It’s been a long nine months since the end of Season 3 of Game of Thrones, and we’re finally about to embark on Season 4 beginning this coming Sunday, April 6. Weiss and Benioff, the showrunners, have stated publicly that the series will run a total of seven seasons, meaning that episode 405, just five weeks from now, will mark exactly the halfway point of the series’ run (if they continue doing ten shows per year, that is). In this article, I’m going to examine the three official trailers released by HBO over the last couple of months, and do a rundown of what I expect to see for each of the major Houses this season. Weiss and Benioff have consistently shown a willingess to depart in minor ways from Martin’s narrative, but they do remain true to his major plot points. It will be interesting to see how far this season takes us, given the self-imposed limitation on the overall length of the series. Click through after the break to see my breakdown of the three trailer videos, as well as my suggestions for what will be happening over the next ten weeks. Any spoilers from the books will require that you actively scroll over the text in order to render it visible.
<<Spoiler Alert: This preview of Game of Thrones Season Four will discuss major plot points and events suggested by previous events and the events shown in the three official trailers; read further at your own risk!>>
I’ll begin by taking a close look scene-by-scene at Trailer #1, and then a more holistic view of Trailers #2 and #3. Following that, I do a rundown of where each of the five Great Houses finds themselves going into Season 4, and make some suggestions about where I think they might be going. If you want to jump directly to the discussion on the Houses, click here.
We open with a rather large silhouette of a dragon flying over a walled city, crowned with a castle on a hill. A voice-over begins, “The people love their King.” We see Joffrey, sneering and petulant as he tells his “Uncle” Jaime that “the people know that I won the war.” We cut to the aftermath of a battle, grey and dark, ravens eating the flesh of the dead as a lone horseman rides by with a tattered white flag. Cut to Daeneyrs and Ser Jorah starkly lit in the searing desert sun. They watch a single lancer approaching at full gallop, one of Dany’s champions standing out front to meet him. Back to Jaime, who gives Joffrey a look of condescension, and says as though speaking to an idiot: “The war’s not won.” Go to several men, who look like slave soldiers from Yunkai, running through an old temple. We hear Ser Jorah in voice-over, saying, “It’s tempting to see your enemies as evil,” as we see three large stakes on fire, and focus in on the Red Priestess’s face – Melisandre looks grimly satisfied, so I’m assuming each of the stakes has a body attached. We jump then to Tyrion – remember, Lady Katelyn thought him evil, and behind the attempted assassination of Bran back in Season 1. Two armies meet on a field, with representatives walking toward each other on a ridge line. Ser Jorah’s voice continues, as we cut to a shot of Stannis and Ser Davos on the deck of a boat, “But there’s good and evil on both sides in every war ever fought.” As he finishes, we cut to Ser Jorah, and then jump to a lone man in a T-junction where two alleyways meet, the words “Kill the Masters” painted in blood on the wall behind him, as he’s swarmed from all three directions by what looks like a mob of freed slaves. Next, Dany on a throne with a supplicant in front of her, and then her speaking, saying, “They have a choice. They can live in my new world, or they can die in their old one.” As she speaks, we get quick flashes of several of her enemies: Cersei, Tywin, and Jaime, testing the weight of a sword with his left hand. We then see Tyrion in handcuffs, being led between four soldiers, passing a crowd seated on bleachers, as we hear him saying, “Things…are a bit tense right now.” We see him sitting down in what looks like a large cell, and he says, “I don’t think I’m talking my way out of this one.” Cut to Varys face to face with a new character, as they both turn to look at the Iron Throne. Scenes of battle take over – the Wildlings are on the move. Jon Snow is making a speech to the Night’s Watch, warning them of the coming danger, as we cut back to more scenes of Wildlings, and a focus shot on Ygritte, and then a giant charging a gate in the tunnel through The Wall. We next hear Littlefinger in voice-over: “Given the opportunity, what do we do to those who hurt the ones we love?” We see an Ironborn longboat, Theon’s sister Yara at the fore; cut to Jaime being fitted with a golden hand; Cersei shedding a tear; one of the Night Watch laying a swaddled, crying baby in the snow, as he sheds a tear himself; and to Arya practicing her moves on a tor, holding what appears to be Needle, the sword Jon gave her back at Winterfell. Littlefinger continues as the camera focuses on him: “I want to know which side