Note: This season, I will be writing for a new website called KingsLanding.Net. I am very excited for the opportunity to launch this fan page and hope you will follow me over there. In the meanwhile, I will continue to post snippets of my recaps. For the full versions, be sure to check out KingsLanding.Net!
[ETA March, 2015: KingsLanding.Net is no longer available to read my posts from Season 4. You can continue to read all my recaps here on my homepage!]
The fourth season of Game of Thrones is upon us at last. We’ve all grown to miss our friends from Westeros over the last few months. Next Sunday, the oft-tormented characters of George R.R. Martin’s medieval fantasy pick up right where they left off, and if your memory is anything like mine, you might easily find yourself a step behind.
Here’s a guide to help you catch up on the major events of last season so you won’t have to pepper your loved ones with questions, like, “Wait—what desert city is Daenerys in this time?”
I’ve split up the pertinent events under character headings so that you can catch up on the major characters’ arcs from last season. It’s impossible to include every detail, so feel free to go back and read my full recaps here. However, these details should at least help you not be “that guy/girl.”
In her quest to invade Westeros and reestablish her family’s royal dynasty, Daenerys has been a little distracted, to say the least, by her desire to free the enslaved peoples of Essos (the large landmass to the east of Westeros). The bleach-blonde Mother of Dragons acquired ships from Qarth in Season 2 (“I am not your little princess. I am Daenerys Stormborn of the blood of old Valyria, and I will take what is mine with fire and blood.”), but still required an army.
Season 3 was largely about her attempt to kill two birds with one stone: free oppressed people from slavery and then see if they’d be inspired enough to serve in her military. She headed to Astapor to acquire the Unsullied, a group of slave warriors who have been born and bred to this purpose. They are highly-trained, elite soldiers for hire. For several episodes, she wrestled with how to reconcile her need for troops with her desire to free slaves from bondage.
Meanwhile, Ser Barristan Selmy saved her life from an assassination attempt by the mystical warlocks of Qarth. This old man was the Lord Commander of the Kingsguard until he was dismissed by the Lannisters in Season 1. We did not see him in Season 2, but apparently he was making his way across the sea to follow rumors of Daenerys. During Robert’s Rebellion, Selmy served on the Kingsguard protecting the previous Targaryen ruler, the mad King Aerys (Daenerys’s father). He re-swore his fealty to her as the rightful heir to the Iron Throne.
Daenerys freed the Unsullied from their masters in one of the best scenes of the season. She offered the dragon to the slave master in exchange for the troops. As soon as she held the master’s whip in her hand, she ordered the obedient Unsullied to turn on their owners. Drogon the dragon then burned the slave master alive. The Unsullied pledged their loyalty to her with gratitude for their freedom, electing Grey Worm as their commander.
Distracted once more by her desire to free slaves, Daenerys marched everyone to the next major city on Slaver’s Bay. They set up outside the heavily-fortified walls of Yunkai and made a bunch of threats. Ultimately, they devised a plan to enter the city under the cover of darkness and kill the masters to set the slaves free. The slaves came out of the gates to find their liberator, Daenerys, sitting outside the gates. They reached for her and called her “Mhysa,” or “Mother” in their language.
When we left Daenerys, she was crowd surfing on the hands of thousands of newly-devoted followers.
At the start of Season 3, Ygritte took Jon Snow to the leader of the wildlings, a former Night’s Watch ranger named Mance Rayder. Jon had just killed his fellow crow, Qhorin Halfhand, according to a plan to make the wildlings believe he was a traitor of the Night’s Watch. He earned the wildlings’ hesitant trust and was soon ordered to join the ginger-bearded Tormund Giantsbane in an attempt to scale the Wall with a small raiding party. Mance’s plan is to have Tormund’s band attack Castle Black from the south to distract the Night’s Watch from his own major assault from the north.
Somewhere along the way, Jon broke his vow of celibacy with Ygritte and saved her life when the Wall cracked beneath them on their ascent. They were allowed maybe an episode or two of happiness. Naturally, things fell apart quickly when, south of the Wall, Jon was ordered by Tormund to kill a man in order to prove his loyalty once more. They were afraid the man would tell the Night’s Watch that there were wildlings south of the Wall, but noble Jon could not bring himself to kill him.
