It’s back! It’s finally back! Game of Thrones has returned to our screens and it’s bloody marvellous. Emphasis on the bloody.
For a series opener, there weren’t, relatively speaking, too many dramatic moments or stabbings (which are part of the very fabric of Thrones’ episodes) as it seemed the showrunners and writers instead wanted things a bit more mellow for once. Similar to the characters themselves, as the Lannisters are now settled idyllically in King’s Landing, seemingly safe from the Stark threat and further imminent uprisings. The thing about Westeros though, no one is ever safe and there are always new enemies ready to rise up against you. So say hello to Dornish Prince, Oberyn Martell.
Before we go into this character though, let’s recap the episode.
Opening with the melting down of the Starks’ Valyrian steel sword truly hits home how the most noble and honourable of the Westeros houses has been eliminated brutally and remorselessly. The King in the North is dead; the Lannisters are victorious. Jaime is now the owner of a newly forged blade . . . which he must learn to use one-handed. Despite being determined to remain in the Kingsguard, Tywin wants to place him out of the way in Casterly Rock. From this episode it looks like the series will see Jaime battling enemies within his own family – Cersei’s scorn for him taking ‘too long’ to return, Tywin’s disappointment, Joffrey’s mockery and contempt. Little shit. At least Jaime still has Brienne, whose scene with Olenna Tyrell is a fantastic mood-lifter, but her chastisement of Jaime’s lack of action in upholding Catelyn Stark’s deal is a bit off-putting. Give Jaime a break now!
Tyrion is off welcoming, awkwardly, the Dornishmen to King’s Landing for the Margeary/Joffrey wedding. Busy with various duties – acting as ambassador to brothel-visiting Oberyn and trying to rectify in some way new wife Sansa’s depression – Tyrion is lacking the time to spend with Shae, whose outburst to Tyrion about this lack of contact seems more whiny than necessary. Sansa is in a pitiful way, but she does receive one glimmer of hope, when she’s approached by the drunk former knight, Ser Dontos, who gives her a family heirloom as a gesture of thanks for helping him out of a bad situation in the previous series. The quiet smile she gives him is a complete contrast to her sadness the rest of the episode, and this brief respite from her own sorrow was a lovely moment to witness. Sophie Turner has really proven herself a capable actress over the past few series, going from strength to strength.
Across the sea, Danaerys is on her way to Meereen to free some more slaves, with her trusty advisors, her loyal army and her three bloody enormous dragons, who would much rather massacre a goat than cuddle with mum nowadays. In the North, Ygritte and the wildlings are making camp when a group of Thenns – cannibals with scarred faces – join their party, bringing a particularly creepy meal of ‘crow’ meat to roast. While they’re out in the cold, Jon Snow is back with the Watch, defending his actions from last series in order to prove his uniting with Mance Rayder’s army was all part of the plan.
But Back to Oberyn: newcomer Pedro Pascal has a quiet intensity that sends shivers down the spine. He is chilling and charming in equal measure, and Oberyn clearly has no qualms in revealing his plan to take vengeance on the Lannisters for the tragic fate of his sister (married to Rheagar Targaryen, who had an affair with Lyanna stark; was raped and murdered by Gregor Clegane under Tywin Lannister’s orders during the sack of the city): the Lannisters aren’t the only ones who pay their debts. Clearly not a coward, and capable of great ferocity (which he might call passion), his stabbing of the Lannister man singing the Rains of Castamere shows just how much you should not piss him off. Fans have been anticipating his introduction ever since casting was announced, and he certainly did not disappoint.
The shockingly violent final sequence that closed the episode was a fantastic end to the series opener, as the Hound and Arya come across some lecherous ‘King’s Men’ in a tavern – one of Arya’s nemeses, Polliver, included. The showdown at the tavern would have been highly awaited by book readers, and equally delightful for those watching fresh. It wasn’t difficult to pump fists in the air and cheer when Arya finally got some vengeance of her own – sticking Polliver with the pointy end was rewarding viewing. The episode closed on the Hound and Arya riding off into the distance, with Arya finally provided a horse of her own and her trusty needle at her side. Sounds like something from a fairy tale, except this fantasy world is full of fire and mayhem and death – the exact image of the wasteland that the pair are seen heading towards as the credits roll.
Trying not to raise the bar too early with this episode, so it won’t be given the full 5 stars. But even a 1 star Thrones episode is miles better than most. Gorgeous storytelling, exceptional acting and whip-smart script.