This post is intended for those who are up-to-date on Game of Thrones. If you have yet to start watching the series or are not caught up, sprint away like a direwolf and don’t look back.
Sweet relief! Game of Thrones is about to return.
People seemed to appreciate my attempt last year to provide a reminder of where things stood at the end of the previous year, so let me try that again. Or you can watch this 25 minute HBO special recapping the season, which would be much cooler and only slightly less time-consuming.
Obviously the effects of the infamous Red Wedding will be felt as the season begins. Robb Stark, his wife Talisa and his mother Catelyn are all dead, killed in an ambush orchestrated by Walder Frey with the backing of Tywin Lannister and the assistance of Roose Bolton, a Stark bannerman who turned against the house to which he owed his allegiance. In addition to his hand in this slaughter of the Stark army, Tywin Lannister made other moves to assure his family’s continued stranglehold on the Seven Kingdoms. He orchestrated the marriage of Tyrion to Sansa Stark, and blackmailed Lady Olenna Tyrell into betrothing Loras to Cersei. Joffrey and Margaery’s wedding approaches, and the queen-to-be is proving a much more cunning political player than the naive Sansa. Tyrion is being as decent as he can to his reluctant bride, while trying to hold onto his secret relationship with Shae, who continues to pose as Sansa’s handmaiden.
Jaime finally made it back to King’s Landing after an arduous journey on the road that saw him first antagonize and then later bare his soul to Brienne of Tarth, sharing with her the true story behind his murder of the Mad King that long ago earned him the derisive label “Kingslayer.” His vulnerable confession came after his sword hand was chopped off by Locke, a solider of House Bolton who captured Jaime and Brienne after they had been sent to King’s Landing by Catelyn Stark. And speaking of House Bolton, the sociopath who took such pleasure in fucking with Theon Greyjoy, torturing him physically, emotionally and psychologically, and ultimately cutting off his manhood, turned out to be Bolton’s bastard Ramsay Snow. So…nice gene pool.
Jon Snow, a much more likable bastard of the north, who went undercover with Mance Rayder’s wildlings, scaled The Wall but was forced to reveal his true loyalties when his fellow travelers wanted to murder an innocent farmer. Jon killed the antagonistic Orell before nearly being killed himself by Ygritte, who shot him with three arrows before he managed to ride out of range. He barely made it back to Castle Black alive. He was found there by Pyp (unseen since Season One) and Sam, who made it back to The Wall not long before, having endured his own harrowing series of events. He escaped a revolt plotted by some unsavory brothers of the Night’s Watch, who killed their host Craster as well as Lord Commander Mormont. Sam fled with Craster’s daughter Gilly and her newborn son, leading her to Castle Black and discovering along the way that an arrow carved from obsidian could destroy the White Walkers.
Upon reaching The Wall, Sam and Gilly crossed paths with Bran Stark and his companions Hodor (“Hodor”) and siblings Meera and Jojen Reed. The Reeds, from a family loyal to the Starks, sought Bran out so that Jojen could help Bran understand and develop his newfound gift of “sight” — an ability to see future, past and present that the two young men share. Their talent also allows them to enter the minds of animals and control them, but Bran discovered he could take that gift even further when he entered the head of Hodor (“Hodor!”) and briefly controlled him too, an ability which Jojen has never heard of before. Bran and company are headed beyond the wall on a vision quest to find the three-eyed raven (get out of my dreams, get into my wheelbarrow). Bran sent his younger brother Rickon to seek safety with Stark bannermen the Umbers, under the protection of Osha, the wildling girl turned caretaker of the Stark boys. And then there’s the remaining Stark sibling Arya, who had been so close to reuniting with Robb and Catelyn before their murder, and who now remains in the company of The Hound. When last we saw her, she was handling the Braavossi coin given to her by Jaqen H’ghar, who had offered to help her follow in his footsteps and become a deadly assassin who can travel unseen and literally change his face. God, I hope she does it.
Over on Dragonstone, Stannis Baratheon continues to plot his next move against Joffrey. Melisandre attempted to help by delivering Stannis’ nephew — Robert’s bastard son Gendry — who she intended as a sacrifice for the power of his king’s blood. But Stannis’ advisor Davos Seaworth helped Gendry escape, and then convinced Stannis and Melisandre not to execute him for treason by sharing news from The Night’s Watch: that an army of White Walkers is amassing north of the wall and moving south. Even Melisandre admitted that this threat was real, and more important than the ongoing struggle for the Iron Throne.
