Two Swords. This Sunday marked the return to HBO’s grimdark fantasy epic, A Game of Thrones. This season is based on the second-half of George RR Martin’s A Storm of Swords, book 3 in his A Song of Ice and Fire series. The first episode takes us through Westeros and the lands beyond the Narrow Sea, displaying palace intrigue, spoiled kings, Wildling cannibals and (of course) dragons. As usual, spoilers and then some.
The episode begins with Tywin Lannister melting down and reforging a massive sword into two separate swords. The blade, named Ice, is made of Valyrian steel, and was once owned by the late Ned Stark–the very one used to take his head. In the wake of the Red Wedding (shudder!) it seems “He-Who-Shits-Gold” has decided that with his enemies vanquished, it was highs time to celebrate his conquests. A wolf pelt scabbard, used to hold the sword, is tossed into the fire–reminding us of the tragic demise of House Stark.
One of the swords we learn is to be given to Jaime Lannister, returned home with one hand but still wishing to take up his old duties. Daddy Lannister has other plans however–and demands that Jaime return to Casterly Rock and take up the Lannister mantle. Then Jaime does what no one else ever does. He says “NO.” He plans on staying on to serve his oath in the King’s Guard. An irate Pappy Lannister throws a bit of a fit, and (being the prick he is) hits Jaime with the “a one-armed man with no family needs all the help he can get.” Thanks Dad.
Meanwhile, everyone’s favorite bastard Imp Tyrion Lannister is hanging out with the sellsword Bronn and Squire Podrick on the roads outside King’s Landing. They’re awaiting the arrival of Oberyn Martell of Dorne, who we soon learn really doesn’t like Lannisters. Oberyn however isn’t on the road, but in a brothel with his paramour Ellaria Sand played by actress Indira Varma (HBO likes to recycle) sampling the locals–both men and women. Before they can get down however, Oberyn hears some Lannisters singing and goes over to do some hand-stabbing. He’s intercepted by Tyrion who presses him to find out why he’s here. Oberyn reveals he’s seeking vengeance for the rape and death of his sister (wife of the late Rhaegar Targaryen), and her children, at the hands of The Mountain–under the orders of Tywin Lannister. As Oberyn reminds us, “The Lannisters aren’t the only ones who pay their debts.” Ruh-roh!
Tyrion has more than Oberyn to deal with. There’s the whole fact that he’s in a forced marriage with a 14-year old Sansa Stark who is grieving the recent murder of her mother and brother under Lannister orders. Awkward. As if that’s not enough, his lover Shae is becoming increasingly jealous of the attention Tyrion is heaping on Sansa. When she tries to seduce him and he turns her down, fearful they might be found out, she storms out–but not before one of Cersei Lannister’s lady-spies catches a glimpse of the spat. Not good. Sansa on the other hand spends her time in the prayer gardens dealing with her grief, where she is creepily stalked by Ser Dontos–the one-time drunkard knight demoted to the role of court fool by King Joffrey “The Monster.” He thanks her for saving his life (it was Sansa who stayed Joffrey from killing dude) and gives her a trinket of his appreciation. Later… in which a desperate Sansa puts her fate into the hands of a guy who can’t get off the sauce.
Speaking of the monster. we are treated to the image of a statue of King Joffrey valiantly standing atop a dead Dire Wolf impaled with crossbow bolts. Of course we know the only thing Joffrey likes to use crossbow bolts on are the local working girls of King’s Landing. When Jaime tries to resume his job as the head of Joffrey’s guard, the Monster (his secret son) ridicules him by pointing out he is a washed up 40-year-old knight with no great accomplishments–and now one hand. That kid is a gem. As if things aren’t bad enough for Jaime, it seems his incestuous love affair with Cersei is on the rocks. Even with a new golden hand, Cersei makes it plain he’s not the man he used to be. She claims that he abandoned her when he disappeared back in Season 1. When he counters that he fought his way back to her, she replies with a, “You took too long.” That’s cold bruh. That’s also your sister. Ewwww.