The wildlings turned on Jon, but he was saved by two direwolves: Summer and Shaggydog. Unbeknownst to Jon, his half-brothers Bran and Rickon were hidden only yards away. In the chaos, he stole a horse and rode off. Ygritte followed him and shot him three times as he fled from her on horseback, perhaps in an attempt to show she cared: traditionally, wildling marriages start with an elaborate fighting ritual.
Half dead from his wounds, Jon’s horse rode him to Castle Black, where he was reunited with Sam. Last we saw of Jon, his brothers were carrying him in for treatment.
Bran, Rickon, Osha, Hodor
Bran saw more three-eyed ravens. What could it all mean? Luckily, two strange and knowing teens named Jojen and Meera Reed met up with the group on the road to Castle Black. Jojen has similar powers to Bran; he can see into both the past and the future through his dreams. Jojen helped Bran (and the viewers) understand his strange skills, including the ability to control animals. This makes him a “Warg,” like the wildling named Orell, who warged into an eagle to attack Jon before he fled to Castle Black.
The group hid in a windmill during a storm and Bran unintentionally used his Warg abilities to silence a terrified Hodor (“Hodor! Hodor!”). Then, after being coaxed by Jojen, he possessed the minds of Shaggydog and Summer. He used the direwolves to attack the group of wildlings outside the windmill and noticed his half-brother Jon through their eyes.
Bran sent his younger brother Rickon off with Osha, the wildling taken in and trusted by the Stark household after she tried to steal Bran’s horse in Season 1. They started off to the lands of Greatjon Umber: one of the giant, bearded Stark bannermen to proclaim Robb Stark “King of the North” back in Season 1, and one of the few to survive the Red Wedding (…by not attending).
Finally, Bran, Hodor, Jojen, and Meera ran into Samwell Tarly and Gilly in one of the many abandoned castles along the Wall. Despite Sam’s protestations, Bran convinced the knowledgeable crow to show him the passage that would take him beyond the wall.
It is unclear what Bran’s plan is, but clearly he believes his special powers will be involved in the battle against the White Walkers. At the end of Season 3, he set off with his faithful crew, armed only with his powers, his direwolf, and the dragonglass (obsidian) daggers Sam found north of the Wall—the only known weapon against the White Walkers.
Season 2 ended memorably on Samwell Tarly cowering among a sea of wights and White Walkers.* It is unclear why the White Walker with stunning blue eyes failed to recruit Sam into his ranks, but somehow he survived into Season 3.
Sam met back up with Lord Commander Jeor Mormont (father to Jorah Mormont, Daenerys’s chief Queensguard). With the few survivors of the Battle of the Fist of the First Men (what a mouthful), Mormont headed to Craster’s Keep. Craster was a sleazy old man who was only still alive because he offered his sons to the White Walkers. Fortunately, the Night’s Watch put an end to that, and killed both Craster and Mormont in a rebellion among the ranks. They succumbed to their criminal tendencies at last.
Sam managed to escape with Gilly and her newborn baby boy, and embarked on a journey to Castle Black. Along the way, the cowardly Sam took on a White Walker and, surprisingly, managed to kill it with the dragonglass dagger he found north of the Wall. This, as it turns out, is the only way to kill a White Walker.
They continued on and sheltered in the Nightfort, where they met Bran and company. Sam showed them the secret sally-port through the Wall, which he found out from reading history books. Everything’s coming up roses for Samwell, who was also back at Castle Black in time to reunite with his wounded friend, Jon Snow, when he rode in after being shot by Ygritte.
* What’s the difference between a wight and a White Walker? Great question, as it’s not explained particularly well in the series. A simplified explanation is that the wights are zombie-like creatures who were once humans killed and reanimated by the White Walkers. The White Walkers, meanwhile, are a mythical race, and little is known about them beyond the legends. What is known is that they descend from the northernmost regions in winter and recruit an army by killing and reanimating their prey. The Wall was built after the War for the Dawn, when the people of Westeros were able to defeat the White Walkers thousands of years ago. People living in the time of the Game of Thrones series think of them only as a myth. This will explain a lot of people’s attitudes towards the news of their return arriving on “dark wings” (messenger ravens) from the north.
