There’s a reason why HBO had a twenty-five-minute recap of Game of Thrones‘ third season in preparation for the fourth: the tales have become more varied and twisted than the swords that make up the Iron Throne. Picking up halfway through A Storm of Swords‘ story (the massive third book of the Song of Ice and Fire series), Game of Thrones‘ new season had a lot to catch up on, and a lot to explain moving forward. The most powerful and meaningful sequence though was its first: the Lannisters are not just conquering their enemies, they’re gobbling them up and repurposing them. Hit the jump for more.
“Two Swords” took an interesting approach to a season opener; it wasn’t explosive, but expository in nature. There’s a lot of narrative ground to cover, and the episode covered oodles of it. Last season, the tightest and best episodes were the ones that had the narrowest focus. Like in the book series, just as viewers get settled into one POV, we’re shuttled over to another one. If it happens too quickly, it’s hard to digest anything. So, the episodes that focus on the fewest (of the many, many) characters tend to be the most successful, because they expand the story the most and give over more time to characterization rather than plot points.
But, despite its almost exhaustive scope, “Two Swords” made the smart choice to feature most of POVs viewers were waiting for: Dany watches her dragons feed — and grow out of control — while cultivating her crush on Daario (newly recast as Michel Huisman); Jon Snow is on trial for killing the Halfhand and running off with the Wildings, but is spared because of his helpful spying; The Hound and Arya are now bound together, post-Red-Wedding, and now even more so thanks to a killing spree. Joffrey remains a shit.
That doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of such a layered episode, which provided so much groundwork for the upcoming season. “Two Swords” wasn’t flashy, and was slow: it was a workhorse of an hour. It also seems to indicate that while we’re in for a very measured start to the season, there will be immense payoff down the road. That’s how it’s worked so far, at least.
The biggest splash was made through the introduction of Dorne, the part of the Seven Kingdoms we’ve spent no time in so far, and more importantly, gave a face to their ruling family, the Martells. The sexually “anything goes” prince Oberyn and his lover, Ellaria Sand, usher in the episode’s first (and only) nudity in one of Littlefinger’s brothels. Oberyn is hot-headed and casually violent, which he also connects with foreplay. But the most interesting aspect is his hatred for the Lannisters, because he blames Tywin for the rape and murder of his sister Elia, who was married to Prince Rhaegar Targaryen. This animosity between the houses is something Tyrion has been sent to patch up, but it’s clear that will not be a simple errand.
The Starks are mostly cast to the wind, with only Sansa remaining alive (as far as anyone knows), and Arya and Bran are too far away to matter politically. The question for viewers is who to back now that the seemingly de facto protagonist is dead. The Starks don’t seem like a safe bet after two devastating season endings that left them slain by Lannisters.
But in between this darkness and the exposition in “Two Swords,” there was a lot of Game of Thrones‘ signature humor. Without it, the episode would have been a slog. Bronn, Tyrion, the Hound, Jaime and Cersei all provided some much needed quips in between the scheming and the mourning. The sadness that pervades the episode is not only over the loss of Robb and Catelyn, but of the hope Robb represented that Joffrey might be stopped. As The Hound put it so eloquently, “fuck the King.”
What we’re left with in this uncertainty is a restless Jaime who doesn’t have a home he wants, and doesn’t want the home he has (and must constantly fight the urge to strike his son/nephew with the back of his golden hand); Brienne swearing vengeance for Renly’s death, which she pegs on Stannis (but doesn’t find as much support from Margaery as she hopes); and Margaery lamenting her upcoming nuptials. All of these feel trivial though when compared to Dany freeing slaves and attempting to tame her dragons across the Narrow Sea, and while Jon foretells of Wildling insurrection at the Wall (plus cannibals and giants). But that’s the larger greatness of the show — these big moments are balanced by smaller things, like Arya killing for revenge … and liking it a little too much.
To say there is a lot happening is a gross understatement, especially since almost half of the characters weren’t even featured. This fourth season might be one of patience, even more so than in the past, but with that assumption comes another one: it will be absolutely worth the wait.
Episode Rating: B
Musings and Miscellanea:
— For those who haven’t read my Game of Thrones reviews in the past, or have forgotten, I have read the book series, but I’ll only bring it up in reviews if it helps to deeper illuminate something that took place in the episode (and I absolutely won’t spoil anything, so you shouldn’t either unless you mark it clearly in the comments). For the most part, the show has gone off on its own so much that comparison has been pointless for awhile. Take each episode as it comes! This one I didn’t love.
— Tyrion was a little muted in this episode, and looked tired. He’s married to Sansa, but feels badly for her, while Shae pouts in jealousy. The fact that Tyrion would rebuff Shae’s sexual advances should tell us everything we need to know about his headspace right now.
— Drogon snapping Dany was another important moment. She’s in control of her army and in her quest for freedom of all slaves, but she’s losing control of her dragons.
— The children mile markers were pretty grim.
— “I’d rather have no brains and two balls” – Daario.
— Loved loved loved that opening scene. Such a perfect transition of power to show Robb’s sword being melted down to create two Lannister weapons.
— Good to see Dontos return, playing off an earlier scene that opened … last season? Joff’s Name Day celebration, where he humiliated the knight, but because of Sansa’s protestations he allowed him to live, only made into a fool.
— Jaime was absolutely fantastic in this episode. Owned all of his scenes with such snark and inner sadness.
— It took 10 minutes for the show to reveal its first breasts. There was one man-pec too, but that ratio isn’t great.
— Nice moment of realization when Sam told Jon the way he feels about him is the way Jon felt about Robb. It seemed to make Jon sit up and think for a minute. It’s also good to see him being more assertive this year, too.
— I want Aemon as my great-uncle, he is just the best.
— The Hound: “Little lady wants a pony.” Arya: “Little lady wants to get away from your stench.” She got both!
— “What the fuck’s a Lommy?” – The Hound. The reason Arya kicked so much ass. That scene was gruesome, though.
— “A one-handed man with no family needs all the help he can get” – Tywin to Jaime.