First off: Welcome to the club, Maureen Dowd.
Now, let’s get down to it.
HBO’s “Game of Thrones” is back (!) for what should be the best season yet. (If the writers stay true to the books, that is. So far, so good.)
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Season 4 opened with the episode “Two Swords," which made a lot of right moves.
The episode invoked Westerosi history; introduced a badass new character, the Red Viper; checked in on all four of the major characters (Daenerys, Tyrion, Jon and Arya); and showed some nice CGI dragon snuggling. But the closing scene – damn – that was some bloody, satisfying revenge.
It might have been a little light on humor, but Arya’s killing of the child-murderer Polliver more than made up for that.
With the “Rains of Castamere” playing in the background – yes, the same music as the “Red Wedding” – Tywin Lannister melts down Ned Stark’s Valyrian sword, Ice, to make two blades for his family.
He gives one to Jaime, but tells his eldest son he wants him to leave the Kingsguard on account of him, um, not having a hand.
Jaime’s upset about this, and Tywin (being a loving father and all) promptly disowns him. (He does let Jaime keep the Valyrian sword, however, which was nice.)
“A one-handed man with no family needs all the help he can get,” Tywin says.
Jaime gets a prosthetic hand, and then tries to sleep with his twin sister Cersei, who’s just not that into him any more. (For those just tuning in: Yes, incest between twins.) Apparently Cersei, being the incredibly deep person she is, finds Jaime’s severed hand a turn-off.
Also: Cersei is spying on her other brother, Tyrion.
Meanwhile, Tyrion welcomes officials from Dorne to town for the boy-king Joffrey’s wedding. Tyrion learns Prince Doran Martell will not be attending, but his hotheaded younger brother Oberyn (the Red Viper) is already in town. Oberyn has a reputation as a warrior, and he wastes little time getting violent.
In a brothel, Oberyn picks a fight with two Lannisters, stabbing one in the hand before Tyrion intervenes.
Oberyn talks of the history of the Martells and the Targaryens, and how Tywin Lannister and The Mountain (especially The Mountain) were responsible for the rape and murder of his sister and her two children.
“They butchered those children,” Oberyn tells Tyrion. “The Lannisters aren’t the only ones who pay their debts.”
Yeah, I’d say he’s going to be one of the most interesting new characters this season.
Also: Sansa is sad and Shae is jealous. What else is new? (Although, I’ll say Sansa does actually have something to cry about this time after the murders of her brother and mother at the The Red Wedding.)
Meanwhile, Joffrey is getting ready for his wedding, and being a disrespectful little boy to his uncle Jaime (who’s actually his dad), deriding Jaime as a “40-year-old knight with one hand,” while crediting himself for winning the Battle of Blackwater. (If you’re just tuning in: Joffrey actually cowered in fear at the battle.)
“They know I saved the city. They know I won the war,” Joffrey boasts. Will somebody pleeeease make Joffrey shut up?
Also: Dubrovnik is beautiful. Who wants to go?
On the road to Meereen
Daenerys is cuddling with her black dragon, which is surprisingly cute. But he turns and nearly bites her at one point.
“They can never be tamed, even by their mother,” Ser Jorah warns her.
A new actor has been hired to play Daario, who continues to charm Dany, offering her flowers. She smiles, and seems kind of sweet on him.
As her army marches on, Dany learns the Meereenese have killed a slave and posted the corpse each mile on the road to the city. There are 163 miles to go.
Dany insists on looking each dead slave in the face as she marches on. Methinks this will not be good for the Meereenese.
First: Jon is alive!
Second: He’s facing a trial of sorts at Castle Black, and admits to killing Qhorin Halfhand and having sex with Ygritte.
He warns them of a pending wildling attack from both the north and the south.
Maester Aemon sticks up for Jon, and he’s allowed to live. (Whew! There are precious few Starks left, as it is.)
On the road from The Twins
The Hound and Arya are riding together, when they spot the child-murderer Polliver, who killed Arya’s friend and stole her sword, Needle.
They enter a bar. They’re outnumbered. They don’t care because they’re The Hound and Arya.
The Hound demands a chicken. No, two chickens. He has no money. He doesn't care because he's The Hound. He downs beer like a man. And, 56 minutes into the 59-minute episode, we get to see some killing.
The Hound busts up a whole lot of dudes, and Arya comes in like an ice-cold assassin. She repeats Polliver’s words back to him and she slips a blade into his throat. Brutal.
(An aside: This scene played out much different from the books. The Tickler was there and Arya went nuts and The Hound got injured. But HBO's version was fine with me. I kind of prefer my girl Arya as a cold-blooded killer, rather than a maniacal one.)
So, in the end, the Stark family lost one sword (Ice) to the Lannisters, but gained another (Needle) back. Hence, the title “Two Swords.”
Don’t you love it when episodes have symmetry like that?
Episode grade: A-