Finally, Daenerys’ quest to reach the Seven Kingdoms and reclaim the Iron Throne for the Targaryen family continues to be delayed, more recently because she insists on freeing the slaves of every city she comes across. She now has three growing dragons, the enormous, highly skilled army of Unsullied under her command, and the loyalty of Missandei (the C-3PO of the Seven Kingdoms and beyond…because she can speak, like, every language), Jorah Mormont, Barristan Selmy and now Daario Naharis, a warrior for an army called the Second Sons, who has pledged his loyalty — and his heart — to the former Khaleesi. What will she do with all these slaves she keeps freeing, and how many more cities will she liberate before crossing the Narrow Sea?
Did I say finally? Don’t forget about Littlefinger, who sailed away from King’s Landing en route to the Eyrie, where he is expected to marry Catelyn’s sister Lysa Arryn, last seen fuming when Tyrion managed to win his freedom from her with the help of Bronn’s skillful swordplay. Before leaving the capital, Littlefinger disposed of Ros, the prostitute who had become his business associate but was reporting to Varys behind his back. Varys, meanwhile, unsuccessfully tried to convince Shae to leave Westeros so that she would not continue to be a complication for Tyrion, who he believes is one of the few people in the kingdoms who could bring peace and stability. She seemed to think that Tyrion had asked Varys to make this proposal on his behalf, though I don’t think that’s true. Will we ever learn about Shae’s past? If you recall the drinking game she played with Tyrion and Bronn in Season One, she clearly doesn’t fit the profile of the typical Westerosian whore. What’s her story?
The show’s ability to juggle all of these characters and storylines is among its most impressive feats. And while more will surely die this year, others will arrive. The most notable new addition set to join the cast is a character named Oberyn Martell, from the kingdom of Dorne (where Tyrion sent Cersei’s daughter Myrcella for protection). Known by the badass nickname The Red Viper, Oberyn is expected to stir up some serious shit with the Lannisters.
As we enter the new season, many of my curiosities center around supporting characters and their fates. With such a vast and complex story, I worry for some reason that figures on the periphery might disappear. Catelyn’s uncle Brynden (The Blackfish) managed to escape the Red Wedding and will presumably be headed for the Eyrie, so perhaps he’ll be back in play when Littlefinger arrives. Catelyn’s brother Edmure, meanwhile — the guy whose marriage put the “wedding” in Red Wedding – is in the dungeons at the Twins, where he is newly tied to the worst in-laws e-v-e-r. Will he be forgotten, or does his story continue? Will we see Gendry again, or is his fate irrelevant now that Melisandre seems to see the battle north of the Wall as more pressing than the quest for the Iron Throne? What about Rickon and Osha? How important is the youngest and heretofore most narratively undeveloped Stark child? Will we see more from the Brotherhood Without Banners, that underground rabble led by seven-times killed, seven-times revived Beric Dondarrion and Thoros of Myr, the Red Priest with a fondness for alcohol, who has served as the Red God’s vessel for those seven resuscitations? And what happened to the rest of the Night’s Watch? In the chaos of the mêlée at Craster’s Keep, it wasn’t clear what happened to the ones who were not part of the rebellion. Did Grenn and Doleful Edd make it out alive? What’s in store for Rast, the surly brother who killed Commander Mormont and has it out for Sam? It looks like he appears briefly in the first trailer for the new season, laying a baby down in the snow.
I’m sure that all of these characters will be revisited eventually, even if not this season. I’m encouraged on that point by a glimpse of Alliser Thorne in the trailer above. Not seen since Season One, Thorne is the veteran Night’s Watchman who butted heads with Jon and was eventually sent to King’s Landing by Mormont in order to warn King Joffrey and his advisors of the White Walkers and wights — reanimated dead, impervious only to fire. (In a rare bit of failed continuity, Cersei and the Small Council learned of this news by other means; it was not delivered by Thorne.) He’s back now, just as Barristan Selmy returned last season as protector to Daenarys after being dismissed from Joffrey’s Kingsguard in Season One. So I’m optimistic that these other supporting characters’ storylines will continue.
What’s interesting about the series’ enormous roster of characters is that it came about almost by accident. Showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have said in interviews, including this one last year from Deadline, that when they were putting together the first season, their inexperience with television led to most of the episodes being too short, sometimes by 10 to 12 minutes. So they had a brief period of time in which to write and shoot several new scenes that would be primarily dialogue driven, since there was no budget left for battles or other expensive setpieces. This led to great scenes that didn’t exist in the books, like the lengthy, almost warm conversation between King Robert and Cersei after Robert has dismissed Ned as Hand of the King for opposing his plan to have Daenarys murdered.
That six-minute scene of two people talking is still among the series’ best ever, and it was born as an afterthought of sorts. It provided depth to characters who weren’t much more than ciphers in George R.R. Martin’s books. That’s not meant to be a slight against the source material. Martin’s approach is to focus on a select group of characters, of which neither Cersei nor Robert were included. They and many others are developed only in the context of their relationship to and interactions with Martin’s chosen few. But Benioff and Weiss were forced to create such scenes, and therefore able to develop more characters more richly. I’ve assumed that many of the great scenes between Varys and Littlefinger came about for the same reason, since neither one is a “point of view” character in the books.
