Season four opens with the the Stark family's ancestral sword Ice being melted down and reforged into two others, another nail in the nearly sealed coffin of House Stark. The past three seasons have largely been the story of the Stark family's fall; introduced into a new climate their foundations were burned, their strength was destroyed and the family melted apart, with Tywin Lannister standing over the fire. Tywin has nearly succeeded in destroying the Stark legacy but not everything goes according to his plan. Jaime refuses his fathers orders in favour of fulfilling his vows to the Kingsguard, forcing Tywin to disown his firstborn and dashing his hopes of a respectable legacy . This in tandem with Cersei's antipathy towards Jaime show how much has changed while he has been away, but Jaime's struggle with the morality of his oath to Lady Stark suggest that maybe it is The Kingslayer himself who has changed.
Elsewhere in the capitol Tyrion, Bronn and Podrick wait to welcome the Dornish to King's Landing, only to find out that Prince Doran could not attend the wedding due to his health. Unfortunately for Tyrion, and every other Lannister, Prince Oberyn Martell was sent instead. We find Oberyn, along with his paramour Ellaria Sand in the brothel, inspecting Littlefinger's wares. Obviously an intelligent and dangerous character, Oberyn plays the game of thrones by a different set of rules than most, openly despising the Lannisters to the point that a song will provoke him to anger and violence. Upon leaving the brothel, Tyrion is finally able to have words with Prince Oberyn where the prince is open about his vengeful intentions while revealing a little history. Oberyn's presence in King's Landing sends a distinct message from the Dornish, and Oberyn himself bids Tyrion send a specific message to Lord Tywin Lannister.
Jaime is not the only Lannister to have undergone a transformation over the seasons; while Cersei is still an evil bitch, Tywin is still imposing and merciless and Joffrey is about the worst person imaginable, Tyrion is more responsible and prescient than we've ever seen him. Tyrion refuses sex twice this episode for the most honourable of reasons. Tyrion's lack of passion for her infuriates the already infuriating character of Shae. Rather than trust Tyrion, or even make an attempt at acting rationally, Shae freaks out, acts out of emotion, and is overheard by Sansa's second handmaiden who, evidently, reports to Cersei... Women.
Unlike other women, Ygritte is attempting to keep her emotions in check. She is fletching arrows while the Wildlings south of the wall are holed up waiting for word from their comrades. The information comes from an unwelcome source, and while we don't get to witness the plans, we do get our first look at the bald, cannibalistic Thenns and their Magnar Styr. Indicative of the infighting and discord between the Wildling tribes, the tension between Tormund and Styr is noticeable, as well as the Thenns disregard for the other Wildlings.
At Castle Black Jon briefly remembers Robb before he must attend a trial in front of the remaining heads of the Nightswatch. Among these leaders are Ser Aliiser Thorne, who has always hated Jon, and Janos Slynt, who hated Jon's father equally. Both these men seem adamant on executing Jon for murdering Qhorin Halfhand among other discrepancies. Luckily for Jon Measter Aemon understands well enough to let Jon keep his head while they do what they can to prepare for the Wildling attack. Not much to say about this other than that Jon is increasingly disconnected from anything going on south of the Wall. Understandable as Jon has a lot on his plate right now, but I would like to have seen a bit more sentimentality for the pain of losing his friend and brother.
Probably one of the most painful times in a mother's life is when you realize that you're no longer as needed as you once were. For most this means enduring slammed doors, weird haircuts, and Simple Plan music. Dragons, however, cope with puberty more aggressively it seems. As they grow in size and strength they test the same boundaries most children will, only to find that there are few true limitations to their kind. Daenerys is slowly losing control over her dragons, as well as her own emotions towards Daario. While the emotion in her scene with Daario felt somewhat forced it still got its point across… the rest of the Dany stuff is really filler that doesn't bear mentioning, other than the dead slaves pointing towards Meereen. This symbolic gesture is full of bravado from the Meereenese slave masters who dislike Daenerys interrupting their way of life.
The episode ends with Arya and the Hound coming across a small tavern while travelling to the Eyrie. The inn is hosting a group of Lannister men, including Polliver, the man who stole Arya's sword and used it to murder her friend Lommy. After a brief but absolutely awesome interchange between the Hound and Polliver the table is flipped and the five Lannister men attack the Hound. Even the Hound has a difficult time with five on one, after dispatching two of his attackers he is brought to the ground with a blade to his throat but still manages to overpower the soldier. Arya, having stayed back thus far, now feels compelled to join the fray. She takes an easy kill to gain confidence and then subdue's Polliver, and for the first time in the show, that i can think of, someone gets what they deserve. Arya avenges Lommy's death quoting Polliver verbatim as she does it and Polliver dies choking on his own blood. This is now the third man Arya has killed and the first off her list, the look on her face was a troubling mix of comfort and satisfaction.
While this episode was largely place-setting and just checking in with the major story arcs for the new season it was still a solid episode. A couple of the obligatory scenes with Daenerys and Jon didn't really do much to flesh out their story lines, but we can tell that big things are coming and in retrospect I'm sure we'll see their relevance. No Stannis, Bran or Theon so we will most likely see them next week as well. Having read the books the break between seasons three and four really felt like more of a mid-season break to me, the events of last season ended essentially half-way through the third book so we can all look forward to this season feeling like more of a climax hopefully. I do hope things speed up a bit next episode but I can recognize how the table may need a bit more setting before the meal is served.