Westeros Explainer: The 10 Questions You Had About the ‘Game of Thrones’ Season Premiere

4x1: Two Swords

Well it doesn't LOOK like Winter is coming! (HBO)

Well it doesn’t LOOK like Winter is coming! (HBO)

1. Whose sword is that and why are they making it into two swords and why is Valyrian steel the best kind of steel and why was the first sword so big?

A little history: Valyria was the capital of a great empire that was destroyed 400 years before the events of Game of Thrones. The weaponsmiths of Valyria knew special techniques for making steel for swords—methods involving magic spells and dragonfire that made the swords lighter and sharper than other blades. These methods were lost when the city was destroyed, so nowadays, the few existing swords made from Valyrian steel are extremely valuable and almost all owned by great houses.

One of these was the Starks’ greatsword, whose name in the books is Ice (most of the important swords in Westeros are given names, so apparently most swordsmen are “cunts,” according to the Hound). We saw this sword in the very first episode of the very first season, when Ned beheads the man who deserts the Night’s Watch. It was later used by the executioner of King’s Landing, Ser Ilyn Payne (one of the people on Arya’s nightly recited hit list) to behead Ned himself. Remember that? Fun times.

Anyway, Ice was only used for this purpose—it was far too large to be used effectively in battle. And presumably, back when things were relatively peaceful, it mostly hung in some ceremonial way over the hearth of the Starks’ in Winterfell.

In the first scene of the episode, Tywin Lannister has it melted down and made into two battle-ready swords. When Jaime asks how he had enough steel to make two whole swords from, Tywin calls the greatsword “comically large,” which is a telling indication of Tywin’s attitude toward all things ceremonial and traditional. Things are most important to Tywin when they are most useful, and a sword that can be used in battle is much more useful than one that cannot.

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2. Why is it so important to Tywin that Jaime leave the kingsguard, so much that he disowns him?

Tywin is all about control: control of those around him, control of situations, and control of his and his family’s image. He is not a sentimental man, to say the least. When he tells Jaime that he expects “I will not see the Rock again before I am dead,” he doesn’t sound wistful. He is proud of the fact that he will never return to his House’s ancestral home at Casterly Rock. Casterly is a place of luxury; King’s Landing is a place of power. He finally feels like he is where he belongs.

Tywin wants Jaime to go back and rule at Casterly Rock in his stead. Part of this is image control: How is it going to look to have a cripple guarding the king? What will people say? Jaime just wants to keep trying to rehabilitate his image, to be seen as a great warrior who overcame all odds, but Tywin just sees the possibility that he will become another Tyrion: a laughingstock, the beneficiary of sheer nepotism. And imagine what they would say if he failed in his duties or was roundly defeated in a clash.

Not to mention the fact that Tywin started a war over an accusation about his son and daughter. An accusation he almost certainly knew to be true. Now that the war is, by some accounts, over, it is clearly in his best interest to squelch any new speculation or curiosity by putting hundreds of miles between the incestous pair and effectively putting an end to their gross gross grossness.

But then Tywin is also just a tyrant (read: power-hungry dickwad), who makes decisions and then imposes his will on those around him—and it is most crucial that he does so on those closest to him. Jaime thinks he is debating with him what is best, but his father isn’t deliberating over this. He’s made up his mind, as he did with Myrcella’s marriage, and Cersei’s. Jaime’s attempt to argue is thus not a dispute, it is an act of defiance, and is thus well worthy of Tywin calling Jaime “a man without a family.”

Whether he has really disowned him or not remains to be seen. He does let him keep a sword that is literally priceless, so it seems like maybe this is more an expression of extreme displeasure than “you’re out of the will!” Also, when taking the oath to become a member of the Kingsguard, Jaime swore that he would never own land or have children, and that his only allegiance would be to the king, so technically Tywin was just saying what was already true—he legally doesn’t have a family, and by remaining in the Kingsguard he reaffirms this fact.

tumblr_n3o85feHFT1tpabkto2_2503. Explain the whole Martell/Lannister tension. Why is Tyrion afraid/upset that Oberyn is there? What are the dynamics of Northern vs. Southern cultures here? And who did Rhaegar Targaryen leave Oberyn’s sister for?

Time for more history lessons! Elia Martell, the older sister of Oberyn and a princess of Dorne, was married to the crown prince, Rhaegar Targaryen, and had two children with him. But Rhaegar fell in love with Ned Stark’s sister Lyanna, who was engaged to be married to Robert Baratheon. Rhaegar (apparently) kidnapped Lyanna, and Robert and Ned and a bunch of others went to war against the Targaryens, leading to pretty much all of the events of Game of Thrones. That was the war that made Robert king, that exiled Daenerys to the East, that made Jaime into the Kingslayer, etc.

The decisive moment in that war happened when Tywin Lannister, who had been neutral until then, joined Robert Baratheon’s side and sacked King’s Landing. During the sack, Tywin’s soldier Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane killed Elia and her two kids. There has obviously been bad blood between the Lannisters and the Martells ever since. Tywin has to invite House Martell to the royal wedding, but he’s still a bit wary, so he sends Tyrion to meet the party from Dorne.

