Game of Thrones Season 4, Episode 1: “Two Swords” Historic Episode Recap

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Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) converses with Prince Oberyn Martell (Pedro Pascal). © HBO

This episode was all about the lead-up to the Purple Wedding (next week) – and wow, what a marvelous visually rich episode.

Recap

[Jump to Historic Details]

Jaime is back in King’s Landing, clean, recovered, and wants to resume his post in the Kingsguard as the king’s personal protector. But nobody wants a one-handed knight in that role. Tywin wants him to go back to Kingslanding. (Ironically, Tywin, the man obsessed with legacy, can’t get his eldest son to take on the role of heir.) And, Cersei rejects his sexual advances. Later on, Joffrey flips through a famous book and then belittles his uncle/father Jaime Lannister. Joffrey sneers that Jaime cannot protect him with only one hand.

We meet Prince Oberyn and his paramour, Ellaria Sand, in Little Finger’s brothel where Ellaria picks out a whore. Ellaria is the bastard daughter of Lord Harmen Uller, a Dornish nobleman.

Oberyn insists on also contracting for the services of Little Finger’s bawd (or procurer). But, just as things are getting interesting, Oberyn catches the melody of the “Rains of Castamere” and finds a pair of lower-tier Lannisters in the chamber below.  One of the Lannisters arrogantly insults Prince Oberyn’s mistress, and we get a demonstration of Oberyn’s passion, speed, ruthlessness, as he plunges his dagger into the Lannister knight’s wrist. Before events turn fatal, Tyrion walks in and Oberyn withdraws his dagger. Tyrion is very concerned that Oberyn will avenge the Lannister’s role in his sister’s brutal rape and murder while he is at Joffrey’s wedding. Oberyn warns Tyrion that the “Lannisters aren’t the only ones who pay their debts.”

Next we go to the ticking time bomb across the Narrow Sea. Daenerys’ dragons have grown bigger still and are now hunting goats. Jorrah warns her that dragons can never be tamed – not even by their mother. Much to Daenerys’ fury, Daario Naharis and Greyworm are gambling over who will ride beside her. Daenerys is preparing to take her vast slave army on to invade and liberate the largest and northernmost slave city, Meereen. However, she discovers they have left crucified child slaves at every mile marker of the 163 miles to Meereen.

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Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) and her much larger dragon. © HBO.

Sansa is still inconsolable after her mother and brother’s murder at the Red Wedding. She won’t eat. She’s even refusing lemon cakes. Tyrion attempts to smooth things over with Sansa. However,  the knight she saved on Joffrey’s name day, by persuading Joffrey to make him into a court fool, gives her a family heirloom.

Later, Shea attempts to seduce Tyrion, but he rejects her due to the danger and, perhaps, even  his marital vows. This does not go well and it appears they may have broken up. We also learn that Catelyn’s throat was cut down to the bone and thrown in the river.

Jon Snow stands trial in front of the council of the Night’s Watch. He warns them Mance Rayder marches on the Wall with an army of 100,000 men, including giants. He could get the death penalty for breaking his vows, but they decide to pardon him.

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Joffrey, Jack Gleeson, prepares for the Purple Wedding. © HBO.

Olenna and Margaery Tyrell are preparing for Margaery’s wedding when Brienne of Tarth approached them. The lady knight delights Olenna with her unusual size and bearing. Margaery and Brienne talk privately where Brienne tells of her of the shadow assassin. As they talk, walking around the fountain, in the background is a triumphant statue of Joffrey standing on a dead wolf with arrows in its body.

Arya is still with the Hound, and is growing tired of sitting wedged up beside him on a saddle every day. However, she realizes she is vulnerable without the Hound. The pair haven’t eaten in days and are tired. They come across a tavern where the knight who killed her friend Lommy — and took her sword Needle – is relaxing with four of his friends. Arya wants Needle back and vengeance for Lommy’s death. Arya and the Hound kill the men – despite an offer of friendship. At the end, Arya is happy. She has Needle back and her own horse. However, Arya has taken one step closer towards darkness and being consumed by revenge.

