'Game of Thrones' Season 4, episode 1 recap: 'Two Swords' brings an air of dread to Westeros

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The shadow of the Red Wedding lies heavy on the beginning of "Game of Thrones" Season 4. The premiere episode, "Two Swords," revisits its heroes at least several weeks after the events of the Season 3 finale, and the deaths of Robb and Catelyn Stark have left a dark mark on their family. Arya is cold, Sansa is shattered and Jon barely has time to mourn before warning the Night's Watch of a bigger threat: Mance Rayder's Wildling army.

Where there once was a sense of hope hanging over "Game of Thrones," there now is a sense of dread. Even Daenerys' march towards Meereen doesn't feel as optimistic as her previous Slaver Cities conquests. Tyrion has never been in a more dangerous position than he is now in King's Landing -- even when he was held captive in the Eyrie -- and the Season 4 tagline "Valar Morghulis" feels ever-present in the season premiere. Here's hoping good things start coming quickly for the remaining heroes of "Game of Thrones."

Here's what happened in "Two Swords."

At King's Landing


The premiere opens with a heavily metaphorical scene. Tywin Lannister takes Ned Stark's Valyrian steel sword and forges it into two Lannister blades. The hilt of Ice is discarded, and Tywin throws the wolf pelt that held Ice into a fire. At least for now, the Lannisters have defeated the Starks.

But it doesn't take long for Tywin's plan for the two swords -- the meaning for the title of the premiere episode -- to go awry. One of the blades is intended for a clean-shaven Jaime Lannister, who Tywin wants to be sent back to Casterly Rock to rule there in his stead. But Jaime refuses to be excused from the Kingsguard, claiming he doesn't need yet another dishonor to notch on his belt. Tywin essentially disowns him for saying that, but as Cersei later points out, Jaime is pretty much all the Lannister patriarch has.

The true reason for Jaime's disinterest in leaving King's Landing lies with his sister -- literally. He doesn't want to be parted from her again, and clearly has every intention of picking up their incestuous relationship from where they left off. Unfortunately, Cersei has other designs. Even with his new golden hand courtesy of Maester Qyburn, Jaime is not the man he once was, and Cersei vaguely tells him he is "too late" to continue what they once had. Needless to say, he isn't very happy about that.

Jaime isn't the only Lannister having a rough time. Tyrion has the not-so-dignified job of welcoming the Dornish prince Doran Martell to King's Landing for King Joffrey's wedding. There's some bad blood between the Martells and the Lannisters though, and not only do the arriving Dornish families not have much respect for the Imp, but it also turns out Doran's brother Prince Oberyn arrived early in his brother's place.

Oberyn -- better known as the Red Viper -- gets arguably the best character introduction of any in "Game of Thrones." He and his paramour, Ellaria Sand, are first seen picking out prostitutes at one of Littlefinger's brothels, and start sleeping with the mix of men and women when Oberyn overhears some Lannisters in the other room singing "The Rains of Castamere." Reinforcing the bad blood between the two families, Oberyn antagonizes the men and seriously wounds one before Tyrion manages to find him.

The reason for Oberyn's hatred of the Lannisters is made clear early: He blames Tywin Lannister for the deaths of his sister Elia and her two children, Aegon and Rhaenys. It was the Mountain who rumoredly raped and murdered Elia and killed the two children, but Oberyn makes the valid point that all commands to Gregor Clegane come from Tywin.

Some history: Elia was married to Rhaegar Targaryen, who was one of the main people Robert Baratheon was fighting in Robert's Rebellion, the event where he usurped the throne from the Mad King, Aerys Targaryen. The event that caused Robert's anger was Rhaegar taking (whether willingly or unwillingly is unclear) Ned Stark's sister Lyanna Stark, who Robert was in love with. She is the "other woman" Oberyn is referencing in this story.

Anyway, the fact Oberyn is out for Lannister blood is actually the least of Tyrion's worries. He also has to deal with his wife, Sansa, who isn't eating or being much of a person after learning the brutal deaths of Robb and Catelyn, as well as Shae trying to put moves on him. Considering the strained situation he is in, it's pretty clear why Tyrion doesn't want to continue his dalliance with Shae despite obviously still having feelings for her. But the fact that a spy reports Shae's relationship with Tyrion to Cersei is enough to confirm his fears, even if he doesn't know that yet.

Then there's Brienne of Tarth, who rights a seasons-old wrong in the premiere by explaining her side of Renly's death to his former wife, Margaery. But Margaery is one of the key players in the game of thrones in King's Landing, and she rightly corrects Brienne by saying Joffrey -- no matter how horrible -- is now their king.

And boy is he horrible. Joffrey's one scene in the premiere solidifies how obnoxious he is as he belittles Jaime while blowing his own accomplishments out of proportion. While the scene itself doesn't further the plot, it's always interesting watching Jaime and Joffrey opposite one another knowing that Jaime is Joffrey's father, though of course Joffrey has no idea.

At least the Jaime-Brienne relationship didn't end at their arrival at King's Landing in Season 3. One of the best scenes in the episode comes when Brienne takes Jaime to task for not greeting Sansa or acknowledging his promise to her mother, and he tries to argue that there's not much he can do for the eldest Stark daughter. Ultimately neither of them speak to Sansa, but a familiar face does: Ser Dontos, whom Sansa saved from death at Joffrey's wedding feast in Season 2. He gives her a necklace he says is a Hollard family heirloom, and Sansa seems to have an unexpected ally.

