(SPOILER ALERT: Stop reading this post right this instant if you don't want to know what happened Sunday night in the Season 4 opener of "Game of Thrones.").
Rejoice! "Game of Thrones" is back in all its epic, sprawling, bloody glory. And Sunday's briskly paced Season 4 opener, "Two Swords," did not disappoint.
The title refers to the two swords that Tywin Lannister was able to procure from having Ned Stark's huge old sword -- made of rare Valyrian steel -- melted down into a pair of weapons, one for his son, Jamie Lannister. Or it could refer to Jamie's new sword and Arya's sword, nicknamed The Needle (More on that later).
Said meltdown carried some ceremonial significance: In Tywin's eyes, the Stark threat has been essentially squashed now that Robb and his headstrong mother, Catelyn, has been disposed of. Still, the horrific events of the Red Wedding figure to cast a long, dark shadow over this season.
The few remaining members of the Stark clan are separated by vast distances and they are heartbroken. Sansa, who is forced to be around the despicable Lannisters every day in Kings Landing, is truly bummed out. She can't sleep and she refuses to eat her pigeon pie. She also refuses to be consoled by Tyrion, her husband via arranged marriage.
Meanwhile, little Arya has to grieve on the road while putting up with the stench of her traveling companion, the Hound. You'll recall that the big lunkhead was all set to deliver Arya to her mother just before the Red Wedding massacre went down. New plan: Now, he's taking her across the countryside in hopes of selling the girl to her aunt Lysa.
That brings us to Jon Snow, who recalls how his half-brother Robb was better at everything, including fighting and wooing girls. "I wanted to hate him, but I never could," he tells Sam.
Jon doesn't have a whole lot of time to mourn, though, because he's being brought before some kind of Night's Watch council, where he could receive a death sentence for killing Qhorin Halfhand and sleeping with Ygritte while out among the enemy wildlings. Jon confesses to breaking his celibacy vow and says he did, indeed, kill Qhorin, but only because it was part of a plot hatched by Qhorin (He asked to be killed).
Jon is spared death by the elders, if only because the Night's Watch desperately needs him. He has warned of an impending wildling attack led by Mance Rayder who has amassed a huge army after uniting several disparate tribes. If his intel is correct, the Night's Watch will be greatly outmanned.
Back in King's Landing, they're prepping for the royal wedding between bratty Joffrey and conniving Margaery Tyrell. But as usual, even in the afterglow of a great victory, the Lannisters are bickering with one another.
Now back after a long absence, Jamie has been fitted with a metal (gold?) hand and is eager to serve in the King's Guard. Daddy Tywin claims that's a ridiculous notion because a one-handed Jamie just won't be effective enough. Instead, he wants his hunky son to report to Casterly Rock, where he would be of more help. But Jamie says no.
Other members of the family aren't being any kinder to Jamie. Sister Cersei spurns his attempts to resume their incestuous friskiness. She being all pouty and chiding him for leaving her "alone" for too long. Poor thing. On another front, even Joffrey is giving Jamie guff for being AWOL when the whole Battle of Blackwater went down (a battle Joffrey takes credit for winning). Oh, and Brienne is pressuring him to live up to his vow to protect Sansa (and get her out of King's Landing). Dude can't get a break.
Meanwhile, the Lannisters could have a dangerous threat in their midst. He's a newcomer to the saga -- Oberyn Martell (Pedro Pascal). He's brash and sexy and he has a score to settle. Apparently, years ago, the Mountain raped and murdered his sister and also killed her two children. Oberyn has been invited to the royal wedding (actually, he's filling in for his brother), but he may not be in the mood to party.
To Tyrion, he says, "Tell your father I am here and tell him the Lannisters aren't the only ones who pay their debts." Guess he won't be forking over a very nice wedding gift.
The episode doesn't reveal what's up with Bran, or Stannis, but it does ever so briefly check in with Daenerys, who, with her army, is preparing to march on the Slaver City of Meereen. Dany, of course, has been on quite a roll, but there may be bumps in the road ahead.
For one thing, her dragons have grown as big as jumbo jets and they are now snarly and unruly. She may not be able to rely on their steadfast obedience for long. Dany also finds herself having to deal with Daario, the brash swordsman who seems to be getting cockier by the day (Michael Huisman has taken over the role from Ed Skrein).
At least Dany hasn't had to engage in a bloody all-out brawl. That's what the Hound and Arya find themselves involved in during a stop along the road at an inn. There, Arya notices Polliver, who is hanging out and causing trouble with a handful of the king's men. Polliver is the chump who earlier abducted Arya and killed her friend, Lommy. He also swiped her sword, which she named the "Needle."
At the inn, the Hound begins mouthing off to Polliver ("F--- the king," he growls), and soon a great big fight breaks out with Polliver's comrades rushing to his aid. Arya is mainly a spectator as the Hound handles most of these dirt bags by himself. But as Polliver writhes in pain on the floor, she takes the opportunity to bolt over, grab the Needle back and plunge it into his neck, causing a geyser of crimson red to spew from his mouth.
Something tells us this girl is on her way to becoming a hardened warrior. The Lannisters had better be on their toes.
So what did you think of the Season 4 opener? Did it live up to expectations, or were you hoping for more? Please, share your thoughts with us.