It’s been a long wait but Game of Thrones is finally back on air and I couldn’t be more excited. Although I have some reservations about the last series (which I felt floundered in a number of ways in spite of featuring some of the book’s best scenes), I could’t help but get excited to return to the world of Westeros and see the HBO series draw ever closer to catching up with the book series I can’t get enough of.
The season’s first episode ‘Two Swords’ set the tone of the season to be one of suspicion and intrigue that marked a distinct shift for the shows tone in the best possible way.
WARNING – SPOILERS AHEAD
This episode centered almost exclusively on the events unfolding in Kings Landing in the wake of the Lannister’s victory over the Starks in the last season. The season opened with a brilliantly executed sequence that saw Tywin (Charles Dance) melt down Ned Stark’s Greatsword (last seen in Baelor) into two Valyrian steel blades. The scene that followed was a great one that was just as much about Tywin savoring the spoils of victory as it was about Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) standing up for his non-existent honor as Lord Commander of the Kingsguard.
Speaking of The Kingslayer, the long-awaited confrontation between him and Cersei (Lena Headey) finally got some screen time this episode and her brutal rejection (“You took too long”) of Jaime was one of the episode’s highlights. The chemistry that we saw over the last two seasons between Jaime and Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) also continued this episode (to my great delight) with the Brienne reminding Jaime that Catilyn Stark’s death does not release him from his vows.
The scenes between Brienne and the Tyrells were similarly superb and I can only pray to the old gods and the new that we get to see more scenes that throw Gwendoline Christie and Diana Rigg together.
One of the episode’s major plot points was the introduction of Oberyn Martell and Pedro Pascal gave The Red Viper an impressive debut. This episode saw Oberyn wreak havok at one of Littlefinger’s brothels (“You’re not a gold lion, you’re just a pink little man who is too slow on the draw”) and give Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) some words of warning. The foreshadowing here for both Rhaegar and Gregor Clegane’s respective misdeeds was really good to see and I imagine it’ll be one of the most memorable scenes of the episode for book-readers.
As if often the case, Tyrion didn’t get nearly as much screen time as we might have liked this episode but the scenes that featured him were all quite strong. His encounter with The Red Viper jumped from quirky fun (“You took too long”) to deadly seriousness in a way that was really engaging to watch. His scene where he comforted Sansa (Sophie Turner) did a lot for his character when it came to capturing his sincere remorse (“Your mother on the other hand, I admired her – she wanted to have me executed but I admired her”) for her suffering at Lannister hands. His developments with Shae (Sibel Kekilli) were also good to see as her plotline sort of floundered a bit last season. That said, I didn’t see why Tyrion didn’t chase her up about what she said regarding Varys trying to ship her away last season.
While the show has no lack for characters to follow, it was cool to see Ygritte (Rose Leslie) get upgraded from a supporting cast member in Jon’s story to her own plotline this season. We also got to see our first taste of the more savage side of Wilding culture with the cannibalistic Thenns and the friction between the Thenns (“Thenns. I fucking hate Thenns”) and Tormund Giantsbane (Kristofer Hivju) was brilliant here.
Jon Snow (Kit Harrington) only had brief appearances this episode but in spite of that, some significant things happened for his character. We got to see him face trial for breaking his vows and ultimately convince the Night’s Watch that what he did, he did for the good of the wall. While this sequence was a bit more prolonged in the books, it made a lot of sense to tighten it up here – especially considering that we’ll be seeing events in the North play out through Ygritte’s eyes as well from here on out. Additionally, it was as fun to see love-to-hate-them characters Janos Slynt (Dominic Carter) and Alliser Thorne (Owen Teale) again as it was to see them get (sassed and) antagonised by Maester Aemon (Peter Vaughan).
Dany’s (Emilia Clarke) scenes this episode were limited to her interacting with her dragons – who have grown large and more wild since we last saw them – and the newly recast Daario Naharis (Michael Huisman). To be honest, I wasn’t the biggest fan of this recasting and found Huisman to be a little too genuine and kind for a character who in the book’s is depicted as epitome of excess, arrogance and depravity. My opinion could change in the episodes to come but for now, consider me a skeptic (especially since the show has now failed to get his appearance from the books right twice).
Both Sansa and Arya (Masie Williams) gave standout performances this episode. Sansa’s scenes were all about dealing with the brutal second-wave of grief that has come with the aftermath of the Red Wedding and she handled them marvelously. While Sansa is far from my favorite character, it was undeniable that her performance in this episode did a great job of capturing her characters inner-strength. It was also fun to see the return of the alcoholic Ser Dontos (Tony Way), who has been missing-in-action since the start of Season 2.
This episode jumped around a bit but the final ten or so minutes of the episode were devoted solely focused on Arya and they helped bring the episode across the finish line in a great way. From the usual banter (“Of course you named your sword”) between Arya and The Hound (Rory McCann) to the moment when Arya acted out Lommy’s murder in order to exact her revenge on Polliver (Andy Kellegher) and reclaim was brilliant and the moment on Poliver’s face when he realised who she was was utterly chilling. Arya’s character has had a number of false-starts down the bloody path of revenge over the last few seasons but if the writers plan to use this final sequence as the foundations for her character development this season, I can’t wait to see what they have in store.
After two seasons of war and bloodshed, ‘Two Swords’ begins this season of Game of Thrones by taking it back to the brilliant world building and character development that earned the show its stripes back in 2011.