As the show gets further into the source material, and as the books continue to be released at George R. R. Martin’s glacial pace, the producers’ approach to adaptation is going to get interesting. We saw more evidence of that with the fourth season premiere, in which I would guess at least one-third of the scenes were created entirely for the show -- meaning they never took place in the books at all -- or were significantly altered due to omitted book story arcs or a rearranging of characters/timelines. It’s not bad or good, necessarily. It’s just interesting to see how even some subtle changes can spin things in totally different directions (see: the Jaime/Cersei situation).
Before we get into the details of this season premiere -- which was a solid opening salvo that did its job of reestablishing (most of) our cast and their various situations -- I want to pause and note just how gorgeous this episode looked. The production values for this show keep getting better, and there were several scenes this episode that really impressed. Daenerys’s dragons are, of course, the CGI gift to and curse of this show, but that final shot of the episode, with The Hound and Arya riding into the smoldering Westeros countryside -- just stunning.
Anyway, onward. Spoilers below. You’re warned.
We’ll start in King’s Landing, which continues to be the nexus of the show. Preparations are underway for the impending wedding of King Joffrey and Margaery Tyrell of Highgarden, much to literally everyone’s chagrin. The big development this episode was the arrival of the contingent from Dorne, which is essentially the Westerosi equivalent of Spain to our United States. (That comparison is particularly apt when you consider the exchange between the Dornish prince and the lesser Lannisters in the brothel; the subtext about American exceptionalism is barely sub, it’s really just text.) Tyrion is shocked to discover that the ruling prince of Dorne has stayed at home, and sent his brother, Oberyn, in his stead.
I don’t think the show ever mentioned it, but Oberyn is known as the Red Viper, and he is absolutely deadly in combat. We saw bits of that this episode, and we’ll see more, as Oberyn couldn’t give a shit about Joff’s wedding. He’s here for revenge. His sister, Elia, was the wife of Rhaegar Targaryen, and she and her children were brutally murdered during the rebellion that put Robert Baratheon on the throne. Oberyn specifically blames Gregor Clegane, a.k.a. The Mountain, who allegedly raped and then murdered Elia, but he reserves some of his venom for Tywin Lannister, The Mountain’s master, and Tywin’s family. (I will pause here to note that the situation with Elia, Rhaegar, Robert, and Lyanna Stark is way more complicated than what’s on the surface, and even in the books there’s a lot of conjecture about what actually happened there.)
Most of the scenes with Oberyn were wholly invented for the show, especially the brothel sequence designed to show us that Oberyn is a) a manwhore, b) a bisexual, c) kind of a badass, and d) totally hot. And it also served to give the viewers some prossie boob/vagine action. Oberyn’s “paramour,” Ellaria Sand, is one to watch. And I don’t mean in a perverted way. (But sure, that way, too.)
The bride-to-be, Margaery, had a brief scene with The Queen of Thorns that, again, we never saw in the books (neither character is a narrator), and another with Brienne of Tarth that gave us a belated wrap-up to her being falsely accused of murdering Poor Dead Gay Renly. Really it allowed Brienne to interact with the Highgarden crew without having everyone try to kill her every time she’s on screen. And the sequence with the Queen of Thorns underscored that everyone on Team Margaery is freaked out by Joffrey and his psychopathic ways.
Brienne also got some closure on her quest to find the late Catelyn Stark’s missing kids, as she saw -- but did not speak to -- Sansa at King’s Landing. Without going into detail, this somewhat complicates Brienne’s long-term story arc, because again -- never happened in the books. Neither Jaime nor Brienne should be in King’s Landing prior to the Joffrey/Margaery wedding. Although a few scenes -- particularly the exchange between Joffrey and Jaime in which Joff just shits all over his uncle/father -- made me glad that the producers moved that plot point up. Watching Jaime silently shoot death beams at his insufferable, inbred son is never not going to be great. And the inevitable smackdown that he will give Joffrey will be ever so juicy.