you’re on.” You can only see an arm, but I believe he’s speaking with Varys. Cut to Bran reaching out to a Heart Tree, and appearing to fall through the bark as Hodor looks on. We then see a horse riding through a gate, and see the man Varys was speaking to earlier, speaking now with Tyrion – he’s a Braavosi, and he wants Tyrion to get his father – “Tell him the Lannisters are not the only ones who pay their debts.” We cut to two men fighting in a plaza, leaping about like acrobats – it looks like a demonstration of Braavosi Water Dancing, a style of fighting that Arya was learning from Syrio. Cersei, in voice-over: “You’ll fight over him like beasts until you tear him apart.” She’s talking about Joffrey, whom we see at his wedding ceremony in the Grand Sept, Margaery at his side. The camera cuts to Cersei, who appears to be talking to Tywin: “I will burn our house to the ground before I let that happen.” Cut to Jaime closing a book – it’s the book of lineage that Eddard was reading in Season 1 that first made him aware of the Baratheon children’s provenance, then a close-up of him clinching with Cersei in an embrace. Cut to several scenes of battle, as one of the Night’s Watch shouts, “Tonight we fight!” Then to several quick flash cuts, as we hear Melisandre saying, “There is only one hell…” as we see Joffrey’s wedding feast; Dany in an exotic looking building; Theon, looking well all things considered, wearing armor; slaves prostrating themselves, and a man raising and lowering his sword two-handed over his head, then a close-up on Melisandre as she finishes: “the one we live in now.” Then we see what looks like Ramsay Bolton being slapped by a woman who is straddling him, naked; a shadowy figure looking eerily like Death outside of a gate; a woman turning to the camera wearing a cloak (is she the Death figure?); Arya, sword out with blood dripping down it, while the Hound slams someone to the ground with his open hand; Jon, walking through a doorway in daylight; Dany looking proudly down on a horde of worshipers; and finally, Jon Snow stabbing down into an enemy’s prone body. We finish with Tyrion saying, “If you want justice, you’ve come to the wrong place,” and then jump to one last shot of horsemen galloping through a snow-laden forest, swords swinging.
Quite a lot in just over a minute. The events are, presumably, completely out of order, and only a few are connected directly. We do get some information here: the Wildlings will be attacking the Wall at some point; Joffrey will marry Margaery; Dany will continue to free slaves in the East; and Tyrion will be arrested for something – and from the looks of it, it will be something fairly serious (readers of the books will have a good idea why, but I won’t give up that information here). Stannis gets very little time in this trailer, suggesting he’ll play a lesser role this season, but again, that may be misleading. The Braavosi appears to be someone of importance, spending time with Varys and Tyrion, as well as putting on an exhibition. The focus, then, appears to be threefold: the Wall, King’s Landing, and Yunkai/Meereen. Arya got a few moments in the trailer as well, and I hope we get to see more of her this season – she’s been largely underutilized so far, but she is very important in the books.
Let’s take a look at the second trailer, subtitled “Vengeance”:
Rather than do a complete breakdown of this video, I’ll focus on the balance and what we learn about possible directions Season 4 will be taking us. Much to my delight, we begin with Arya going through her list of names. Vengeance, thy name is Arya. We get scenes from Meereen, including a beautiful wide view of the city’s pyramids as Daenerys approaches with her army. We go to Joffrey and Margaery’s wedding feast, where Joffrey looks terribly bored. We also get some scenes of Sansa, who sounds stronger and more courageous than she has in previous seasons. Again, we see Tyrion in chains – this is going to be a major storyline this season – and again we see the Wildlings attacking Castle Black. We get a better view of Melisandre’s burning stakes, with a victim screaming in agony, and then several fascinating shots of battle, including siege engines firing projectiles into Meereen. One of the more interesting shots is of Cersei, standing in either a witness or a suspect dock – behind her are the people we saw Tyrion being led past in chains, so it appears that she is testifying against her brother. More battle scenes, and then what looks a hell of a lot like Shae passionately kissing the Braavosi from earlier, while Tyrion looks on. Dany has the best line of this trailer: “I will do what queens do. I will rule.” And finally, we get a great shot of Drogon, Daenerys’s black dragon, as he hovers just off the ground. The words “Valar Morghulis” appear, rotating into the English translation, “All men must die.” The trailer finishes with a Wraith, riding a horse out of the mist and going past the camera.
