In what’s arguably the most anticipated season premiere this year (take that Mad Men!), Game of Thrones opened its fourth season with the strong and satisfying “Two Swords.”
“Two Swords” is mostly a Lannister victory lap after laying waste to Robb Stark and his forces at the Red Wedding. Tywin melts down Robb’s overlarge sword, made of rare Valryian steel, and making two smaller, practical weapons: one for himself and one for Jaime. But while Tywin and his family might be enjoyng their so called victory, the cracks are showing on a smaller scale. Jaime refuses his father’s offer to return home to rule, an honor denied to Tyrion, and Cercei is disappearing into wine to deal with the command to wed again. Jaime wants to stay to be close to Cercei, but his sister (still gross!) pushes him away as well, crying out “Everything’s changed!” Seems Jaime’s capture and subsequent extended abscence might have been good for him, but carried consequences in his relationships. Joffrey’s still a monster, but we only get subtle glimpses this hour as he belittles his “uncle’s” desire to remain on as one of Joffrey’s bodyguards. Jaime doesn’t even find rest in Brianne, who eggs him on to fulfill his promise to Catelyn and protect Sansa.
However, not all threats to the Lannisters come from within. Joffrey’s pending nuputials are bringing scores of visitors to King’s Landing, especially Prince Oberyn Martell. Oberyn carries a grudge against anyone with the last name Lannister, after the murder of his niece and nephew and the rape/murder of his sister at the probable orders of Tywin during Robert’s rebellion. The show expertly gives us the pertinent backstory from the wealth of history in the novels, hinting at the rich roots of the series. Tyrion is sent to greet Oberyn as Joffrey’s ambassador, but it’s far more likely Bronn is right and tyrion is the proffered bait if Oberyn is interested in blood. Of course, Oberyn is interested in blood, but he’s also adventurous when it comes to his sexual appetite and Tyrion finds the prince setting up shop in a whorehouse and getting in an altercation.
Tyrion’s still dealing with Shae’s jealousy at his marriage to Sansa and Shae is aking things as, um, hard as she can. Sansa’s all but disappeared into depression at the news of the death of her mother and brother, seeking silence in her prayer time. But it’s also here she finds an unlikely friend in Ser Dontos, the knight whose life she saved at Joffrey’s birthday party. He gives her kindness and the token of a necklace that once belonged to his mother.
On a larger scale, “Two Swords” checks in on two larger threats to the Lannisters brewing across Westeros. Daenerys is still on her slave freedom tour, now approaching Meereen with an army adn entourage that’s at least doubled in size. And Meereen knows she’s coming, leaving crucified slaves for Dany to see each mile she coveres toward the city. I’m sure her focus is still on the Iron Throne, but for now, Dany has more noble purposes in mind, so it’s no wonder she’s stil met with cries of “Mother!” And let’s not forget to mention that her three dragons are enormous now, and harder to control. We see them in a spectacular effects sequence where they fight over a bloody meal.
FInally, we check in on Arya and The Hound, who’ve changed course in the aftermath of the Red Wedding. The only ransom to be found now is with Arya’s aunt Lysa in the Vale. But the pair find more than they bargained for in a stop along the way, resulting in a collision course with the pasts of both Arya and The Hound. Joffery’s men are enjoying their power, eating up the food at an inn and on the cusp of rape, when they confront the Hound as a deserter. One of the men also happen to be Polliver, who murdered her friend and stole Needle from her on the road. We get our first glimpse of Arya and her elation at exacting bloody revenge on him. If there’s anyone on the show who deserves this moment, it’s Arya, but there’s also a bit of fear at the joy she finds in satisfaction.
“Two Swords” excels at dropping us back into this world with a minimum of confusion. There’s always a bit of anxiety when a new season of Game of Thrones begins, as I’m unsure if I can remember everything I need to know about the plot and characters. I’ve read four of the five books and I still have to carefully Google up a character now and then. “Two Swords” establishes where we are in the story quickly, but never at the sacrifice of pacing. We check in with every important story piece, never lingering too long or on anything that just doesn’t feel important. It does what a great season premiere should, establish the story and engage us in the new directions. I know where the story goes from here, so I’m disqualified from theorizing, but I’d love to hear your SPOILER FREE thoughts below.