As premiere openings go (the one time of the season that there is a scene before the credits), Season 4 lacks the shock value of previous seasons’ sequences. Instead, it’s fairly subtle; a glimpse of Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance) having Ned Stark’s mammoth sword, “Ice,” melted down and recast into two smaller blades.
The scene serves as a sobering reminder that with Robb Stark and his mother massacred at the Red Wedding, the Lannisters have all but cemented their hold on the Iron Throne. There are almost no good guys’ heads left to chop off at this point.
Tywin has one of those two swords reserved for his son Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), who seems impressed, despite not having the right hand anymore to properly wield it.
“Where did you get this much Valyrian steel,” asks Jaime.
“From someone who no longer had need of it,” answers his father, putting salt in the wounds for all of us who kneel in the fealty to the Starks.
It doesn’t take long for Jaime, however, to run afoul of his father. He refuses an order to give up his post in the Kingsguard to return to Casterly Rock, the seat of the family’s power – largely because he doesn’t want to leave behind the love of his life, his own sister.
That doesn’t sit well with Tywin, even though Jaime offers to return the sword.
“Keep it, a one handed man with no family needs all the help he can get,” grouses dad.
Meanwhile, younger brother Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) has slipped so far down the hierarchy that he’s left waiting in the dusty road for Prince Doran Martell, to welcome the guest to Joffrey’s wedding festivities.
Seems like everyone in Dorn rides by – except for both that prince (who turns out to be a no-show for health reasons) and his replacement, the fearsome Prince Oberyn Martell, aka the Red Viper of Dorn.
The Red Viper arrived before dawn, since he doesn’t particularly go for the welcome party treatment. That complicates Tyrion’s life even more than usual.
“We must find Prince Oberyn before he kills something,” he huffs to his loyal henchman Bronn (Jerome Flynn).
Where to look for a man with such prodigious sexual appetites as the legionary Prince Oberyn (Pedro Pascal)? In the biggest brothel in King’s Landing, of course. Cue the best introduction of a new character in “Game of Thrones” history.
Over the course of five minutes, Oberyn readies to make love to two women and one man, interrupting only when he hears two obnoxious Lannister soldiers in the next room. He picks a fight and stabs one in the wrist.
Welcome to King’s Landing!
It turns out Oberyn’s never really gotten over the fact that the Lannisters’ attack dog, Gregor Clegane, aka The Mountain, raped and butchered his sister. He’s not really visiting for just the open bar at the wedding.
“Tell your father I’m here, and tell him the Lannisters aren’t the only ones who pay their debts,” Oberyn warns Tyrion.
On Essos, Daenerys is cradling the biggest of her dragons, Dragon, in her lap like a domesticated house cat. Only it’s the size of a horse. The tranquil illusion is shattered when Drogon’s smaller siblings drop a lamb into their midst and the Mother of Dragons makes a move to calm her squabbling “babies.” Drogon swivels to roar a fierce warning in her direction. It’s clear she’s lost control.
“Dragons, Khaleesi, they can never be tamed not even by their mother,” warns her chief advisor, Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen).
There’s no time to ponder the advice, since she’s too busy summoning her army. Among them is a brand new Daario – with actor Michiel Huisman replacing Ed Skrein, who played the part last season. Here’s what I don’t get: recasting happens in the business, but why completely ignore continuity by having the new guy sport a full beard and short hair? It’s unnecessarily confusing.
Sansa Stark (Sophie Taylor) is a broken woman, coming to grips with the decimation of her family (remember, she has no idea Bran, Rickon and Arya are still alive) and married to a member of the Lannisters, the house directly responsible for the destruction of the House of Stark.
“I like awake all night staring at the canopy thinking about how they died,” she tells Tyrion. “Do you know what they did to my brother? They say they sewed his direwolf’s head to his body. And to my mother? They say they cut her throat to the bone and threw her body into the river.”
Though it’s clear Tyrion only feels sorry for his reluctant bride, his mistress, Shae (Sibel Kekilli) confronts him later in his room out of jealousy. Is he trying to get rid of her? The lack of an answer is not to her satisfaction, so she leaves in a huff, but is spied by one of the handmaidens loyal to Cersei. This can’t end well.
Speaking of Cersei (Lena Headey), Jaime finally gets some alone time with his sister and object of his affections.
She’s not having any of it. What did I do wrong, he asks? He came back as fast as he could, after all, despite being captured, then tortured and maimed.
“You took too long,” she sneers.
See, this is why it’s not a good idea to date your own sister.
Another woman scorned, Ygritte (Rose Leslie), busies herself carving arrows, presumably to fire more of them into the man that broke her heart, Jon Snow (Kit Harington), when she tracks him down in Castle Black.
