Warning: contains spoilers for seasons 1-3, and for season 4, episode 1 of Game of Thrones.
Two Swords begins with a cracking bit of symbolism as Tywin Lannister melts down the Starks’ ancestral blade and throws the wolf-skin scabbard into a fire. It’s a neat reminder of last season’s events, and sets the tone for how things will play out over the next ten weeks.
After a quick stop with Tyrion and Bronn (who really need their own spin-off, by the way), we’re introduced to newcomer Oberyn Martell in a brothel, where he and his paramour are seeking a… third party, so to speak. This is followed by a bit of always welcome Lannister-stabbing and a speech that reveals that Oberyn has more than a little justification for his hatred of Westeros’s richest family. Pedro Pascal does a great job of capturing this character’s particular brand of swagger (he has more than a little Inigo Montoya about him), and it’s easy to see the Prince of Dorne is going to quickly become a fan favourite.
Elsewhere, Daenerys is marching her army towards another city ready to liberate some more slaves. It’s here we meet season four’s first re-cast character in the form of Michiel Huisman as Daario Naharis. No-one’s quite sure why Ed Skrein left the role of Dany’s sell-sword love interest, but Huisman is a fine replacement, and what’s more, he actually looks like he might be the captain of a mercenary army – something Skrein never quite managed to achieve.
The dragons look fantastic, by the way.
Back in King’s Landing, Tyrion attempts to comfort Sansa after the murder of her family at the end of season three. In another show, this middle section might be the time when an episode might start to feel a little slow, but the actors and the directors do such a good job that you’ll hardly notice.
Last of all we come to Arya and the Hound. Arya, bless her, has not been having the best of times recently, and at the start of season four she’s still the captive of a known murderer. However, she soon crosses paths with the man who killed her friend Lommy back in season two, and all of a sudden she’s back in action.
The fight that follows is classic Game of Thrones: tense, sudden and really, really violent. Credit where credit’s due to Benioff and Weiss, they certainly know how to direct a brawl, and the claustrophobic killfest at the end of Two Swordsmore than makes up for the dipping pace in the middle. Rory McCann is perfectly cast as the Hound, able to switch between hilarious and eye-stabbingly brutal at the drop of a hat. Maisie Williams does a fine job as well, and her little satisfied smile at the end is a great way to round off the episode.
In the course of an hour, Two Swords re-introduces characters, brings in new ones, and throws in a few laughs as well. If anyone was wondering how the series would fair after the spectacle that was the Red Wedding, they can rest assured; season four looks set to be a good one.