Stannis lost big at the Battle of the Blackwater in Season 2. He was mostly haggard, unshaven, and irrational for Season 3. He had his best friend and advisor, Davos, jailed for trying to assassinate the dangerous priestess, Melisandre.
While in a cell, Stannis’s daughter Selyse taught the illiterate Davos to read. He later used it to his advantage to present Stannis with the note from Maester Aemon imploring for help fighting the White Walkers in the north. Melisandre, shockingly, agreed with Davos and, therefore, he was asked to rally troops once more for Stannis’s new cause.
Before that, he had been sentenced to death for releasing Stannis and Melisandre’s prisoner, Gendry, who was revealed to be Robert Baratheon’s bastard. Melisandre was planning on using Gendry as a sacrifice of royal blood. Three leeches that she had placed on Gendry were thrown into a fire as Stannis said the names of the remaining kings: Robb Stark, Balon Greyjoy, and Joffrey Baratheon. Melisandre is lucky that, soon after, Robb meets his fate; Stannis saw this as further proof of the red priestess’s supposed power.
Theon Greyjoy (a.k.a. Reek)
Theon was tortured. All. Season. Long.
Late in the season, his torturer was revealed to be Roose Bolton’s bastard son, Ramsay Snow. As Roose was busy plotting to betray the Starks in the Riverlands, his son Ramsay was taking care of the north. He was supposed to get Winterfell back from Theon’s band and return everything to Robb, but now we know how good the Boltons are at their word.
Full disclosure, this was one of my least favorite parts of the entire series so far. The books only allude to Theon’s torture in hindsight, after much of the damage has been done. The show runners, for whatever reason, decided that the torture scenes were necessary. There’s not much to report except that Theon’s now missing his favorite body part, which was sent to his father and sister back on the Iron Islands. Theon’s father could not care less, as his son was now unable to produce an heir, but in the end, his sister Yara set sail to rescue him.
Robb & Catelyn Stark
House Stark has seen better days, though we haven’t been around for many of them. From the very beginning, the Starks have been set up as the most tragic of the many tragic heroes in Westeros. According to Aristotle, the best tragedies occur to a character “whose misfortune is brought about not by vice or depravity, but by some error or frailty.” Game of Thrones is an outstanding tragedy in large part thanks to the Stark family, who has done very little right.
First, it was overly-honorable and trusting Ned Stark who paid for his naivety with his head. Then, it was his eldest son, who in ignoring his commitment of marriage to a Frey girl of his choosing, created an enemy of a bitter, spiteful, and duplicitous old man. Going back even further, one could even argue that Catelyn Stark’s rash decision to hold Tyrion as prisoner for the attack on her son, Bran, was what triggered the chain of events that led to war. That war has cost her family dearly in land and blood.
At the start of last season, the Stark camp arrived at Harrenhal looking for a battle. Instead, they found an abandoned castle with only the slaughtered remains of Northern bannermen. These men had been prisoners of the “The Mountain,” a.k.a. Gregor Clegane, the Hound’s brother. Only one man survived: a maester (a class of people known as “Knights of the Mind”) named Qyburn. More on him later.
After arriving at Harrenhal, Robb had his mother imprisoned for releasing Jaime Lannister back in Season 2. Intending to use Jaime as a bargaining chip for her daughters, Catelyn made the unilateral decision to send him southward with Brienne, and Robb’s bannermen had been fractious ever since.
Dark wings delivered dark words, and soon the camp learned of the death of Catelyn’s father, Hoster Tully, and the devastation at Winterfell. It was believed that Bran and Rickon were deceased among the ruins. With that grim news, the camp picked up once more and headed for Tully’s funeral at Riverrun.