Elsewhere in King’s Landing, Margery Tyrell talks about her upcoming nuptials tp Joffrey with her grandmother. The Queen of Thorns reminds her not to talk ill of her soon to be husband badly in public, showing just how dangerous King’s Landing has become. They are interrupted by Brienne of Tarth who reveals to Margery how Renly died–the shadow baby monster with Stannis Baratheon’s face. Brienne also challenges Jaime to keep his oath to get Sansa safely back to her family.
Over at the Wall, a returned Jon Snow and Samwell Tarley do a bit of bonding before the Stark bastard has to stand trial before the Night’s Watch. He’s accused of murdering Qhorin Half-hand and other crimes while doing his Donnie Brasco. He tells them what really went down and tries to get them to understand that there’s a massive Wildling army about to descend on the Wall. While the rest of the council (haters if you ever saw em’) want to see Jon strung up, the Maester decides otherwise.
And the Wildings are here! Ygritte and Tormund Giantsbane are with a band, planning their scouting missing to make way for Maynce Rayder. They’re joined by some new Wildings–a group of bald-headed, scar-faced dudes called Thenn. After dropping a few hints about Ygritte being “too scrawny” and the people of Westeros being fattened up from lazy living and eating, they reveal that they’re cannibals–spitting a human arm over a fire and boasting about the taste of Crow.
Meanwhile, across the sea in Essos, Daenerys Targaryen sits around with her dragons–who have gone through a serious growth spurt. Drogon especially has gotten big and fierce. When Dany tries to stop their squabbling over a fresh kill (a bloodied lamb) he snaps back, and she’s forced to withdraw–obviously fearful. Jorah Mormont has to remind her that they’re friggin’ DRAGONS…and they won’t ever be tame, not even to their mother.
We are also treated to someone new and old in Dany’s life–Daario Naharis. Except the actor playing Daario now (Michiel Huisman) is not the actor who played him before. In fact, this guy is the actor from Treme–who played the reformed drug addict musician Sonny (HBO really likes to keep actors on the payroll!). It was a jolt, because this Daario didn’t even come with some Eastern accent. And the chemistry between he and Dany so far is pretty meh. We’ll see how this works out…
We do learn however that she and the massive army of Unsullied are marching on their way to the city of Meereen, which it turns out the Good Masters have marked a path to–with the dead bodies of slave children. Time for Dany to get her white savior on. Again.
But the real action of this episode is with everyone’s favorite odd couple–Arya and The Hound. The two are still on the road, after that whole dropping her off at the Red Wedding thing didn’t work out. It begins with Arya complaining that she’s tired of riding in the Hound’s lap and should have her own horse. He taunts that he’s just trying to deliver her to the not-so-sane Lysa Arryn and that her aunt can buy her a pony afterward. The two run across the sadistic Lannister man-at-arms Polliver and his men at a local tavern, sexually assaulting the owner’s daughter and taking his food. Earlier, we see their handiwork in dead bodies of local merchants and farmers left to rot along the road. Arya especially remembers Polliver as the guy who took her sword Needle back in season 2, and ran it through the neck of her friend Lommy.
Before The Hound can stop her, she’s already marched off to the tavern–making their presence known. Polliver recognizes the Hound and tries to get him to come riding and pillaging with them. They claim to be above the law, as they wear the king’s colors. When The Hound says “Fuck the King,” and demands instead from Polliver a chicken or two to eat “or else,” we know things are going to end badly for somebody. Sure enough, after what is probably one of the bloodiest, violent tavern brawls on GOT to date, there’s a heap of dead men, the Hound gets his cooked chicken and Arya gets her horse. She also does her share of killing. First she runs one guy who’s wounded through with a broad sword–real slow like. Then she gets Needle back from Polliver and taunts him (using the very words he used to kill Lommy) before sticking the Braavosi sword into his throat. Just before the end, she gets the satisfaction of recognition that lights up his face.
And that’s episode 1 of season 4. So Game of Thrones is back. Next week, looks like it’s a wedding. Two words for you. Buckle up.