When one season comes to an end, it always seems like years until the next season starts. But, that long wait has just about come to an end, and it’s time to get catapulted back into the Thrones world, this Sunday, April 12th. And one thing’s for sure,: season 5 is going to move faster than ever. Many new characters and places will be introduced, while existent plot-lines and stories will advance more rapidly. For maximum enjoyment (and understanding) of the upcoming season, it’s important to look back at season 4 and process everything that happened. From impending White Walkers to Wildlings marching on the wall, from the death of another king to growing dragons — there was a lot that transpired. And if you don’t have 10 hours to rewatch the entire season, don’t worry, you’re in luck. Here’s is your cheat sheet to recap all the major events and plot progressions of season 4.
WHAT’S GOING ON IN KING’S LANDING?
Where else could we kick off besides King’s Landing, home to so many of the schemers and plotters whom are trying to “play the game.” As season 4 begins, the landscape of King’s Landing appears to be changing, as discord amongst the Lannister family heightens and threats to their power arise. Fit with a new golden hand after having recently arrived home to King’s Landing, Jaime is met by a father who demands that he return to Casterly Rock to rule in Tywin’s place; after all, Jaime is heir to Casterly Rock. No surprise, Jaime refuses and states that he will remain in King’s Landing as Lord Commander of the King’s Guard. As viewers, we know that this is primarily because he wants to remain close to Cercei. But as the plot continues to thicken for the Lannisters, we learn that Cercei no longer feels the same way about Jaime. She tells him that “everything has changed,” and that he “took too long” to return from his imprisonment.
But Jaime is not the only recent arrival to King’s Landing, as we are introduced to Prince Oberyn Martell, aka the Red Viper, of Dorne. From the moment he arrives, the Red Viper makes it very clear why he has arrived at King’s Landing. He seeks revenge for the death of his sister, Elia Martell, who was married to Prince Rhaegar Targaryen, Khaleesi’s eldest brother. After Robert’s Rebellion, when the Mad King was overthrown, Lord Tywin allegedly ordered Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane to eliminate the rest of the royal family. The Mountain killed Princess Elia’s two babies, before raping and killing her as well. For many years, House Martell has sought revenge for these actions.
And as things continue to deteriorate for the once seemingly impenetrable Lannister family, Tyrion is not exempt. He is forced to deal with the awkward marriage to Sansa, a girl who’s suffered the deaths of many of her family members at the hands of Tyrion’s family. Even worse, Tyrion must protect the woman he does actually love, Shae, by telling her lies to force her away. After making many attempts to gently tell her that King’s Landing is not safe for her, he takes more aggressive measures and must painfully tell her that she is nothing more than a whore and that their time is done. He tasks his loyal friend, Bronn, with getting her on a ship out of King’s Landing.
In the North, it is more clear than ever that Winter is Coming and darkness is coming for all. As Jon Snow breaks away from the Wildlings and returns to the Wall, he informs the depleted Night’s Watch of Mance Rayder’s plan to march on the Wall with the massive army of 100,000 Wildlings that he has assembled. With some of the Wildlings already south of the Wall, some brothers propose that the Night’s Watch hunt them down, while Jon Snow reminds that they must stay at the Wall, as they are the absolute last line of defense between Mance’s army and all of humanity south of the Wall. Though, that quickly changes when Jon Snow learns that the mutineers who killed Lord Commander Mormont have shacked up at Craster’s Keep. He proposes that some of the Night’s Watch go to Craster’s Keep, not for revenge on the mutineers, but because the Night’s Watch must get to them before Mance Rayder does. If Mance Rayder gets to them first, he will learn of all the secrets and defenses of the Wall, and easily march his army south. Jon Snow leads a small band of brothers north of the Wall and in a small battle, kill the mutineers, before safely returning to the Wall.