At this point, Robb Stark was losing the War of the Five Kings without having ever lost a battle. The Lannisters had managed to secure King’s Landing at the Battle of Blackwater and had united with the powerful House Tyrell. Previously allied with Renly Baratheon (Loras’s lover), the Tyrells teamed up with the Lannisters after Stannis Baratheon had his brother murdered by Melisandre’s shadow baby. The only reason why Renly ever had a shot at the throne was the support of House Tyrell: their land is so fertile and prosperous that they can field double the men of any other house in Westeros. That strength is now fighting in the Lannisters’s favor.
Moreover, Edmure Tully (Catelyn’s brother) totally ruined the entire Stark battle plan by successfully defeating Gregor Clegane’s army at the Battle of Stone Mill (which occurs off-screen). Robb’s plan was to have the forces of Tywin Lannister and Gregor Clegane follow him to the Westerlands– the Lannisters’s unattended home turf. There, the Lannister forces would be far from King’s Landing and unable to mount a defense of the capital against a Baratheon attack. Effectively, Edmure pushed the Lannisters back into position, from which they successfully defended King’s Landing.
Edmure did manage to capture two relatively inconsequential young Lannisters, who were held as hostages in Riverrun. Lord Rickard Karstark (one of Robb’s strongest allies) ended up murdering them out of vengeance for the deaths of his own sons at the hands of Jaime Lannister, whom Karstark believed never saw justice. His faith in Robb Stark’s leadership was gone; Rickard mockingly called him, “The King who Lost the North.”
Against all better judgment and advice, Robb took a page from his father’s “principled-to-a-fault” book and executed Lord Karstark himself. The Karstarks abandoned the cause, as everyone said they would (including his mother and his wife), and Robb was left with less than half his original forces. His only option left in this war was to launch a brutal assault on the Lannisters’s home of Casterly Rock. To have any shot at all, Robb needed once more to ask Lord Walder Frey for help.
Robb promised the Freys the lands of Harrenhal and a marriage alliance with Edmure Tully in exchange for the troops needed for his planned assault. Edmure, however, is no king, and Walder Frey was clearly not placated. The plan was doomed from the start. But, at least, Robb found happiness in the news that his wife, for whom all this trouble seemed worth it, was pregnant.
The Starks showed up at the Twins for the wedding of Edmure and Roslin Frey, who was thankfully much more comely than the rest of the Frey family. Catelyn’s suspicions were triggered when the hall doors were closed and the musicians started to play “The Rains of Castamere.” This is a Lannister song celebrating their ruthless annihilation of their one-time vassals and rivals, House Reyne. Then, Catelyn noticed chain mail under Roose Bolton’s shirt, signalling his deceit. The musicians stood and shot crossbows from their perch, killing and wounding the Starks. Talisa was stabbed in the stomach, killing her and her unborn child.
Roose Bolton, sworn in fealty to the Starks, was bought by Tywin: “The Lannisters send their regards,” he whispered as he stabbed Robb to death. In grief, Catelyn slit the throat of her hostage, one of Walder Frey’s many young wives, and had her own throat cut. This stunning sequence of events has come to be known as the Red Wedding, and is one of the best scenes in the series so far.
Robb’s army, likely drunk and in a celebratory mood, was slaughtered all around the Twins. His direwolf Grey Wind was also killed, his head sewn atop Robb’s decapitated body and paraded around the camp.
With the deaths of Catelyn, Robb, his wife, heir, and the majority of his troops, the North has capitulated in the War of Five Kings. Roose Bolton now rules for the Lannisters as the Warden of the North.
Arya and her friends Hot Pie and Gendry were still making their way to Riverrun in the start of the season. They came across a band of ragged vigilantes known as the Brotherhood Without Banners, who serve no established lord or king. Instead, they follow a man named Beric Dondarrion. At first, they did not know who Arya was, until they captured the Hound in his flight from King’s Landing. He gave away her identity, prompting the Brotherhood to hold her as hostage.
Arya accused the Hound of killing her friend Mycah back in Season 1. He did not deny it, and was sentenced to a trial by combat against Beric. The Hound killed Beric with some ease, but the tattered knight was soon resurrected by his priest, Thoros of Myr. Thoros follows the same god as Melisandre, and is somehow able to perform similarly mysterious tricks; we learn this was not the first time he had brought Beric back to life.