So whose vengeance does the trailer refer to? Nearly everyone in the series has been aggrieved at some point or another, except for perhaps the Lannisters (save Tyrion, who has had to pay a price for every small gain he’s made). Is it the vengeance of the slaves against their former masters? We do see evidence of that in the battle for Meereen. Could it be that Tyrion is on trial for something he does in reaction to seeing Shae with another man? He seems far too intelligent to resort to mere revenge. Perhaps it is Ygritte, avenging her betrayal at the hands of Jon Snow – she did tell him that if he betrayed her, he’d die. I think the main point here is that everyone owes something to someone. I just hope that Arya gets to do some work on whittling down her list this season.
Lastly, we have the third trailer, released just a couple of days ago. This one is called, “Secrets.”
Sansa is questioning Tyrion about what happened to her mother and brother – he is privy to knowledge, to secrets that she would know. We get a flash of Roose Bolton arriving at his son’s keep – making me wonder just how much Roose knows about his bastard son’s actions taken in his name. Cersei is speaking with the Braavosi – he suggest vengeance as a path. Jon is shocked when he arrives at Castle Black to find that “all that time I was gone, the world’s fallen apart.” We then get a speech from the master of secrets himself, Littlefinger, who says, “Always keep your foes confused. If they don’t know who you are, or what you want, they can’t know what you plan to do next.” Am I the only one who finds this guy to be potentially the most dangerous man in the entire series? Certainly, Cersei gives him a run for his money, but she’s far too obvious in her machinations. Varys is perhaps the only one that rivals him, and I have yet to figure him out at all (even having read the books). We see several battle scenes, and get a little more Stannis than in the previous two trailers – maybe he will play a larger role than I first thought. We get a beautiful aerial shot of Braavos, seeing the massive Titan of Braavos straddling the harbor entrance – his size would put the Colossus of Rhodes to shame. More shots of battle, both in Meereen and at Castle Black. We also get a nice family portrait of Daenerys and her three dragons, Drogon, Rhaegal, and Viserion. We end with a series of fights, ending with Jon Snow walking away from Sam Tarly, as Sam says, “You’ve done nothing wrong,” and Jon replying, “I’ve done plenty wrong.”
A lot of scenes borrowed from the first two trailers, but more detail added, especially with scenes of Ygritte fighting, and the attack on Meereen. It suggests that the ante will be upped this season, as we hit the midway point of the series and the fight for control of Westeros (and points east for Daeneyrs) heats up. Stannis appears to be relying a lot more on the fire magic of R’hllor, which can’t do him any good in the long run, and the Lannisters look like they may be self-destructing. One can only hope (though I hope Tyrion comes through relatively unscathed, and even Jaime is becoming more sympathetic thanks to the influence of Brienne – although seeing him clinching with his sister was a definite ick moment).
Now, I’ll do a quick rundown of each of the Great Houses directly involved in the struggle.
House Baratheon: Ours is the Fury
With King Robert and his youngest brother Renly both dead, it would appear that the legitimate heir to the throne, taking into account the provenance of Cersei’s children, is Stannis. His military power was decimated in the Battle of the Blackwater, but with the power of the Red Priestess, Melisandre, it is possible that he yet has a role to play in the struggle for the Iron Throne. His Hand, Ser Davos, has been returned to his side, despite his dislike and mistrust of Melisandre. But will Stannis listen to the voice of honor and reason, or to the voice of R’hllor’s decidedly morally ambiguous priestess?
This season should see Stannis and Melisandre turn their attention to the north and The Wall. Melisandre recognizes, perhaps better than any of the warring factions in Westeros, that the true battle is yet to come. By positioning Stannis to the north, she is trying to make sure that he is perceived as a defender of Westeros, and this should in turn help to legitimize him in the eyes of lesser Houses and the common folk.
House Greyjoy: We Do Not Sow
Theon is still the plaything of Ramsay Snow (now Bolton, as he has been legitimized by his father, Roose Bolton). There is no hope nor help in sight for Theon at this point, and his situation isn’t likely to change this season, either. A lot of the violence performed on him felt gratuitous and repetitive, so here’s hoping that his appearances are either limited, or we see something change in his situation. The thing is, he’s also believed to be the murderer of Bran and Rickon, so even escaping from Ramsay would be no guarantee of his safety. Ironborn men, led by Theon’s sister Yara, still hold a few places in the North, but with Roose Bolton returning to take advantage of the concessions granted him by Tywin Lannister, and other powers focusing on the North, look to see their power in this area wane. Might they look elsewhere?
