Posted by: yannaungoak | April 9, 2014

Game of Thrones: Season 4 Episode 1 “Two Swords” Recap

I’ve been wanting to write recaps for Game of Thrones since a few seasons ago, but, you know, stuff gets in the way.

I promise, no spoilers, and if I’m telling you any background information, it’s only stuff that will be relevant to what’s happening in the episode. If I link to anything, I’ll try to make sure the links don’t contain spoilers, and I will include a warning flag if they do.

I didn’t even know the name of the episode was “Two Swords” until I went online to catch up on the recaps. I thought it was fitting how the episode began with Ned Stark’s greatsword, Ice, being re-cast into two separate blades, and ended with the vagabond Arya Stark reclaiming her sword, Needle. Two swords with special names: one belonging to the father whose death marked the beginning of the Starks’ downfall; and the other belonging to the daughter who is dealing with the trauma of the Red Wedding in the only way she knows how: revenge.

“Lots of people name their swords.”

“Lots of cunts.”

I love the back and forth between Arya and the Hound, one of the show’s many awesome travel buddy pairings (Tyrion and Bronn, Jamie and Brienne). This one also showed what swords mean to different people in Westerosi society. For the Hound it is a simple tool for survival, unlike those highborn “cunts” who have to name them, and define their status based on whether their house possessed a rare Valyrian steel blade.

Let’s start at the beginning again before I get too far ahead of myself.

Title sequence

We visit King’s Landing, Dragonstone, a Winterfell in ruins, Castle Black up at The Wall, and a new location in Westeros! The Dreadfort, which is home to the Boltons. Yes, that guy who orchestrated the Red Wedding, Roose Bolton, is the lord of the house, and he has a deranged sociopath of a bastard son, Ramsey Snow (Snow being the name that all bastards of highborns have to take in the North), who was having a hell of a time tormenting Theon Greyjoy last season. Also, in case you haven’t already realized, their sigil (which is also shown flying over the Dreadfort in the title sequence) is a flayed man hung upside down on a St Andrew’s X-cross. “A flayed man holds no secrets” is a common saying among the Boltons. These guys ain’t nothing to fuck with. Sadly we didn’t actually see any Boltons in the episode itself.

Over on the eastern continent of Essos, we finally see all three of the cities of Slaver’s Bay: Astapor, where Dany initially got her army of Unsullied in the most mother-of-dragons bad-ass move evar; Yunkai, which was the city that she captured at the end of season three with the whole lot of them crying “Mhysa!” (mother); and Meeren, which has been just added to the title sequence, and this is the one that Dany’s army is seen marching towards in this episode.

King’s Landing

The episode opens with Tywin overseeing two swordsmiths whom he has brought over from the East to melt down Ned’s greatsword, Ice.

“There are three living smiths who know how to rework Valyrian steel, the finest of them was in Volantis. He came here to King’s Landing at my invitation”, Tywin told his son smugly while presenting him with one of the newly forged swords.

So, what’s the big deal with Valyrian steel?

A lot of the legends in Game of Thrones center around Valyria, which was an old “freehold” (not quite sure what kind of political entity that is, but I think it’s something like a republic) which met a cataclysmic ending called the Doom of Valyria, about 400 years prior to the time of the TV show. It no longer exists and nobody dares to go there, because scary magic stuff still looms there. Geographically, this place is in the East, halfway between Slaver’s Bay, where Dany is now, and the Free Cities, which was where Dany started off when she was sold to Khal Drogo in season 1. It was definitely a place of powerful magic. Their lords were the only people in the world who had dragons. The Targaryens are descended from the Valyrians – they fled Valyria after the Doom and conquered the seven kingdoms of Westeros. That’s why Dany’s mother tongue is High Valyrian (remember that awesome awesome scene). Also, people in that part of the world still speak languages that are derived from High Valyrian. You can think of Valyrian as Rome with magic and dragons.

Valyrian steel, then, is the steel that was forged in Valyria, with dragon fire, which imbued it with wonderful magical and metallurgical properties. For example, a Valyrian steel blade does not lose its edge, even after repeated use. Since Valyria no longer exists, any and all Valyrian steel blades are just leftovers from back then. Hence their rarity and power as status symbols among the houses of Westeros.