Another important storyline taking place in the North is that of Bran and company. As he continues further north to find the 3-eyed raven, he encounters a magical weirwood tree. After putting his hand to the tree, we continue to see Bran’s power not only as a warg, but also as a Greenseer. Bran has visions not only of things that have happened in the past, such as the beheading of his father, but also prophetic visions of things that are yet to come. The first important visions appear to be a future vision of the Throne Room, the room in King’s Landing that houses the Iron Throne. In his vision, the Throne Room appears empty and desolate, dark and gloomy, with the walls torn down and snow falling to the ground. Interestingly, Khaleesi had this same exact vision in the season 2 finale when she entered the Warlock’s House of the Undying.
Perhaps more important is the vision Bran has of a mysterious and magical weirwood tree. As he sees this tree, a voice says “Look for me beneath the tree. North.” As Bran comes out of his visions, he appears more confident than ever in where his journey must lead — he must head north to find this voice beneath the tree.
KHALEESI GROWS STRONGER
Armies aren’t grown in days, kingdoms aren’t sacked in weeks, and queens do not come of age overnight. And while the journey of Khaleesi may seem never-ending, it is a more realistic portrayal of that hardships faced when trying to build an army on a quest to conquer the Seven Kingdoms. So where’s Khaleesi at now?
After freeing and then acquiring an army of 8,000 deadly Unsullied warriors from the city of Astapor, Khaleesi goes on to gain another 2,000 Second Sons soldiers, led by Daario Naharis. Furthermore, she frees the people of Yunkai, who proclaim her as “Mhysa,” or mother. She then continues her journey to Mereen, where she leads the slaves to slay the masters, before capturing the Mereenese navy of 93 ships. With strong commanders in the name of Ser Jorah Mormont and Ser Barristan Selmy, military generals in Grey Worm and Daario Naharis, an army of 10,000 soldiers and 93 ships — Khaleesi now has everything she needs to cross the Narrow Sea and conquer the Seven Kingdoms…Oh, and let’s not forget about those 3 dragons that have grown insanely large. But, just as things are looking good for Khaleesi, she gets a copy of Ser Jorah’s royal pardon, signed by Robert Baratheon, and she learns that Ser Jorah was originally working in conjunction with Varys to report back to King’s Landing on Khaleesi’s progress. Of course, that was in the past and since then, Ser Jorah has grown to love Khaleesi and would give his life for her, but Khaleesi sees this as betrayal and dismisses Ser Jorah from her service.
Lastly, after learning that one of her dragons had killed a three-year-old boy in Mereen, Khaleesi locks up two of here dragons, while the whereabouts of third (and largest), Drogon, is unknown.
THE PURPLE WEDDING & PETYR BAELISH
Perhaps the most rewarding death thus far, we finally see King Joffrey die at his wedding to Margaery Tyrell. As he gasps for his last breaths of air after being poisoned, Tyrion is left standing over the cup that Joffrey had been drinking from. And with the disappearance of Sansa from the wedding, Cercei immediately accuses Tyrion of being responsible for the murder of her son.
When they arrive at the Eyrie, rather than being warmly embraced by her aunt, the first family she has seen in years, Sansa is met by an aunt filled with jealousy and resentment towards her. Furthermore, there is a MAJOR reveal, when speaking of her loyalty to Petyrn, Lysa goes on to mention that she executed Petyr’s plan to poison her husband, Jon Arryn, and then wrote a later to her sister, Catelyn, lying that she suspected the Lannisters to be the culprits of this murder. Looking back, we know that when Jon Arryn, Hand to the King, died and Catelyn received a letter from his sister secretly telling her that the Lannisters were behind this, this served as the catalyst for Ned Stark going to King’s Landing to investigate and serve as new Hand. Of course, Ned’s suspicion of the Lannisters led to his eventual beheading, which caused Rob Stark to raise an army which would eventually lead to the death of him, his mother and most of his Northern army at the Red Wedding. Had Lysa Arryn not poisoned her husband and led the Starks to believe the Lannisters were responsible, none of this madness would have followed, and the Stark family would likely be safe and well, still residing over the North from Winterfell. So what we learn, four seasons later, is that Baelish has been scheming behind the scenes from the very first episode, with a grand plan to pit the Lannisters against the Starks, allowing him to capitalize at just the right moment.
