It’s time for…. Game of Throoooooones. (Sing it to the tune of “Pinot Noir” from Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Trust me.) When last we saw everybody, Tyrion and Arya were both going on sea voyages and only one of them was in a packing crate. Sansa embraced the dark side, Margaery was set up to marry a small child, lots of people died, and Ser Pounce was nowhere to be seen. Ready for another season of political machinations, boobs, and disemboweling?

The Previously on… segment has a lot of stuff from last season and earlier. The recent stuff is mostly directly referenced in this episode, but there’s also stuff that goes back to Season One, including Robert Barratheon’s death. Apparently in case you forgot that happened.

Opening credits! I’m always fascinated by the credits, since unlike with just about every other show, they tell you exactly which regulars will be appearing. If Dinklage sits out an episode, he’s just not listed. There’s no sign of Arya or the Greyjoys, and no Bram and company, though it’s been confirmed that he’s not appearing this season at all. Because the kids growing too much between seasons has been a problem so maybe if they go two years…. he won’t grow at all? I don’t know, man. We also see some new locations so we’ll get some travel in this year.

We start with a flashback – something they haven’t done before. Little Cersei and her friend are looking for a swamp witch. They find Maggy and Cersei demands to know her future. She gives Cersei three questions and reveals that Cersei will one day marry the King. She’ll be queen until she’s cast down by somebody younger and more beautiful. Also, the King will have twenty children, she’ll have three, and they will all wear golden shrouds. Well, that doesn’t bode well for Tommen and Myrcella.

Back in the present (well, their present), she arrives to pay respects to her father. Yes, he has those crazy eye stones. She scolds Jaime for letting Tryion free and it’s clear that they realize just how precarious their position is right now.

Speaking of Tryion, he and his box arrive in Pentos with Varys. He had to travel the whole way in that little box and he’s looking the worse for wear. They actually argue about whether it was worse for him to have to push his poo through the air hole or for Varys to have to scoop it up and throw it overboard. Yeah, Tryion wins this one. Varys explains that he’s been supporting a Targaryen revolution, which is a nice reveal. We keep hearing that they have their supporters, but this is the first time we’ve seen one. Tyrion’s mired in self-pity and doesn’t pay much attention.

Over in Meereen, the Unsullied tear down a golden statue from a temple. Then one of them heads to a brothel, and while he’s laying down with a prostitute, a man in a golden mask slits his throat. I want to call it the Mask of Tengu, even though it doesn’t really look like the one from Batman: Knightsquest.

Daenerys demands that somebody fix this murder situation and that the man be buried with honors. Apparently, there’s a resistance group called “The Sons of the Harpy”, and this doesn’t really come as news to anybody so apparently they popped up in between seasons. Missandei just wants Grey Worm to explain why an Unsullied would go to a brothel. Oh, are we still on the “do they still have penises” thing? (For the record, all we saw was the guy cuddling before he was killed.)

At the Wall, Jon Snow is training recruits. There’s some talk of who the next Lord Commander will be, and they’re worried it’ll be Ser Allister who’s a hardass on the issue of Wildlings. Melisandre summons Jon to have a word with Stannis Baratheon and it seems weird to see that group of characters at the Wall. Also, she asks Jon if he’s a virgin and is pleased that he isn’t. Stannis asks Jon about his affection for the Wildlings and then pitches his plan to recruit them into his army. That seems like a bold move. Especially since you have the ones who just wear fur and otherwise fit in but also the Slipknot cannibal guys. “Wildlings” is a broad term, and you might want to narrow that down. If they fight for him, he’ll give them their freedom. And so, he just needs Jon to convince Mance Rayder to bend the knee and give him authority.

Baelish and Sansa watch Lord Robin spar. He’s really bad at it, which is pretty funny. Especially since they’re all acting like this is a Little League game. Baelish gets a message that he doesn’t share with Sansa.

Hey, it’s Brienne and Podrick! Once again, she’s trying to dismiss Pod because she doesn’t get how buddy comedies work. As they’re talking about the likelihood of finding Sansa, Baelish and Sansa’s caravan passes right by them. Baelish explains to her that she’s taking her to where the Lannisters can never find her.

Back at King’s Landing, character you forgot existed Lancet Lannister confronts Cersei Quick version – he’s the one who made sure Robert was drunk before he went on the hunt. Cersei took him to the bone zone a few times because he’s family, and then he hasn’t appeared since Season Two. Now he’s a member of a religious cult called the Sparrows, and asks Cersei’s forgiveness for the incest and accessory to murder stuff. Of course, she has no idea what he’s talking about.

Elsewhere, Loras Tyrell cuddles up with a young man I don’t think we’ve seen before and Margaery gets her one scene this week to complain that he’s keeping the King waiting.

Checking in with Tyrion, he’s still drunk and still feeling sorry for himself. Varys explains that he thinks Tyrion can be useful in “the war to come” and would like to introduce him to Daenerys. Then, he can decide “if the world is worth fighting for”.  Alternatively, Varys and Tryion could get their own show as the Westeros version of The Odd Couple.  I would watch that show.

