This article is to be read after the episode has been seen, as and as a result may contain spoilers up to the episode that it’s covering, but no further. So if you haven’t seen the episode yet, go and watch it. Then come back and read this. Then watch the episode again. Then read this again.
Let’s kick off with the big new characters introduced in this first episode of the new season (squee). As the Game of Thrones cast is so big, it can sometimes be difficult to keep track of who everyone is in relation to whom.
So here we go. Let’s start with arguably this season’s most prominent new character, the Red Viper himself, Oberyn Martell. The Martell’s are the presiding family over Dorne, located at the very south of Westeros. The lord of Dorne is Doran Martell, who suffers from gout, and is rarely seen in public as a result. The men of the Martell family are also known as ‘princes’, though this is just Dornish custom, and essentially has the same meaning as ‘lord’. Oh, Dorne is also where Myrcella (Joff’s younger sister) was sent in season 2, to be betrothed to Doran’s son. Oberyn is a fan favourite, as well as one of my own, and is often described as a ‘wild card’. He’s a sexual deviant, fathering many bastards, and hell-bent on seeking revenge for the death of his sister at the hands of Gregor Clegane, the Mountain. His sister was Elia Martell, who was married to good old Rhaegar Targaryen before he ran off with Lyanna Stark. Marriage, guys; it’s complicated. Also Oberyn’s paramour, Ellaria (not to be confused with Elia!) is a bastard – her surname is Sand. Obvs King’s Landing frowns upon bastards at court, so this will be fun to watch.
We were also introduced to Styr, the Magnar (leader) of a group of Wildlings from a place called Thenn. He was the big Xerxes-looking guy, with the bald, scarred head and crazy eyes. Since Jonathan killed Orel (Mackenzie Crook) last season, the Wildlings south of the Wall don’t have a Scooby as to where they are going, so the Thenns have come to lend a not-so-helping hand. These guys are terrifying. Interestingly, in the books these guys aren’t cannibals, and are actually implied to be a lot more civil than the rest of the Wildlings, so it will be interesting to see the developments in their characters.
Now some recurring characters who we haven’t seen in a while! The drunk guy that was following Sansa is Dontos Hollard. Cast your minds back to the very first episode of season 2 – Dontos was the knight that was too drunk to fight at Joffrey’s name day, so Joff tried to kill him. Sansa spoke up and Dontos was made the serve as the court’s fool instead. He just stopped to say hello. At the Wall, Jon was seen speaking in front of a board of Night’s Watch members, including Alliser Thorne (the guy that made Jon’s life hell in the first season), and Janos Slynt, who was the old commander of the City Watch at King’s Landing, before Tyrion sends him to the Wall for betraying Ned. Oh Ned…. Lastly, in the climactic scene of the episode, we see an old friend of Arya’s, Polliver. This was the guy who killed Lommy and took Needle from Arya back in season 2. God that last scene was awesome. And has sprouted various Sandor Clegane-chicken memes. Rightly so.
One last shout out to a recast: Daario Naharis. He was introduced at the end of season 3, played by actor Ed Skrein, but was recast after Skrein went on to pursue other things. I’m still not sure how I feel about this – Michiel Huisman seems like a better actor, but I miss Skrein’s smarminess. And something about Huisman just makes him look like generic guard #5. Still, it’s early days to judge.
The title of the episode – “Two Swords” – comes from the opening scene, where we see Ned Stark’s fat off greatsword Ice melted down into two brand new Valyrian Steel swords. One went to Jaime, and the other….?
Overall this was a great first episode to what promises to be an outstanding season. The speech-less opening was very powerful, and symbolised the Lannister triumph over the Starks, whilst the end scene almost represented the opposite: one Stark sword is lost; another is gained. The Hound was hilarious, and you can real feel Tyrion’s growing disdain for his family. Also Jaime picked up on Cersei’s drinking. Well, someone needs to tell her. I didn’t really like how Oberyn’s ‘characteristics’ were almost spoon-fed to the audience though – oh, he’s in a brothel. Oh he’s obviously in an open relationship. Oh he’s bi too. Oh and he wants to kill every Lannister he sees? Still, Oberyn’s character goes a lot deeper than that, so maybe this was just a preliminary introduction to establish his nature: he will either kill you, or have sex with you. Soon we will see why House Martell is so freaking awesome. Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken.