And we're back! After what seemed like an eternity squeezed into nine months, Game of Thrones has returned with its fourth season.
The episode opens with a familiar-looking greatsword being reforged into a pair of longswords, overseen by Tywin Lannister. Jaime is presented with the larger of the two new blades, named Oathkeeper. When questioned as to where the Valyrian steel used to forge the swords was acquired, it's revealed that Ned Stark's sword Ice was the source. Tywin doesn't want Jaime serving in the Kingsguard with only one hand and orders him to rule Casterly Rock, but Jaime refuses. Tywin disowns him, and Jaime is one his father's bad side for perhaps the first time ever.
Tyrion, Bronn and Pod are elswhere in King's Landing waiting to greet the envoy from Dorne. Expecting to see the Dornish prince, Doran Martell, they are surprised to find out that his younger brother Oberyn was sent in his place who is already in the city. They go off to find him before he "kills somebody or several somebodies." At Littlefinger's brothel, we meet our first new character of the season, Oberyn Martell AKA The Red Viper, played by Pedro Pascal. He, along with his paramour Ellaria Sand, are choosing their bedmates, both male and female. They are interrupted by singing Lannisters, and tensions rise as the two lions hurl insults. Oberyn pins a Lannister wrist to the table with a dagger and threatens the other. Tyrion arrives before he can do anymore damage and escorts him out. Outside, Oberyn reveals the real reason he has come to King's Landing: to exact revenge on the Lannisters and their men who killed his sister and her children during Robert's Rebellion.
Tyrion goes to see his unwilling wife Sansa, who has no appetite following the slaughter of her family. He tries to help her as Shae looks on jealously. Sansa is understandably pissed at everything and everyone. Tyrion tries to ease her pain by praising the deceased Robb and Catelyn, but Sansa leaves for the godswood to be alone. Back in his quarters, Shae surprises Tyrion and attempts to rekindle their lovemaking. Tyrion is in no mood, however, and Shae gets upset and leaves. A woman sees her leave Tyrion's.
Later, Sansa is followed by Ser Dontos, who she saved way back in Season 2. He gifts her his family's necklace, insisting she wear since no one else can.
Jaime, with the help of Maester Qyburn, is getting fitted with a sparkly new golden hand. Qyburn leaves, and Jaime tries to reconnect with Cersei. She rightfully blames him for the war and her resulting problems, before trying to convince him to step down from the Kingsguard. She insists everything's changed since he left, and Jaime is bewildered as to what he could have done differently. The woman who saw Shae leave Tyrion's arrives with news for the queen regent.
Making security plans for Joffrey's wedding, Jaime and Meryn Trant go over blueprints of the wedding site. Joffrey insults his uncle's experience in the war as he opens the "Book of Brothers", the record of the Kingsguard. He mocks the fact that Jaime's page is small, only about half a page. He doesn't see how Jaime can protect him with a single hand and walks out as Jaime shuts the book angrily.
Brienne, looking downright odd out of her armor, meets with Lady Margaery and requests a private audience. She tells her of the shadow that killed Renly, promising to avenge him. Margaery, however, is unimpressed. Brienne then goes to Jaime to get him to fulfill his oath to return Sansa to the North. He doesn't see the point, as her family is decimated and she'll be safest in King's Landing.
On the road to Meereen, Daenerys strokes Drogon and Viserion and Rhaegal bring back a goat. Dany soon learns that she is not as in command of her dragons as she thinks when Drogon snaps at her. Also, the dragons have grown quite a bit, now about the size of two horses. Daenerys then questions Ser Barristan and Missandei as to the whereabouts of Grey Worm and Daario Naharis (now played by Michiel Huisman). It seems the two of them are in the middle of a test of strength to see who will ride at the head of the column. Unimpressed, Dany orders them both to the rear for making her wait.
Later, Daario present Daenerys with a trio of flowers from Meereen. While Dany thinks he is attempting to court her, he instead reveals the alchemical properties of the plants. These include the ability to relieve fever and poison. He tells her she needs to know the land before she can rule. The column suddenly comes to a halt, and Dany leaves to see what the cause is. A young slave girl is strung up with one hand outstretched towards Meereen. Barristan offers to remove the remaining 163 corpses lying between them and the city, but Daenerys wants to see every one of their faces.
In the North, Tormund and Ygritte are camped in a canyon. Ygritte is still rattled by Jon's betrayal. She has a fire in her to attack the Night's Watch. Tormund is skeptical at her claim that she killed Jon, and accuses her of letting him go. Some men approach the camp, revealed to be the Thenns, warriors from far beyond the Wall. The group rounded south and raided a village for meat before meeting Tormund's group. Their leader, Styr, questions where Jon and Orell are, but Tormund will answer only to Mance. It is revealed that the meat the Thenns brought is human.
At Castle Black, Jon appears before Janos Slynt, Alliser Thorne and Maester Aemon. Slynt and Thorne want Jon's head for killing Qhorin Halfhand, sleeping with a wildling woman and seemingly joining the enemy. Jon insists it was Qhorin's plan all along, but they're out for blood in the form of Jon's head despite his warning of the impending wildling attack. Maester Aemon defends Jon and denies them their bloodlust, dismissing Jon much to Thorne's disapproval.
In the Riverlands, the Hound and Arya come up on an inn where she recognizes Polliver and Needle. She breaks for door, but he keeps her from going inside, However, one of the inn's patrons sees them and they have no choice but to enter. Inside, Polliver recognizes the Hound and sits at their table. He offers them a chicken in exchange for Arya having a go with him and his men. The Hound refuses, and all hell breaks loose. For the most part, the Hound defeats his attackers with ease. Polliver, not yet dead, advances on a distracted Hound. Arya takes a sword and hamstrings him, then takes Needle from his belt. She echoes what Polliver said to Lommy before he killed him, then sticks Needle up through Polliver's throat and head. As she and the Hound leave the inn, Arya has both a horse and a new found respect from her captor.
A solid start to the new season. I really enjoyed the new characters, and the Thenns seem as intimidating as I expected them to be. The inn scene was one of my favorites of the series and I like seeing the Hound's and Arya's relationship advance.
Next week: Jaime trains with his offhand, Bran knows his path, Melisandre speaks cryptically and the boy king gets married. Also, a giant dragon flies over King's Landing.