Speaking of Daenerys, she’s talking politics with her advisors. The people of Meereen would like the fighting pits to be reopened. It’s a gladatorial thing where slaves used to fight to the death, but apparently even the former fighters really want them back because that’s how they become warriors. It’s kind of screwed up, if you ask me. I get that they’re making the point that Danerys is out of touch with her subjects, but preserving the grand tradition of murder gambling may not be the hill to die on.  Then Danerys gets to wondering about her missing dragon and decides to visit the two she locked in the catacombs. In a nicely-done scene, they advance on her while breathing fire and she has to run for her life.

Back at the Wall, Jon goes to see Mance Rayder and pitch him Stannis’ plan. To nobody’s surprise, Mance won’t bow to Stannis, even if it means being burned at the stake. I feel like that’s shortsighted, especially since he wouldn’t be ordering the Wildlings to fight. He could throw his support and give them the choice. He’s putting Wildling Pride over what’s actually best for them. Jon is respectful in his disagreement, but it’s not going to work.

And then at nightfall, they march Mance out to the courtyard, tie him to a stake and set him on fire. Jon takes pity on him and shoots an arrow through his heart, ending his suffering. This will not help with the perception that he’s soft on Wildlings.

–And that’s your season premiere. I liked it a lot, even if maybe it wasn’t the most eventful premiere. I actually like the way it didn’t feel obligated to cram everybody in for a catch-up session. It was like a Mad Men premiere in that way. Yeah, it’s been a year. You can wait another week to check in on Arya.

I don’t think I gave last season a fair shake. I mostly enjoyed it and said nice things about it, but I was pretty hard on it at times. In part, that may be because I got in late and watched seasons 1-3 over the course of two weekends. Downshifting to weekly episodes was a little frustrating. I’m not super interested in the Night’s Watch, so when they get twenty minutes of screen time, I have to wait a week for more Tyrion rather than starting the next one immediately.

Also, and I will try not to keep harping on this, but I still think that last year’s rape scene broke Jaime as a character. And the fact that it’s never been addressed or referenced really soured me. I think it screwed up Jaime’s redemption arc and just sits there, ruining everything around it. That was a giant misstep for the show, and it’s going to be what I think about when I think of Season Four. I’m going to try not to keep focusing on it, because it’s not something I want to talk about over and over and I’m sure you don’t want to read it. Just getting that out there.

With all that said, I think now I can fairly evaluate it as a series of weekly episodes in a way that I couldn’t last season. Also, as it deviates further from the books, I feel a little more free to speculate. I’ll get more into that next time, though.

Besides the reveal of Varys as a Targaryen partisan, I think the most interesting aspect of the episode was the flashback. Again, it’s a weird thing to do on this show and apparently we’re in for more as Tywin is supposed to make at least one more appearance. But Cersei went from being a mastermind early on to the sort of brittle mess of last season. Now that we know about the prophecy, her scrambles make a lot more sense. She’s not just in danger of not being Queen anymore, but she knows she’s going to lose all of her children and be cast down. As bits of the prophecy pan out, she’s going to be more desperate to beat fate.

I also like the way that characters are starting to come together. Stannis and company turning up at the Wall was pretty great. They’ve spent four years spreading further and further out, and now they’re starting to intersect. I’m really hoping that Tryion and Daenerys actually get to meet. That’s my big wish for the season.

Now, there’s one last point that I think is interesting. Be warned, though, that it constitutes a SPOILEE for the books and a POSSIBLE SPOILEE for the show. So if that’s not your bag, stop reading and come back next week. Actually, come back tomorrow for Gotham and Mad Men recaps. We good?

Cool. Anyway, Mance Rayder does not die in the books. The scene from the end of the episode happens, but Melisandre uses a spell to disguise somebody else as Mance and die in his place. The real Mance ends up as a father figure to Jon Snow and gets a whole different storyline. I don’t think that’s going to happen here. For one thing, Book Mance hasn’t been a big enough character to get a surprise resurrection. For another, we’ve never seen that disguise spells are a thing that people can do. And with Jon aged out of his teenage years for TV, he doesn’t need the father figure arc.

Point is, this is apparently a big digression. I can’t speak to specifics because I’ve only started reading the books. I’m still in the first one, which the series matched pretty closely. That’s actually why it’s hard to get through – I feel like I’m reading the very long novelization of a very long movie. Plus, Book Tyrion is really offputting. He’s always cackling and somersaulting and I just can’t imagine TV Tyrion doing that. It’s an interesting experience and I know the two formats differ more and more with each season, but I can’t speak to it with any kind of authority.

But with this season, TV catches up with the books and next season will probably air before the next book sees print. They’re going to have to blaze their own trail. And just the fact that they’re adapting an ongoing narrative means they have to go their own way. If they leave a character out of an early season who later becomes important in the books, then they have to do something different. Just from my early experience with the books, the show is clearly much less concerned with questions of Jon Snow’s parents and there’s a whole “Three Heads of the Dragon” thing that I don’t think the show has ever even referenced. All that means that even the people who’ve read the books can look forward to being surprised this season.

Next week, it looks like we really do see both Arya and Ellaria Sand, who I kind of expected to be abandoned. I’ll see you then!

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