"What good is power is you cannot protect those we love?" Queen Regent Cersei says to Prince Oberyn in King's Landing, two highborn figures who wield great influence and yet have both suffered great loss. From a new boy king on the throne, to the Lannister's financial difficulties exposed, to the incineration of Craster's Keep at the end, the season four midpoint focused on the fragility of power, and how easy it is for its illusion to be broken.
Shocking as it is to say this, but I'm actually starting to feel quite sorry for Cersei. At Tommen's coronation she reaches out to Margaery and says that he could be a good king to her, only for her to make the mocking remark, "I won't know whether to call you sister, or mother". She also agrees to wed Loras, especially after learning from her father Tywin how for the rich and powerful Lannister household have not only run out of gold, but are also heavily indebted ton the Iron Bank of Braavos. Finally she meets with Oberyn, not to trade barbs but sympathies, as she asks that her other living child, Myrcella, is looked after in Dorne.
Meanwhile across the narrow sea, Daenerys might have conquered Meereen but her power is questioned when the two previous cities she liberated have reverted to their former ways. A pivotal moment for her story, deciding whether to set sail for Westeros or not, is briskly covered as she decides that a good Queen cannot only fight; she needs to know how to rule.
Sansa continues to be the main character through which power and illusion is taught throughout the show. Arriving at the Eyrie with Littlefinger, the mountain fortress where Tyrion nearly met his end in season one, the fact her aunt Lysa is so welcoming would suggest she's finally escaped her troubles from King's Landing.
But seeing as her aunt still breastfeeds her ten-year-old son, it's no surprise to find that living up high in the sky has somewhat frazzled her brain. Like a smitten teenager she jumps on Petyr and demands they be married as soon as possible, and later has a tense exchange with Sansa as she accuses her of seducing her betrothed. Being told she is now free to marry her crazy son Robin, the situation Sansa finds herself in turns out no better than King's Landing.
Her sister Arya is also taught another lesson, as her delusions about sword-fighting are exposed. She reveals the people she plans to kill to the Hound, with his name last on the list. For all her grand plans of vengeance and fancy footwork, when challenged by the Hound to fight his amour easily repels her blade. He provides her with a lesson far more important than any she's received before, as he notes, "Your friend's dead, and Meryn Trant's not, because Trant had armour and a big f**king sword".
It's advice that Brienne begrudgingly follows as she sets off to the wall kitted in new armour and squire Podrick by her side. Unimpressed by both his horsemanship and cooking, it is only when Podrick reveals he once killed a man in order to protect his master that Brienne realises a loyal and brave ally can be of use on the open road.
Playing the Game
Littlefinger is once again revealing himself to be the ultimate puppet master in Westeros, pulling the strings in some places and in others cutting them completely. Not only does his seducing of Lysa reveal his plan to marry her and become Lord of the Vale, but we also find out that he was the one who convinced Lysa to poison John Arryn, the former hand of the King. All the events that have passed in the show's history, from Ned becoming hand of the king, to the war between the Lannisters and the Starks, all stem from this one small moment., showing that all it takes is one scorned wife to bring down a kingdom.
Hodor was literally played this week, as in a moment of desperation, Bran warged in to the gentle giant in order to break the neck of his kidnapper, Locke. The whole storyline of the Bolton soldier being sent north to find Bran felt like a poorly designed attempt to inject some drama in to Bran's meandering storyline, but it did give us a chance to see just how powerful Bran's abilities have become.
It feels like a long time since we've seen a battle in the show, and whilst the fight at Craster's Keep won't be remembered as one of the show's best action sequences, it did give us a chance to see Jon Snow do more than just mope.
His battle with Karl summarised what the Hound told Arya before, that fancy highborn swordplay do not matter against an opponent who will do whatever it takes to win. Luckily, Jon is saved by one of Craster's daughters, and once the mutineers are all slain, the house is burnt to the ground, the power that oppressed the women in the woods finally destroyed.