Airdate: April 6, 2014
Directed by: David Benioff, D.B. Weiss
Written by: George R.R. Martin, David Benioff, D.B. Weiss
This past Sunday saw the first new episode of Game of Thrones in nine months, and while the anticipation for the beginning of the season is quite high, it is important to note going in that the opening episodes of the previous three seasons have been used to establish themes and direction, rather than to make great narrative leaps forward. This was much the same, although the final sequence of the episode showed great promise for one of my favorite characters. Click through after the break to read my episode recap, and to get my take on “Two Swords.”
<<Spoiler Alert: This article is a review and complete recap of Game of Thrones S04E01 – “Two Swords” – it will discuss major plot points and events in detail, and there is one use of possibly objectionable language in a quote from the show; read further at your own risk!>>
We begin the episode with a close-up of a sword – but this isn’t just any sword. It’s Ned Stark’s Valyrian blade, Ice. It’s placed into a forge, and melted down, Tywin Lannister [Charles Dance] visible from behind in silhouette. Once the steel is melted, the blacksmith pours it into a double mold, one long, one short. Tywin intends to get two swords from Ned’s Great-sword . This is, of course, a clear nod to the title of tonight’s episode, but in fact the originating blade – the Stark family heirloom – is only half of the two swords of the title. The other isn’t revealed until the final act.
In the Hand’s office, Tywin offers the longer of the two blades to Jaime [Nikolaj Coster-Waldau]. He is appreciative, and immediately recognizes it by its heft as being made of Valyrian steel. Tywin tells him that only three people live who can work Valyrian, and he brought the best alive to do the work. Tywin makes a comment on Jaime relying on his left hand now, and Jaime cleverly points out that he only needs to be better than everyone else – it evens the field a bit. Jaime has become a much more likable character over the past season. Despite the Starks being clearly designated as the protagonists early on, Jaime has become much more human, affected heavily both by the loss of his hand, but more importantly, through the tempering presence of Brienne of Tarth. He becomes even more likable (to me, at least), when he simply quashes any idea Tywin has of Jaime leaving the King’s Guard. He tells Jaime that he needs to go to Casterly Rock to take over day-to-day running of the Lannister holdings. Jaime points out that, first, Tywin is Lord of Casterly Rock, and second, that no one will respect a one-handed Kingslayer. This is actually another sympathetic aspect of Jaime’s character that has begun to emerge over the last season – a degree of healthy self-deprecation. This is emphatically not at the expense of his commensurate sense of self-worth, as he clearly stands up to his father here and refuses to leave the King’s Guard. Despite Tywin’s admonitions, and pointed references to precedent (but in so doing, he compares Jaime to Janos Slynt, an extremely unflattering comparison), Jaime refuses to abandon his post. This is, in fact, the hard path, as we see a little later when he has to deal with his King/son. The result of this encounter is that Tywin disowns him, but this seems suspiciously manipulative, even for a Lannister – after all, Tywin has been nothing if not clear on his opinion of his second son, Tyrion.
We in fact go to Tyrion [Peter Dinklage], who is waiting with Bronn [Jerome Flynn] and Podrick [Daniel Portman] in a wooded path. They are waiting for Prince Doran Martell of Dorne, who has been invited to Joffrey’s wedding. However, when a group of Dornishmen approach, they tell Tyrion that Doran is not well, and has sent his brother, Prince Oberyn [Pedro Pascal], in his stead. Oberyn has gone ahead, and is already in the city. The thing is, Prince Oberyn is more commonly known by another name: The Red Viper. This is a name he’s earned due to his quick temper, and his even quicker strike (and also due to the death of another man in a duel when he was younger, causing people to suspect he poisons his blades). The Dornishmen continue past Tyrion, dismissing him and nearly running him over.