At the Eyrie, after witnessing an exchange between Sansa and Petyr, Lysa boils over with envy and threatens to throw Sansa through the Moon Door. Instead, Petyr pushes Lysa through the Moon Door as she falls to hear death. When questioned by the Lords of the Vale, Petyr lies and says that Lysa jumped to her death, and rather than telling the truth, Sansa decides to support Baelish’s lies. Before leaving the Vale, Sansa dies her hair black, perhaps to disguise her true identity, or perhaps a representation that the sweet innocent girl that once existed is now dead, hardened by the all the death and torture she has endured for years in King’s Landing. And now, perhaps a more sinister Sansa has emerged, finally learning how to tell a lie and “play the game” as Baelish has been trying to teach her. With Lysa Arryn dead, Robin, a sickly boy, is now acting Lord of the Vale.
ARYA & THE HOUND
Perhaps one of the most powerful storylines of season 4 was the evolution of the relationship between the Hound and Arya. A man we once hated and no doubt saw as a villain, slowly won over a soft spot in our hearts as he began to emerge as more of a “misunderstood good guy” who was intent upon keeping Arya safe. As they journeyed through the Riverlands, they ate, slept and even killed together. After a long journey, they finally arrive at the Vale, where the Hound planned on returning Arya to her aunt, Lysa, in exchange for gold. However, they arrive only to find out that Lysa has just died (murdered by Baelish). And in the finale, Brienne, who is now with Podrick Payne, searching for Sansa, encounters the Hound and Arya. Upon learning that she is still alive, Brienne insists that Arya is safer with her and notes that she swore an oath to Catelyn Stark to save her daughters. A fight ensues between Brienne and the Hound — a departure from the normal good guy vs bad guy scenario — we see good guy pitted against good guy. And in this lose-lose scenario, we sadly see the Hound thrown over a cliff, where he is critically wounded.
And as she journeys on alone, she finally uses the magical coin given to her by Jaqen H’ghar two seasons ago, and says those famous Braavosi words, “valar morghulis,” meaning “all men must die.” Instantly, she is granted passage on the Braavosi ship and just like that, she is on her way to Braavos.
HOUSE BOLTON & REEK
In the North, Roose Bolton returns home to the Dreadfort, after playing his role in the Red Wedding. With the Starks virtually eliminated and Wintefell burned to the ground, the Boltons now maintain the power over the North. Roose returns home to his bastard son, Ramsey, who we learn has been the one torturing Theon for so many months. We also see that Theon is dead, and now in his place exists Reek, a weak and sickly servant of Ramsey, broken by all the torture he endured. From that torture, Ramsey was able to ascertain a powerful piece of knowledge which virtually nobody but House bolton is aware of at this point: Bran and Rickon are not dead — Theon never killed them. Meaning, they are still rightful heirs to Winterfell and Lords of the North, threatening House Bolton’s claim to the North. As such, Roose Bolton sets out to find the boys before anybody else does.
Learning that her baby brother has been held captive by the Boltons, Yara Greyjoy leads a fleet of 50 men to rescue him. She risks her life and infiltrates the Dreadfort, only to find that Theon is dead, and in his place lives only Reek, who doesn’t even recognize his own sister. She is forced to retreat and head back to the Iron Islands.
Separately, Ramsey defeats the remaining Iron Born who had gained control over Moat Cailin, a strategic location in the North that allows safe passage south. He did this by having Reek pretend that he was Theon, Prince of the Iron Islands, before revealing that he was actually acting for House Bolton, at which point Ramsey’s army crushed the Iron Born and retook Moat Cailin, giving them full control of the North.
