Well we're back. Everybody ok? Everyone had a good year? Everyone's loved ones safe? That is not counting the Starks. They are most definitely not okay as Season Four's premiere takes special pains to beat into the head of anyone thick enough not to have figured that out from the horrific events of Season Three. Season Four opens up with Ice, the Stark heirloom Valyrian greatsword and symbol of Ned Stark's authority, being melted down and made into two swords by orders of that great pragmatist, Tywin Lannister. Just for kicks or because he's nothing if not a thorough man, Tywin also has a wolf pelt (is this the remains of Grey Wind?) burned. The symbolism is strong in this one, Lord Vader. Tywin gives one of the new swords to Jaime Lannister and acidly explains that the extremely rare Valyrian steel is from someone who doesn't need it anymore. Tywin is pleased as punch to have his bouncing baby boy back again, even missing a hand. He plans for Jaime to return to Casterly Rock to rule. These plans don't coincide with Jaime's own though and he angers his father by refusing to leave the Kingsguard. His father coldly dismisses him. Tyrion, Bronn and Podrick are part of the greeting party to meet Prince Oberyn Martell of Dorne, who is arriving for the wedding between King Joffrey and Margaery Tyrell. Typically, Prince Oberyn has marched to the beat of his own drummer and entered King's Landing earlier than expected.
Both Prince Oberyn and Tyrion being sent in their respective envoy roles are intended as passive aggressive insults by both House Lannister and House Martell to each other. Tyrion is of course a dwarf while Prince Oberyn is attending in place of his brother, Dorne's ruler Prince Doran, who claimed to be too ill to attend. Prince Oberyn is the brother of Elia Martell, who was raped and murdered by Gregor Clegane, The Mountain. Prince Oberyn has not forgotten and doesn't mind reminding people he hasn't forgotten. He is easily riled up and appears to be almost completely id. Both he and his paramour Ellaria Sand enjoy the intimate company of both genders. Just hearing "The Rains of Castamere" song is enough to make Prince Oberyn stab a Lannister flunky. This could have been comedic if done the wrong way but I think it just barely worked. Oberyn certainly embodies the Latin stereotype.
Daenerys ' dragons have become much bigger and squabble with each other over meat. They also aren't above snapping at their "mother". Daario and Grey Worm gamble to see who gets to ride at Daenerys' side. Neither wins but it doesn't matter as Daario later brings flowers to Daenerys under the guise of teaching her about local ways. She likes him. She REALLY does. I'm only a young man with not a lot of experience in these things but when a woman looks at a man like that, something is about to happen. Jorah, aka Lord Friend Zone, had better make his move fast!! Daenerys intends to take the slaver city of Meereen. She's not intimidated by warnings in the form of crucified slave children along the road.
In King's Landing, Sansa is coping about as well as you think someone would cope if they believed that they were the only member of their family left alive and had heard of the savage mutilations done to their relatives' corpses. Tyrion is unable to comfort her. He's also unable to make peace with Shae, who is becoming more insistent in her attempts to share his bed again. Against all logic Shae blames Tyrion for his marriage to Sansa, even though she knows he didn't want it and has not consummated the marriage. Speaking of lack of rationality Cersei was not super happy to see Jaime again and blames him for as she sees it "leaving" her and getting captured and mutilated. In fact she's so unhappy that she no longer wants to play the twincest game anymore. In Cersei's mind banging your brother is hot. Banging your one handed brother is evidently not. Adding to Jaime's stress is the fact that Brienne (rather humorously attired in a skirt and leather outfit) keeps reminding him of his promise to Catelyn Stark to protect and release her daughters.
Brienne also interrupts an atypically honest discussion between the Queen of Thorns and her granddaughter Margaery (cleavage alert!) where the two are discussing the upcoming wedding and Joffrey's viciousness. Brienne explains to Margaery how Renly really died and her plans for revenge. Margaery doesn't really care. As Margaery says, Joffrey is king now. This plays out under a statue of Joffrey standing on a dead wolf. Say one thing for Joffrey, he doesn't lack for ego. As Jaime and Ser Merin discuss and argue over security protocols for the wedding Joffrey talks about how he defeated Stannis . He mocks Jaime's mutilation and apparent lack of great deeds.