On the road to Meereen

After being named the "mhysa" of the saved slaves in Yunkai, Daenerys doesn't waste much time getting on the road to Meereen. Her goal is to free the third of the slaver cities, and she clearly has the adoration of those who follow her. 

Maybe more than just adoration from some, as she finds Grey Worm and Daario (a new Daario, mind you, as Michiel Huisman has replaced Ed Skrein) having a contest to see which of them will ride by her side. It's clear she's amused by them even though she sends them to the back of her train, and Daario pushes his luck by getting her to accept a bouquet from him under the guise of teaching her about the "strategy" of learning a land's people before conquering them.

A good lesson, but Daario is out for more than just being Daenerys' teacher. She comes to learn more about Meereen than she perhaps wanted when she discovers the Meereenese slavers have marked every mile along the road to their city with a dead slave child on a cross pointing the right direction. As viewers know by now, you don't mess with children around Daenerys Targaryen.

Speaking of children, Dany's have certainly grown. The dragons are now huge, and hugely dangerous. Drogon, the largest of the three, actually ferociously snaps at his mother in one scene, and Jorah tells Daenerys that dragons cannot be controlled. Clearly this is foreboding some worse turns later, as this lesson came at the very beginning of Dany's Season 4 storyline, and there are still nine episodes to go.

South of the Wall

Poor Ygritte. Of all the broken hearts at the end of Season 3 (ours included -- RIP Robb and Catelyn), Jon Snow's former love is by far the angriest when she is seen again Season 4. Tormund jokes that she is trying to take down all of the men of the Night's Watch with the arrows she is fletching, but like everyone else in the premiere, they soon have bigger issues to deal with.

The main issue, namely, is the arrival of Styr the Magnar of Thenn and his followers. These scarred, barbaric men who even Tormund hates have found one interesting way to keep themselves well-fed: Eating the "crows" of the Night's Watch. In case anyone forgot that the Wildlings aren't all as sweet as Ygritte, this is a nice reminder.

At Castle Black

Like Sansa, Jon's first scene has him learning about the Red Wedding. His reflecting on being jealous of Robb is very hard to hear, especially when one remembers how long it's been since these two brothers saw each other. But Jon has no time to grieve and no desire to either, as the threat of the Wildlings is the most pressing concern in Westeros.

He has to stand trial in front of Alliser Thorne, Maester Aemon, and the recently arrived Janos Slynt, who fans will remember was sent north to the Wall in Season 2 by Tyrion. Alliser and Janos are inclined to have Jon killed despite his intel about the Wildlings, especially once Jon admits he slept with "a Wildling girl." But Aemon lets him live after confirming that Jon isn't lying about the Wildlings, which means the men of the Night's Watch have a more pressing threat than White Walkers to be concerned about.

On the King's Road

Last but not least, there's Arya and the Hound. Though she is still his captive, it's clear that the balance of power has changed between the pair after the slaughter at the Twins and Arya killing those Frey men at the end of Season 3. She gets the chance to get more revenge when she comes across Ser Gregor Clegane's lackey Polliver, who still has Needle, which he took from her after killing Lommy in Season 2.

Arya ignores the Hound's wishes not to fight and gets the pair into a situation where he has to face off against Polliver. Though the ally of the Mountain doesn't remember Arya's face, he does know that the Hound deserted the King, and the Hound intentionally antagonizes him until they fight. Sandor holds his own in the fight, but Arya finally steps up to get her revenge by showing off her Braavosi skills and killing Polliver in the most brutal way possible: by reciting the words he said to Lommy before he killed him until Polliver remembers who she is, and then slowly sliding Needle through his head to kill him.

So, uh, Arya's gotten a bit dark this season, and it doesn't look like there's anyone who's going to be reining her in any time soon. At least she got a horse and the Hound got his chickens, and his current plan is to take her to her aunt Lysa Arryn, which seems like the best possible option for her at the moment. Of course, it likely won't take long for everything on "Game of Thrones" to go to Hell.

Fun facts:

- Oberyn isn't confirmed to be bisexual in books. It's majorly implied, but as David Benioff and D.B. Weiss did with Loras and Renly, they took that implication and turned it into a fun plot point. We love the change.

- The whole "Rhaegar left Elia for another woman" story is referring to Lyanna Stark. In fact, this whole bit of history is hugely important to the story of "Game of Thrones," and some people think is key in explaining one of the main unanswered questions on the show.

- Joffrey's reference of Ser Duncan the Tall is a nice nod to George R.R. Martin fans. Ser Duncan is one of the main two characters in GRRM's "Dunk and Egg" novellas, which take place about 100 years before the events of "Game of Thrones."

- Viewers already knew that Grey Wind's head was sewn on Robb's body after the events of the Red Wedding, but this episode was the first mention of the fact that Catelyn Stark got thrown into a river after her throat was cut. This actually ends up being a fairly important tidbit of information, especially if the TV series sticks to the books.

Best lines:

"Which way do you like it?" - male prostitute
"My way." - Oberyn

"Thenns. I f***ing hate Thenns." - Tormund Giantsbane

"If we beheaded every ranger who broke their vows, the Wall would be manned by headless men." - Maester Aemon
Photo/Video credit: HBO