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Dany and dragon
There aren’t a lot of surprises in the season four opener. In large part, the episode is more concerned with planting us firmly back in Westeros and showing us where things stand after all the horrible events that crowded the end of the previous season.

With Robb Stark’s betrayal and death at the Red Wedding following on Stannis’ smashing defeat on the Blackwater, the war is essentially over. Not so long ago, there were five contenders for the Iron Throne, but now it truly seems as if the Lannisters have won the day. They have their puppets in place across most of the Seven Kingdoms, they have the only army still in the field, and everyone who opposed them is beaten, bankrupt, or plain old dead. All hail King Joffrey, first of his name.

But just because we’ve stopped warring, it doesn’t mean that Westeros is at peace. Or that anyone is noticeably happier than they were when we last saw them. In fact, for many of the characters we’ve come to love (or hate), this week was about discovering that their place in the New Improved Westeros was not nearly as shiny as it may have looked from a distance.

Tyrion -- who saved the city and the king with his very unlikely military prowess, only to be upstaged and downgraded by the world’s coldest father -- finds that his status within the government continues to diminish. Though he’s currently in the seat of Master of Coin, a role which the absent Littlefinger parlayed into significance, Tyrion finds himself being trotted out as an greeter… and not even getting any respect from the people he’s sent to greet.

He’s not having a lot of luck at home, either. He can’t afford to pay attention to his lover (and love) Shae under the watchful eyes of his own family’s many spies, which leads to frustration and bad feelings on both sides. At the same time, his child bride, Sansa, is not only still in shock from being forced into marriage, but mourning the murders of her family. Murders that took place at the order of Tyrion’s father, and which only cap off the death of Sansa’s father way back in season one. It’s not a recipe for the perfect home life.

When Tyrion finally encounters this season’s first significant new character, Prince Oberyn of Dorne, that meeting just extends a not so perfect day. Oberyn also has a grudge against the Lannisters… and it’s a good one. The Dornish prince doesn’t even try to cover up that he’s in town looking for a chance at revenge.  So… hey, didn’t we win this war?

Things are not going any better for big brother Jamie.  Having finally made it home minus a hand, he gets a heart to heartless with dear old dad. Tywin insists that his first born son leave the capital and hustle back to the family home. Jaime refuses, which earns him a quick disowning. Not that Tywin makes a big deal about it. You can tell that disowning his children is never much of a reach for Tywin.

Jaime’s bad day doesn’t end there. Trying to reunite with sister (and love) Cersei, Jaime finds that the old home fires have burned pretty damn low, if not gone out entirely. Pointing out that he spent most of the war as a prisoner and had his hand chopped off earns Jaime exactly zero pity-points from Cersei, who apparently blames him from letting a little thing like being a prisoner of war get in the way of being by her side. Plus, he’s missing a hand, which she clearly regards as an ewww.

Finally, Jaime also gets his hash dashed by both the other members of the Kingsguard and by his royal snottiness, Joffrey.  They remind Jaime in no uncertain terms that he’s forty, one-handed, and has no “great deeds” to his name. Jaime Lannister, who went into the war one of the most hated, but also feared and respected, men in all of Westeros, has come out of it just a notch above laughingstock. You can bet this isn’t how he pictured his homecoming.

Contrasting neatly with the iron-hard, ice-cold doings over at Team Lannister are the conversations between Queen of Thorns, Olenna, and granddaughter Margaery Tyrell. They’re plotting Margaery’s upcoming marriage to Joffrey with full knowledge that the boy king is one twisted SOB, but rather than fighting within the family, Olenna is using her power and insight to support, protect, and… oh yeah, still probably leave everyone outside the family wondering where their guts went. But it’s very neatly done.

I especially appreciated the respect Olenna shows when Brienne of Tarth makes an unexpected visit. The towering Brienne is used to being mocked or looked at as an object of pity, but Olenna treats her as a marvel of the best kind, and Margaery also displays kindness as Brienne explains what must seem like a fantasy around the death of would-be king Renly.

It’s hard not to like the Tyrells. Maybe all their scheming is no less self-promoting than that of the Lannisters, but feeding the poor and making Brienne feel better certainly tops anything they’ve come up with in Joffrey’s court.

T’other side of the world, Dany is still lurking about… one of those cities with slaves and kinda sort Greco-Egyptian architecture. Honestly, I’ve lost track. In any case, about the only take away from our visit with the Mother of Dragons is that children are ungrateful, even when you’ve raised them from an egg. Having grown to the size where smacking them across the nose with a rolled up paper just isn’t going to do much good, the dragons are getting snippy. At least Dany seems to still have a good hold on her growing horde of male admirers.

Way up north, Jon Snow gets hauled in front of the leaders of the Night’s Watch. He’s surprisingly hale for someone who we last saw sporting three arrows in various body parts, but other than letting us know that Jon survived and that the Night’s Watch seems to have no one around with any sense under the age of 112, not much is accomplished.

Finally, we visit with Westros’ best Mutt & Jeff pairing, Arya and the Hound.

Having narrowly missed being the last guest at the Red Wedding, Arya finds herself the captive of the big, flame-scarred killer as they tromp across lands now firmly under Lannister control. For his part, the Hound has decided that the best use of the little Stark girl is to sell her to crazy aunt Lysa. You definitely get the impression that he’s in the market for a small cottage somewhere far removed from anyone.

When Arya’s anything-but-subtle approach takes them back to that little crossroads inn where everything miserable seems to be initiated, the Hound is almost immediately recognized by some Lannister soldiers. The smarmy little killer who stole Arya’s sword (and knifed her injured friend) a season or so back, makes the Hound an offer: come along with us on our rape and pillage spree, big boy. With all the other armies sent packing, the Lannister men aren’t exactly helping the little folk pick up the pieces. Instead, they've declared open season on anything they can carry and a license to kill anything they can’t.  The “king’s man” badgers the Hound about joining the merry crew, the big man finally tells them, and the king, where they can get off. From there we’re about three seconds from violence.

As the brawl breaks out, Arya stays on the periphery. She’s seen her father beheaded. She’s just missed being present as her brother and mother were killed. So far as she knows, her two youngest brothers have been hung and burned. Her family home is a smoking wreck. On top of this, she’s spent a year running, hiding, and being held as a servant. For one long breath, she looks like what she is – a young girl, beaten, baffled, and nearly broken.

Then a strange expression ripples over her face. Half coldness. Half glee. With pike and sword, she joins in the melee. Kneeling over the man who stole her sword, she recites to him all the things that he said to her when taking the blade. And then she kills him.

For at least two seasons, I've been waiting for Arya to get some measure of vengeance. And now that she’s had a taste… I didn't like it, not at all. Maybe it’s just the parent in me, but I couldn't help what Ned would think if he could see his little girl. How Catelyn would regard that expression on her daughter’s face.

In many ways, it was as hard to watch as any of the many deaths in the Stark clan. Oh, Arya. Oh, kiddo…

Originally posted to Devil's Tower on Mon Apr 07, 2014 at 04:07 PM PDT.

Also republished by Pink Clubhouse and Daily Kos.

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