Game of Thrones is back! After months of tantalizing build-up, the season premiere has made its debut on HBO. Check out my thoughts on the premiere episode, “Two Swords,” after the cut.
Spoiler Note: This post is for those who have read the A Song of Ice and Fire series. As such the post itself and the comments will contain spoilers. If you haven’t read the books yet, you can discuss this episode in our non-book reader recap. Thanks!
In King’s Landing, Tywin Lannister orders Ice, the Valyrian steel sword of Ned Stark, to be melted down into two swords. He later presents one of the precious new blades to his son Jaime, and insists that he step down from the Kingsguard since he has lost a hand. Jaime refuses, but Tywin tells him to keep the sword anyway since he will need it, having only hand- and no family. The Kingslayer’s reunion with Cersei isn’t going any better; despite acquiring a new golden hand and making efforts to regain their closeness, she’s still resentful of his long absence and may be severing their relationship for good.
Tyrion, accompanied by Bronn and Pod, has been assigned the duty of welcoming a Dornish prince to the city as a guest of Joffrey’s wedding, but finds that the expected prince has sent his notorious younger brother in his stead- and the man has already taken himself off to a brothel.
It’s then we meet Prince Oberyn Martell of Dorne and Ellaria Sand, choosing a female whore to join them in bed. Ellaria picks one, and then Oberyn insists that Olyvar (who appears to have Ros’s old job in Littlefinger’s brothel now) join them as well. The man is joining them just as someone begins singing “The Rains of Castamere” in the brothel, distracting Oberyn from more pleasurable pursuits. He seeks out the source of the song, finding Lannister soldiers. Challenging them, the Lannister men insult Oberyn and he stabs one through the wrist. Tyrion and Bronn interrupt the fight with their arrival, and outside as they talk, Oberyn reminds Tyrion of the brutal death of his sister Elia at the hands of Gregor Clegane.
Meanwhile, Shae tries to coax Sansa into eating something, anything. Tyrion joins them and tensely asks for a moment alone with his wife. Sansa wonders how he can possibly help her, as Tyrion offers what little condolences he can. To no avail, Sansa excuses herself to the Godswood, not to pray, but to be left alone. Tyrion retires to his chambers to a familiar greeting from Shae, awaiting her Lion. Despite his warnings of the dangers of continuing their relationship, she persists, angrily (and loudly) accusing Tyrion of wanting to ship her away. Their conversation is overheard by a handmaiden who we later learn is an informant for Cersei.
Elsewhere in the city, the Queen of Thorns happily welcomes Brienne of Tarth to a meeting with her granddaughter Margaery Tyrell. The two younger women talk, and Margaery makes it clear that while she harbors no grudge against her for Renly’s death, Joffrey is the king now.
Later, Jaime and Brienne overlook Sansa praying by the water, as Brienne reminds Jaime of the promise he made to Catelyn Stark. Sansa becomes nervous as she senses someone is following her, but it turns out to be an old friend, Ser Dontos. He thanks her for saving his life, and gives her a family necklace, which he asks her to wear so that his name may have one more moment in the sun.
In Essos, one morning, Daenerys Targaryen sits with her dragons, one by her side and two flying in the sky and hunting. They tussle over a goat, and landing at their mother’s feet, misbehaving and even snapping at Dany as they fight with one another. One springs to her defense, and it’s clear to her that her babies have grown into spoiled adolescent creatures. Jorah reminds her that dragons cannot be tamed.
Daenerys arrives back at her camp to find that Daario Naharis and Grey Worm are missing, whom Barristan Selmy informs her are gambling. Accompanied by Missandei, Daenerys finds the two men, who have been balancing blades since midnight in a battle of will power to win the honor of riding beside her on the road to Meereen. Daenerys tells them that the honor will go to those who did not keep her waiting.
