Cersei isn't keen on picking things up where she and Jaime left them. Credit: Neil Davidson
It's been a long winter, both literally and waiting for "Game of Thrones" to return. After 10 months, if you need a reminder of who's dead, who's captured, or who that gruff-looking guy on the horse is, check out this 3-minute recap.
Nothing mysterious about the first episode’s title: “Two Swords” opens on Tywin Lannister handing over the greatsword of Eddard Stark, late of Season 1 by that very weapon, to a blacksmith for reforging into two blades. The first goes to Jaime Lannister, who is once again shiny like a new penny in his golden armor. He's impressed with the gift, but there's still the matter of his kingslaying hand having parted company with his person. Jaime is nevertheless determined to rejoin the King's Guard - only, as Tywin has made abundantly clear every time his imp son Tyrion walks into a room, physical deformity is simply incompatible with being a fully vested Lannister. Wealth and power will only get you so far in Westeros; you've got to look pretty doing it. Jaime refuses to be put out to stud in the Lannister homestead of Casterly Rock. Tywin indulges him for now, but not without a snide sendoff: "A one-handed man with no family needs all the help he can get."
In a less glamorous Lannister turn, Tyrion has been dispatched to loiter on a dirt road outside King's Landing to greet the Prince of Dorne, in town for the wedding of Joffrey Baratheon and Margaery Tyrell. "If he's so damned important, how come they've sent you to meet him?" asks Tyrion's bodyguard Bronn, who takes his job purely literally. Money may buy many things, but deference isn't one of them. Turns out the Dornish, who like every other family in Westeros have entire herds of cattle’s worth of beef with the Lannisters, expected an inglorious welcome and sent their younger son, Oberyn Martell, who arrived anonymously earlier that day.
Oberyn's reputation of having a taste for “half of Westeros” leads Tyrion to find him at Lord Baelish's brothel, where he’s commandeered both a prostitute and her pretty pimp (this despite bringing his “paramour,” Ellaria Sand, with him). But he’s all too happy to hike up his britches and put a dagger in an expendable Lannister’s wrist, then remind Tyrion that his sister was brutally murdered on Tywin’s orders when the Lannister army first laid siege to King’s Landing. “Tell your father I’m here. And tell him the Lannisters aren’t the only ones who pay their debts,” Oberyn says before sashaying away.
Meanwhile, on a rocky outcropping somewhere still very far away from the capital sits Daenerys Targaryen, whose dragons have entered the sullen phase of adolescence involving goat mutilation and talking back to their mother. Her confidant, Ser Jorah Mormont, all but shakes his head like a despondent schoolteacher, saying “they can never be tamed.” Have much experience raising dragons, Sir Jorah? I thought these were the first in centuries, and I didn’t see you walking into a funeral pyre to hatch them.
Some things, however, never change. Despite a lovely spread of pigeon pie and lemon cakes, Sansa just stares off despondently into the middle distance. Granted, many viewers were similarly left in such a state after last season’s Red Wedding, and it was her mother and oldest brother who died as the Lannister theme song played. Tyrion tries to be sympathetic to his wife, and yeah Catelyn Stark ordered his execution that one time but whose in-laws are perfect, right? Surprisingly, Sansa takes no comfort in this.
Tyrion’s lover, Shae, doesn’t understand why he even tries. The answer to politics, marital strife and family tension is all the same, and “Do you know how long it’s been?” She doesn’t want his diamonds and offers of another life abroad - which it turns out Tyrion hadn’t made at all, and someone’s onto them. Start saying your goodbyes now, because if there’s one thing nobody on “Game of Thrones” gets to have, it’s love.
And Jaime Lannister did love his old right hand, and doesn’t care at all for the elaborately decorated metal appendage his sister/lover Cersei had crafted for him. “A hook would be more practical,” he deadpans. “Elegant, I think,” she counters, reminding him of their family’s ultimate virtue. Her looks, after all, are the only thing she has left as she reminds Jaime that life hasn’t been easy for her, either, as her children are married off and she’s set to wed a man who doesn’t value her best assets. Don’t you worry about that, Jaime says, because wouldn’t some incest in the afternoon be just the thing to really stick it to daddy dearest? Cersei is not enthused to pick things up where they left them, however. “I murdered people to be here with you!” is perhaps not the worst line a woman’s ever heard in a bar, but “You took too long” is definitely the coldest rebuff.