Historic Details

Here are a few historic details that I noticed:

Identification of Other Houses By Banners

Battle_najera_froissartTyrion, his squire Podrick Payne, and Bronn wait in a herd of goats to greet the Martells of Dorne, only to discover Prince Oberyn has already arrived before dawn. Alarmed given Prince Oberyn’s violent nature, Tyrion immediately deduces that Prince Oberyn, a man of serious passions, would go to the best brothel in King’s Landing: Little Finger’s brothel.

Once Tyrion and company spot a party approaching them, Tyrion asks Podrick to read the sigils on their banners.

**

In the medieval world, one of the traditional reasons that heraldry arose was to enable soldiers to recognize dynastic houses – either friend or enemy – in battle. Heraldry was also used to identify armies that were approaching you from great distances. All young boys of the aristocracy would have been trained to recognized the coats of arms of all the houses in the kingdom.

Ellaria Sand: Oberyn’s paramour

Oberyn and Ellaria are not married; however, they have four daughters together (known as the “Sand Snakes”). Ellaria Sand is Oberyn’s paramour.

Dorne has slightly more relaxed ideas about sexuality than the other kingdoms in Westeros. In Dorne, paramours receive some measure of social status, even though they are not married and their behavior is not considered “chaste.”

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Pedro Pascal as Oberyn Martell and Indira Varma as Ellaria Sand. © HBO.

A paramour might be similar to the status of concubines in some cultures of the past. The word concubine is rarely used today, but it refers to an “unmarried woman who has sex with a man and lives with the man and his wife or wives.”

After biblical days, the term “concubine” starts to become an interesting word. According to Thomas More, Edward IV had three “concubines” whom he referred to as the “merriest,” the “wiliest,” and “the holiest harlot in the realm.” The “merriest” concubine was Jane Shore. The “holiest” was likely Eleanor Talbot, whom he may have illicitly married before Elizabeth Woodville. If some historians, like John Ashdown-Hill, are correct about Edward’s original marriage to Eleanor Talbot, then Edward wasn’t legally married to Elizabeth Woodville. Was the “wiliest” concubine in Edward’s little speech – the third woman Edward lived with who was not his wife – actually Queen Elizabeth Woodville?

The Brothel

If you think of King’s Landing as though it was a real medieval city, the idea of bringing a respectable – or semi respectable — woman into a medieval brothel might seem shocking. However, in the late middle ages, brothels weren’t just a place where men slept with prostitutes. At many brothels, adulterous couples could also rent a bed by the hour – like a cheap a motel today. Not that adulterous women were considered respectable in the Middle Ages. And, not that Prince Oberyn’s paramour, Ellaria, is necessarily respectable. But, you get the idea… or maybe not.

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Alexander II of Scotland

Mance Rayder and the Clans Beyond the Wall

More allusions to uniting the tribes beyond the Wall. This episode we meet one of the ninety tribes Mance Rayder united: the cannibalistic Thenns. (The Wildlings discover them eating “arm of Crow.” )

These references to Mance Rayder uniting the tribes north of the wall may parallel Alexander II of Scotland uniting the clans, districts, and regions of medieval Scotland.

Jamie Adair is the editor of History Behind Game of Thrones, a website about the history behind George RR Martin's "Songs of Ice and Fire" novels and the hit TV show, "Game of Thrones."

6 Comments

  • Reply April 7, 2014

    Teddy Bloomquist

    **It was Tyrion, not Tywin, who greeted the Dornish.

    • Reply April 7, 2014

      Jamie Adair

      Aargh. You’re right. That’s what happens when I write articles after midnight. :) Thanks!! (Also what a difference that makes – Tywin would completely change the tone of the greeting.)

  • Reply April 10, 2014

    Adele Scottish

    Great blog!, have you seen this Game of Thrones hotel? http://goo.gl/Ttv7Cp

  • Reply April 10, 2014

    Kenny1237

    Tywin wants Jaime to go to Casterly Rock he is already in Kings Landing

    • Reply April 10, 2014

      Jamie Adair

      Ugh. Another correction! Maybe I’m not cut out for writing recaps in two hours. :) Thanks!

  • Reply July 8, 2014

    Pat F.

    At least in the books, the term “Sand Snakes” is applied to all eight daughters of Oberyn Martell, not just the younger four (aged about 6 to 14 at the time of their father’s death, if I remember correctly) he had with Ellaria. “Sand” is the surname given to bastards in Dorne, as “Snow” is given to the bastards of the North.

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