Melisandre in fact showed up at their camp and demanded Gendry (see: Stannis Baratheon in Part 1). Before she left, Melisandre looked deeply into Arya’s eyes and told her a prophesy: “I see a darkness in you. And in that darkness, eyes staring back at me. Brown eyes, blue eyes, green eyes. Eyes you’ll shut forever.”
As the Brotherhood set off to kill Lannisters, Arya managed to slip away under the cover of darkness. She was caught by the Hound, who also wanted to use her as a bargaining chip. As an outlaw, the Hound needed money or a station, and he believed he could get one or both from Catelyn and Robb.
However, this wouldn’t be Game of Thrones if there wasn’t more tragic misfortune for the Stark family. Arya and the Hound arrive at the Twins during the Red Wedding. Mere yards away from reuniting with her mother at last, Arya instead witnessed the gruesome parade of her brother’s body sewn to his direwolf’s head. The Hound had to knock her out to keep her from running head first into the castle, and rode her off in an unknown direction.
When they came upon a group of Frey soldiers and overheard them mocking the deaths of Arya’s mother and brother, Arya dismounted and stabbed one in the neck. The Hound quickly killed the other three. We left Arya as she clutched the coin given to her by the assassin with many faces, Jaqen H’ghar, whispering the words he taught her: “Valar Morghulis” (“All men must die”). Melisandre’s prophesy is already beginning to be fulfilled.
Jaime undergoes a major transformation in the third season. The same man who pushed a child out of a window and slept with his twin sister now also happens to be one of the most likable characters of the series.
Brienne of Tarth was bringing Jaime to King’s Landing when they were intercepted by Locke, a bannerman with House Bolton. In their journey southward, Jaime and Brienne developed a sort of begrudging respect for one another. They matched with their wits and their swords. That is why, when Locke’s men threaten to rape Brienne in their camp, Jaime went out of his way to lie about her father’s vast fortune in sapphires (Brienne does come from the “Sapphire Isle,” but that it is named for the color of its lands, not its riches). He convinced Locke to ransom her unharmed. Locke, by all indications a sadistic madman, cut off Jaime’s sword hand instead.
Once the best knight in the land, Jaime sunk into depression over the loss of his identity. Brienne picked him out of it, and through their conversations we learned that Jaime, the infamous Kingslayer who has been derided as a traitor to his vows and his king, did not kill the Mad King Aerys Targaryen out of a thirst for power. Instead, he killed the king after he was commanded to kill his own father and let all of King’s Landing burn to the ground, murdering thousands of innocents inside their own homes. This betrayal of his vow as Kingsgaurd, to serve and protect his king, was used by men like Ned Stark to question Jaime’s honor. But, as are most things in life, honor is something that cannot be defined in simple black and white terms. Was it more honorable to protect the king as he had vowed to do, or to save the lives of his loved ones and countless innocents? Brienne, ever the bastion of honor in its simplest form, came to know Jaime in a new light, as we all have over time.
When Roose released Jaime without Brienne, he went to her and said he owed her a debt for keeping him alive after his maiming. She asked not for him to save her, but that he send the Stark girls back to their mother, as she had sworn to Catelyn, and Jaime agreed. On the way to King’s Landing, Qyburn (the maester that Robb and Catelyn found injured at Harrenhal) told Jaime that Brienne’s father offered an insulting ransom to Locke: apparently, the man was not made of sapphires, after all. There was word that Brienne would be used for entertainment.
Though he could have continued onward, Jaime surprised even himself when he decided to return to Harrenhal. He arrived in time to save Brienne from a bear pit, risking his life in order to do so. Locke was forced to agree to let Brienne travel south with Jaime. When they got to King’s Landing no one recognized him, and when he arrived in Cersei’s room at long last, the stump where his hand once was held clearly at his chest, she saw it instantly: he is a changed man.
