The longest winter is finally over and with spring comes the fourth season premiere of HBO’s Game of Thrones. Fans lucky enough to score tickets to a New York-area fan event got to see “Two Swords” a full two weeks before the official air date. Plus some bonus Hodor time. But after the lines and surprise guests, what people really came to see was how such cultural landmark television was going to come back from last year’s infamous Red Wedding.
Major spoilers for the episode after the cut, book spoilers are also fair game in the comments. And some very NSFW quotes. Be warned.
We got a taste of what comes after the Freys’ and Lannisters’ epic betrayal of the Starks in last season’s “Mhysa,” but this is the first hour fully in a post-Robb Stark world. To drive the point home even further, we open with a triumphant Tywin supervising the re-forging of Ned Stark’s Valyrian steel greatsword Ice into two lesser swords meant for lesser men. Watching the Stark heirloom disassembled to the tune of “Rains of Castamere” makes it that much more bitter for people who, you know, have some decency and like the Starks despite their poor decision-making.
No wonder Sansa’s so sad, she won’t even eat her lemoncakes.
One half of Ned’s sword goes to Jaime—and he’d be the first to say he’s less honorable than Ned—who is finding it more difficult to get back in the swing of things upon his return to King’s Landing, newly maimed to boot. I look forward to the gifs of Jaime’s awkward golden hand in use. Tywin’s the first to tell him he’ll “never be good” again. Not with that attitude, Lord Asshole. The biggest blow to Jaime is Cersei’s rejection of him. “You took too long,” she spits, feeling like she was abandoned while he was held captive. As if Jaime could prevent her wedding to Loras? Maybe if he killed him, but Jaime isn’t that person anymore. I felt bad for Jaime until I remembered that he’s missing sex with his twin sister.
The other, way, way, more appropriate star-crossed lovers in tonight’s episode were Jon Snow and his wildling fling Ygritte. It was nice to get a scene from Ygritte’s perspective, as we watch her and Tormund march on the Wall from the south as Mance Rayder closes in from the north. Separated by borders and vows, letting us continue in Ygritte’s world as it moves towards a fateful battle against the Night’s Watch makes the growing tension unbearable. It’s also an opportunity to introduce more of the wildling in-fighting as we meet a really nasty clan of Thenns.
In warmer climes, Dany lounges with her dragons, who are swiftly outgrowing her ability to control them. Drogon even snaps at Dany. “No one can control a dragon, not even their mother,” Jorah says, from his fixed position in the Friendzone. This has ominous implications, but not before we get to the last of the great slaver cities, Meereen, on a road paved with dead slaves. Dead kids are pretty much what it takes for Dany to stop flirting with new-Daario.
“Where’s Daario?” she asks. Oh, he’s in The Transporter prequel, but here’s some new bearded guy with whom you will have exactly zero chemistry. New-Daario is a hundred times less smug and a hundred times more boring. And he still doesn’t even have Book-Daario’s stupid blue beard. Bah. I’d much rather watch the burgeoning background love of Missandei and Grey Worm. I miss Rakharo and Irri.
So all of that’s good for a bit of set-up and exposition for future episodes, but what everyone will be talking about after seeing the premiere is 1) Arya and 2) the new sword in town, Oberyn Martell.
Let’s just put it out there: Oberyn has one of the best introduction scenes in this show’s history. He’s built up in the beginning of the episode before we even see him and when we finally do meet this fabled hot-headed playboy prince of Dorne, he delivers. The Red Viper and his equally adventurous, amorous paramour Ellaria Sand are totally allowed bisexual sexposition scenes in Littlefinger’s brothel.
When he tells Tyrion that “Lannisters aren’t the only ones who pay their debts” a stadium of seven thousand people whooped and cheered. I’m officially in love.
Going into the season premiere, I was expecting the hour to be a little slow, to be honest. There are some events looming that are as big as the Red Wedding, but I knew by the episode title list that this episode wouldn’t contain any of those. So what’s left?
While there isn’t anything as earth-shaking as Robb and Cat’s death here, there is a really great victory for at least one Stark. Fucking finally. Seven hells. Arya and Needle are reunited in heartwarming, neck-stabbing fashion. The Hound gets some of the best lines of the night and basically steals the show from sexy princes, cannibalistic wildlings, and freaking dragons. And all because one man stands between a Clegane and his chicken dinner. From “What the fuck’s a ‘Lommy’?” to “If any more words come out your cunt mouth, I’m gonna have to eat all the chickens,” Sandor and Arya lay waste to an inn in a fight scene that is by turns comic, gruesome, and so compelling, that same arena of thousands was stunned into silence before thunderous applause.
It’s that good.
Final thoughts and spoilers:
- There’s a hilarious camera transition from a Joffrey statue to the little snot himself.
- Margaery laments that her King’s taste in necklaces probably runs to “severed sparrow heads” with an epic eyeroll.
- Olenna’s “My word!” upon seeing Brienne for the first time. We don’t see Loras this episode, nor his reaction to Renly’s accused killer, but she does get a scene with Margaery.
- No Theon, Stannis, Davos, or Bran.
- We never get an answer to Bronn’s burning question about how many Dornishmen it takes to fuck a goat. Damn.
- Shae is just so slightly beginning to turn away from her little lord Tyrion. I really thought/hoped they’d go in a different direction with her compared to the books, considering the pains they took to make her love for Tyrion and her care for Sansa so genuine, but now it’s looking less likely and more contrived. Double damn.
- Ser Dontos!
- Dunk reference in the Kingsguard’s White Book!
Next week: Oh, hey, another Westerosi wedding. Those are always such happy affairs…
Game of Thrones returns Sunday, April 6th at 9pm ET/PT on HBO.
Theresa DeLucci is a regular contributor to Tor.com, covering True Blood, Game of Thrones, and gaming news. She’s also the resident Hannibal fannibal at Boing Boing. Follow her on Twitter @tdelucci