In the show, we’ve only seen three Valyrian steel blades:

  • the aforementioned Ice, owned by the Starks
  • Longclaw, which was owned by Jeor Mormont (now deceased lord commander of the Night’s Watch, and father of the exiled Ser Jorah Mormont, a.k.a. Mr Friendzone). Now it has been passed on to Jon Snow, in season 1, after Jon saved the lord commander’s life from the ice zombies who tried to kill him in his sleep.
  • the dagger used by the Catspaw assassin, who tried to murder Bran Stark while he was in a coma in season 1. It belongs to Littlefinger.

Ok, coming back from that tangent, we visit Tywin and a clean-shaven but handless Jaime (haven’t seen him like that for two seasons). In the usual sequence involving Tywin putting his children in their place, daddy Lannister tries to convince his elder son to leave the Kingsguard and return to the Lannister’s seat, Casterly Rock, and rule in place of Tywin, who is busy serving as hand to his woefully incompetent grandkid, King Joffery.

You can really see Jaime’s transformation. He is really concerned about his reputation as “oathbreaker, kingslayer, man without honor”, and wants to salvage his honor (and also stay as close to the royal family as possible so he can fuck his sweet sister, the Queen, but of course you don’t tell your dad that). He tries a hand at dropping witty, cocky lines like his old self: “as long as I’m better than everyone else I suppose it doesn’t matter”, but at this point he seems to be doing it in a very self-conscious way, almost parodying pre-amputation Jaime.

Tyrion, Bronn and Podrick are tasked with welcoming a dignatory from Dorne, Doran Martell. The Martells are the house which rules over the Southernmost region of the continent of Westeros called Dorne, which is famous of its fine wine, fine women and hot sun. It turns out that Doran Martell is unwell, so his brother Oberyn Martell has come instead. Upon hearing this, Tyrion is visibly shaken, we will find out why soon.

It’s really interesting to note the style that the TV show has adopted for the Dornish. The riders at the head of the delegation were wearing some kind of turbans, and clearly they are the most exotic looking (ethnically and culturally) out of the houses of Westeros. The TV show seem to have given them a Spanish/Moorish/North African vibe, which I think really fits how they are described in the books. Dorne is not just most exotic region of Westeros, the people there consider themselves a separate kingdom entirely from the rest of Westeros, although maybe they are in some kind of vassal state relationship to King’s Landing, I think? That’s the reason why Oberyn Martell, when we meet him later, says he’s a prince. The rest of the houses of Westeros have lords and ladies, the Martells have princes. Although “prince” here is used in the “head of principality” sense, and not in the “son of a king” sense.

Aaaanndd… we get to meet the prince himself, with his paramour Ellaria Sand, and a display of fine young women, where else, but at Littlefinger’s brothel. The Dornish don’t discriminate, Oberyn insists that the young “procurer” who brought the whores over also undress along with the young lady who is now already in bed with Ellaria. The young man is the same one whom we saw seducing and bedding Loras Tyrell in season 3, and acting as spy for Littlefinger. Before the scene gets too entertaining, we hear the “Rains of Castamere” being hummed next door, which immediately catches Oberyn’s attention. Ellaria freaks out because she knows what’s up, and we get a hint at how much of a bad-ass Oberyn is. That grin on his face while he twisted his dagger into the Lannister soldier’s wrist borders on psychotic.

After an awkward intervention from Tyrion, we hear Oberyn’s story. Officially he’s in King’s Landing as a guest at Joffery and Margaery’s upcoming wedding, but his real motive is to take revenge on the Mountian (Gregor Clegane), first and foremost, for raping and mudering his sister, and for Tywin and pretty much the entire Lannister clan, for being pompous assholes who think they are better than everyone else. “Tell [Tywin] the Lannisters aren’t the only ones who pay their debts”. I love the creeped out look on Tyrion’s face after the conversation.