THE FAR NORTH
Even further north, we get first glimpse into the world of the White Walkers. Since the second season, we’ve known that Craster leaves his male babies in the forest for the White Walkers to take. Yet, it’s been unclear what exactly they do with these babies. Well, we finally got an answer to this question. As a White Walker marches on his dead horse with baby in hand, we get the feeling that we are now in the very deep North, perhaps the Land of Always Winter — the most northern part of Westeros — a region that is always stuck in winter and where it is said the White Walkers come from. The White Walker arrives at what looks to be a mysterious ice city or castle and we finally get some glimpse into where the White Walkers might reside.
As the baby is placed in the middle of what we would believe to be an altar of some sorts, another creature comes for the baby. It is assumed that this creature was a White Walker, but clearly had a much different appearance from the White Walkers we’ve seen thus far. He appeared to be wearing all black clothing, different from that of the White Walkers. His eyes were a much deeper blue and he had spikes coming out from his head, versus the long grey hair of the White Walkers we have seen thus far. As such, we are left to wonder what exactly this creature is — perhaps a leader or god of the White Walkers.
Pressing a finger to the face of the baby, the baby’s eyes turn a deep blue, like that of the White Walkers and it appears that we may have just witnessed how a White Walker is created.
TRIAL BY COMBAT
Back in King’s Landing, Tyrion’s trial finally begins, with his fate to be decided by three judges: Tywin, Mace Tyrell and Oberyn Martell. As we can predict, Tywin is to judge his son guilty, and Mace Tyrell will judge whatever Tywin tells him to. It is assumed that Oberyn will do the same, being that Tywin offered Oberyn an opportunity to be judge, in exchange for arranging a chance to face off with the Mountain and avenge the death of his sister, Elia. As the trial begins, we see a plethora of characters testify against Tyrion, many whom tell lies. His fate is sealed when Shae testifies that Tyrion and his wife, Sansa, plotted to kill the king. More painful than the idea of his imminent execution is the betrayal by Shae, the woman he truly loved, and was only trying to protect. We are presented with a more realistic view of love, one which reminds us that it will not always prevail, rather than the romanticized storybook version we are used to seeing. And after all of this, when Tyrion has absolutely nothing left to lose, he confesses to being guilty..of being a dwarf. He powerfully tells, “I did not kill Joffrey, but I wish that I had. Watching that vicious bastard die gave me more relief than a thousand lying whores. I wish I was the monster you think I am. I wish I had enough poison for the whole pack of you. I would gladly give my life to watch you all swallow it. I will not give my life for Joffrey’s murder and I know I’ll get no justice here, so I’ll let the gods decide my fate. I demand a trial by combat.”
And just like that, we are set up for the greatest single combat we’ve seen to date. Cercei, true to form, nominates the Mountain as her champion, the largest man in all of the Seven Kingdoms. And as things come full circle, Prince Oberyn’s opportunity to avenge his sister is presented, as he steps forward to champion Tyrion. In an unbelievably suspenseful combat which puts the Mountain’s power and strength against the Red Viper’s speed and agility, Oberyn has the fight all but won, until the Mountain sweeps Oberyn off his feet and crushes his head in.
And as quick as Tyrion had some hope, he is now sentenced to death. And while his older brother could not champion Tyrion due to his hand, he is still intent upon saving his baby brother, no matter what the cost. In the middle of the night, he frees Tyrion from his cell. As Tyrion makes his way through the Red Keep, he finds Lord Tywin sleeping, with none other in his bed than the woman he loved, Shae. Showing no mercy, her murders Shae, before putting an arrow in his father and killing the most powerful man of Westeros. He continues his escape onto a ship, where he is met by Varys, a man that has said several times he believes that Tyrion is one of the few good man of this world who can truly make a difference. Turning back to return to King’s Landing, Varys hears the city bells erupt and realizes that Tyrion has committed a great act of murder. Rather than returning to this scene of chaos, Varys decides to join Tyrion on their journey to Easteros — Varys’ original birthplace and a location where he has many friends and resources, namely Illyrio Mopatis.
