Ned Stark may have lost his head in season one, but his mighty greatsword, Ice–as much a symbol of his grim, cold morality as his family’s famous saying, “Winter is Coming”–still endured.
Until now. A triumphant Tywin Lannister melts Ice and reforges it into the “Two Swords” for which the season four premiere episode of HBO’s “Game of Thrones” is named. He allows himself just the smallest hint of a grin as he does it–an evil but purposeful man taking slight enjoyment in his victory.
As season four begins, the Lannisters have all but won the War of Five Kings, which began when Ned was beheaded by the arrogant, inbred King Joffrey, and ended when Ned’s son and wife were brutally murdered at the infamous Red Wedding. Sansa Stark, believed to be the last living member of her family, is a prisoner of the Lannisters and a prisoner of her own nightmares, which are haunted by the terrifying knowledge of how her family died.
Robb, her eldest brother, was stabbed after watching his own wife bleed to death. Sansa’s mother, Catelyn, was tossed into a river, her throat slit. Sansa’s own sentence–becoming the wife of the deformed, outcast Lannister, Tyrion–is only better by degrees.
Of course, Tyrion is no longer the only Lannister with significant physical handicaps. Jaime, once the mightiest fighter in the Seven Kingdoms, has lost his sword hand. That’s an unfortunate turn of events for someone whose job–guarding the king–requires no small amount of proficiency with a blade.
One of the many taglines of the show is, “When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die.” But “Two Swords,” suggests that there are actually a number of other options. Sometimes, you achieve all-surpassing victory. Sometimes, you die horribly. But other times, you just go home, with whatever changes you have been forced to accept, like the loss of a hand or the addition of an unsightly facial scar. Indeed, most of Game of Thrones’ characters have neither won nor died because they played the game. Most are just trying to cope with the changes such carnage has wrought.
Like Jaime, Jon Snow returns home to a different sort of welcome than the one he had expected. His brothers no longer trust him, and they won’t listen to his warnings about the great army of men marching on the Wall–and the army of the dead that will follow them. If frost demons and their zombie hordes are truly the real threat, the lords of Westeros are playing right into their cold, crystal hands by making countless new corpses.
Speaking of new corpses, the slave masters of the great city of Mereen kill 163 slave children–one for every mile of countryside between Mereen and Daenerys’s army–and nail them to signposts to point the would-be liberator to their doorstep. Daenerys instructs her men to remove the children’s chains before disposing of their bodies, for they will be buried as free people, not as slaves. But does it make any difference to them, when they are already dead?
Perhaps more than any other character, Daenerys has enjoyed unqualified victory over her enemies. Her rewards have been considerable: An army of invincible warriors; utterly dedicated commanders; and three dragons, which are the Westerosi equivalent of atomic weaponry. But Daenerys is upending the traditional order of things in Essos, and she is awakening forces–both wittingly and unwittingly–that many people say are better left undisturbed. Her dragons are a constant reminder of the balancing act involved. When the mightiest of them snaps at her, is there doubt in her eyes? Does she have any small worry that her dragons could spiral out of her control, and her revolution would follow? Her most difficult test yet awaits in Mereen.
Back in King’s Landing, everything seems to be falling into place for the Lannisters. Still, complications present themselves. Tyrion once warned his sister, “You will find it difficult to rule over millions who want you dead.” One of the millions, Prince Oberyn Martell, has come to the city to attend the royal wedding. He is a famed warrior, a passionate–and open-minded–lover and he hates the Lannisters. He also suspects that they were ultimately responsible for the death of his sister in the last war. For Oberyn, at least, the passage of time–of years and years–does not dull the thirst for vengeance. That may be a problem for the Lannisters.
Others don’t have to wait so long. Arya Stark, still alive unbeknownst to most, has a list of people she intends to kill. And one of them crosses her path, carrying the sword he stole from her. Arya and her captor–the Hound, who is quickly becoming an uneasy ally, and maybe even a compatriot and friend–proves that the vicious do not always elude justice in the world of Westeros.
When you play the game of thrones, sometimes evil triumphs. Good men die. Their swords are taken from them and destroyed.
But sometimes, evil loses. Good men–and not-so-little girls–triumph. And they get their swords back.
Unseen this week: Stannis, Davos and Melisandre, presumably at Dragonstone, preparing to set sail for the Wall; Bran, Jojen, Meera and Hodor, somewhere beyond the Wall; Varys and Loras, in King’s Landing; Littlefinger, likely courting Lysa Arryn in the Vale; Theon Greyjoy and his tormenter, Ramsay Bolton, enjoying pork sausage at the Dreadfort; and Gendry, current whereabouts unknown.