Instead of Prince Doran of Dorne attending the wedding, however, it turns out that they have sent his younger brother Oberyn, and this throws Tyrion for a loop. Not only will the king be insulted that Doran is not attending (not really, because Joffrey doesn’t care about this shit, but Tywin, who is the real king, let’s be honest), but Oberyn has quite the reputation for hotheadedness. Having “no patience for welcoming parties” he has already arrived in King’s Landing hours before, and Tyrion hurries off to find Oberyn before he “kills someone, or several someones.”

There is also a series of cultural and racial stereotypes that feed into Tyrion’s reaction here. Dorne, the southermost of the seven kingdoms, has much more of its own culture with its own customs, etc. They are racially distinct, with darker skin. Dorne is mostly desert, and in the other parts of Westeros, the Dornish have a reputation for “heat,” in just about every sense of that term. Quick to anger, impulsive, attractive, sexually licentious, etc. As is on display in the scene in the brothel, Oberyn is the “hot” Dornishman ne plus ultra: angry, fierce, vengeful, with a large and wide-ranging sexual appetite, and so on. Witness—as he enters the room in the brothel where a Lannister has been singing “The Rains of Castamere”—the way he holds his fingers in a candle flame. He seems calm on the outside, but it is very clear that this is an extremely dangerous person. Tyrion clearly has reason to be concerned.

4. What’s Shae’s deal, and why does Tyrion seem so conflicted about her staying in the kingdom?

Tyrion’s in a tough spot: Shae’s a prostitute he brought back to King’s Landing, and he likes likes her. But he’s had bad relationships with whores in the past—he lost his virginity to his first wife, whom his brother Jaime arranged to have him “save” in some knightly manner, only to discover that she too, was being paid out of the Lannister books.

Plus, Shae is the handmaiden to his wife, Sansa Stark, whom he doesn’t love but definitely feels bad for, what with his family murdering all of hers and whatnot. But the real issue is that Cersei has threatened to straight-up behead the hooker mistress of her dwarf brother, so Tyrion’s coolness has less to do with chilled passions than just a general sense of “Bitch, don’t get murdered!”

Shae, on the other hand, has already refused to leave the Kingdom, either because she thinks her true love will prevail or because she’s stubborn as hell. Either way, she’s convinced herself that there’s no real danger if she just keeps hanging out and making eyes at her mistress’s husband.

5. Who is that guy who made Jamie’s hand who is not a maester and what is he treating Cersei for?

That’s Qyburn! And consider him the Leo Spaceman of King’s Landing: he’s “not a maester” because he was kicked out of the HMO plan for practicing some funky medical practices, and when he first met Jaime, he was kicking around with Roose Bolton as sort of a pediatric handyman. (Get it?)

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He’s the dude who cauterized Jaime’s wounded hand, and then jumped along for the rest of the journey to King’s Landing. Now he’s apparently helping Cersei with…woman problems? It’s unclear, but all their wink-wink nod-nods about “symptoms” remind me of the Claire Underwood version of menopause. Maybe she needs to just stand in front of a fridge?

6. What does Cersei mean when she tells Jamie that he took too long, and why does she blame him for the war? Why is everyone being SUCH a bitch to Jamie? Didn’t everyone want him back? Wasn’t he supposed to be a great knight?

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Oh Jaime, don’t you know that absence doesn’t necessarily make the filial heart grow fonder? Kingslayer McHandsomeHead has been missing from King’s Landing since Season One, having the misfortune of being captured by the North really early on, then released, then captured, then released, then captured, then handless, all the way up to now. You can’t blame a guy for taking circuitous way home in the middle of a war, but I’d be pissed if I was Cersei or Tywin as well: The whole “War with the North” is basically Jaime’s fault.

Bear with me: All the way back in Season One, Jaime killed a bunch of Ned Stark’s dudes out in the street, ostensibly because Ned’s wife had taken his brother Tyrion as a prisoner. (This is when Catelyn and the Starks thought all the Lannisters were in on the murder of Jon Arryn, who…ha ha, remember when THAT was important? One little murder?) More likely, Jaime was freaking out because Ned was getting too close to the truth about him boning his sister and the king’s sons being bastards in line for the throne.

After killing a bunch of Ned’s men and hitting Stark on the head, he ran off to join his dad “on the field.” On the field of where? Who knows! They launched an attack on the North for Tyrion, and this whole war, which involved a siege of King’s Landing by Stannis Baratheon and a ton of debts being incurred by the Lannisters, is at the feet of a guy who was off making horse-banter with Brienne the GiantWoman for two seasons. No wonder the rest of the family is pissed.

7. Why is Jon Snow on trial, and who are those three guys doing the judging?

Poor Jon Snow: Despite your broody looks, even the wildlings know that you’re basically an idiot. (“You know nothing,” isn’t his pet name for no reason!)

