Most Game of Thrones fans have picked up a bit of the local dialect by now: khaleesi, dracarys, valar morghulis (if you’re really looking to show off). The more important language that viewers have been learning for three seasons has been that of the show itself. Over the last 30 hours, Game of Thrones has worked hard to translate a written story into an audio-visual one, and the show is starting to reap the benefit of all that effort, as evidenced by Season 4 getting to start with the training wheels off.
The premiere, which hits the ground running on over a half-dozen different plots across two separate continents, could just as easily have aired a year ago as Season 3’s eleventh episode. In part this is because the season is working from the middle of George R. R. Martin’s third book instead of at the start of a new one, but you have to trust your viewership to pick up what you’re putting down when you come flying out the gate as boldly as Game of Thrones did tonight. With just one tug of its metaphorical motor, the great Game of Thrones lawnmower has roared back to life, ready to slash and decapitate like it didn’t just spend nine months in the shed.
This is pretty much everything a fan of the books or show could ask for, as we’re well passed the time for handholding. Looking back on seasons past, aside from a recurring motif of kids in peril*, the grand unifier of the premieres has been the downward trajectory for just how unified each individual one of them has been. The pilot brought as many of the key players to Winterfell as possible, and stayed there long enough so that we could start to figure out our Kingslayers from our King’s Landings. Season 2 smartly linked the then expanding story threads using a red comet in the sky, reminding the viewer that all these characters may have different homes, allegiances, Gods, and views on inbreeding, but at least they share the same big blue sky.
*The pilot wouldn’t have had nearly as powerful a cliffhanger if Bran hadn’t been pushed off it, while Season 2’s opener featured a gut-churning montage of Robert’s bastards being purged. Season 3 was less overt about how dangerous Martin’s world is for youths, but the 8,000 Unsullied that Daenerys looked to purchase were the survivors of 32,000 who took to the training as boys.
By Season 3, the entropy caused by the Big Bang of Ned Stark’s death only pushed the plots further and further away from one another, but the viewer was given more credit as to their ability to connect everything using the pushpins and coloured string in their heads. While the aftermath of the Battle of Blackwater gave Season 3 at least something of a direction to head in, Season 4 begins with the plotlines at their most disparate, now that there’s not even a war to unite most of the Westerosi action. The wordless cold open, in which Tywin has Ned’s greatsword, Ice, smelted down and his scabbard pelt burned, is really just a reminder of where the world of Game of Thrones now stands, and it’s Game, Set, Match: Lannisters.