arriving at Castle Black. Arya (Maisie Williams) having witnessed the death of her brother slaughtered a Frey soldier. Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) had freed her Unsullied army, but learned they stayed to fight for her.
Reviewing the first episode of Season Four is a tad treacherous. HBO is understandably nervous about reviews detailing too much and spoiling the fun. My general view on reviews is that the first act (or ‘set-up’) is open terrain and entice you like the DVD sleeve, the trailer or the back of a novel. Things get trickier in the second and third acts..
In many ways the first episode is a set-up to the season as a whole: a season in which producer David Benioff has acknowledged: “None of the characters are safe.”
All the hallmarks of the show are here: Shakespearean themes of power and family, violence, nudity, language, lavish scenery and elaborate costumes. Game of Thrones is everything we want subscription TV to be. It provides escapism with budgets and backdrops Free to Air can only dream about, it fuses it with adult themes and allows its cast to show their acting chops.
The audience is expected to think, spared signposting and commercial break end-points. The luxury of time allows for subtext and character development.
Game of Thrones is also a very deft mix of contemporary sensibilities for a modern audience within its medieval setting, without ever going too far. Would we really expect such characters to be dropping the “C” and the “F” word? Would women really stand up to males in authority with such stoicism? Probably not. But Westeros is also fictional, so we’re happy to go along for the ride.
As to the plot of this episode I think I can safely say Tyrion makes change, Joffrey taunts Jaime like a brat King should, Cersei clarifies her feelings, Tywin is unimpressed, Arya is confronted, Jon Snow avoids punishment.
And as for Daenerys, let’s just say her dragons are now very mature, with plenty of fire in their bellies.
Oberyn Martell (Pedro Pascal), from the house of Dorne, also makes his debut, with a surprising touch to his character.
Peter Dinklage has the best scenes early on, demonstrating his confidence with the material and allowing his acting might to become infinitely more memorable than his diminutive frame.
As I’ve already hinted, this season is just getting underway. Trust me when I say that still to come in the series are some absolute punches, and David Benioff will have satisfied his minions.
Game of Thrones airs 3:30pm Monday on Showcase.