We kick off our weekly Game of Thrones recap with the first episode, in which, you guessed it, lots of people die.
First things first: the pre-credits sequence of Two Swords was stunning. Tywin Lannister melting down Ice, the Stark family’s hereditary greatsword, to make two swords for his own House, all set to the haunting strings of The Rains of Castamere. Charles Dance completely sells the triumph he feels without needing a word of dialogue, and the symbolism of the scene – the final defeat and dissolution of House Stark at his hands – is extremely potent and a great way to begin the season.
It’s not a scene from the books, which in a way makes it all the more memorable. There were a couple of other scenes here that weren’t in George R.R. Martin’s original novels as well: We see a conversation between Ygritte, Tormund Giantsbane, and the other wildlings south of the Wall, in which we get our first confirmed death of the season in the form of a man they’re cooking for their supper. The most noteworthy new scene, though, is the introduction of Oberyn Martell, the Red Viper of Dorne.
Oberyn Martell is one of the coolest and most popular characters in the books, and fortunately new face Pedro Pascal does a great job. The scene shows him acquainting himself with some whores, both male and female, before stabbing a Lannister through the wrist for insulting him. The scene introduces the character excellently: his rascally side when with the whores, his intelligence and pragmatism in a fight – using a short blade where a long one would be too unwieldy – and contains a lovely establishing moment where he runs his palm over a candle flame. It’s a subtle sign that he isn’t afraid of danger and pain, and it works very well.
The scene, less than ten minutes in, also contains the season’s first instance of female full-frontal nudity, just in case we forgot this was an HBO show. Would it really have been too much to ask for the Viper to take his clothes off as well? This show does, after all, have a huge female fanbase, and Pascal’s a pretty handsome guy.
Across the Narrow Sea, we find Daenerys and her army of Unsullied on the march to Meereen, with a recast Daario Naharis accompanying her. There was a bit of complaint over last season’s Ed Skrein in the role, presumably because of his pretty-boy looks, though considering how much Dany ends up wanting to sleep with him later he seemed a fairly good call. It’s too soon yet to judge what new guy Michiel Huisman is going to be like, but his first few scenes are encouraging. The only problem with the Daenerys thread is that you can get much more into a chapter of a book than a scene in a TV show, and her scenes here only really serve to remind us that she exists. In the discovery of a dead slave nailed to every milestone from her current position to Meereen, they also increase the episode’s body count by 163.
Gratuitous nudity and huge body counts. Don’t ever change, Game of Thrones.
The award for Badass of the Week goes jointly to the Hound and Arya Stark, for a fantastic scene where they take down a group of Gregor Clegane’s men in a tavern. The Hound gets the award for repeatedly telling them to fuck off and bring him a chicken to eat, while Arya gets it for stabbing her old tormentor Polliver through the throat, while chillingly repeating the words he spoke back in season two when he killed her friend Lommy. Her unique brand of vengefully sociopathic heroism begins here! Also, this scene raises the body count by five, with another four from corpses they pass on their way to the tavern.
Best Snark goes to Jaime Lannister for waving his new prosthetic hand at the guy who made it for him, and for asking Brienne if she’s actually a Lannister because all Lannisters are a pain in his arse. They’re starting to develop an old, bickering married couple dynamic, and it’s a lot of fun.
Which brings us to the scores, wherein we arbitrarily assign points to the various Houses to try and keep track of who’s winning in the Game of Thrones. Not an awful lot happened this episode to change things, but the Lannisters are starting out strong, with their enemies crushed and preparations underway for a royal wedding. As a result, 10 points go to House Lannister.
Lannister: 10 / Stark: 0 / Baratheon: 0 / Targaryen: 0
Overall, Two Swords was a very strong opening episode. It’s a good indication of the show’s increasing confidence that producers didn’t feel the need to put every character in this one episode and muddle the pacing. It was refreshingly light on exposition and didn’t waste time reminding us what happened last season, instead just getting straight into the next chapter of the story. It laid the groundwork rather than having many big dramatic moments, but considering the stuff we’re building to later in the season, it’s best to start off with a bit of a breather. It’s not much of a spoiler to say the shit is really going to hit the fan in later episodes.
And, finally, the death toll. One dead northman, 163 crucified slaves, four corpses, and five killed by Arya and the Hound. Which brings the grand total to 173, a very impressive number to kick things off with. Valar Morghulis indeed.
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All images: HBO