King’s Landing: Sansa, Margaery, Tyrion, Cersei, Joffrey, Tywin
After the Lannisters successfully defended the capital city from Stannis Baratheon’s assault, Tywin took the lion’s share of the credit. Tyrion, unappreciated as ever by his father, was denied his rightful inheritance of Casterly Rock. He was appointed as the Master of Coin after Littlefinger was sent to the Eyrie in order to try and marry Lysa Arryn, Catelyn’s crazy, breastfeeding sister. The Eyrie has yet to declare sides in the War of Five Kings, so Tywin hopes to use Littlefinger to curry favor with House Arryn.
Littlefinger, meanwhile, was all too happy to go. A masterful social climber, Littlefinger has risen from a house of very little significance. Marriage to Lysa will mean money, lands, and prestige beyond which anyone of his station could dream of possessing. Before leaving, he secretly offered to take Sansa Stark with him; he was always attracted to her mother, having grown up with her, and even showed a bit of a predatory interest in Sansa herself. She hesitated, wanting to leave, but mistrusting Littlefinger.
Part of this mistrust is the result of Sansa’s growing comfort with the Tyrell family. She found a rare friend in the masterfully manipulative Margaery, whose kindnesses towards the young girl were in stark contrast to the abuses she suffered from the Lannisters. Margaery intended to secretly marry her to Loras, her handsome and kind (though totally disinterested) brother. With this marriage, Sansa would get to leave the Lannisters in King’s Landing for the beautiful city of Highgarden. Sansa was overjoyed, and Littlefinger was blissfully forgotten.
Though Margaery and her grandmother, Olenna Tyrell, got Sansa to admit that Joffrey is a “monster,” neither seemed to be overly bothered by the notion. Margaery continued to seduce Joffrey by playing on his worst, most murderous desires. The future queen has the oblivious Joffrey wrapped around her finger, much to Cersei’s extreme displeasure and suspicion.
Cersei was clearly threatened by Margaery, but was unable to get her son to see that he was being manipulated. She sees through Margaery and is terrified over losing not only her son, but also her kingdom to the younger woman. Cersei rules by making others fear her, while Margaery gets people to love her: a powerful force by which she is able to take King’s Landing by storm.
Since the arrival of her father and the Tyrells, Cersei lost much of the power she so craved. In that, at least, she and Tyrion were able to find some rare common ground. Tywin commanded both of them to marry: Cersei to Loras Tyrell, and Tyrion to Sansa Stark. No one was happy with this arrangement, but the marriage alliances would plant strong Lannister roots in the Reach and the North.
Sansa watched Littlefinger’s ship sail away, along with her last chance to leave King’s Landing. Now, she would not go to Highgarden or the Eyrie. Instead, she was doomed to marry into the family that killed her father and abused her repeatedly over the last few years. The wedding to Tyrion was hardly the ceremony of her dreams; Joffrey walked her down the aisle in place of the father he killed and stole the stool Tyrion was meant to stand on. At the reception, Tyrion got drunk and threatened the king when Joffrey said he would force himself on Sansa. Though Tywin insisted that his son impregnate Sansa as soon as possible, the marriage was not consummated.
Joffrey continued to draw the ire of everyone around him as his confidence immediately outgrew his actual ability to rule. Clashes with his uncle Tyrion and grandfather Tywin did not end in his favor, particularly when he threatened to torment Sansa or accused Tywin of cowardice during Robert’s Rebellion. The Lannisters, including even Cersei, have lost patience with the boy’s cruel whims.
Joffrey: “I’m going to serve [Robb’s head] to Sansa at my wedding feast.”
Tyrion: “She is no longer yours to torment.”
Joffrey: “Everyone is mine to torment, you little monster.”
Tyrion: “Monsters are dangerous and, just now, kings are dying like flies.”
When news of Robb and Catelyn’s deaths reached King’s Landing, Tyrion and Sansa’s mutual tolerance was shattered. Her own family has been decimated by the family she has been forced into bed with, both literally and figuratively. Tyrion was sympathetic to Sansa, finding his father’s schemes to be dishonorable. Tywin assured him that he has done nothing for himself, and everything for the good of his family: including, he admitted, when he chose not to kill Tyrion at birth, despite what he had wanted. As we head into Season 4, relations among the people at King’s Landing are frosty as the coming winter. The only person who seems to be taking joy in it all is, of course, King Joffrey.