Speaking of ice cold, Ygritte is making more arrows after emptying her quiver into Jon Snow as they parted ways. Not enough to kill him though, as Wildling leader Tormund Giantsbane points out. But taking potshots at a lonely heart is the sort of thing a commander has time for when his rebellion is languishing. You know who doesn’t put arrows in non-vital parts of a human? The Thenn, who barge into camp and replace the evening’s menu of rabbit stew with the arm of a Night’s Watchman while they talk alliance.
After breaking ranks with the Wildlings, Jon Snow hasn’t exactly been welcomed with open arms at Castle Black. He avoids hanging for desertion by revealing the Wildlings’ plans to lay siege to the Night’s Watch stronghold.
Back to wedding planning in King’s Landing, Olenna Tyrell’s plan to drape her granddaughter in all the finery the city has to offer at once is interrupted by Brienne of Tarth, who rescues Margaery with a vague excuse like they were already BFFs with a code for “get me out of here.” They chat about the unfortunate demise of Margaery’s most recent husband, Renly Baratheon, whose reign was cut short by a ghost assassin that only they saw. Margaery assures her that she is safe in King's Landing.
But the king who wears the crown now is completely unconcerned with the security measures Jaime is orchestrating for his wedding. Joffrey is instead reading about the conquests of kings and noblemen before him, and notes that “someone forgot to write down all [Jaime’s] great deeds.” A lesser man would’ve taken off that metal hand and smacked Joffrey with it. Jaime, however, has found his good humor on a page out of Tyrion’s book and contends that his having only one hand simply makes it a fairer fight. Touche! (So to speak.)
The fairest of them all, meanwhile, is nearing the city of Meereen. Daenerys may have style, but the newest member of her Queensguard, Daario Naharis, suggests she get to know some of the local color - with a bouquet of indigenous plants. Not sure about hitting on the boss with a poisonous flower during your first week on the job, but points for creativity.
In King’s Landing, the best odd couple since “The Odd Couple” are talking about... doesn’t matter, really, as Brienne and Jaime could be plotting a grocery list and it would still be the best moments of the show, save Tyrion’s scenes. Their talk about Jaime’s vow to Catelyn Stark to look after her children ends with him questioning whether Brienne might be a Lannister after all, though she doesn’t “have the looks.” These children grew up with too many mirrors in the castle. But Sansa already has a protector: Ser Dontos, whose life she saved during a tournament from Joffrey’s cruelty (though he then became the court jester, so they might be even). As thanks, he gives her his mother’s necklace. Daario, are you paying attention?
The final quarter of “Two Swords” is fully devoted to Arya Stark, because this show knows that if its audience loves anything more than dragons and beheadings, it’s her. Last seen riding away from the Red Wedding, Arya and her captor the Hound are discussing the merits of a moral code that allows murder but not stealing. What else but philosophy would a child and a mercenary find to chat about while winding through the woods? She also wants her own horse, because the Hound doesn’t smell very good and it’s not like she’d leave as there’s not a lot of safer places than by the side of a man who told the Lannisters to hang.
They come across an inn where the Lannister-affiliated men who killed her friends during their journey to Winterfell after her father’s execution are eating dinner. Their leader, Polliver, chats up the Hound because they share a friend: master torturer Gregor Clegane, the Hound’s brother. Polliver’s gotten rather bored with the torture scene, to be honest, so he’s beating the pavement waving the Lannister banner around to justify all manner of casual menace. Spoils of war stuff. Arya’s blood boils visibly throughout this exchange that even turns the Hound’s stomach, which he settles with Polliver’s mug of ale then flipping over a table on top of him.
Arya watches the Hound do all right for himself in the ensuing brawl until he doesn’t, and then reminds the audience that she was even younger when she ordered the deaths of three men in King’s Landing at the hand of the Faceless Man by driving her sword, Needle, slowly through Polliver’s throat. Oh, and she gets that pony after all, since the previous owner no longer had any use for it, as Tywin Lannister said about Ned’s sword in the beginning of the episode. And somewhere in the Red Keep, he just felt someone walk over his grave.