On the march to Meereen, Daario offers Daenerys some strategy in the form of a bouquet of flowers, with a lesson attached. The march comes to a sudden halt as they reach the first of 163 mile markers – a crucified child slave pointing the way. Ser Barristan suggests that some of her men ride ahead to bury them, but Daenerys insists that she will look upon each of their faces.
The Wildlings have set up camp South of the Wall as they await their orders from Mance Rayder. Tormund accuses Ygritte of purposefully letting Jon Snow live, but they are interrupted by the arrival of the Thenn. Their leader, Styr, trades words with Torumund, and brings a sort of gift. Well fed Crow, nicely marbled, which tastes so much better than the meat North of the Wall.
At Castle Black, we find Jon Snow and Samwell Tarly back in familiar settings. Jon recounts the last time he spoke with Robb, and the jealousy he held for his brother his entire life. Sam admits that he felt the same way about Jon, who is better than him at everything – except reading, and tells Jon that they’re ready for him. Jon must stand in front of Alliser Thorne, Janos Slynt, and Maester Aemon against charges of murder and betrayal. Jon admits to breaking his vows and warns them of the Wildling army encroaching on the Wall as they speak. Jon is excused, his head still securely on his shoulders, thanks to the grace of Master Aemon, who knows when the truth is spoken thanks to his time in King’s Landing.
In the riverlands we find Arya and The Hound up to their usual bickering as they ride on a single horse. They come upon an inn, where Arya spots Polliver, the man who killed Lommy and stole her sword, Needle. They find a seat, and soon after Polliver recognizes The Hound, pouring him some ale and urging him to join their party as they pillage the countryside. The Hound doesn’t take too kindly to all of the talk, and the lack of chicken. The inevitable happens, tables are flipped, as The Hound takes on five men. Arya watches, stunned, until an opportunity presents itself, smashing a vase over one man’s head and stealing his sword, quickly making work with it. Slashing Polliver’s leg she reclaims Needle, and begins reciting his last words to Lommy, as he finally recognizes the words, he realizes his fate. The episode ends with Arya and The Hound riding away, this time with Arya riding atop her own white pony.
What I Liked (and there was a lot)
The cold opening- Beautiful combination of the symbolic reforging of Ned’s sword Ice, the burning of a wolf pelt, and “The Rains of Castamere.”
Updated main credits- Love the new animations. The addition of Meereen and especially the Dreadfort gave me a thrill!
Oberyn and Ellaria have arrived- Dangerous and daring, the bisexual duo from Dorne are already shaking things up. Prince Oberyn bringing up the story of Rhaegar and Elia is a reminder that he’s not going to let the Lannisters get too comfortable with their power.
The wit- I found myself laughing quite a bit during the episode, from Tyrion and Bronn’s expected funny moments, to Maester Aemon’s retort as to why he can spot a lie.
References to the books- No, Sansa doesn’t have to eat lemoncakes, but it’s better when she does! Also: Pod’s identification of the Dornish sigils, and mentions of the Doom of Valyria, Ser Arthur Dayne, the Kingswood Brotherhood, and of course, Ser Duncan the Tall of Dunk & Egg fame.
Setting up the season- There were several very good scenes establishing the season’s trajectories: Jon’s facing the Night’s Watch council with a more adult poise, the introduction of the creepy cannibal Thenns and inter-wildling tensions, Brienne challenging Jaime to remember his promise about the Stark daughters, and more.
Arya checks a name off her list- And the Hound gets his chicken after a fantastic brawl, one of the show’s best smaller-scale fights to date. A great way to end the season premiere.
What I Didn’t Like
Crawling across Essos- The pace feels like it slows down by 50% when we switch to Daenerys’s storyline. I am liking the new Daario (Michiel Huisman) however, and I don’t mind the levity of the first scene with Grey Worm. We need a little lightness when there’s material like child crucifixions later on in the episode.
“Winter Is Coming Live” Game of Thrones, Season 4 recap show: Two Swords by Winter Is Coming