* Warning: this story contains spoilers.
Hayden Donnell (has memorised every word of every book and spends his evenings correcting historical innaccuracies on the Westeros Wikipedia page):
It turns out seeing most of your family and friends butchered can really change a person. Arya Stark never dreamed of knights and princes like her sister Sansa, but her curled-lip defiance in the face of those bigger and stronger than her provided comic relief in the bleak and cynical world of Westeros. A pair of beheadings, a few slit throats and some rat torture later, and she's starting to get the cold, hard look of a killer. Arya's faint smile as she inserted her old sword Needle into the neck of Polliver - the Lannister soldier who stole it from her way back in season two - would have got a lot of people cheering. The Starks were finally getting some revenge, even if it was just against a loud-mouthed nobody in an incredibly far-flung bar. But hold on a second. Getting satisfaction out of killing someone is generally thought of as pretty screwed up; even more so when you're yet to hit 13.
It could be the start of Arya becoming a darker character. Perhaps even starting to tick off more names on that death list she repeats every night. It reads: Cersei, Joffrey, Ilyn Payne, The Hound, The Mountain, Polliver. One down...
Cameron McMillan (a Thrones trainspotter who can always be relied upon for up-to-date statistics and random factoids):
It's so great to have these people back in my life: the incestuous one-armed knight, the murderous and revengeful pubescent teen (Arya would be such a good a Belieber), the slave-freeing and army-building widowed mother dealing with the harsh realities of her growing dragon triplets - sorry Ted Mosby but these people I can relate to. In a cast of thousands it can be hard to give everyone screen time but my one negative with the brilliant season opener was that my favourite character wasn't seen in Two Swords. No I'm not talking about Stannis Baratheon, the rightful King of Westoros, First of His Name, King of the Andals and the First Men, Lord of the Seven Kingdoms and Protector of the Realm. I don't mean Ser Davos Seaworth, Ramsay Snow, Yara Greyjoy, Little Finger, Varys or even Shaggydog. I mean Hodor. I've only just started reading the books but I'm pretty sure George RR Martin means for Hodor to be the real hero in the realm. Despite being a man of few words, he's the only voice of reason. He may only be the triangle in this massive orchestra that is Game of Thrones but he plays that one sound so freaking well. Looking at his stats: he's only appeared in 17 of the 31 episodes and most of them have been off the bench. Come on Benioff and Weiss: get Hodor in the game. HODOR.
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Robert Smith (has read every book, watched every episode, owns several T-shirts, and possibly has a George RR Martin shrine in his bedroom):
The Lannisters may have won the latest war for the Iron Throne, but that just gives this family of lions the room to claw each other to pieces. The first episode of the new season was mainly concerned with setting up a season's worth of plot while still getting in the usual doses of sex, violence, vengeance and dark humour - and also finding time to introduce new characters (and new actors for old characters). But the idea that the Lannister family will rip itself apart is already showing its hand as one of the fourth season's major plot points, and few will mourn that loss. There is a lot to like about the Lannisters, such as Jaime's slowly growing nobility, Twyin's icy will and Tyrion's sheer charm, but the bloodshed and horror unleashed by their grasp on power has a steep price, and they are already starting to pay this debt. It will be a pleasure to watch them struggle with that cost.
Chris Schulz (has watched every episode, is halfway through book one, and has a not-so-secret obsession with Brienne, the Maid of Tarth):
Game of Thrones is a very funny show. No really. Don't believe me? Okay, here's proof. Nestled in between last night's stabbings, shredded goats, back stabbings, dead girls strung up on crosses, facial stabbings, murder porn montages, and - erm - nut shot stabbings, were some smaller, blink-and-you'll-miss-them LOL moments. But you had to look closely: like the way Jaime Lannister - now with an accountant's haircut - moved his new metal hand around like he was the Queen waving to plebs from the back seat of a car; or how costume designers squeezed Brienne of Tarth (swoon) into an obviously uncomfortable skirt for the first time; and how Joffrey's drunken fool Dontos pitched forward ever so slightly during his stalky conversation with Sansa. Did he - for a brief moment, while swaying on his feet and with his breath reeking of mead - think he was in with a chance? But my favourite moment in last night's episode came from the introduction of The Red Viper. No, not with his dodgy brothel orgy, but the way he held his hand over a candle flame - then flexed it - before confronting two Lannister-affiliated swordsmen and indulging in some stabbing. It signalled the arrival of Thrones' latest badass. May there be much more stabbing to come.
Russell Baillie (may possibly be hate-watching the show, we're not entirely sure where his allegiances lie):
So far as I can tell this is what happened: A guy got a new sword from his dad and new prosthetic gold hand from his sister as welcome-home-sorry-about-you-losing-your-missing-hand presents. Though his sister wasn't all that pleased to see him and his dad warned him about going back to work so soon. Up north somewhere, someone's arm - not the aforementioned guy missing a hand - was being roasted on a spit. It didn't look quite enough to feed everyone. Down south somewhere, there was a fight between three dragons over a goat. The eventual DVD extras will feature a scene where a local farmer exclaims: "Those bloody dragons, they really get my goat." He is quickly flame grilled. An unusual number of scenes involved discussions over necklaces. A Thrones shopping channel is possibly imminent. A princely guy called Oberyn Martell turned up to the forthcoming royal wedding, despite a history of very bad blood between his family and his hosts. He's a Dornishman. He seems to play for both teams. He could well be trouble. Then again he could just be a Dornish patsy. There was a fight in a bar over some chickens. The winner had them as takeaways after an entree of vengeance. Clearly, with its fourth season opener, Game of Thrones has done it again ...
Bridget Jones (a latecomer, but only because she is incredibly impatient and prefers binge-watching. She'll look at spoilers, but will always deny it):
Maybe it was losing a hand. Maybe it was the not-so-shaggy haircut. Whatever the reason, it looks like Jaime Lannister is turning into a grown up. Maybe even a decent bloke. Something happened to Jaime last season. Somehow this incestuous, child-maiming, arrogant dude, who was, let's be honest, more than a bit of a dick to his brother (and my favourite) Tyrion, started to realise he could do the right thing and still be a kick ass Kingslayer. Fast-forward through to that rather lovely gold hand (which would surely hurt more than any sword) and we have ourselves a contender for crowd favourite. Yes, he's still trying it on with his sister, so that's not ideal. And he would probably throw Sansa to the wolves if his new BFF Brienne of Tarth wasn't around. But! There are signs old Jamie is becoming something of a new man - a man of ... honour? Standing up to dad Tywin, refusing to leave his job, and kind of disowning himself in the process is a big step for this golden child. What's next, a bonding session with Tyrion?
* What did you think of the first episode of Game of Thrones' fourth season? Post your comments below.