So. That last scene, am I right?
"Game of Thrones" came back with a wallop last night, but what struck me as most interesting – and what should really set this season apart if it keeps up – was the weight of every key moment. Thrones premieres have a tendency to skip around at breakneck speed to remind us where everyone is, but "Two Swords" had the gall to do… not that. We still got a fair amount of skipping, but it was focused, drawn out, and the biggest scenes – like the last one – had room to breathe. And mount a lot of dread. And kill a lot of bad guys.
But let's backtrack to the beginning. The season opens with Tywin forging two Valyrian steel swords – one for Jaime, the other presumably (though unconfirmed) for Joffrey. The steel is some bastardized rip off of Ned Stark's prized killer Ice – melted down and made anew for his arch enemies. (The Lannister's continued mockery of the Stark family name is pretty horrible.) Jaime accepts the gift, but the tension between him and Tywin is at nuclear levels. Tywin wants Jaime to head back to Casterly Rock and rule in his place. Jaime wants to stay in King's Landing as Joffrey's guard. They both know, though it goes unsaid, that Jaime's desire to stick around has more to do with Cersei than his knight's honor. Unfortunately for Jaime, Cersei isn't all that into him anymore. But he does get a nifty new gold hand, so it could be worse.
The more noble Lannister, Tyrion, has his hand's full this episode – he's not only dealing with his grieving child bride, Sansa, but he's also trying to keep an eye on King's Landing's latest threat – Oberyn Martell. Oberyn is the brother of Elia Martell, former princess of the realm who was brutally raped and murdered on Tywin's orders during Robert's Rebellion. (She was married to Rhaegar Targaryen, Dany's brother.) Known as the Red Viper, he's in town (with his paramour, Ellaria) to represent his homeland of Dorne at Joffrey's upcoming nuptials. But he's really there to exact revenge for his sister's murder, one Lannister at a time. (He also gets a marvelous introduction scene at Littlefinger's brothel – Oberyn likes boys, too.)
Tyrion is also turning down sex from Shae, so you know he's conflicted.
Elsewhere in King's Landing, Margaery is making pals with Brienne, and Sansa is making pals with Dontos, who gives her his mother's necklace as a thanks for saving his life way back in season two. Dontos is that guy who Joffrey almost killed with wine. Now he's a fool. Poor Dontos.
Further north, Ygritte – still reeling from Jon's betrayal – and Tormund have a run in with some grisly cannibal free folk called Thenns, who looking like Star Trek villains and are really pissed off that the Night's Watch guys get to drink better ale.
Lucky for Jon Snow, the Night's Watch guys don't sentence him to death for killing Halfhand and assuming the identity of a turncloak Wildling. They let him live because he knows stuff about the Wildling plan of attack – like where they're coming from and their battle strategies. Jon also gets a moment to react to Robb's death. "I wanted to hate him," he says, for how their father looked at him, for how important he was in Winterfell. "I wanted to hate you, too," says Sam, happy to have his friend back.
Down in Danyland, Daario has a new (and I'd say much improved) face and everyone is still marching for Meereen. The dragons are big and ferocious, the Meereeneese are leaving dead children as road markers for their arriving guest, and Daario gives Dany flowers. Of all the scenes in this opener, the Dany stuff feels the least fresh. Here's hoping this isn't another season two situation where the sparse book material is ramped up into something unsatisfactory.
But all of that is ok because the final scene is one of the best in the show's history, and a great set-up for what's to come with our girl Arya. After grumbling about riding side-saddle with the Hound on his horse and not having her own, the two stumble upon an inn in the woods. As they're scoping it out from afar, Arya recognizes one of the guests as Polliver, the guy who captured her, took her to Harrenhaal, stole her sword, Needle, and killed her friend Lommy. After a little kerfuffle, they all end up under the same roof. Polliver recognizes the Hound but not Arya and tries to convince him to join their men. The Hound refuses, the moment escalates and pretty soon Sandor is stabbing the hell out of everyone in his most Houndish of ways. Sensing an opportunity for vengeance, Arya approaches the wounded Polliver and recites back to him the words he said to Lommy before stabbing him in the throat with Needle. And then Arya stabs Polliver with Needle. The episode ends with Arya riding away from the inn on her own new horse, smiling manically. And thus a little killer is born.