Sad Sansa is still totally devastated from her entire family being murdered by her husband’s family, and wouldn’t even eat her favorite lemon cakes. Tyrion continues in his awkward intervention mode, this time with awkwardness aplenty coming from the Shae-Sansa-Tyrion paramour-handmaiden-wife love triangle and that thing about having to confront his wife after her family was murdered by his dad. Tyrion is even more bitter and paranoid than he usually is. And to make things worse, Shae, the only person that he shares affection with, is being all we-never-do-it-anymore, right in his bedchamber. But ooops, another handmaiden was listening in on them and promptly goes to report it to Cersei.

Jaime gets a prosthetic hand! Made of gold. Fitting for a Lannister. It was fitted onto him by ex-maester Qyburn, whom we saw back in season 3 treating Jaime’s stump. He has a mysterious air about him and we still don’t know yet why he was discharged from his position as maester. Hmmmm….

As an aside, the exchange between Cerset and Qyburn was interesting. Cersei said something about thanking him for his help in the “other matter”, to which he replied by asking her if “the symptoms have abayed”. Hmmmmm….

Cersei fills Jaime in on why she’s become more of an alcholic. War, seige, having to give way to those sneaky Tyrells, having to marry off her beloved son to that “wicked little bitch” Margery, and herself having to marry Loras, a renowned “pillow-biter”. I had to look up “pillow-biter” on urbandictionary. It turns out to be exactly what you’ve think it refers to.

With all that shit that she’s been having to deal with, and her twin/lover missing a hand and not being there when she needed him most, she’s not into the sexytimes with Jaime, much to his frustration. “Not now? When? I’ve been back for weeks!” #twincestproblems

A few more scenes and we can wrap up this episode’s events in King’s Landing:

Margaery and her grandmother are discussing necklaces for the royal wedding when Brienne shows up, much to lady Olenna’s amusement. Brienne fills Margaery in about the shadow that killed Renly Baratheon back in season 2, but Margaery has of course moved on to bigger and better things. Sociopaths who are actual kings are worth more than gay dudes who are only contenders to the throne in her book, apparently.

Brienne then goes on to meet Jaime to remind him of her quest and her oath to the late Catelyn Stark that she would rescue the Stark girls from the Lannisters. Jaime duly reminds her that the lady she swore the oath to is dead and that in fact, there are no Stark girls left to rescue. The elder one is now a Lannister, having wedded Tyrion, and the younger one has disappeared for months, presumably dead.

Jaime gets to deal with more shit, this time from his nephew/son/liege lord. Joffrey (who now seems to have statues of himself all over King’s Landing) does his sneer/head jolt thing that he pulls whenever he’s trying to diss someone and tells Jaime off, saying he’s too old to achieve anything noteworthy, and odds are that losing his sword hand won’t help. And poor Jaime just couldn’t pull of the snarky comebacks anymore like he used to. He tries, but the old Jaime swag was clearly missing. Joffery on the other hand, remains perfectly annoying as always and effortlessly triggers the disgust reflect of all the millions of people who watched the episode (oh oh oh and on a side note, we get to hear about Ser Duncan the Tall, who is the main character in three of George R R Martin’s novellas called the Tales of Dunk and Egg, based on events that happened in Westeroes about 90 years before the time of the TV show.)

Sansa gets a visit by Ser Dontos (of Captain America fame from season 2 episode 1), who came by to thank her in a really creepy stalkerish way for saving his life, by presenting Sansa with his mother’s heirloom necklace. It seems really random that this dude shows up 2 seasons later but mayhaps he will be important in the coming episodes.

The Free Cities

Dany is in full-on mother of dragons mode AND HOOLY FUCK LOOK AT THE SIZE OF THE DRAGONS!!!

She is reminded by Ser Jorah “Friendzone” Mormont that her children will never be tamed and even something as simple as a dead lamb will excite them to the point where they will snap back at their mommy.

We then get to see the new Daario! He looks much better than old Daario, although he still lacks the purple beard and gold mustache from the books. We first meet him in the midst of an endurance challenge with Grey Worm, captain of the unsullied. The dude seemed to have been slowly getting comfortable with his new life. No longer being threatened with nipple slicing seemed to have helped him in the self-actualisation department.