Up North, Jon Snow is trying to process the deaths of his brother and stepmother. This seems to be a bit of a misstep. He appears more numb than anything else. Maybe that's the feeling they were going for but I didn't find it all that convincing. Of course Jon's sworn to take no part in non-Wall activities and has his own problems to deal with. Jon Snow has a tribunal to face which is presided over by his old enemy Alister Thorne. The recently exiled Janos Slynt (who betrayed and helped execute Ned Stark) is also there. Both men are eager to shorten Jon by a head but are overruled by Maester Aemon. For his part Jon is confident and tells nothing but the truth. He warns of the impending Wildling attack though Thorne doesn't believe him. South of the Wall Tormund is taken aback by Ygritte's intensity in creating arrows and reminds her that if Jon Snow is still alive it's because of her. Both Tormund and Ygritte are nonplussed by the arrival of Styr and his Thenns. This group of wildlings has been raiding, raping and killing. Styr, at least, also practices cannibalism. Styr's wrongness can't be overestimated. This was well done. Sansa likes to go to her godswood both to pray and for solitude. This being King's Landing, her comings and goings are watched by spies of various factions. Ser Dontos, the inept knight whose life Sansa saved, comes to her in the godswood to thank her. Dontos gives her an amethyst necklace that was his mother's.
In the night's final and most intense scene Arya and The Hound ride through the northern part of The Riverlands, now no longer under Tully control. The Hound speaks of how Arya is safe with him because he doesn't steal/rape. He intends to ransom Arya to her Aunt Lysa at The Vale. Arya reminds him of his murder of the butcher's boy and in what appears to be a shout out to Omar from The Wire, The Hound shrugs and says a man's gotta have a code. They approach a tavern where Arya recognizes Polliver, a Gregor Clegane/Lannister soldier who killed her friend Lommy and stole her sword Needle, which he still has. The Hound doesn't want any more trouble at this point and tries to stop Arya but she's too quick. Both The Hound and Arya enter the tavern. Polliver and his group of Lannister soldiers are drinking, carousing and on the verge of raping the innkeeper's daughter. Polliver recognizes The Hound. In an attempt at camaraderie Polliver tells of all the torture and stealing he's been doing under The Mountain's banner and how it's all legal. He doesn't notice Arya's expression. Polliver then says that The Hound should join them in the King's name. The Hound says "F*** the king" and orders Polliver to bring him some chicken.
In a really cool set piece which reminded me of a similar scene from There Will Be Blood, The Hound drinks not only drinks his beer but also Polliver's. His face dares Polliver to do anything about it. He also says he wants two chickens now and if Polliver says one more word then The Hound will have to eat every chicken in the joint. Polliver asks him if he's ready to die and The Hound snarls that someone's going to die. The violence finally breaks out and The Hound shows that he really is the Big Dog when it comes to killing people. Arya takes the opportunity to kill a few on her own, especially Polliver, who she kills with Needle in the same way he murdered Lommy. The Hound and Arya depart. It's something of a bonding moment, as Arya now has her own horse, something that previously The Hound did not trust her to have.
This was a good premiere that set the stage for future events and reminded us that the past is still very much a part of people's present day experience. These wounds may be obvious, like Jaime's missing hand, or internal like Sansa's horror at imagining her mother's and brother's deaths and seeing her father's but the wounds are still there just the same. Tyrion was mostly reacting to other people so he didn't have a whole lot to do. I thought the introduction of the Martells was a little over the top but this is television not print. I liked the reminder that The Hound is a very dangerous killer. It's what he does. Although we may, if we are Stark bannermen, cheer at Arya getting a little payback, in my mind it's still important to recognize that killing people and travelling with one of the most notorious killers in all of Westeros, is certainly not the life that either of her now deceased parents would have wanted for her. It's a tragedy.
*This post is written for discussion of this episode and previous episodes. If you have book based knowledge of future events please be kind enough not to discuss that here. NO SPOILERS. NO BOOK DERIVED HINTS ABOUT FUTURE EVENTS. Most of my blog partners have not read the books and would take spoilers most unkindly. Heads, spikes, well you get the idea....