The war is over. The king is set for a long and prosperous reign. The Lannisters have established absolute power throughout the Seven Kingdoms. Men wearing the King’s color feel they can act however they want, leaving a trail of bodies on the way to taverns and inns. Tywin splits Ned Stark’s great beastly sword into two. The war is never over, though. The Hound and Arya travel in the riverlands and see beyond miles of burning land, burnt by King’s men, those men led by The Mountain. Jon Snow prepares the Night’s Watch council for Wildlings’ assault on The Wall, risking penalty-by-death for breaking their oaths while gathering the information. A handsome prince from the south dressed in the blazing colors of the sun plans to avenge his sister who was brutally abused by the Lannisters’, by The Mountain and ordered by Tywin Lannister. East, across Slavers’ Bay, Dany and her army continues their march towards Meereen . All is turmoil and chaos throughout Westeros. The triumph in King’s Landing creates the illusion of stability throughout the lands, but a war does not end for years after its official end, when lives are restored and towns and villages reformed.
“Two Swords” continues the Storm of Swords story left off at a little more than halfway through last season. Robb and Catelyn Stark have not been dead for more than a week. Joffrey’s preparing for his wedding day with the lovely Margeary Tyrell. Tyrion’s recently married to the saddest girl in King’s Landing. And so on. Characters are scattered throughout the Seven Kingdoms and throughout themselves, broken like the sword Tywin breaks in the teaser. Incredibly shocking plot turns will happen throughout the fourth season that’ll cause people to scream in their living rooms and take to social media to express dismay, shock, and outrage. And so, with almost half of an insane book left to adapt, Weiss and Benioff use “Two Swords” to turn inward on the characters before more delicately constructed house of cards crumble and tumble.
Arya and The Hound close the episode in a rousing, suspenseful, almost ten minute scene, in a tavern north of King’s Landing, that repurposes Arya’s up-to-now scattered and less-than-purposeful arc. Arya spots Polliver from the bushes, the violent chap who stuck a knife through Lommy’s jaw in early season two and who took her Needle, and decides she wants it back. Arya’s nightly prayer was of vengeful remembrance. Each night she spoke the names of those she wanted dead. Jaqen helped her until he went away, leaving her only a coin but leaving her alone, which is a problem being a girl and a child in a world that violently abuses both. Polliver tries to sell two chickens for Arya because he wants to break her in. Polliver ends up dead. Arya uses her Needle to stick it through his jaw after reminding him of who she is and what he did to her friend. In one scene Arya assumes some active power and control and someday may not be beholden to powerful men, men who killed her family, men who forced her to become whatever it is she may become.
Prince Oberon’s a little like Arya Stark in the important ways: he bears a grudge against the Lannisters. His arrival in King’s Landing is a surprise and an insult, in a way, because he is a second son, but he’s a warrior. Oberon’s not subtle about his intentions. King’s Landing is where Maester Aemon learned to pick out the truth from infinite grains of lies. There are spiders and birdies through King’s Landing. Oberon stabs a Lannister in the wrist while at a whore house. Oberon bluntly tells Tyrion his plans to take revenge on behalf of his sister on Tywin. He’s a lively and colorful prince, as lively and colorful as a afternoon in the Dornish kingdom but capable of exuding the bitter cold north of The Wall. Oberon adds to Tyrion’s many problems. Tyrion’s besieged by a wife who hates him, who grieves for a dead brother and dead mother killed by her in-laws, an angry lover in Shae, and he fails to welcome Oberon with any diplomacy nor any of the Dornish camp, who pass his welcoming with not much more than a slight twitch of the mouth. Tyrion’s between many things: his wife and Shae, his loyalty to his family and his hatred for his king, his king and his diplomatic responsibility.
Jaime Lannister tries to figure out a new place in his hand-less life. Cersei rejects what he is without a hand. Joffrey insults his lack of accomplishments. Jaime peers into the Kingsguard book when Joffrey makes him aware of the triumphs of those before him and the blank pages that follows his entry. Jaime replies, “There’s still time.” The scene makes it unclear that Commanders of the Kingsguard write their history. The pages of the book are in Jaime’s hand if he chooses wisely and justly. Jaime’s moved beyond his family’s cruelty. He looks at Joffrey with scorn and resentment. He tries to break his oath to help the Stark daughters, but Brienne won’t let him duck away from his responsibility. Plus, Jaime’s become more of the man who’d help children rather than throw one out of a window. Jaime can create influence and effect change for the good, like his son who can create influence and effect change through brutal violence and horribly abusive governance.
At the core—the root—of the series is change, the push and the quest for change. Dany, during her heroic revolutionary trek across Essos, finds dead bodies of children on her way to Meereen, brutal signs of warning to Dany to stay away and to stop freeing slaves. Dany does not flinch nor cry. The march continues. Many more dies if she stops. Many more suffer if she stops. Her march represents one of many signs of massive change desired throughout Westeros. Stronger signs of change are the small moments, subtle and lodged in the details, the kind where Ser Dontos gives Sansa his last treasured possession to help her feel better, the kind the audience members cries over or clutches his or her heart to keep it from bursting out of the ribcage during catalytic events. The characters are like that sword split in two during the teaser of ‘Two Swords,” broken in half, reforged through molten lava that fuses and cauterize, both as strong as the single solid weapon existed before the breakage. This is the song of ice and fire, a title that conjures in the mind irreconcilable binaries but also a image of union, change, cohesion, and fusion. “Two Swords” is another chapter in the bleak tale of misery where the meek fall to the mighty, where injustice and brutal violence win one a throne; but within the details, in the smallest exchange, the faintest expressions (like Arya’s smile as she rides astride a horse), the solemn sights, is the pervading idea that humans—these characters—are even stronger than the strongest Valyrian steel.