Welcome back! Did everyone have a good...ten months or so? Making progress in your post-Red Wedding therapy? Good, good.
I was reminded during last night's season premiere of Game of Thrones that HBO does this thing were they more or less spoil the impending episode by giving you such specific previews you can pretty much guess what's coming (see also The Wire). It can be helpful, though, given the sheer tonnage of characters on the show. It also provides a refresher on why certain characters bear certain grudges. Think of it as a review session on your first day back from summer vacation.
Last night introduced a few new characters (I know, I know), and reacquainted us with some old ones, albeit rather briefly, thanks to Arya and the Hound.
Locations Highlighted in the Opening Titles (* =new): KIng's Landing, Dragonstone, Dreadfort, Winterfell, The Wall, Meereen*
Ser(s) Not Appearing in This Episode: Stannis Baratheon, Melisandre, Davos Seaworth, Loras Tyrell, Bran Stark and the Over the Wall Gang, Ramsay Snow,
Theon Greyjoy Reek, Yarra Greyjoy
The "Baelor" flashback at the outset of the episode threw me off, until we saw the reason for it: Tywin (Charles Dance) is having Ice -- Ned's big ass Valyrian steel blade -- reforged into two swords (just like the episode's title, how clever). One is given to Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), as part of an offer to return to Casterly Rock to take his place as Number One Son. Jaime -- rejected by Cersei, crippled, and ever smarting from a reputation as one of the most despised men in Westeros -- would rather attempt to rebuild his honor in some small way by remaining on the Kingsguard.
And leave it to Joffrey (Jack Gleason) to stick the knife in: "Someone forgot to write down all your great deeds." He's Westeros' own J.R. Ewing: the king you love to hate.
Still adjusting to his new diplomatic duties, Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) goes with Bronn (Jerome Flynn) and Podrik (Daniel Portman) to welcome the Prince of Dorne to King's Landing. Two problems: one, the Prince won't be coming, due to ill health. Two, he's sent his brother Prince Oberyn (Pedro Pascal). Tyrion is less than thrilled, for reasons I'm about to get into. Knowing what a randy sort the prince is, seeks him out in Littlefinger's whorehouse. What a relief, I was afraid we'd make it a whole 20 minutes without seeing some boobs.
Oberyn has returned to seek revenge against the Mountain, who he alleges (oh, who are we kidding) raped and murdered his sister Elia during the sack of King's Landing. He's going to be a tricky houseguest, especially with his penchant for knifing Lannisters and belief that Tywin himself gave the order.
Sansa (Sophie Turner) isn't feeling particularly festive. Might have something to do with being forced to live with the people who plotted the murder of her mother and brother. Tyrion gets to deal with this, as well as Shae's (Sibel Kekilli) persistent jealousy and rather childish attempts to win him back. What a novelty: a naive prostitute.
Most of the episode took place in King's Landing, where other events include Ser Dontos (the drunken knight Sansa saved from Joffrey when he showed up soused on the King's Name Day ... thanks again, pre-opening credits preview) visiting Sansa in the Godswood and presenting her with a necklace in appreciation for saving his bacon. Also, Maester Qyburn fashions a new golden hand for Jaime at Cersei's (Lena Headey) request. It's her one generous act amid a litany of complaints: Myrcella going to Dorne, being forced to marry Loras, a "renowned pillow biter." More bad news for Jaime, she's lost than lovin' feeling, and I doubt even Maverick and Goose could bring it back again.
Finally, Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) meets Lady Olenna (Diana Rigg), and it's as glorious as you can imagine.
To the east (to the east), them dragons is getting big. And feisty. Meanwhile, new Daario Naharis (Michiel Huisman, replacing Ed Skrein and looking like a skinny Eric Bana) and Grey Worm are engaging in some decidedly un-Unsullied wagering. It's all good fun on the road to Meereen (the biggest slave city in Essos) until they come across a child nailed to a post, pointing the way. Apparently they can expect to find a similarly mutilated kid each of the 106 miles to the city.
Because if there's anyone you want to enrage, it's a woman with three dragons.
The Wildlings are still on the move, even as Ygritte (Rose Leslie) and Tormund (Kristofer Hivju) have words about her inability to kill Jon Snow. They're met by another charming bald/scarred Wildling tribe known as the Thenns. They like to eat crow. No, the other kind.
During Castle Black's preparations for attack, Jon Snow (Kit Harington) is called out on the carpet by new Lord Commander, Aliser Thorne, for various violations of the Night's Watch code (Maester Aemon has some choice words for that). Harington, long the least compelling performer on the show, finally asserts himself in warning Thorne of the Wildling threat.
And finally (FINALLY), Arya (Maisie Williams) and the Hound (Rory McCann). After getting robbed of his reward at the Red Wedding, he now wants to sell her to Lysa in the Vale. But they're sidetracked when Arya spots Lannister torturer Polliver at a roadside inn. Polliver invites the Hound to join them, but doesn't make a very strong case, suggesting he join them in raping and torturing their way back to King's Landing. Arya's slow burn is rewarded as the Hound goads Polliver with a fantastic exchange over chickens that I won't attempt to replicate here. Suffice to say, Arya gets to cross one name off her list, and I've never been so entertained by a burgeoning psychotic. Watching Williams grow into her character each week is just one of the ways Game of Thrones keeps on giving.
Show runners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have promised season four of GoT is going to be the most action-packed yet. All the same, "Two Swords" was -- the excellent final sequence aside -- mostly place setting. Things are rapidly coming to a head in King's Landing and at Castle Black, while Arya and the Hound's journey may be the most enjoyable TV pairing since Simon and Simon.
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No? Finn and Jake, maybe?
Stuff That Will Piss Off Book Purists: I don't remember Oberyn going all Adam and Steve with a dude; Grey Worm didn't get into stupid pissing contests with Daario; the Thenns aren't exactly cannibalistic Rammstein fans; Brienne didn't really get a chance to explain Renly's death to anyone before getting thrown in jail; Dontos is a lot less slobbery and fawning re: Sansa; Arya and the Hound never quite developed a rapport.
Next Week: Is it wedding time already? And is that a dragon flying over King's Landing? What the hell is going on?