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Game of Thrones always has a particular structure to their seasons, and season premieres are always used as a chance to reorient the audience as to where the key players are what they’re motivations will be for the following nine episodes (unlike many HBO shows, Thrones, due in large part to its massive production scale, only shoots ten episodes per season). And “Two Swords” works much in the same way as past premieres, although it also sets some complex plot points in motion that will pay huge dividends before the the season ends.
As I mentioned with my first recap last season, I’m a book reader. But as the television series is truly a different animal from the books, I approach each episode as distinctly different from the novels and won’t be hinting at or spoiling any plot points to come. I would appreciate that any comments remain spoiler free as well. Now, on with the review.
We actually manage to cover a wide range of characters with this episode, splitting time between King’s Landing (where the majority of the show’s characters are currently housed, now that Brienne and Jaime have arrived), The Wall, the lands around The Wall, on the road with the Hound and Arya, and on the road to Mereen with Dany and company. While this left out a few characters (namely Theon and Bran), having this particular group of characters appear in our reintroduction to the world of Westros seems to indicate that these are to be the central storylines throughout the season. I’m certain we’ll once again check in on poor broken Theon and the increasingly mystical Bran, but the show knows that the more interesting and impactful stories are the ones we see in “Two Swords.”
The title of the episode comes from Tywin’s action in melting Ned’s sword down into two additional blades, one of which he gives to Jaime- who can no longer truly wield such an amazing gift- and the other remains within Tywin’s possession for the moment. Unfortunately for Tywin, Jaime doesn’t appear to be the same obedient son he was before his trek through captivity with Brienne- something we all know from their incredible moments in season three. This new Jaime has an edge to him, and he actually deigns to tell Tywin that he will not simply accept what Tywin wants for him. Rather, he is determined to regain his status and position on his own. In his later conversation with Brienne (who now truly serves as his conscience, whether he likes it or not), we see some of the old callous Jaime return as he scoffs at Brienne’s demand that they rescue Sansa and complete their oath to Catelynn. But we know he is a changed man. And, it turns out, Cersei has become a changed woman in his absence as well.
Having lost everything in light of Jaime’s capture, including the influence she once held over her son, Cersei has her claws out when she spends time alone with Jaime. It is the only bit of control she has managed to keep- refusing her brother their past relationship. Now, last season brought many people around to Team Jaime (myself included), but I have to say I was thrilled to see Cersei rebuff Jaime’s advances, if only because it means that Jaime remains outside of her clutches. But, Jaime begins season four with a loss of identity- he may still be King’s Guard, at least in name, but he has lost his reputation, his lover, and the respect of his father. And, with his treatment of Brienne, perhaps his only true friend as well.
Things aren’t going well for any of the Lannister children, as Tyrion is once again between a rock and a hard place due to his continued romance (or lack there of) with Shae and his obligations as a husband to Sansa. Now, last season, Shae seemed to believe that Tyrion marrying Sansa was a marriage of convenience and nothing more. She was briefly jealous, but her feelings were quickly assuaged by Tyrion. It looks like the honeymoon is over, and Shae has become a full-fledged green-eyed monster. She still seems to dote upon Sansa, but is less forgiving of Tyrion, who now has little time for her. I’m not sure Tyrion’s silver tongue will be able to save him from this situation- particularly now that Cersei has knowledge of Shae’s extracurricular activities.
Finally, we get to spend some time on the road with Arya and the Hound. One of the more delightful pairing from last season (the other being Jaime and Brienne), it’s always fun to watch these two banter back and forth. Even more fun? Watching them kill some bad guys in a tavern. Arya gets to check another name off her list of targets, and recover Needle from the clutches of the particularly odious Polliver. Watching Arya’s dead eyes as she repeats Polliver’s own words back to him is chilling, and certainly doesn’t bode well for her emotional state. I wonder what Ned would think to see who his daughter has become in his absence.
From the look of things, revenge is the theme of season four. And with the tagline “All Men Must Die,” I’m looking forward to a bloody good story.
— We are only treated to two new characters in this episode: Oberyn Martell and his paramour, Ellaria Sand. Oberyn is a prince of Dorne, a distant land within the 7 Kingdoms, who arrives for Joffery’s wedding. And to potentially extract revenge on the Lannisters for the murder of his sister. It is nice to see him take a liking to Tyrion, as Tyrion can really use all the friends he can get right now.
— You might have noticed that Daario looks a bit different. That’s because he is now played by Michiel Huisman, a little less ridiculously good looking, and a lot more engaging.
— While I can’t stand Ygritte (or really, Jon Snow), it is nice to get some background on the tribes of wildings. The Threnn’s look like seriously bad guys- which makes me all the more excited for the inevitable showdown between the wildings and the Night’s Watch.
–I would love a web series with Bronn and Tyrion just trading quips. I also wouldn’t mind one starring Lady Olenna and Brienne, with Olenna making comments that go over Brienne’s head.