We jump to one of Littlefinger’s brothels, where his aide, Olyvar [Will Tudor] is displaying three of his women to Oberyn and Ellaria Sand [Indira Varma], his mistress and the bastard mother of his bastard daughters (the four Sand Snakes, who will likely show up at some time later in the series). Interestingly, the women aren’t for Oberyn – he’s helping Ellaria to choose one to her liking. Once she’s chosen, he tells Olyvar that he’s interested in him. Despite Olyvar’s protestations that he’s a procurer, not a commodity, when Oberyn grabs him by his manhood, Olyvar is obviously more than interested, removing his own shirt as he sidles in close. Here’s an interesting choice made by Weiss and Benioff, as they play with characters whose sensuality actually make Cersei and Jaime appear almost average. It’s refreshing to see not only a man – Oberyn – who honors his woman’s sexual proclivities, but a woman who also honors her man’s. Their bisexuality acts as a demarcation line, a way of defining these exotic Southerners from the mainstream King’s Landing inhabitants (although the sexual tendencies of Joffrey and his parents would put them to shame). Unfortunately for their impending pleasuring, they are disturbed by a sound coming from a nearby room – someone is singing “The Rains of Castamere.” This is a particularly jarring song to hear, as the memories of the Red Wedding are still fresh, despite the nine months that have passed. Oberyn is distracted. Ellaria tries to stop him, but he goes next door, and sees two Lannister soldiers sitting with their prostitutes. He approaches them, and decides to test them, insulting their allegiance, and questioning their prowess. Pushed, one goes for his sword, and Oberyn instantly stabs him through the wrist, tisking at him for choosing such a slow weapon in a close fight. Just as things look like they’re going all wrong, Tyrion shows up. He talks Oberyn out of killing the soldier, and Oberyn removes his dagger, blood spurting all over the table as he leaves with the Half-Man.
As they walk together, the Red Viper tells Tyrion in exquisite detail exactly why he hates the Lannisters. His sister, Elia, a truly kind soul, married the former Crown Prince, Rhaegar Targaryen. She bore him two children, children destined to rule. However, during the rebellion she was murdered by Ser Gregor Clegane, The Mountain. He killed her, and murdered her children, wrapping them in Lannister colors and presenting them to Lord Robert Baratheon as a show of fealty – something that disgusted both Robert and his friend Eddard Stark.  Oberyn tells Tyrion in simple terms: “Tell your father I am here. The Lannisters are not the only ones who always settle their debts.”
We next go to the far east, where Daenerys [Emilia Clarke] is sitting on a tor, stroking Drogon as she watches Rhaegal and Viserion fighting over a sheep in the air. Ser Jorah [Iain Glenn] watches her from a distance – something he’s become particularly good at over the last couple of seasons, as we see Dany increase in power, and her former trusted adviser slowly fade into the background. I always find him a little sad now, especially when he calls her Khaleesi – the unrequited love he feels for her is palpable to everyone, except perhaps to her. As the two smaller dragons fight, they drop the sheep’s carcass onto the rock right in front of Dany, and Drogon goes for it. Dany tries to calm him, to stop the three from fighting, and Drogon turns and snaps at her, taking off into the air as she suddenly sits back, chastened. Ser Jorah approaches and reminds her, “They’re wild beasts, Khaleesi. They can’t be tamed.” He might as well be speaking about the men that Daenerys has surrounded herself with, as she’s slowly picked up followers and armies. As if to emphasize this connection, she goes back to her Unsullied troops only to find that two of her leaders, Grey Worm [Jacob Anderson] and Daario [Michiel Huisman, who is replacing Ed Skrein this season], are not where they’re supposed to be – they’re gambling. They’re off alone, holding their swords in front of them balanced on the backs of their forearms, trying to outlast one another – for the honor of riding beside Daenerys. She puts a stop to it, telling them they’re both at the back of the train, and that the last man holding his sword can find a new queen to follow.
We next head back to King’s Landing, where we see Sansa [Sophie Turner] in full mourning, refusing to eat despite both Shae’s [Sibel Kekilli] and Tyrion’s entreaties. Tyrion sends Shae off so that he can talk with Sansa alone, and we see a hint of jealousy as she looks back at them, Tyrion taking Sansa’s hand as he speaks with her. She talks about her mother and brother, and Tyrion tells her honestly that, though he didn’t really know Robb, that he seemed like a good man, and that despite Catelyn wanting him executed, he truly admired her. This doesn’t do much to satisfy Sansa, but she seems to be trying very hard not to turn into a hateful creature despite all of the pain she’s enduring. She goes to the godswood – but not to pray. She tells Tyrion, “It’s the only place I can go where no one talks to me.”