Jon’s just returned to Castle Black at the Wall after spending an inordinately long time undercover with Mance Rayder and the Wildlings. Now he’s back to report on his findings: White walker zombies, giants, cannibals, a whole offensive army moving to climb the ice wall and basically either escape and/or rain a cold hell down on earth.

But the Wall isn’t populated by daring knights. It’s used the way the British used Australia: as a place to banish rapists and murderers and fat guys named Sam. No wonder no one wants to mount an offensive against the monsters when they can just put their hands in their ears and go “La la la! Jon Snow slept with a laaaaaaaady!” (It’s in the Night’s Watch code that you can’t have lady sex, but everyone does anyway, as was pointed out by Maester Aemon.)

Also, he did totally kill his commander in chief out in the field, but in all fairness, the guy told him to.

So the men judging Jon’s actions aren’t the most impartial jury: There’s bald guy Janos Slynt, who betrayed Jon’s dad Ned Stark and killed a bunch of Baratheon bastard children while serving in the City’s Watch; the big man is the brother of Qhorin Halfhand, whom Snow killed on the field, and the really old guy is Maester Aemon, one of the last remaining Targaryens (those dragon people). He’s blind, but otherwise a good guy. Look at the epic burn he gave about liars in King’s Landing!

Jon Snow might be dumb, but that should actually work in his favor when it comes to how the jury will fall: no way a guy that earnest-looking has gone all Nick Brody-native and returned home reprogrammed.

8.  What’s Dany doing now marching to Mereen? Is she just trying to free all the slaves on her continent? Wasn’t she trying to take the Iron Throne? Who is that guy in Dani’s guard playing the betting game?

So Dany, the other last Targaryen (and Mother of Dragons who Just Want to Be Left Alone And Eat in Peace, God Mom!), originally wanted to take over the Iron Throne. Actually, originally originally she just wanted her brother not to sell her like a sex slave to a band of wandering Dothraki so he could have the throne, but she’s evolved since then. More recently, she wanted Joffrey’s seat for herself (she’s got a claim to it, as does every other character on this show) and was planning to take over Westeros with dragons and her budding army of Dothraki warriors. The only problem was that in her haste to rule the world, she didn’t realize that a) Ships cost money and B) Dothrakis hate sea-travel. (These guys are on a whole other, Africa-sized continent from the rest of the story, and there is an ocean between them and King’s Landing.)

As she’s tried to build up the resources to get those ships, she started, kind of by accident, to free slaves in the trading towns she’s visiting in the desert. Once she saw how good it felt like to be treated like Oprah by thousands of eunuchs, she kind of changed her game plan a little bit. Now she’s just going from city to city, doing that. Does she still want the Iron Throne? Probably? She’s kind of on a roll, though. She’ll get around to it.

That guy with Grey Worm doing the pilates exercise was Daario Naharis. He was played last season by a totally different actor, who was much prettier. We forgive you for being confused!

9. What is with all the neck/necklace/collar images in this episode?

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Right? I mean, we’ve got Lady Olenna trying to find a wedding necklace for Margaery, Sansa getting a necklace from Ser Dontos (the drunken former knight whom Sansa saved from Joffrey’s murderous whim back in season two and instead became the court jester), the collar around the neck of the Meereen slave girl/world’s most horrifying mile marker. And then you’ve got Arya inserting her newly regained sword, Needle, into the throat of Polliver, the man who took it. And the whole episode starts with the melting down of a sword that was used specifically for beheading.

So why all these necklaces and other neck images? Because Game of Thrones wants to remind us that even when the characters are just talking about jewelry, they are actually talking about power—and in Westeros, gaining and maintaining power means people’s literal necks are on the line. Look how many people had to die so that Margaery could end up (wearing the right necklace while she is) marrying a teenage sociopath and becoming queen.

The garden where the Queen of Thorns and Margaery sit and embroider or eat cake or whatever the hell they do all day may be full of sunlight, but the forces at play are as gloomy as the inn where Arya punctures Polliver’s neck. They may be discussing the pageantry of a wedding party, but their motives are just as dark as those who would warn off visitors with the pageantry of putting dead child slaves on pikes every mile.

10. What is Arya quoting when she kills Polliver?

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She’s quoting him back to himself. First she wounds him in the leg—just like her friend Lommy was wounded, just before Polliver taunted him (“Something wrong with your leg boy? Can you walk? I got to carry you?”) and then killed him. She is saying his words back to himself, quoting the death scene that she is avenging. Then she picks up Needle and quotes him again, from an earlier scene, the one where he stole the sword from her: “Fine little blade. Maybe I’ll pick my teeth with it.” And the look in Polliver’s eyes just before he drowns in his own blood is one of recognition: he knows those words, recognizes Arya, and realizes why he’s about to die.

One thing we can say about Arya: aside from becoming a totally badass and pretty damned scary agent of vengeance, she also has a downright amazing memory.