SPOILER ALERT: This recap contains character and storyline spoilers.
The episode "Two Swords" in a nutshell:
* Tyrion meets Prince Oberyn Martell
* Daenerys marches to conquer Meereen
* Arya and the Hound come across a familiar face
Body count: 5 soldiers in a tavern
Nudity count: A few prostitutes
Dragon sightings: 3
New people: Prince Oberyn Martell of Dorne and Ellaria Sand, his paramour
New places (opening credits): The Dreadfort and Meereen
Best line: "Yes, I partook. Now, I'm married." — Tyrion, refusing the offer of a prostitute
What's the deal with... Cersei turning down Jaime? She's been pining for him all this time, and suddenly pushes him away.
The first and last episodes of all three previous "Game of Thrones" seasons have probably been the least interesting ones. The biggest, most shocking moments usually take place in the second-to-last episode.
Instead, the premieres and finales are all about setting up the pieces on the chessboard, and "Two Swords" is no different. Not much happens in the Season 4 premiere, aside from one major introduction and one major reacquaintance, but all the characters are placed for fireworks ahead.
In all, "Two Swords" feels like you've sucked in a huge breath and are waiting to release it. It has a more quiet tension — aside from one bloody sequence, all the action is emotional and cerebral. As the title alludes, there are two important swords at the heart of the episode, and the stories around both demonstrate just how much has changed for all of the characters.
King's Landing: The Lannisters, Tyrells, and Martells
With their victory over Robb Stark after the Red Wedding, the Lannisters are sitting pretty — for now. Patriarch Tywin smugly watches as the magnificent Stark sword is melted down and forged into two new swords. One, he gives to son Jaime, as he orders him to return to rule Casterly Rock. But Jaime will do no such thing — he gave his oath as a Kingsguard and means to keep it. Even if that means protecting his bratty nephew/son Joffrey.
Meanwhile, Tyrion is waiting for the arrival of wedding guests from Dorne. It turns out Prince Doran Martell declined to attend, and instead his brother, Prince Oberyn, is there in his stead. He's already made himself, and his paramour Ellaria Sand, home at one of the city's brothels.
The hot-headed, lethal Oberyn immediately gets into a confrontation with some Lannisters, which Tyrion breaks up. But Oberyn wants Tyrion to know that he's not just in King's Landing to toast Joffrey. He wants vengeance for his sister, Elia, who was raped and murdered by Ser Gregor "The Mountain" Clegane on orders from the Lannisters.
Tyrion goes from one difficult situation to another, when he finds a despondent Sansa refusing to eat her lunch. She can't stop thinking about the horrible way her family members died, and Tyrion tries to comfort her. But he's a Lannister, even if he's the best one and her husband.
To top of his great day, Tyrion returns to his chambers to find Shae waiting to seduce him. He turns her down, and she grows angry at him. When she storms off, she's observed by a servant. Uh-oh, this is exactly what Tyrion was afraid of.
Along with his sword, Jaime also gets a gold prosthetic hand from Cersei. But when he tries to thank her with some sweet kisses, she pushes him away. "You weren't here, you left me. Alone," Cersei accuses him. Jaime argues that he couldn't help it, he was kidnapped! "You took too long," she says, as that servant comes in to tattle on Tyrion.
Sansa prays by the sea, unaware that she's being watched by Jaime and Brienne. The latter reminds Jaime that he promised Catelyn Stark to protect her daughters. He, in turn, reminds her that Arya is missing and Sansa is married to his brother.
After prayer, Sansa leaves and is pursued by an unknown stranger — who turns out to be Ser Dontos Hollard, a former knight who is now a fool. He thanks for her saving his life (back in Season 2, on Joffrey's nameday) and gives her a family necklace as a gesture of appreciation. It's a small, but welcome kindness in what has become a bleak life for Sansa.
Meereen: Daenerys Targaryen and her army
On the march to Meereen, Daenerys finds a quiet moment to spend with her dragons. But the three creatures have grown quite large — two are fighting over a goat, and another hisses at her for trying to calm them down. She may be the mother of dragons, but even she might not be able to control them.
Daario Naharis continues to try to flirt with her, while Daenerys tries to play cool. He gives her three flowers, which she rebuffs, until he explains, "You have to know a land to rule it."
The march comes to a sudden halt, when Ser Jorah and Ser Barristan find a slave's corpse nailed to a post. There's one at each mile marker, with over 160 miles to go. A furious Daenerys orders them to leave the corpses up until she can see their faces, and then cut down the chained collars around their necks.
Somewhere near the Wall: Ygritte, Tormund, and the Wildlings
Camped in a canyon, the wildlings wait for reinforcements to attack Castle Rock. Ygritte is obsessed with making new arrows, as Tormund questions how she didn't manage to kill Jon.
Their group is soon joined by the Thenns. Tormund doesn't like them much, and it soon becomes clear why. The Thenns are brutish and rude, and seem to be cannibals. Better watch your limbs, wildlings.
Castle Rock, the Wall: Jon Snow, Sam, and the Night's Watch
As Jon gets dressed, he reminisces to Sam about how much better Robb had been at everything than him — riding, hunting, talking to girls. Now, he's dead, and Jon may soon join him depending on what the Night's Watch council says.
They question him about killing Quorin Halfhand and defecting to the wildlings. Jon defends himself, saying that it was Quorin's plan. He also warns them that Mance Raydar has united the wildlings and is marching on the Wall. Ser Alliser Thorne, acting commander, and Ser Janos Slynt are dubious, but Maester Aemon believes him. He is well-aware when someone is lying; he grew up in King's Landing, after all.
Jon won't be executed — that day, at least.
Somewhere Near the Vale: Arya Stark and Sandor Clegane
As they flee the Red Wedding carnage at the Twins, Arya complains about not having her own horse. The Hound reveals that he doesn't want her to escape, as he plans to ransom her to her aunt, Lysa Arryn at the Vale.
They come across a tavern, and though both are hungry, the Hound is wary that there are five men inside. Then, Arya spies Polliver, the man who took her sword Needle! She rushes toward the tavern, and the Hound has no choice but to follow.
Inside, Polliver recognizes the Hound and buys him a round of ale. He chatters on about torturing people with Sandor's brother, the Mountain. An annoyed Sandor orders a chicken — on Polliver's tab. Insulted, Polliver offers the chicken, in exchange for Arya!
Things get heated when Polliver lets on that he's heard the Hound is a traitor. They start brawling, with Polliver's companions backing up.
The Hound is a fearsome fighter, but even he can't triumph with 5:1 odds. Arya, seeing her chance, grabs a sword and skewers one man. Then, she stabs Polliver and takes Needle from him. Reciting the words he said to her when he first took the sword, she slowly inserts Needle into his throat.
As they ride away from the tavern, both Arya and the Hound are pleased. He's eating a chicken leg, while she's on her own horse — and reunited with her sword. If they weren't both stone-cold killers, they'd make an awesome sitcom duo.
What did you think of the Season 4 premiere of "Game of Thrones"? Sound off in the comments below!
"Game of Thrones" airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on HBO.