*WARNING* This review contains spoilers and has been released to coincide with the US/UK simulcast at 2am onMonday 9 April. Please DO NOT read any further if you have not yet watched this episode, or are waiting for the 21:00 repeat.
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After what has felt like the longest winter ever, Game of Thrones is back on our screens.
Tonight’s simulcast with the US began season 4 with the melting down of the great sword ‘Ice’, the weapon of House Stark, to craft two new Valyrian steel swords for the victors of the war, the Lannisters.
Following the events of season 3, viewers are a position where the main storyline, and the characters we’d been rooting for, are no longer with us. With Ned, Robb, and Catelyn Stark all now dead, and the remaining Stark children cast to the four corners of Westeros, the show must now give us new characters to care about; and allow us to start caring about some older ones.
Over the past three seasons, we’ve seen Jamie Lannister change from Kingslayer to a more almost tragic figure; someone who has been through a harrowing experience and has finally come to terms with his past deeds. This has probably been in no small part due to being in the company of the wonderful Brienne of Tarth for most of last season, but it has also been down to being away from his family and the weight of expectations that come with being a Lannister.
This weight is firmly back on his shoulders, as evident from the first real scene between Jamie and his father, Tywin Lannister. One of the two swords made is given to him, and when Jamie asks where the original weapon came from, Tywin simply replies ‘from someone who no longer needed it’. Tywin commands Jamie to retire from the Kingsguard and return home to Casterly Rock, the Lannister’s home. Jamie refuses; he doesn’t want to rule, he doesn’t want a wife, and he doesn’t want kids – he wants to stay at Kings Landing. Tywin eventually relents, but threatens to remove him from the family – how serious a threat that is, remains to be seen.
Flipping over to the other Lannister son, we find Tyrion looking rather downtrodden on the road to Kings Landing with Bron and Pod, waiting for a new character to arrive. The Martells of Dorne are a family that before now we’ve only heard of in passing. All we know about them is that Myrcella Baratheon was shipped to them during season 2 and that they hate the Lannisters. Now we’re meeting Prince Oberyn Martell (Pedro Pascal), and what an introduction.
Sure we’ve had scenes with characters in the brothels before, but this felt very sexually charged. As well as Oberyn, we also meet Ellaria Sand (Indira Varma), Oberyn’s paramour. The couple are choosing a playmate, and Oberyn surprised us by also choosing the male companion too. Things were gearing up for some action until once again The Rains of Castamere ruin yet another moment. The song is being sung by two Lannister guards who Oberyn does not take kindly to; one fine speech and a knife through the wrist later, and Tyrion finds Oberyn.
In a private conversation between the second sons of their respective houses we find out why there is such bad blood between the Lannisters and Martells. It seems that Elia Martell was actually Elia Targaryen, wife to Rhaegar Targaryen son of Aerys II Targaryen ‘The Mad King’, and mother to Rhaenys and Aegon Targaryen, all of whom were slain in a brutal manner during the Sacking of Kings Landing, which ended Robert’s rebellion. It seems the Martells hold the Lannisters personally responsible for the deaths of the two infants, and the apparently horrific way in which Elia was killed. Oberyn is in Kings Landing to attend Joffrey’s wedding, but also to find out the truth. As the Lannister with the biggest conscience, Tyrion is clearly quite shaken.
Speaking of Targayens, it appears that Daenerys is going to have a difficult time with her dragons this series. The scene with Viserion and Rhaegal fighting out at sea (while Drogon purrs almost cat-like in his mother’s lap) is beautiful, and does nothing to quench our desire for a pet dragon. Yet the way Drogon nearly ripped off Danereys’ arm (not something that happens with a cat) and Jorah’s foreshadowing that a dragon cannot be tamed, even by their mother, is a worrying thought, and also odd as we know that the Targeryens used to ride dragons in battle.
We are unsure where exactly Dany’s story is heading; after she liberated Astapor she seems to have made it her personal mission to remove slavery from all of the cities of Essos’. Astapor and Yunkai have both fallen to her, and now she marches on Meereen. You have to wonder at what point her actions over the narrow sea will finally grab the attention of Westeros.
Far beyond Dany’s marching, or Jaime and Cersei’s weird brother/sister/lovers tiff, (though Lena Headley is still beyond amazing as Cersei and her ‘Pillow biter’ comment regarding Loras Tyrell was brilliant), we find Jon Snow and the men of the Knights Watch. Jon is clearly still reeling from the events of last season, and now he has to convince the Lords of the Knights Watch that Mance Rayder and his (massive) army of Wildlings is a real and dangerous threat… A threat which now includes cannibals, which is nice.
We end the episode with our ragtag odd couple, Arya Stark and The Hound. While the events of The Red Wedding have clearly broken Sansa in Kings Landing, they have caused Arya’s thirst for vengeance to increase. The list she repeats before bedtime now must be quite long. The unlikely duo are en route to The Eyrie so that The Hound can deliver Arya to her Aunt (crazy breast feeder Lysa Arryn) when they stumble across a band of Lannister soldiers, including one we’ve seen before.
‘Something wrong with your leg boy? Can you walk? I got to carry you?
Fine little blade. Maybe I’ll pick my teeth with it’
With those words, perfectly repeated from Season 2, Arya Stark confirmed her utter badass-ness. Not only is she emotionally cold as she does it, but the smile that crosses her face as Pulliver lies there dying, gave us chills. If I was on Arya’s revenge list, I’d start to be worried.
So, that’s the start of Season 4. As much as we love the show being back, it does mean we now only have 9 episodes left. What did you think of this episode? Let us know in the comments below, and come back next week for episode 2.
Game of Thrones continues on Mondays at 9pm on Sky Atlantic.