“You plan on killing all the crows yourself?,” asks Tormund Giantsbane (Kristofer Hivju).
“You plan on scratching your balls until winter?,” retorts Ygritte.
But even the unflappable wildling woman is phased when their reinforcements arrive – the cannibalistic Thenns, who show just how intimidating they are by roasting a severed arm for dinner.
As if the Night’s Watch didn’t have enough problems…
Jon Snow certainly does. He’s facing a tribunal determined to hang him for a.) killing Qhorin Halfhand to infiltrate Mace Rayder’s army, b.) breaking his vows by sleeping with Ygritte and c.) because most of his superiors just don’t like him.
Fortunately Maester Aemon casts the deciding vote: Snow lives for now.
“If we beheaded every ranger who lay with a girl, the wall would be manned by headless men,” says the maester.
“While we sit here debating which laws I’ve broke, Mance Rayder marches on the wall with an army of one hundred thousand,” warns Snow.
Now that should be one heck of a battle.
“I can tell you it’s a very interesting season for Jon because he doesn’t have a paternal or commander looking out for him anymore,” Harrington told me a few weeks ago. “In the previous three seasons he’s gone through about six different patriarchal figures and I think now he’s, where he was being groomed, I think now he’s a leader and that’s what this whole season is about for him.”
In King’s Landing, Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) continues to be a pompous, sadistic ass, ignoring the council of his uncle/father Jaime to be extra careful on his wedding day since much of the population at large wants him dead.
Joffrey scoffs at the very idea that he’s not beloved by the masses: “They know I won the war,” he trumpets.
“The war is not won yet my Lord,” answers Jaime.
But Joffrey has lost any respect he had for his uncle, who’s now virtually useless as a warrior with just one hand. Leafing through the Book of Brothers, which chronicles the great deeds of the Kingsguard, Joffrey finds the single page of Sir Jaime Lannister’s heroic exploits.
“Someone forgot to write down all your great deeds,” he snickers in that annoying arrogant way of his.
“There’s still time.
“Is there? For a 40-year-old knight with one hand?” asks Joffrey.
He’s certainly less kingly than Daenerys, who is marching with her Unsullied army to the slave city of Meereen. The slave masters taunt her by leaving the dead bodies of slave children hanging on every mile marker towards the city for 163 miles.
Her loyal advisors say they will ride ahead and bury each of them so their Khaleesi doesn’t have to see them. Daenerys is not having that.
“I will see each and every one of their faces,” she vows.
Not since Thelma and Louise has there been as pair like Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) and Sandor Clegane, aka the Hound, (Rory McCann) hit the road. Though I don’t remember any dead bodies littering the side of the road in “Thelma and Louise.”
She complains that she wants to get a horse of her own instead of riding on the front of his mount.
“Little lady wants a pony,” he says.
“Little lady wants to get away from your stench,” she retorts.
They’re on their way to the Vale, so he can ransom Arya off to her rich aunt, Lysa Arryn.
But they’re hungry and they stop out side the Inn at the Crossroads, the same non-descript place where Lady Stark once arrested Tyrion (in Season One). The Hound is wary of taking on the five King’s men they spy, but Arya recognizes one as Polliver, the slime-ball that killed her friend and stole her sword Needle and forces their hand.
Polliver doesn’t recognize Arya, but does notice The Hound and is excited to talk shop (i.e. torturing and pillaging). It doesn’t take long, however, for Sandor to ditch with the pleasantries.
He orders Polliver to get him a chicken, which changes the mood in the room quickly.
“You’re a talker. Listening to talkers makes me thirsty,” says The Hound, grabbing Polliver’s ale and drinking it all. “And hungry. Think I’ll take two chickens.”
“You don’t understand the situation,” warns Polliver.
“I understand that if any more words come out of your c—t mouth, I’m going to have to eat every chicken in this room,” the former member of the Kingsguard says, voice full of menace and mouth full of the kind of dialogue D.B. Weiss and David Benioff are famous for.
“You lived for the king, you’re going to die for some chickens?” asks Polliver as he and his four compatriots draw their swords.
“Someone is,” says The Hound.
What follows is a gory mess of a swordfight, the tide of which is turned when Arya runs through one of the soldiers with his own sword and slices the legs of Polliver from behind.
Before she dispatches the piece of garbage by sticking Needle through his chin, she repeats what he said when he killed her friend. (“A fine little blade. Maybe I’ll pick my teeth with it.”) There’s a flicker of recognition in his terrified eyes before he dies coughing on his own blood.
If memory serves me it was Sandor who delivered the killing blow in the book, “A Storm of Swords,” but this is much more powerful.
The pair of unlikely allies rides out into the sunset in the episode’s final shot, one of the best endings in the show’s history. The Hound has his chicken; Arya, a smile on her face, has her horse.