So what’s in store when the saga resumes? Plenty of questions are on my mind. How is Littlefinger going to feel about the death of his beloved Catelyn? Will he feel the need to exact his own revenge, or will he continue to play his role and serve Joffrey and the Lannisters in order to climb to power? (“The climb is all there is.”)
What consequences await Jon now that he’s back with the Night’s Watch at Castle Black? He killed his brother Qhorin Halfhand in order to gain the trust of the wildlings — though it was Qhorin’s idea, and he all but forced Jon to kill him — and then he broke his vow of celibacy by getting steamy in a hot springs cave with Ygritte. And he gave away a few Night’s Watch secrets along the way. Even if Maester Aemon absolves him, Ygritte and charismatic wildling Tormund Giantsbane are still out for his blood. Assuming Ygritte really does want him dead. Does she love him enough to spare him? She did shoot him full of arrows, but at least she seemed conflicted about it. In Westeros, that could pass for an expression of love most true.
What will happen to Theon now that he’s been castrated and psychologically broken? Ramsay Snow sent Theon’s father Balon his boy’s appendage, and Balon immediately wrote his son off. But Theon’s sister Yara took a crew of her best men and left to rescue her brother. To which I say, that’s nice…but fuck you Yara. Instead of being an asshole to your brother from the moment he returned home to Pyke, humiliating him and treating him like shit, you could have stood in solidarity with him against your father’s cruelty. I’m glad you’re going to get him now, but your sudden loyalty is too little too late. I look forward to eventually watching you and father die.
Will Cersei’s marriage to Loras come to pass? She told Tyrion with confidence in the season finale that she would not be marrying him. Tywin certainly intends otherwise, so how might she avoid it? Does she have something dastardly in store for the Knight of Flowers? How will Jaime’s return affect the plans? And how will Tywin look at his eldest son now that he’s lost his hand and with it his greatest asset? I’m excited to see Jaime and Tyrion together again, as Jaime is the only Lannister who actually loves his brother.
What will Stannis be up to? Have the concerns about what’s happening north of The Wall completely eclipsed his desire to unseat Joffrey and take the Iron Throne, or is the threat of the White Walkers still too remote to deter him from another attack on King’s Landing? Are we to accept that Melisandre’s Red God really is the great power that she claims? We’ve now seen her birth the creature that killed Renly. We’ve seen Thoros revive Beric after The Hound sliced his body in half. We’ve seen Robb die after Stannis cast three leeches that had drawn blood from Gendry into the fire, naming Robb, Joffrey and Balon Greyjoy as each bloodsucking worm shriveled in the flames. Is Robb’s death really the work of the Red God? If so, Balon and Joffrey should follow. But how soon, and by what means?
What’s in store for Bran beyond The Wall? What will his abilities allow him to accomplish? And why is he seeking the three-eyed raven there? When they met in Bran’s dream early in season three, Jojen said of the bird, “You can’t kill it you know…the raven is you.” So if the raven is Bran, why is he going beyond the Wall to find the raven? There’s got to be a more hospitable location for some soul-searching. In the longer term, will Bran’s gift allow him to learn the truth of Jon Snow’s lineage? The identity of Jon’s mother might not seem important, but when Benioff and Weiss first approached Martin about adapting his books for television, the question he posed to them to test their grasp on the material was about Jon’s mother. They offered their thoughts, and Martin was obviously satisfied. I’m guessing that their theory is widely held among fans of the story, and if it’s true, I don’t see how anyone alive in Westeros or beyond could possibly know the truth. Which means if it is to eventually come out, it would take someone with Bran’s abilities to discover it. But I’m sure we’re talking Season Six or Seven material now, so I shouldn’t get ahead of myself.
Over the past two days, HBO has been running marathons of the series starting from the beginning, so I’ve been catching snippets here and there. Revisiting past episodes isn’t just a treat because the show has been so good from day one, but because the evolution of this stunningly rich story has been so carefully crafted. I re-watched the scene when Robb says goodbye to Bran before departing Winterfell with his army. Just after he leaves Bran’s room, Rickon enters, upset about everyone leaving. Bran assures him that Robb will return with their father, and that Catelyn will soon be back too. “No they won’t,” Rickon answers with eerie certainty. Early onset cynicism, or does Rickon have insights of his own into the future? When Bran dreamed of his father’s death, he discovered that Rickon had experienced the same dream. Moments later, Bran learned the news of Ned’s beheading. So what’s the deal with the youngest Stark?