Tyrion returns to his chambers, only to find Shae half undressed on his bed. She tells him he needs to relax, relax here being a thinly veiled metaphor for trying to bed him. Despite all her attempts to seduce him, however, Tyrion resists, admonishing her for taking a chance in coming to his chambers. She accuses Tyrion of trying to pay her off and make her leave, but he’s honestly confused at what she’s saying – he had no part in Varys’s attempts to move Shae out of the city, making me believe that Varys is a potential ally to Tyrion, whether he realizes it yet or not. Shae leaves in a huff, and sure enough, she’s spied leaving by one of Sansa’s other handmaids.
Inside the Red Keep, Jaime’s being fitted with a new hand made out of gold. He complains about it, preferring a hook, but he accepts Cersei [Lena Headey]’s gift nonetheless. Qyburn, a former Maester who lost his chain due to some rather unseemly activities, is the man fitting the hand, and as he goes to leave, Cersei thanks him for “that other matter.” He’s a sycophant, and just the kind of person the increasingly desperate and powerless Cersei seems to want to surround herself with. Jaime questions her about this “other matter,” and Cersei calls him jealous. In turn, he accuses her of bedding Grand Maester Pycelle, but she replies that he “smells of dead cats.” It’s a nice piece of banter between siblings, something we don’t often get to see with the Lannister twins. However, things take an incestuous turn as Jaime looks to reignite their relationship, but Cersei – surprisingly – spurns his advances. Jaime turns almost petulant, telling her he’s killed to be with her, but she blames him for not being at King’s Landing when she needed him, despite the fact that he was a captive of Robb Stark at the time. Cersei was verging on madness at times over the last two seasons, and here we see evidence that she still doesn’t see the world terribly clearly – her vision is skewed heavily by her own desires and needs, without regard for those around her, even those she purports to love. She tells him very clearly, “You took too long.” They are interrupted – the handmaid that saw Shae leaving Tyrion’s chambers has information for her. Although this is a subtle moment in a long episode, it is going to set into motion a whole series of events that we will see played out over the course of not only this season, but into future seasons. Cersei has a weapon – information against the man she considers to be her greatest rival in King’s Landing, her brother Tyrion – and when has Cersei ever not used a weapon at her disposal?
We jump next to the far north, where we see Ygritte [Rose Leslie] preparing feathers on new arrows. Tormund [Kristofer Hivju] approaches her, and lets her know that he’s aware she allowed Jon Snow to live – there’ll be a price to pay if this results in Mance Rayder – the King Beyond the Wall – losing his element of surprise in the planned attack on Castle Black. They hear someone approaching, and prepare for a fight – but they know these intruders. “Thenns,” Tormund says, “I hate Thenns.” The new group is made up of a group of tall, bald men whose heads are covered in ritual scarring. As their leader, Styr [Yuriy Kolokolnikov] talks to Tormund about the food, two of his men take a bag to the fire Tormund’s men have set up, removing several rabbits from a spit. Styr suggests to Tormund that he should try “eating crow,” as the camera focuses in on the spit, which now has a man’s arm skewered on it. So now we know that Tormund has standards – he doesn’t fancy fighting beside a bunch of cannibals. More importantly, this shows us just how serious the Free Folk take the threat from the north. If the ice walkers and other horrors coming from the deep north due to the winter which is just beginning have these freedom loving and willful people willing to work together with those they see as enemies, it shows just how serious the problem really is for the rest of Westeros – and it shows also just how much clout and charisma Mance Rayder has. Another person to vie for King’s Landing, perhaps? But if the Great Houses continue to war over the Iron Throne, things don’t look to go too well for them in the long run.
