Last Sunday HBO’s Game of Thrones returned with a quietly powerful episode. There were no great battles, only a handful of exchanges between key characters and the infamous inn scene with Arya. Many expected that scene to occur in the season three finale but it actually works better in the season four premiere. This episode set up a lot for the upcoming season and the inn scene is no different. Arya has always been strong-willed and fierce but the inn scene is where she really takes her first steps on her path of revenge.
Nothing reflects the beginning of a new path better than the opening moments where Charles Dance’s character, Tywin Lannister, has Ned Stark’s Valyrian greatsword melted down and re-forged while the melody of ‘The Rains of Castamere’ plays in the background. That scene is haunting. To add insult to injury, Tywin tosses the wolf pelt on the fire too. He is literally destroying everything to do with the Starks. It signifies the end of the War of the Five Kings, at least in the immediate sense. Robb Stark is dead, Stannis Baratheon is playing with magic but lacks an formidable army with which to challenge the throne, Balon Greyjoy’s son Theon was captured by Lord Roose Bolton’s bastard, Ramsay Snow and Tywin seems a lot less concerned about Daenerys Targaryen than Robert Baratheon was. There is little left to do but clean up and impose some kind of order.
Tywin’s first order of business is Casterly Rock, home of the Lannisters. In the third season, he denied Tyrion the Imp his rightful place as Lord of Casterly Rock and now we see why. Tywin presents Jaime with a sword and commands Jaime to set aside his position in the Kingsguard to rule at the Rock. Jaime declines and more impressively gets away with it. Previously, both Cersei and Tyrion were commanded to marry and refused but were forced to acquiesce. Cersei is awaiting her nuptials but Tyrion is rather unhappily married to Sansa. It says a lot about Jaime that he can get away with saying ‘no’ to his father.
Their relationship is a strange one. Tywin seems to expect a lot from Jaime but Jaime is largely more concerned about doing what he himself feels is right. It is an element of the character that comes out more and more now that the war is over and will put him at odds with both his father and his sister. In fact, I don’t think the episode did enough to show Jaime’s loyalty and integrity. For a character that shoved a child out of a window for witnessing his copulation with his own sister, he actually winds up being one of the most sympathetic and dare I say honourable characters in the series.
Contrast that with Tyrion Lannister. Dwarves are as trusted as bastards in the Westeros land despite the fact that Tyrion has been a rather dutiful son who is just trying to impress his father. First he serves as Hand of the King and rallies the troops to win at the battle of Blackwater, then he becomes Master of Coin and reluctantly marries Sansa Stark, and now he acts as a diplomat, greeting the Dornish in preparation for Joffrey Baratheon’s marriage to Margery Tyrell. Thus far in the series the Dornish have seemed to be a silent side note. If you haven’t read the books all you’re likely to know about Dorne is that it’s hot and they are possibly the only rival to Highgarden for fruit and wine.
That all changes with the arrival of Oberyn Martell, brother of Prince Doran Martell. In books he comes to King’s Landing to take a place on the small council as well as for the wedding festivities but that wasn’t mentioned in last Sunday’s episode. In both cases he comes for vengeance. Just as Tywin’s burning of the wolf pelt represents the end of one blood feud, Oberyn represents the rise of a new enemy for the Lannisters. The Martell’s have not forgotten the supposed rape and murder of their sister and her children at the hands of Gregor Clegane during Robert’s rebellion. It is a crime that the formidable Oberyn demands that the Lannisters answer for.
Of course, it would be wrong to count out the Starks just yet. Their words, Winter is Coming, isn’t a threat. It is a warning to the Starks themselves and they have shown themselves to be remarkable at weathering the coldest of storms. Jon Snow continues to serve in the Night’s Watch, despised but likely their best hope of surviving a wildling attack. Sansa is making some new alliances. And Arya is on her way to becoming an accomplished killer. The inn scene shows how Arya can be when there is something that she desires. And I don’t just mean Needle. The appearance of Polliver presents Arya with an opportunity to strike a name off of her list. When that chance comes she is absolutely ruthless. She pounces and with methodical movements she stabs Polliver exactly how he murdered Lommy. By the confidence of her actions and the taunting use of his own words, there can be no doubt that Arya was out for blood. And if you still thought Arya was innocent, just look how she smiles at what she has accomplished as she rides away.
So what can be expected from the rest of the season? A lot more backstabbing that’s for sure. Arya’s dark path will continue while trying not to lose her sense of self. Similarly, Daenerys will be torn between being the Mother of Dragons and protecting those that she has freed. The Lannisters will prepare for their own wedding whilst fending off the demands of the Martells. Stannis Baratheon has been suspiciously absent for this first episode but when he does reappear he likely won’t be much closer to seizing the Iron Throne than he was when we left him. The Red Wedding may have changed some of the players but it didn’t change the Game of Thrones.