New Daario is also smoother with the game-spitting, the old one was almost comical in his awkwardness. He offers locally grown flowers for the Khaleesi in the guise of discussing strategy on their march to Meereen. Before Dany has time to smell her suitor’s flowers, the army has to stop upon the wight of the creepiest little girl who seems to have been crucified just for decorative purposes so that she can be displayed on one of the mile markers on the road to Meereen. One dead girl for each of the 163 miles.

We leave Dany pissed-off with her righteous abolotionist-rage for this episode and move on to the (almost) frozen North of Westeros.

The Wall

Speaking of fierce, pissed-off ladies, Ygritte is making arrows to “kill every crow” while Tormund Giantsbane confronts her by saying she could have killed Jon Snow easily if she wanted to, and that her feelings for him clearly was a factor in letting him escape with his life. Meanwhile their reinforcements/creepiest wilding tribe of weird German accented, ritually scarred, baldy dudes known as the Thenns meet up with them. And whatdya know, they start BBQing a human arm. These guys are going to be interesting.

Up in Castle black, Jon is all healed from Ygritte’s love/hate arrows and is facing a tribunal of elder Night’s Watchmen, consisting of Maester Aemon (who has a soft spot for Jon after their little heart-to-heart in season one about family and duty), Allister Thorne (who has been a jerk to Jon since his early days when he started his training to become a brother), and Janos Slynt (that corrupt, two-timing leader of the Goldcloaks in King’s Landing who was sent by Tyrion to the Wall in season 2, who also clearly doesn’t like Jon). Jon admits he got himself some wilding loving, but then updates the tribunal with details about all the Wildings’ plans and numbers, 100,000 free folk from united clans, plus giants.

Since Commander Mormont died last season in Craster’s Keep, the Night’s Watch has been leaderless and it seems like the situation is tense with many brothers vying for the top spot and none quite trusting each other.

Somewhere in the Riverlands

Finally, the best scene of the episode! Sandor “man’s gotta have a code” Clegane a.k.a. the Hound, is riding around with Arya while she keeps annoying him and pointing out flaws in his moral code. Their path is strewn with dead bodies from the elder Clegane brother’s exploits (the Mountain LOVES his pillage, rape and torture).

They chance upon an inn overrun by drunk Lannister soldiers who are merrily drinking their fill and attempting to rape a girl. One of the Lannister men also happen to be Polliver, who in season 2, captured Arya and her friends, killed Lommy Greenhands and forcibly took Sansa’s sword, Needle.

Arya, keen to strike off a name in her revenge-prayer, runs into the inn. Immediately Polliver goes all fanboy crazy on the Hound and starts trying to charm him into joining their merry torture-happy crew of King’s men. “Gold, silver, more daughters… you’ll do well for yourself.”

The Hound, unfortunately, is only there for the chicken.

“You’re a talker. Listening to talkers makes me thirsty… and hungry. Think I’ll take two chickens.”

The Hound has the best lines this episode.

“What the fuck’s a Lommy?”

“If any more words come out of your cunt mouth, I’ll have to eat every fucking chicken in this room.”

The best fight scene ever ensues, and boy does Arya get her revenge.

She repeats the exact same words that Polliver said to Lommy before trusting Needle into his throat.

So, we got reaquainted with most of the storylines in this episode, except Stannis and Melisandre in Dragonstone, and Theon and his torturer Ramsey. We also haven’t caught up with Mance Rayder beyond the wall in some time, which is a pity because we could all do with more Ciaran Hinds in our lives.

In the aftermath of a decisive victory by the Lannisters at the Red Wedding, the Kingdoms are in the final stages of the War of the Five Kings. Only Stannis, weakened after his defeat, remains as a nuisance to the Lannisters. But old rivalries are brewing, especially with Oberyn’s vendetta, and maybe Tywin will see that he has some debts to repay himself. Dany seems to be at the height of her power and continues mowing down the landscape with her army of freed slaves, causing disruption in a land that is sadly stable in their slaving/exploitative ways.

Strong start to the season, and we’ve been promised by the producers that all the storylines are going to crescendo this season. Can’t wait for next Monday.

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