We stay in the north, and go to Castle Black, where Jon Snow [Kit Harington] is speaking with Sam Tarly [John Bradley] as he prepares to face a tribunal. Sam insists that Jon’s done nothing wrong, but Jon replies, “I’ve done plenty wrong.” Sam’s still a bit naive in the workings of politics – he doesn’t recognize that the supposedly apolitical Night’s Watch is just as political as any court in Westeros. Jon talks a bit about Robb, and how he desperately wanted to hate him, the better, stronger, smarter brother, but that he couldn’t help but love him. In a nice bit of mirroring, Sam tells Jon straight out that, for him, Jon is exactly the same – that better, stronger, smarter brother, whom he loves. He doesn’t say he loves him, but it’s clear in the words he doesn’t say. Jon goes to face the tribunal. It’s made up of Alliser Thorne [Owen Teale], who has always hated Jon; Janos Slynt [Dominic Carter], disgraced former head of the King’s Guard with an enormous chip on his shoulder against all things Stark; and Maester Aemon Targaryen [Peter Vaughan]. They begin by accusing him of murdering Qhorin Halfhand – an act that Jon doesn’t deny, although he points out that it was at Qhorin’s behest, so that he could get inside Mance Rayder’s inner circle, a claim that Thorne dismisses. Jon continues, telling them about Rayder’s plans, and that a group led by Tormund Giantsbane is already on the south side of the wall. Slynt scoffs at this, and neither he nor Thorne believe Jon’s claim that Rayder has 100000 men coming with him. He then admits to lying with one of the Free Folk women, and Slynt calls for his immediate execution. Maester Aemon, however, points out that, “If we beheaded every ranger who lay with a girl, the Wall would be manned by headless men.” He tells the tribunal that there will be no execution today, and Jon is free to go. Alliser blusters at him, “I’m the acting head of the Night’s Watch!” but Aemon dismisses him as he would a petulant child. Frankly, Thorne deserves no less, as he’s allowing his personal proclivities to get in the way of doing the job he needs to be doing.
We head back south, this time to a necklace showing for Margaery Tyrell [Natalie Dormer] and her grandmother, Olenna [Diana Rigg]. None of the necklaces are adequate for her upcoming wedding to Joffrey, so Olenna sends off the handmaidens offering whomever finds the best necklace, possession of the next best one. After they leave, Margaery has perhaps the best line of the night: “Perhaps I should just let Joffrey choose it for me. End up with a string of dead sparrow heads around my neck.” Olenna chides her, warning her that even here there are ears. Lady Brienne of Tarth [Gwendoline Christie] approaches them – she knows Margaery, having been in the service of her former husband, King Renly. She tells Margaery about how Renly died, of the shadow creature with Stannis’s face. This will likely be important information to have in the future, should Margaery ever be in a position where she is facing followers of R’hllor – it is better to know the capabilities of your enemies.
Inside the Red Keep again, Jaime is speaking with his nephew/son Joffrey. Jack Gleeson is at his sneering, petulant best as he mocks his uncle, and questions his value. He claims that the people love him, that they know he won the war. “The war is not over,” Jaime points out, so Joffrey changes tack, looking at the book of knights sitting on the table before them. It records all the deeds of every knight in Westeros, and he goes over several famous ones, before turning to Jaime’s page, which is only half-filled. Jaime says, “There’s still time.” Joffrey scoffs at him: “For a forty year old man with one hand?” He leaves with his toady of a King’s Guard, refusing to give Jaime even a modicum of respect. Jaime slams the book shut after Joffrey leaves the room. The boy is alienating even those closest to him, and he has no clue just how precarious his position if becoming. You’d think the riot where he had dung thrown in his face and was nearly killed would have been warning enough, but despite continuous strong evidence to the contrary, he’s deluded himself into believing that he is a just and beloved leader. Pride goeth before the fall, as the saying goes.
Back in the far east, Daenerys is moving toward Mereen with her army. Daario comes up to speak with her, and she expresses her displeasure that he’s not at the back of the train as she had ordered. He tries to present her with a flower, and then a second. “You are a gambler, aren’t you?” she asks, turning away and dismissing him. He follows, and explains (rather conveniently) that he is simply trying to help her know her land – if she would lead, she must know the land as if it were her own. He then presents her with a bunch of three flowers, telling her their properties. She smiles, appreciating his charm, when she is notified of something ahead on the road. It’s a young girl, dead and tied to a crude crucifix, her left arm and hand pointing toward Mereen. Ser Jorah tells her that there’s one at each of the mile markers all the way to the city – 163 miles distant. She orders the girl taken down and buried, and refuses Ser Jorah’s offer to go ahead with others in order to take down the bodies before she sees them.
