With every visit we take to Westeros one of the many questions that we are faced with is which characters swear fealty to whom? It was an element that tested us throughout last season, be it the loyalties of Stark banner-men or the morality of members of the Nights Watch.
Between characters dying and those who shift their loyalties or the occasional casting reshuffle that occurs every so often, David Benioff and D.B Weiss have become talented in at explaining who the new folks are, what their intentions could be and most importantly, why we should care about them. One of the most clear cut examples from the opening episode is the introduction of the Dornish Prince Oberyn Martell (Pedro Pascal) and his paramour Elleria Sand (Indria Varma). Oberyn proves elusive as Tyrion is told on uncertain terms that the Prince is already in Kings Landing, as he is not one of “big welcome parties.”
Cut to Oberyn and Elleria hanging out in one of Littlefinger’s brothels, indulging in the wares and goods of the establishment and it tells us all we need to known about them: their pan-sexuals, forever prowling around to get what they want. Yet after overhearing a Lannister solider sing The Rains of Castamere a few rooms down the brothel, we really find out that Oberyn hates the Lannisters (the Prince even goes into greater depth when talking to Tyrion right after stabbing one of the Lannister men in the wrist). We learn that Oberyn’s sister was Elia Martell, wife to Rhaegar Targaryen, and that during the sack of Kings Landing she was raped by and killed alongside her children by Tywin’s bannerman, Gregor Clegane.
Pascal’s delivery really seals the performance and gives out a great introduction to a character that is more than likely to keep us interested as the season progresses. Both he and Indria hold their own as Westeros’ new power duo, and their thirst for vengeance against the Lannisters is not likely to stop at one solider’s wrist.
However the episode’s most standout performance has to go to the perfectly choreographed fight between Arya, The Hound and a handful of Lannister men, lead by Poliver, the man who took Needle and murdered Lommy Greenhands. The elements of the tavern where the scene was shot, and it’s surroundings adds to the heightened tension and intensity – The Hound slowly losing his temper, the clattering of ale mugs, the sounds of drinking, the screaming and wailing of servant girls being threatened, the way Arya taunt’s Poliver as she approaches his beating body, muttering and toying word for word the same sentence he said to Lommy before sticking him in the throat with Needle – that really creates a memorable moment, that leaves us both satisfied and skeptical as to how far Arya will go to claim revenge on those who have wronged her and the Stark name.
It was an episode that lead off with strength, using the breakout characters to push events in motion. We see Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) leading her army towards the slave city of Meereen, yet she faces difficulty with her three dragons, who are becoming far more unpredictable as they age into adolescence (no doubt it will be a more common feature as the season moves forward). We also get no mention of Bran and his companions, though we still have plenty of time yet. Jon Snow gets a brief amount of screen time, who is forced to explain his actions to Maestor Aemon, Ser Alliser Throne and former City Watch commander, Janos Slynt.
There was even time to bring to light the wildling party who crossed the wall with Jon, with Ygritte and Tormund Giantsbane being joined by a new wildling threat in the form of Styr, Magnar of Thenn.
It’s early days for the new season, but we can rest easy that the producers, cast and crew will hand us another unforgettable journey in the world of Westeros.