The brand new season of HBO’s Game of Thrones returned somewhat cheekily on Sunday, kicking off with a rather grim scene of Ice and fire that is heavy with symbolic implications and gloom leftover in the wake of last season’s Red Wedding.
In our first taste of Westeros since last June, Tywin Lannister, ever stately and cold in all his lemon-faced majesty, silently watches the melting down and re-forging of Ice, the massive greatsword that hacked off Ned Stark’s head in season one. Once a symbol of Stark honor and sturdiness, the freshly divided sword now represents the shaky division within the Lannister clan – fissures which, of course, have Tywin at the switchboard. But there’s an abundance of division happening in Westeros right now, and it goes far deeper than Tywin’s blacksmithing hobby.
Jaime Lannister, now 40, clean-cut, and missing a right hand, has returned to King’s Landing to far more sour a welcome party than he no-doubt expected. His father attempts to ship him back to Casterly Rock to act as a stand-in ruler (a scarcely veiled attempt to sideline the crippled bachelor), the loss of Jaime’s hand and thus his status as a capable swordsman has clouded the remains of his image in everyone’s eyes, and even his relationship with Cersei has spoiled (because it was so enviable before, right?). The other half of that duo, meanwhile, is becoming increasingly embittered and sloshed as her life deteriorates bit by bit. For the first time, Cersei unloads onto an incredulous Jaime the disillusionment and probably unwarranted betrayal she’s been experiencing as a result of his absence. “You left me – alone,” she accuses him scathingly. “You took too long.” Our third Lannister is dealing with some issues of his own – a reticent diplomat at the mercy of inter-house drama, Tyrion must greet and handle Dornish prince Oberyn Martel – a second-string guest to the Royal Wedding whose charms include excessive sexual rowdiness and a hearty oath of vengeance against the Lannisters (apparently they committed horrific crimes against his family – who would’ve guessed?). Tyrion must also attempt to soothe new wife Sansa’s heartbreak over the murder of her family while simultaneously maneuvering Shea’s petty jealousy and wild sense of entitlement. He’s got a lot on his plate, and Shea’s whining proves more of a nuisance than a legitimate extension of the pair’s formerly delightful romantic plotline.
Far up in the North, the wildlings are peeved to run into their cannibalistic allies, the Thenns. Jon Snow’s betrayal hangs heavy over Ygritte and the rest of the group as it becomes clear that news of their stint with a dirty crow has spread. At Castle Black, a freshly healed Jon faces trial for “sleeping with the enemy” in every sense of the term. Only his knowledge of the wildlings’ plan of action against Castle Black spares his head another day.
Daenerys spends this episode as a wrangler – unsuccessfully attempting to tame her now massive dragons, and working harder to maintain total control over her armymen – one, in particular. We have a new Daario Naharis this season, now played by Michiel Huisman. Whether the result of a miscast or merely a tricky script, Huisman’s performance in this episode fell utterly flat. He lacks the oily-yet-intriguing charisma of Ed Skrein’s Naharis and fails to bring any unique qualities to the role, feeling fairly anachronistic and very near dull. His interactions with Dany were reminiscent of the beginning of a particularly insipid Katherine Heigl movie – let’s hope he steps it up or disappears altogether. The highlight of the episode comes along with everyone’s favorite Game of Thrones odd couple – Arya and the Hound, whose budding reluctant relationship makes for delightful dialogue and surprisingly amusing chemistry. When they stumble upon Pulliver, the brute that captured Arya’s gang and took them to Harrenhal, the result is a rousing tavern brawl that concludes with Arya’s blossoming penchant for violent revenge coming to a head as she ruthlessly pokes a fatal hole in Pulliver’s throat – just as he did to her friend.
Apart from a few instances of painfully obvious expositional dialogue and some comic moments that leaned towards clumsy, “Two Swords” is a thrilling start to what will surely be an incredible season of ‘Thrones” – let’s just hope the Hound doesn’t get too hungry.
Pictured: Michiel Huisman, Emilia Clarke
Photo Credit: Macall B. Polay/HBO