In King’s Landing, Brienne and Jaime are looking down into the godswood at Sansa. Brienne points out his oath to send the Stark girls back to their mother, but he questions how he’s supposed to honor that oath now that their mother is dead. Brienne insists that it is his duty to protect them, so he further points out that Arya hasn’t been seen since Ned was beheaded, so she’s likely dead, and that Sansa is married to Tyrion and hence a Lannister – how much better can he protect her? Brienne turns to him and says, “Look me in the eye and tell me that Sansa is safe in King’s Landing.” He can’t look her in the eye, looking pained – his honor is at stake, so it will be interesting to see what comes of this conversation. Down in the godswood, Sansa is walking up a path when she realizes she isn’t alone. She speeds up, but is accosted before she can leave – it’s Ser Dantos, the man she saved from a public execution by Joffrey on Joffrey’s last nameday. He offers her his only family heirloom – a beautiful necklace with several sapphires. At first she refuses, but when he explains that it is all that is left of his once great family, she recognizes how important this gift is to him, and accepts it graciously. This is an interesting parallel both with the necklaces we saw Margaery looking at earlier, and with the destruction of her own family heirloom earlier, when Ice was melted down. There is a lot of symbolic value in necklaces, especially when one considers Daenerys crusade to destroy slavery in the east. Necklaces are clearly cognates for yokes in this sense, and the sword itself is a further symbol of slavery – slavery to old values and old ways. And where did that get Ned Stark, and his son Robb?
We end the episode with the return of one of my personal favorites, both from the novels and from the series: Arya Stark [Maisie Williams]. She’s riding sideways in front of the Hound [Rory McCann], complaining that she doesn’t have her own horse. He jokes about getting her a pony, but tells her he won’t allow his most valuable possession to simply ride away. They come across a wagon and several recently killed people – it appears a group of raiders has been moving through the area. Ahead, they espy an inn, and Arya says she’s hungry. However, the Hound counts the number of horses, and tells her he has no desire to have to kill five men for some food. A couple of men come outside, and Arya recognizes one – it’s Polliver [Andy Kellegher], a man working for the Hound’s brother, Gregor “the Mountain” Clegane, but more importantly, the man who cruelly ran Arya’s friend Lommy through the throat, and stole Needle from her before delivering her to the Mountain. As the Hound is telling her that they aren’t going to approach the inn, he turns to see that she’s already halfway there, and he runs out to try to stop her. Before he can, however, one of Polliver’s men comes out and sees them. Rather than running away, the Hound plays it cool, and heads inside. He and Arya sit at a far table. Polliver and his men are busy abusing the innkeep and his daughter, demanding food and drink. Polliver recognizes the Hound, and orders a drink for him, moving over to Clegane’s table. They talk briefly, Polliver trying to get the Hound to join them. The Hound basically ignores him, telling him he’d like one of the chickens that’s cooking on a nearby spit. Polliver tells him he’ll have to buy it. The Hound continues, telling him that now he’ll need two chickens. This escalates, as the two men are speaking in metaphors, one-upping and threatening each other. The Hound finally calls Polliver’s bluff, calling him a talker. Polliver points out that they’re wearing the King’s colors, and thus have carte blanche to do whatever they want, to whomever they want, but the Hound replies, “Fuck the King.” He flips the table on the smaller man, knocking him aside, as the entire inn erupts in melee. The Hound quickly dispatches a couple of attackers, but gets knocked to the ground by two more. He managed to kick one away, and then takes the short sword of another lying on top of him, and repeatedly forces the man’s face down onto his own blade, destroying his face and killing him. Behind, Polliver approaches quietly, but before he can attack the Hound, Arya slices him across the back of his legs from behind, dropping him to the ground. She quickly grabs Needle from his belt as he falls. He rolls over, and pleads with her, but she echoes his words from when they first met: “Something wrong with your leg, boy? Can you walk? Do I have to carry you?” Recognition starts to dawn in his eyes, and is quickly replaced by fear as she continues, holding Needle in front of her, “Funny little blade. Maybe I’ll pick my teeth with it.” She leans forward and, almost gently, pierces his throat, the sword exiting out the back of his neck near the base of his skull. Polliver coughs up blood, stiffens, and dies – Arya has made her first kill of many promised in her nightly mantra of names (of course, it isn’t her first kill overall – but it is the first fueled by revenge). We cut to outside the inn, where Arya now has her own horse, a beautiful white steed. She’s following the Hound forward into a landscape dotted by fires and destruction.
So here we have the second of the two swords of the episode’s title, Arya’s Needle. This represents how the game has changed for the Stark family. No longer are they the Great House, wielding a two-handed sword made of Valyrian steel out in the open; instead, they need to be subtle and quick, striking out silently from the shadows like Arya and her little Needle. The Hound shows a new found respect for Arya, allowing her the horse he earlier refused – she’s earned it. The white of the horse is symbolic here as well. There will be those that question the moral ethics of Arya’s turn toward revenge, but clearly Benioff and Weiss are trying to establish her as a sympathetic character, if not an outright “good guy.” The color use is subtle, but will have a subconscious effect on viewers who are already prone to liking Arya, or at the least sympathizing with her after all of the trauma she’s experienced.
Events in King’s Landing were very interesting. While we didn’t see the two master schemers, Varys and Littlefinger, we saw foreshadowing of serious events to come. How will Tywin deal with the Red Viper? What will happen now that Cersei knows about Shae? How many more people can Joffrey alienate before someone simply sticks a knife in his throat, as well? Jaime is being pushed away by everyone he loves and respects – his father, his lover/sister, and his nephew/son. Even Brienne is questioning his honor, and she has been perhaps his greatest champion as he has fought to find a sense of self-worth following the loss of his hand. Jaime is being tempered right now – and the Valyrian steel his father has just given him may represent what he will end up becoming. Time shall tell. Tyrion could be in very real trouble in the near future. Shae’s exposure to Cersei will result in one of two possibilities: Cersei will blackmail him into doing her bidding, or she will use Shae to directly hurt him. Now that he’s married to Sansa, he can’t even do anything to attempt to legitimize his relationship with the woman he truly loves. Sansa’s position is precarious as well, although it will be interesting to see if Jaime becomes a champion of sorts for her. Margaery and Olenna are the wild cards in the mix. They know exactly who Joffrey is, but are still going forward both with the marriage and with the alliance. Olenna is one of the strongest people in all of Westeros, so it will be interesting to see how she intends to run things from behind the throne, and protect her beloved granddaughter at the same time.
In the east, Mereen better be quaking. Daenerys has really come into her own, and her dragons are becoming large enough to become a menace themselves. A city that is composed primarily of slaves is not likely to stand long against her, and her power continues to be consolidated. She is, however, still a very long ways from Westeros, so it will be interesting to see how things move on her end. She’s also beginning to play the game of love, pitting potential lovers against one another, and manipulating her followers with a masterful hand. She’ll need a deft touch to properly handle people like Daario – but she needs the kind of non-traditional strength he represents if she is to eventually vie for the Iron Throne. And will Ser Jorah ever stop sighing?
In the north, Jon Snow has survived perhaps his most dangerous moment so far, avoiding the headsman’s ax that Thorne and Slynt wanted to use, and finding an unforeseen ally in Maester Aemon, whose Targaryen blood would make him a natural enemy, if it weren’t for his honor and truly apolitical approach to the Night’s Watch. Ygritte and Tormund are readying for battle, and being forced into close proximity with cannibals like the Thenns have them uncomfortable, but still willing to follow Mance Rayder. His attack on the Wall and the Night’s Watch is coming soon, and we’ll likely see it in the next couple of episodes.
One final note: I have read the books, so do have some very clear ideas about where things are likely headed; however, Benioff and Weiss have been quite public about the fact that they are changing things around this season, following the books in spirit but doing their own thing as well – we saw this in this episode, when Arya killed Polliver. This was a subtle change from the books, but helps to develop her character that much more effectively. Thus, it is impossible to know for certain what they intend to do, and I’ll be focusing my reviews and previews on what the series has to show us.
Steve’s Grade: B+
A well-paced season opener that reintroduced the main players in the struggle for power in Westeros. It was particularly good to see Arya becoming something…new.