And while the Red Viper almost killed the Mountain, he still has a touch of life left in him, and is turned over to Maestar Qyburn, who believes that through his unorthodox practices, he can save the Mountain. He notes that it will “not make him any weaker,” and we see his strange science experiment set up, seeming like he may create an even greater monster than the Mountain already is.
WATCHERS ON THE WALL
In the second to last episode, we see another epic battle scene, one of only two true battles that we’ve seen in four seasons (the other being the Battle of Blackwater Bay). It was a massive battle with the Wildling siege of the Wall having been built up for four full seasons. With the entire 50-minute episode being dedicated to this battle, it was particularly gripping to see the reality of being The Watchers on the Wall — the absolute last hope and line of defense between the Seven Kingdoms and all the threats that lurk north of the Wall. It was amazing to see the intricacies of the top of the Wall, which were built by Brandon Stark over 8,000 years ago, using the help of giants and the magic of the Children of the Forest. It was equally special to actually witness the way the Night’s Watch defends the Wall, using tactics and strategies that have been practiced for thousands of years. Prior to this episode, we had understood that this Wall was a defense structure and that the Night’s Watch defends the wall, but we had no idea exactly how the Wall was constructed, especially atop, or the way the Night’s Watch actually protects the Wall. We finally got to see the Night’s Watch defend the Wall from the rare position of being 700 feet in the sky.
And in the face of death, we saw the truth of each character exposed. As Jon Snow emerges as a leader, so too does the unlikable Ser Allisor Thorne emerge heroic as he fights Tormund Giantsbayne, before being wounded and dragged off. On the other hand, we see many consumed and crippled by the fear of death. And as many of the Wildlings infiltrate the Wall, Ygritte, when faced with the opportunity, was unable to kill Jon Snow, the man she loved. And with the kind of irony that can only be found in the Thrones world, we see that the arrow that kills her is shot by Olly, the unlikeliest of people — the young boy who had picked up a weapon on Samwell’s recommendation. Jon Snow holds the woman he loves as she takes her last dying breaths, and the entire scene makes a powerful shift from a massive battle being fought by hundreds, to the world of just two people. We are brought into Jon’s consciousness as everything around him is faded out and we must watch the sadly beautiful scene of him holding the woman he loves as she dies in his arms, telling him that she wished they just stayed in that cave where they first began.
BRAN & THE CHILDREN OF THE FOREST
And finally, the season comes to an end, after a seemingly never-ending journey, Bran and company reach their destination — the great weirwood tree in the deep North. Just as they arrive, skeletons emerge from beneath the freezing snow, perhaps some sort of wights that exist in the deep North. Bran again showcases his ability to change into the skin of another human, fighting off many of these skeletons, before one of the Children of the Forest emerges, helping to protect them by shooting off magical rays of light. Jojen Reed is killed, though it is revealed that he knew the whole time it would end this way.
After being led through a cavern of tree roots below the beautiful weirwood, Bran finally arrives to the three-eyed raven, who is now in the form of a mysterious old man. The man tells Bran that he has taken many different forms and has been watching each of them their entire lives through a thousand eyes. Though he will never walk again, Bran is told that he will fly. Naturally, tons of question marks are raised by this entire development. What exactly is this man and what kind of powers does he possess? Why was Bran specifically so special that he has been watched his entire life? What will his role be in the war coming and will he literally take flight? Also, how many more Children of the Forest exist, if any?
All in all, season four significantly progressed the plots of most of the stories we’ve been experiencing, setting up season five in a major way. Between Stannis’ arrival at the Wall, Arya leaving for Braavos, Tyrion killing Lord Tywin before leaving with Varys for Easteros and Bran discovering the Children of the Forest and the mysterious man, we’re in the thick of it now. Not to mention Khaleesi has a full army, ships and dragons, Baelish is on the go with Sansa, House Bolton seems to have seized control of the North, Tommen is the new king, and House Martell is sure to be on the warpath after the death of their beloved Prince Oberyn. So buckle up, because season 5 is sure to be one hell of a ride…