But this rejiggering of the Brienne/Jamie plotline significantly complicates the Jaime/Cersei dynamic. If the scene between the siblings/lovers this episode felt off to you, that’s because it doesn’t really make any sense. Cersei is furious at Jaime for leaving her and taking so long to get back to her, and…what? I mean, Cersei is a full-on crazy bitch, but that is nonsensical given how desperate she was when Jaime was captured by Robb and in danger. She has really no logical motivation to be angry at him, and every reason to throw herself at him. For his part, Jaime is seeing literally everything he believed in turn to ash around him, and he will continue to become one of the most weirdly sympathetic characters in the cast. Think about how awful he was in Season 1 and how much you love him now. That is one of Martin’s great tricks.
Viewers have always loved Tyrion, but I’ll be curious to see how the show handles what’s coming for him in the near future. Already we’re getting a kinder, gentler version of The Imp with his pushing away of Shay in an attempt to honor his complicated, and unwanted, marriage to Sansa. And Shay is clearly not having any of it, so that storyline is rolling along nicely. As for Sansa, she is deep in mourning for her brother and mother, and now has something else to worry about -- the creepy overtures by court fool Dontos, the drunken knight she saved from Joffrey’s wrath seasons ago. I wondered last season if they were writing the Dontos plotline out, but apparently they were just saving it. But book readers, help me out on this one -- I sincerely can’t remember -- did Dontos give Sansa the necklace (in the book it was a hairnet) with the purple jewels? I don’t recall that ever explicitly being mentioned, and in fact I think that another source for that accessory was indirectly suggested. (In case you couldn’t pick up, that necklace is actually a crucial plotpoint.)
Outside of King’s Landing, the Wildlings that made it south of The Wall continue to prepare for their assault on Castle Black. Ygritte and Jormund Giantsbane -- who are none too happy with one another over the whole Jon Snow things -- are joined by a pack of Thenns, who reveal that their hobbies include ritualistic scarification and eating people. Now is the time for the inevitable “Game of Thrones”/”Walking Dead” crossover! At actual Castle Black, Jon is put on trial for his crimes against the Night’s Watch while serving undercover as a Wilding. He is eventually let off the hook (kind of), but not before human pile of pig vomit Janos Slynt (former head of the King’s Landing Gold Cloaks before being banished by Tyrion) tried to have Jon beheaded. He’s a nice man. Jon was saved by not giving a fuck, and by MaesterAemon, who made a fairly cryptic remark about growing up in King’s Landing. I forget: has the show made his backstory explicit at this point? I feel like it has.
Over in Slaver’s Bay, Daenerys and her ever-growing company of Dothraki, Unsullied, and freed slaves continue toward Mereen, and they discover a surprise left by the slavers: at every mile marker a slave corpse has been strung up, pointing toward the city. Personally I just make snickerdoodles, but I guess every welcome wagon operates differently. The real interest in the Dany plotline came from the alarming growth in her dragons -- they are now eating goats more or less whole, and the black one, Drogon, is particularly big. And we have a new actor playing DaarioNaharis, and he actually looks like a man, so that is an improvement. He’s still a little charisma deficient, but in his brief scenes he was already a more believable suitor for Dany than Puny McGirlhair. So thank you, show. But I’ll need to see him shirtless before I can fully sign off on this casting. You understand.
Finally, in a sequence that was almost identical to how it went down in the books, The Hound and Arya came upon a pack of The Mountain’s goons robbing/murdering/raping a tavern, and Arya got some revenge -- and more importantly, was reunited with her sword, Needle. I have not been overly enthused about Rory McCann’s portrayal of The Hound up until this point, but I thought he was terrific in this episode. It’s not surprising, as I suspect that working with Arya kind of raises everyone’s game (Tywin is always great, but his S2 scenes with Arya remain his best). Hound and Arya make for a great pair and I’m excited to see how the show treats that storyline in particular.
We didn’t get to see Bran and his folks beyond the Wall; Stannis and Melisandre; Asha Greyjoy; Theon and his captor, Ramsay Snow (which is interesting, because Dreadfort was shown on the map in the beginning); or Littlefinger and his…shenanigans. Did I miss anyone? What parts of the premiere did you enjoy? What did you haaaaaate? Are we upset about the dearth of male nudity? Do we want more dragons?