Sophie Turner and Peter Dinklage in season four of Game of Thrones
  • Macall B. Polay
  • Sophie Turner and Peter Dinklage in season four of Game of Thrones

If there’s a thing the makers of Game of Thrones do well—and they do a lot of things well—it’s juggling an impossible number of characters and story lines, and occupying all corners of the realm, without creating something that’s disjointed, rushed, or gives short shrift to anything or anyone in particular.

Had it become too concerned with reorienting the audience, the HBO Go-crashing season four premiere could’ve been a mess or, at the very least, a bore. It wasn’t either of those things (yay)—but that’s not to say I didn’t occasionally have to pause and consult my viewing companions to make sure I was following things (like why that blond hunk Daario Naharis looks awfully different now).

Because the show’s attention is awarded so equitably, the preshow conversation we had revolved around this question: Who are the principal characters now? Last season’s Red Wedding, the bloodbath that launched a million YouTube reaction videos, decimated the family we’d gotten used to treating as our primary protagonists. We still have bastard son Jon Snow, scrappy swordswoman Arya, lady-beautiful warg Bran, and pouty Sansa to follow, but no one in serious contention for the throne. Then there’s also civil rights champion Danaerys. And Tyrion. Even Jaime’s downright likeable now, no small thanks to Brienne of Tarth’s influence. A Rolling Stone recapper suggested that, based on the screen time they got in the premiere, the Lannisters are now the show’s lead characters, which sounds about right. The story revolves around shifts in power, and the Lannisters are currently and convincingly in power. Although anyone who shares genes with and is loyal to Joffrey can’t be a protagonist, per se.

Anyway, lots to think about this season. Here’s where it all begins . . .

Jaime, plenty worse for the wear, has returned to Westeros, which he probably regrets because everyone is treating him like a real piece of shit. He’s lost his sword hand (presumably also his pushing-little-boys-out-of-windows hand), and all that inbred monster Joffrey can do is mock his uncle/dad for being captured and not having any accomplishments to record in the fancy book of knightly deeds. Cersei is similarly cold, rebuffing Jaime’s attempt at an afternoon brother-sister snuggle.

The rest of Westeros is preparing for Joffrey’s wedding to Margaery Tyrell. Out-of-town guests have begun to arrive, uninvited ones included. Here we meet Prince Oberyn Martell, a guy with a healthy sex drive and a short temper who’s bent on revenge against the Lannisters. He’s extremely forthcoming about this in a conversation with Tyrion, which is nice.

Meanwhile, several young women in Margaery’s wedding party are sent off to find a necklace worthy of the bride’s signature decolletage. Incidentally, Sansa is given a necklace by Ser Dontos the fool for saving his life a season or so ago. Something is going to happen with these necklaces, right? Something to make Sansa want to die even more.

Jon Snow is back at the wall, thanks to Ygritte, who shot him with arrows, but not in places that would kill him. He confesses to having laid with a wildling woman, and Maester Aemon is like, “Eh, boys will be boys.” And hopefully boys don’t eventually get eaten by Thenns, cannibals who think Crows are especially delicious.

Oh, and, some sneaky bitch in Westeros overhears a lovers’ quarrel between Tyrion and Shae, and one or both of them are about to be in so much trouble. What do you wanna bet Joffrey is going to do awful things to Shae.

And lastly—but first in our hearts—Arya and the Hound are still on the road together, sharing a horse and some great banter. Arya spots the guy who stole her blade, Needle, peeing outside a tavern. She storms in, the Hound follows, and then does his young friend the service of picking a fight about chickens so they can murder everyone and she can have her sword back. Seriously, someone give this pair a spinoff sitcom already! The Jeffersons had nothing on these two. Mostly because George never called Weezie a cunt, at least not on camera.