For years, writers and philosophers have mused on the nature of happiness - how we can achieve it, retain it, grow it, share it. Well, screw Aristotle, Camus and Pharrell - for me, happiness is a big bowl of popcorn and a brand spanking new season of Game of Thrones.
I didn’t think this series could get any bigger than last year, but the hype has grown even more intense since that whole Red Wedding incident. You know, that George-R-R-Martin-and-HBO-like-dancing-in-our-tears business from which we’ve all spent the past 10 months or so recovering.
So, my darling Throners, strip down, throw your leg over your ear and let’s settle in for the first Raven On recap for Game of Thrones season four.
Reminder: spoilers will be included below, so only read on if you’ve seen the episode. We’re discovering the storyline through the TV series (reading the books after each has finished), so no dropping important future plot points in the comments, or we’ll give you a right needling.
As expected, the debut episode was a round-up of all our still-living favourites. The northern threat may be gone, but everyone’s still on edge - not surprising when a wedding is just around the corner (amirite brides?). Only at the end do a couple of them gloriously bound over the edge into the realm of bloody action … but more on that later.
The episode begins with everyone’s favourite evil uncle, Tywin Lannister, overseeing the destruction of Ice, the Stark family sword. Made of Valyrian steel and passed down through generations, its fate is to be smelted down and converted into two swords for the Lion kings.
Tywin bestows the first upon his prodigal son, Jaime, who’s working hard to overcome not only his lack of a limb, but the loss of his frosted blonde highlights. Tywin wants Jaime out of the Kingsguard, and back to Casterly Rock to rule as his heir. There’s a certain irony in Tywin having to stay in the capital because he’s Hand of the King, and Jaime being told to leave because he’s one hand short.
The Kingslayer, though, is having none of it - he refuses to break his oath and vows to fight on as a southpaw, even though he will tragically never be able to high ten anyone ever again.
We discover that he also wants to stay near to his twincestastical sister Cersei, who’s been (kind of) busy getting him fixed with a golden hand. Does this make Jaime Lannister Goldfinger now? Certainly he had no Midas touch with his sis, who has scorned him as a lover since his return. “You took too long,” she says, accusing him of being reckless and leaving her alone. By crikey Cersei’s a hot mess - physically too, as she’s had some mysterious symptoms, which the dodgy maester seems to have eased.
Now as every soap opera fan would attest, mysterious symptoms generally mean either a) an incurable disease that will inevitably be miraculously cured or b) pregnancy. Let’s assume Cersei hasn’t been making the beast with her twin … could she be crook? Or is it just something simple like conjunctivitis from all those withering looks she shoots at everyone?
Jaime also cops it from Brienne, who insists he keep his promise to Catelyn Stark to return Sansa and Arya. I adore the relationship between these two - a mutual respect bordering on the bromantic, if you’ll pardon the expression.
Brienne is applauded by Olenna Tyrell (SO glad Diana Rigg is back, she’s just magic), and takes the opportunity to inform Margaery that her former husband Renly Baratheon was murdered by a ghost demon with Stannis’ face. “Joffrey is our king now,” is Margaery’s diplomatic reply, just as the camera comes to rest on an ostentatious golden statue of Joffrey bravely killing a goat or something.
In a humorous transition, we see Joffrey in much the same pose overseeing wedding security arrangements with Jaime and fellow Kingsguard Ser Meryn. Joffrey doesn’t miss a chance to play a round of “You’re old and busted; I’m the new hotness” with his unky-dad, who remarkably is able to resist punching him over and over in his stupid, stupid face hole with his poundy golden fist.
Speaking of a pounding, I must say, I’m going to enjoy Oberyn Martell. Not only is the Prince of Dorne - or Inigo Montoya, as we’ve nicknamed him - interested in great swathes of revenge against the Lannisters for causing the death of his sister Elia during the sack of King’s Landing, but he and his “paramour” Ellaria are rather into group sex as well. If only naked Twister had been invented in Westeros, I’m sure we’d see an Emmy-award-winning display of it.
