"Game of Thrones" is back for a fourth season. I posted interviews all week, with Benioff & Weiss, Alfie Allen, Gwendoline Christie, Sophie Turner, and Maisie Williams and Isaac Hempstead Wright. Now I have a review of the season premiere coming up just as soon as I get a shaved goat...

"Something's changed." -Jaime
"Everything's changed!" -Cersei

Because the Red Wedding happened right before the end of season 3, and because the finale had so many other plots to resolve or advance, there wasn't a lot of time to bask in the Lannisters' absolute triumph over the Starks and the rest of the men of the North. "Two Swords," though," gives the Lannisters a long, luxurious, period of celebration, and it is both wonderful and extremely unsettling. It's good to be the king, or the hand of the king, or the queen regent, or the head of the Kingsguard. Robb Stark's dead, Jaime is returned (even if he is less than whole), Joffrey's wedding draws ever-closer and all seems well in King's Landing for anyone with blonde hair.

Tywin's is the first face we see this season (before the opening credits, even), as he celebrates his family's moment of victory by having Ned Stark's enormous (or, to Tywin's mind, absurdly large) Valyrian steel sword melted down into two smaller, more practical blades, one of them gifted to Jaime, who will have to make like Inigio Montoya and master the art of dueling left-handed. Ned's been dead a long time now, going by either our calendar or the show's, and it is a measure of both Tywin's patience and the storytellers' that he would wait until the war was won before destroying the famous sword that symbolized his enemy and turn it into something more suited of the Lannister clan.

And yet even in this time of celebration, there are already many problems for House Lannister to deal with. Joffrey is as horrible as ever, and Jaime gets his first glimpse of what a monster his son has become since assuming the Iron Throne(*). Cersei has turned cold towards Jaime because of all his time away and his disfigurement (and while he was being celibate in Robb's custody and then Brienne's, Cersei was busy using one of her cousins as a Jaime stand-in). Their affair is what started all of these problems, first with the murder of Jon Arryn, then with the crippling of Bran, and now that they've vanquished the Starks and been reunited, she's no longer in a mood to celebrate. It's a hard life being a one-handed, incestuous Kingslayer, y'know?

(*) I do wonder how much of Joffrey's mockery of Jaime's short entry in the book of brothers is his usual sadism and how much is boosted by Joffrey reacting to the reports (which he believes to be false rumors, and which we know to be otherwise) that Jaime is his dad. Joffrey doesn't want to be the product of incest, so perhaps it's best to put his "uncle" in his place rather than let the guy feel any desire to act paternal. Or, again, it could just be Joffrey viewing every person as a toy to play with and discard. 

Tyrion, meanwhile, remains caught between a grieving rock and a jealous hard place, and it's a position he understandably still wants no part of. Sansa's too consumed with thoughts of the Red Wedding, and Shae feels protective of her, but she also can't let go of the thought that her lover and this child might eventually develop real feelings for each other. And knowing what we know about how Tywin has treated Tyrion's past lovers, no good can come of one of Cersei's handmaids overhearing their argument, can it?

And beyond internal Lannister strife, "Two Swords" makes sure we get plenty of time with some threats to their sovereignty, both close at hand and far away.

Because we're still largely adapting stuff from the same book that season 3 was based on, there isn't the flood of new characters the way there's been in past seasons, but we get to meet Oberyn Martell (played in vintage Ricardo Montalban fashion by Pedro Pascal) and his traveling companion Ellaria (Indira Varma), both of them sexually adventurous and him with an enormous grudge against the entire Lannister clan. Oberyn's only in a few scenes, but he makes an impression as he gets the better of a pair of Lannister cousins before Tyrion can come in and defuse the situation. 

Far across the sea, Dany's dragons are much bigger, and her army seems to be as well. (In both cases, it seems as if the show's visual effects have improved each year.) Her campaign to free the slaves of Essos still has her plan to light a fire over King's Landing on indefinite hold, but she's bolder and more confident by the day, and looks more than ready to punish the bad people of Meereen when she gets there.

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