They say time heals all wounds, but when it comes to Game of Thrones, the events of last season's Red Wedding are still painful to remember. The pre-credits scene that opens the fourth season addresses the fallout in a brilliant dialogue-free sequence where we see the cold and calculating Tywin Lannister melt down Robb Stark's sword Ice, a symbol of the north vanquished through treachery and deceit.
But even with the Starks gone there is plenty to look forward to in this season. Joffrey might smugly shout out, "I won the war," but his uncle (father) Jaime retorts, "The war's not won". As in all season premieres for Game of Thrones, there were an awful lot of new characters to introduce, old characters to reintroduce, and exposition given as to what's currently at stake in Westeros. Tyrion lists to Shae his problems, Cersei explains to Jaime the reasons why she's drinking more, and Jon warns the Night's Watch about the reasons they need to prepare for invasion from Mance Rayder's forces.
It was also an episode full of many great lines, mainly due to the fabulous double act of Bronn and Tyrion. As the Master of Coin awaits the arrival of the head of the Martell house, Bronn notes, "If he's so important how come you've been sent to see him". Later on when Tyrion tries to comfort an inconsolable Sansa he says, "I admired your mother. She wanted to have me executed but I admired her".
It's a skill which writers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have got better and better at as the seasons have gone on, managing to provide doses of humour throughout the show in order the lighten what can at times be weighty, labyrinthine storytelling.
Here we had snippets from King's Landing, the Wall, the road to Mereen, and the Riverlands, but if the episode had a major character then it was Jaime. Returned to King's Landing, he's now clean-shaven and adorning the white of the King's Guard, but Joffrey still mocks him: "How can you protect me with only one hand?"
He brushes most rebukes off with arrogant replies that "It makes it more of a contest". But with Tywin wanting to send him back to Casterly Rock and Cersei saying he's "come too late" for her, there's a real tragedy to his situation. With Catelyn stark murdered, even the debt he owed her to return Sansa and Arya can't be repaid, and with it the chance for the KIngslayer to salvage some honour. It wasn't just the Starks who lost out in the Red Wedding.
Playing the Game
If you're going to introduce a brand new family to the show, it's best to do it in the first few minutes. Enter the Martells of Dorne, a Mediterranean people with a fiery temperament and a healthy dislike of all things Lannister.
It took us just over 10 minutes to have our first boobs of the new season, as handsome prince Oberyn prowls around Littlefinger's brothel. That is until he overhears some Lannisters in the building and decides to dish out some revenge.
As he explains to Tyrion, relations between the Martells and the Lannisters have been frosty ever since the war in which Rhaegar Targaryan's Dornish wife and two children were butchered by the Mountain. The Lannisters had better watch out.
Daenerys and her army of unsullied are on the long march towards liberating the final major slave city of Mereen, where as a cruel message, the cityfolk have crucified slave girls every mile of the way to point her in the right direction.
In a CGI money shot Daenerys is taken aback when her fighting dragons screech at her, to which Jorah informs her, "They can never be tamed, not even by their mother". She is trying to be tamed by Daario Naharis, where actor Ed Skrein has been strangely replaced by a more down to earth-looking version played by Michiel Huisman. He gives her flowers saying that she needs to learn the land in order to rule, but the tactics he employs our only romantic.
Arya and the Hound continue to be one of the best match-ups in the show. Neatly tying it to the beginning sequence, Arya spots her own sword, Needle, which was taken from her by the Mountain's men at the start of season two.
The tension is drawn out in the tavern as the Hound guzzles down ale and aggressively asks for chickens, just waiting for an excuse to fight. It inevitably happens, and the Hound slaughters the Lannister soldiers. But it's the way Arya murders Polliver, taunting him with the same words he used before killing her friend, which shows just how twisted by vengeance she has become.