In what fans have eagerly awaited for the better part of a year, HBO’s epic ‘Game of Thrones’ returned for its fourth season on Sunday. By now, viewers should realize that the show rarely-front loads much exciting action into its season premiere episodes. The series is a slow burn, and the premiere mainly focuses on setting up plot threads that will play out over the next nine episodes.
Of course, that’s not to say that the episode, called ‘Two Swords’, is dull by any means. This is a story worth savoring the small details and convoluted plot machinations.
The episode title is explained (or half-explained) right away, as we see Tywin Lannister melting down Ned Stark’s mighty broadsword and having it forged into two smaller swords. One of those goes to his son Jaime, now considerably cleaned up and looking much less like a hobo. Tywin attempts to send Jaime back to Casterly Rock to rule in his stead there, but Jaime insists on staying in King’s Landing and resuming his post as head of the Kingsguard. Even one-handed, he’s a better swordsman than most in the kingdom. (He jokes that his injury will make his duels more sporting.)
Later, Jaime has his stump fitted for a gold prosthetic hand. He doesn’t seem much impressed by it. I suspect that it will prove a hindrance and he’ll have to drop it. He also visits Cersei, who resents Jaime for allowing himself to be kidnapped and leaving her alone for so long. So, yes, Cersei is still a bitch, as if we needed confirmation of that.
Newly introduced this year is a potentially fun character, a Dornish prince named Oberyn Martell who has been sent to King’s Landing (against his wishes) to represent his family at the impending royal wedding of Joffrey to Margaery. He’s a troublemaker and despises the Lannisters for their role in the death of his sister. (She was married to a Targaryen prince, and was raped and murdered by the knight called The Mountain during Robert’s Rebellion.)
For those struggling to keep track of the various complex relationships in the show, you may recall that Cersei’s daughter Myrcella was shipped off to Dorne in Season 2 for a political marriage to another Martell prince.
Up north at Castle Black, Jon Snow is put on trial by the leaders of the Night’s Watch for deserting his brothers and murdering Qhorin Halfhand. Although he explains what really happened and warns them of the impending attack by the Wildling army, half of his masters believe that he’s a traitor, especially when he admits to breaking his vow of celibacy with Ygritte, and want to execute him. Fortunately, blind Maester Aemon defends Snow and lets him go.
En route to that attack on Castle Black, the Wildling raiding party is joined by a creepy band of cannibals called the Thenn, who have ritually scarred their heads. The Thenn were sent to aid them by Mance Rayder. None of the Wildlings seem happy about this, nor should they.
Arya Stark is still with The Hound. She laments that there’s no point in running away from him, since she has no family left and could not survive without his protection. The Hound informs her that he plans to bring her to the Vale and ransom Arya to her aunt Lysa (Catelyn’s sister, the whack-job who breastfed her much-too-old son). That hardly seems like a great life to look forward to, but I guess it’s something.
On the way, they come across an inn where Arya spots Polliver, the Lannister soldier who stole her sword “Needle” and killed her friend Lommy back in Season 2. The Hound orders her to steer clear, but Arya charges into the inn ahead of him, forcing The Hound to follow. Polliver doesn’t remember Arya, but he recognizes The Hound, and invites him to join his band of men. Instead, The Hound turns surly and deliberately picks a fight, culminating in him single-handedly slaughtering an entire room of armed men. Arya gets Polliver herself, though. She steals back Needle and recites to Polliver the same lines he delivered to Lommy before killing the boy. As a flash of recognition finally crosses his face, Arya cold-heartedly stabs the man through the throat. This is the second person that Arya has killed deliberately (if you exclude the stable boy she accidentally stabbed in Season 1), and she does so with relish. Even if not by design, little Arya is shaping up to be an excellent apprentice for The Hound.
So, it turns out that the second sword of the episode title was not the other one that Tywin forged, but Needle. In fitting bookends, as one Stark sword is destroyed, another is returned.
Like all episodes of the series, this one is densely plotted and has a lot more going on than I have time to describe here. Daenerys, Sansa and Brienne also get important moments. This is a strong premiere episode, and I look forward to what the show will bring us next.