Another of my favorite scenes from the series that I caught again is the one in which Renly tries to convince Ned to move swiftly against the Lannisters. It kills me. Everything he says is right, but Ned will have none of it because it conflicts with his code of honor…even though you can see in his eyes that he recognizes the truth in Renly’s argument. So much tragedy could be avoided if Ned does the smart thing instead of the honorable thing, but that’s not Ned…and so the die is cast.
Yes yes, I know things couldn’t have gone any other way. As I wrote at the conclusion of Season Three about the heartbreak of the Red Wedding and how it might have been avoided, “what if” scenarios are futile. Whatever we may want characters to do in order to avoid such painful ends, the story wouldn’t be as thrilling if it didn’t play out exactly as it does. Valar Morghulis, or All Men Must Die, as the new season’s slogan prominently declares. Rewatching Season Three in its entirety over the past several weeks, I was also reminded how beautifully the show has planted its seeds, which also came to mind over the last two days as I looked back even further into Seasons One and Two. In the same post-Season Three piece mentioned above, I pointed to how the song “The Rains of Castamere” was used earlier in the season to foreshadow the Red Wedding, and it turns out there were even more examples that I missed. Thoros was singing the song when he and his Brotherhood compatriots first encountered Arya and Gendry. And later in the season, an instrumental version played over the end credits of the episode “The Bear and the Maiden Fair.” There was also that wonderful scene before Tyrion and Sansa’s wedding when Cersei told Margaery the story of House Castamere’s fall. This kind of intricate storytelling makes looking back just as enjoyable as looking forward.
And so in these final hours —or at this rate, minutes — of looking forward, I once again use these posts as an opportunity to collect some of my favorite Game of Thrones material that the internets have offered since last June.
This chart came from a piece in Vulture that created infographics for several Pixar movies.
Anyone who has attempted to explain the series to the uninitiated in the hopes that they might jump on the bandwagon knows what a daunting task it is. From his Basic Instructions series, artist Scott Meyer offers some help.
I always say that the highest pop culture honor possible is not an Oscar or a Pulitzer, but an homage on The Simpsons. Game of Thrones achieved this a couple of years ago when its opening credits served as inspiration for a Simpsons couch gag, which I referenced at the time. This more recent recognition is unofficial, but still pretty cool.
(Click here for larger version)
South Park got in on the action last November, skewering Game of Thrones, the madness of Black Friday, the Playstation vs. Xbox console wars and more in an epic three-episode arc that was a typically inspired affair from Trey Parker and Matt Stone. And Vulture had some fun cross-pollinating Thrones with a few other TV shows to create pictures like this reimagining of Arrested Development.
The guys behind Parks and Recreation are huge Game of Thrones fans, and have bequeathed their love of the show to Adam Scott’s character Ben. This clip from a recent episode is their latest tribute.
There’s also an extended clip if you, like Ben, can’t get enough.
As cool as the Iron Throne is, George R.R. Martin said on his blog last year that he envisioned something even more grand and twisted, which just wouldn’t be possible on the show. But check out artist Marc Simonetti’s painting of the throne as imagined by Martin.
That is fucking badass.
Thrones continues to be a rich source of inspiration for artists. The pictures I use along the top and bottom of these posts are usually taken from the Cast a Large Shadow tumblr, which spotlights an ever-growing collection of art based on the show. Some of the work that has appeared there recently comes from a spinoff tumblr called Beautiful Death, for which artists have created incredibly cool, stylized posters representing every significant death the show has delivered since it began. Here are a few of my favorites, but these are all amazing and there’s more on the site, broken down by episode.
This rendering of The Wall on a London sidewalk is amazing for its illusion of depth, and check out the larger versions of these four posters, which have some nice details relating to four of the show’s strong women.
My favorite recontextualization of Game of Thrones to date has got be this series by Toyko-based artist Mike Wrobel, who placed the characters into 1980’s/1990’s wardrobe. See them all here. They’re mixed in with some other work, but this was the best venue I could find for seeing all 22 in one place. I love these.
For anyone interested in some audio appreciation of Thrones, here’s an entire album’s worth of rap songs inspired by the show. Common and Big Boi are among the contributors, and though I haven’t heard of the rest of these guys, there’s some good stuff here.
And finally, to provide a bit of light before the darkness arrives, here are some photos from the red carpet of the Season Four premiere, with the actors looking decidedly happier, chummier and cleaner than they do on the show. It’s really weird seeing Kristofer Hivju — aka Tormund Giantsbane — in a suit. And here are some videos taken during the photo shoot for the show’s current Vanity Fair cover story.
Okay, since I was unable to get this post done yesterday as I’d intended, you’re now left with about 10 minutes before the new season begins if you’re on the east coast. So that’s enough from me. See you in Westeros…hopefully not at a wedding.