Tyrion, Bronn and Pod had been on hand to welcome Inigo Montoya, but he was already up to his facial hair in prostitutes (note: first boobs of the season). They arrive at the brothel just in time to find the Prince spearing the arm of a Lannister heavy with a dagger for no more than singing The Rains of Castamere (and insulting all of Dorne, come to think of it). Montoya spared his life, and it’s safe to say that was probably not the wristie that bloke was probably expecting.
Poor Tyrion seems to be having a rough trot: mocked by Bronn for his attempts at Dornish diplomacy; scorned by Sansa who is still deeply in mourning for her murdered family; and unable to meet Shae’s demands for more intimacy, he’s got worry lines crowding his lovely face.
Up at the wall, Jon Snow is mourning his brother Robb, while getting ready to face the music over his misadventures with the wildlings. The slimy Janos Slynt is now at Castle Black, after being exiled from King’s Landing early last season. He huffs and puffs along with the pigheaded Alliser Thorne about the need for punishment, but it’s the kind Maester Aemon who lets J-Sno off the hook.
Not far away, his one-time spelunking partner Ygritte is readying herself for the wildling attack on The Wall. But, despite being jilted enough by Jon Snow to hit him with a couple of arrows in the final episode of season three, her wildling leader is still not impressed.
Ygritte is accused of letting him live by Tormund Giantsbane, but they’re interrupted by the arrival of the Thenns, a nasty bunch of cannibalistic wildlings who look like a genetic cross between Lord Voldemort and Vyvyan from The Young Ones.
Across the Narrow Sea, Daenerys’ march through the cities of Slaver’s Bay continues, with her big gang of freed slaves is heading towards Meereen. She’s still a loving mama to her dragon babies, but the trio is starting to get feisty, particularly when there’s a dead goat up for grabs.
Sadly, the long-haired blond Daario Noharis (Ed Skrein), aka Faabio, has departed, with a new actor (Michiel Huisman) taking on the role. His accent is less swarthy but his appearance is more so. Maybe we should call him Maario instead?
Anyway, Daario/Faabio/Maario is a smooth operator, offering the Khaleesi valuable advice on winning the respect of the people she’s conquering by knowing their local ways, while simultaneously giving her flowers. On the other hand, romance isn’t as easy for Grey Worm (Daenerys' army leader), who seems to be keen on the tremendously wonderful Missandei, but whose flower is missing its, erm, stem.
Finally, we get to see how Arya is faring with The Hound, a man who’s really proving to have some dogged determination (sorry). He refuses to let Arya get her own horse, and plans to sell her to her crazy Auntie Lysa of the Vale. But a chance run-in with some Lannister soldiers - including one who murdered her friend Lommy and took her sword Needle - at a tavern turns their relationship on its head. Quietly furious at the soldiers’ arrogance, The Hound rejects their scummy demand for “time” with Arya by rejecting their faces with his fists.
At one point, Arya picks up a longsword and calmly squooshes it into a bad guy’s gut. She then brings the killer to his back, and recites back to him the words he said to the injured Lommy. She then achieves ultimate badass status by piercing his neck with Needle … and enjoying it.
Her prize for powering up? Arya may have lost her direwolf way back in series one, but she’s not only gained a loyal hound, but her own goddamned horse.
Who didn’t we see this episode? Lots of people: Littlefinger (boo!); Walder Frey (hiss!); Roose Bolton (Why I oughtta!); Varys; Stannis, Davos and Melisandre (aka Kate Bush); the Greyjoys (snip, snip) and of course Bran and Hodor (Hodor!). No doubt we’ll see more intrigue - and hopefully more Arya ass-kicking - next week.
Yay! Best Moment.
When Jaime clumsily waves goodbye to the dodgy maester using his new golden hand. I seriously think I might have to spearhead a #teamjaime hashtag this season.
Zing! Best Lines.
I must admit to having a deep and abiding love of a beautifully contextualised and well-delivered C-bomb, and The Hound did not disappoint.
Arya: "Lots of people name their swords."
The Hound: "Lots of c---s."
You’d think the Thenns spit-roasting an arm would be enough to freak you out, but then this is the series that’s had babies in jars of goo and breast-feeding six-year-olds.
I’m not happy about that random new maid of Sansa’s overhearing all of Shae’s sexy talk with Tyrion. Could this be the reason we saw the little lion in chains in all those pre-season trailers?