Ramsay’s father, Roose, will be moving north this season, as he needs to consolidate his power in the North. His presence should mitigate some of the worst tortures that Theon has been experiencing, but it will by no means end his humiliation. Expect to see Theon fully broken, and taking on a role well beneath his station. But will he have a chance at revenge? Stannis’s move north will similarly cause the Greyjoys problems, and Yara may well run afoul of him and his Red Lady.
House Lannister: Hear Me Roar
The Lannisters seem to win at everything they do: the brilliant victory at the Battle of Blackwater using a combination of the wildfire ordered by Tyrion and Tywin Lannister’s appearance at King’s Landing with an army in the nick of time; their surprise alliance with House Tyrell (with the promise of alliance via marriage to come); the reemergence of a maimed, but perhaps wiser Jaime; Cersei’s ability to always grasp onto power, as she struggles to control her son, King Joffrey; and perhaps the most popular character in the entire show, Tyrion, who survived an assassination attempt orchestrated by his nephew, and still manages to wield power despite everyone, especially his own father, dismissing him. Even their enemies seem to be working for them at times, such as when Stannis uses the powers of Melisandre to kill his own brother, thus losing the Tyrells as a potential ally to the Lannisters, or when they use House Frey to murder most of the leadership of Rob Stark’s army, thus removing perhaps the single greatest threat to their power and taming the North in one stroke. This season will see them continue to plot and scheme to hold onto the Iron Throne – but will Joffrey’s sadistic streak and apparent madness undermine their goals? Will Tyrion be willing to remain pushed aside and treated as the least of the Lannisters? And will Tywin’s streak of winning on the battlefield continue?
House Lannister is due for a big fall. While they should hold onto the Iron Throne for at least the rest of this season, it may be that it isn’t Joffrey wearing the crown. His pending marriage to Margaery Tyrell will be a turning point, as Lady Olenna, the Queen of Thorns, has already questioned Sansa and discovered Joffrey’s true nature. Olenna will do whatever it takes to prevent him from abusing her granddaughter the same way Sansa has been abused.
House Stark: Winter is Coming
It’s about time things turn around for House Stark. In the first season, Ned was beheaded on the orders of King Joffrey, against the better advice of his mother. In the second season, Sansa was mistreated constantly at the hands of that same Joffrey, while her sister Arya was on the run. Up north, their two young brothers were forced to flee their home as Theon turned on his surrogate family and took over Winterfell. And of course we all sat in horror and shock as we watched the dreaded Red Wedding (see my review of Episode 309 “The Rains of Castamere” here). Now, with Bran and Rickon safe for the moment, Sansa married to and under the protection of the most compassionate Lannister, Tyrion, and Arya showing how dangerous a cornered wolf can be as she stands toe-to-toe with the Hound, perhaps it is time to retrench and plan – House Stark is down, but not out. And how will Jon Snow react when he gets back to Castle Black and learns of all that has transpired while he was among the Wildlings?
The Starks are definitely not done yet. Without giving too much away, let’s just say that in the books, Arya is one of my favorite characters, second only to Tyrion. And all those dead Starks? One of them may not be so dead as you think…
House Targaryen: Fire and Blood
Daeneyrs is the lone representative of House Targaryen, but what a representative she is. Declaring a one woman war on slavery in the far east, she continues to add to her air of legitimacy and power. She is already someone to be reckoned with, and if she continues with her string of successes, will soon have the army behind her that she needs to stake her claim for the Iron Throne. How long before one of the other Great Houses makes a move, either to try to assassinate her, or seek an alliance? Ser Jorah Mormont, her sworn man and himself an exile from Westeros, has connections with House Stark, as his house is a vassal. Perhaps he will provide a bridge for his young Khaleesi? And the dragons continue to grow in size and power. While Dany is the mother of dragons, how much real control can she exert over these growing monsters? She can tame the hearts of men, but dragons may prove another thing entirely.
Daenerys is a true unknown when it comes to the television show. In the written tale, she doesn’t have a lot of change over the course of about a book and a half, but Benioff and Weiss have been using her to great effect, and I don’t expect her story to lose narrative momentum at this point. Look for unexpected developments on the far side of the world as Dany continues to consolidate her power, and rid the world of slavery.
So there you go – three more days to go before Season 4 begins, and the trailers show tons of promise and excitement. The only sure thing, however, is this: don’t get too attached to anyone – George RR Martin will break your heart.