*This article contains spoilers*
It’s a strange thing when a series can continue to kill off its main and most beloved characters and get more popular year on year. The premier for the anticipated fourth season of Game of Thrones doesn’t shy away from reminding us that the young wolf and the majority of his immediate family have violently found their way to an early grave. Last years red wedding churned the stomachs of fans as the blooded bodies of Rob, Catelyn and an entire Stark army lined the halls Walder Fray’s dining room. For the first time in the series, we have no adult northern hero to get behind, and the show is already starting to feel different for it.
Although Stark wolves continue to exit the show, tail between the legs, lions are in abundance. For the first time, all our favourite (and not-so favourite) Lannisters have managed to convene in the same place. Jaime is finally home and things are already off to a bad start. Despite the shiny new hand, he’s getting no appreciation from his incestuous lover/sister Cerci. Father and all round up-tight old man Tywin Lannister, remains spiteful to every single one of his children’s choices. Even King Joffrey is all too quick to throw Jaime to the dirt after learning his lack of accomplishment, but watching his return to the capital is a joy. His view on incest aside, Jaime is a new man. His time with Brienne saw the change from wise cracking ‘King Slayer’ to sympathetic anti-hero and his presence in Kings Landing suggests an air of distain towards his fellow Lannisters. Jaime is a changed character and it’s riveting to watch him be subjected to the judgement of his family while he battles with his own personal transformation.
Meanwhile, Tyrion was tasked with welcoming the shows newest house, the Martells. This episode introduced the sexually charged Prince Oberyn (aka The Red Viper) of house Martell, and not a second was wasted before acquainting him to the woman (and men) of the shows time-honoured brothel. With the Prince already established as Game of Thrones first seemingly bisexual character, we also get an idea as to his ulterior motives in the capital. Driving a dagger through the first man he finds humming the infamous Lannister song, and suggesting to Tyrion that Tywin was the cause of his sister’s death, there is a definite feeling that Oberyn isn’t just here for the coming royal wedding. It’s less than subtle but with sex, nudity and violence in the first 5 minutes, Prince Oberyn is already ticking all the right boxes we’ve come to expect from a Game of Thrones character.
Meanwhile on the other side of the world, our favourite mother of dragons continues to push on with her seemingly unending journey to free every slave this side of the narrow sea. Still, Daenerys has become one of the most interesting and surprising characters of the show following her rise to womanhood in the last season, which makes it a shame that so little of her story was explored in this week’s episode. One thing we did get a look at where the bigger dragons and boy do they look impressive. As always the CGI was spot on, rivalling modern cinema, but what was more interesting is for the first time since they were introduced, the dragons have become more than a weapon in Dany’s arsenal. Suddenly, almost jarringly so, the dragons are frightening, threatening their mother and fighting amongst each other. The episode may have been light on Khaleesi but it’s hard to complain when the dragons which are so rarely seen, are featured so prominently.
Meanwhile, finally back at castle black, John Snow learns the sad news of his brother’s death in a touching exchange with Samwell Tarly. When John talks about Rob being better than him, his line “I wanted to hate him, but I never could” really hit home and served well to remind us as the audience just how much loss the Starks have suffered. The two haven’t been together for over a year and they have a real brotherly on-screen chemistry which really works well to repair some of the emotional damage done by the infamous ‘Red Wedding’ scene last year.
And talking of Starks, this episode saw the proud return of Needle to Arya in a masterfully executed show down against Lannister men. Between an Orphaned Girl and a Ruthless Killer, Arya and the Hound have created the most unlikely of companions that completely stole this episode. Massie Williams’ Arya continues to be a stand out performance of the show and this week’s episode just reinforced that. Her blood thirsty need for revenge coupled with her naive impunity creates a character that more than embodies her novel counterpart, it surpasses it. It was chilling to hear her recount back to her victim, word for word, his own speech from two seasons ago whilst he looked onwards at her in complete helplessness and horror. We needed a new Stark hero and in Arya, we have one.
The premier for the fourth season was a solid episode. It managed to push our already established characters in interesting directions whilst adding mysterious new ones to the mix. As it inevitably would, the post Red Wedding Game of Thrones feels different, but not worse. It remains impressive 3 years on, that all the characters (left alive) remain interesting as they continue to develop around their changing environment. Game of Thrones season 4 is off to a strong start.