Game of Thrones Recap: Season 4, Episode 1

Content Note: Rape, incest, homophobia, gendered insults, potential anorexia, sleep disorders

Spoiler’s From Last Night’s Episode Ahead

Fresh from last season’s crowd-surfing, white savior finale (and just as our hearts were beginning to heal after the Red Wedding), Game of Thrones is back for more action, incest, and just plain weird-ass shit. Who will die this season? Will Joffrey stop being terrible? Will women finally start getting treated like people? Find this out (and more!), during my weekly Mad Art Lab recaps! My goal for these recaps is to hit the high points of the episode, snark a little bit, and hopefully provide a social justice lens for your next viewing of Game of Thrones.

Our opening scene shows a sword being forged from the sword of the now-deceased Nedd Stark. The dirty thieving Lannisters have taken the sword and re-forged it into a new weapon for the woefully one-handed Jamie Lannister. After the opening credits (which will never be the same for me thanks to this remake Rebecca introduced me to), Jamie faces his horrible father, Tywin, who snidely berates him and make jokes about his missing limb. Tywin wants Jamie to go back Casterly Rock to rule, but ol’ Jamie Lannister says he still has some fight left in him. Later in the episode, we see he has a fake hand forged in an attempt to try to feel more normal.

Next we are introduced to Prince Oberyn, a newcomer to the show, played by Pedro Pascal. He and his paramour, Ellaria Sand, are taking their pick from some of the capital’s choice sex workers. It seems the two of them are bisexual, and Ellaria is not, as certain folks like to say, very “politically correct.” While she picks her partner from a set of young girls, she takes offense to being called a lady and tells the sex worker’s accompanying gentleman, “I’m a bastard, she’s a whore, and you’re a procurer.” Oberyn is interested in the procurer, and asks, “Have you ever been with a prince?” Unfortunately, their sexual repartee is cut short by a chilly rendition of The Rains of Castamere, because this show is vindictive and cruel, and a Lannister gets stabbed in the hand.

Later in the show, Oberyn tells Tyrion (who I had hoped to see more of this episode) of his sister, Elia. Elia, like so many characters on this show, met a pretty brutal and rapey end – at the hand of the Lannisters, no less. This news makes Tyrion visibly uncomfortable, which is somewhat surprising since this seems to be the status quo in Westeros. It’s moments like Tyrion’s that remind you that somewhere deep down, some of these characters actually do have a sense of morality underneath all their barbarism. Overall, Oberyn promises to be an interesting character this season, and it’s nice to see some semblance of bisexual representation. He’s not an ideal representation, what with his stabby tendencies, but in Westeros you take what you can get I guess.

Danaerys Targaryen, white savior extraordinaire, is starting to realize that keeping dragons as pets might present some problems to her own well-being. Somebody get the Animal Liberation Front on the line, before Dany and the dragons both meet cruel fates! After nearly having her face torn off by her own darling dragon-son, we find that Daario (who was recast this season?!) and Grey Worm are engaging in some strange sword-balancing act in a competition for Dany’s affection (they really know how to impress the ladies!). After having their game broken up by Danaerys herself, Daario tells Grey Worm the eunuch, “I’d rather have no brains and two balls.” Nobody ever accused anyone in Westeros Essos (EDIT: Thanks to reader Paul for correcting my incorrect GoT Geography!) of being sensitive! I’m guessing we will see more of this love triangle this season.

Later in her travels, Dany comes upon a crucified slave girl in her adventures, and Ser Jorah informs here there are 162 more of them (one every mile). Instead of wincing and having her army ride ahead to spare her the sight, she collects the collar of the slave child and asks for all of them to be buried. It’s moments like this that make remember why I love the Khaleesi, despite her white savior complex.

Back in the capital, Sansa isn’t eating, which I suppose is fairly understandable if your brother had his head sewn to a wolf and your mother was thrown naked into a river. She doesn’t pray anymore, either, but instead goes to the temple because “it’s the only place people don’t talk to her.” I’ve never been a fan of Sansa, and this season premiere did little to change that. She’s a dull and lifeless character, as always, but I still can’t help but feel sorry for her. Despite constantly doing the “right” thing by her society’s standards, she’s still managed to get the shit end of the stick time and time again.

Cersei is still upset about having to marry a “renowned pillow-biter” and about having her son marry the “bitch” from High Garden. Despite her unhappiness with her upcoming nuptials, she still doesn’t seem too interested in renewing her tryst with her brother/former lover. While I can understand feeling upset about being left high and dry during a siege, I’m not sure her brother had such a great time last season either. Cersei continues to be a complicated character for me: On the one hand she’s smart, darkly funny, and not afraid to speak her mind in a world dominated by cruel me. But then on the other hand she seems intent on keeping every other woman down in her never-ending struggle for more power. She reminds me a bit of Skyler White – a badass lady, willing to protect her family at all costs, whether what she’s doing is morally right or not.

We find Jon Snow in front of a Night’s Watch council, where he admits to breaking his oath and laying with a Wildling – yet somehow he still avoids beheading. As Master Aemon says, “If we beheaded every Ranger who lay with a girl, the Wall would be manned by headless Rangers.” One councilman tries to argue that there’s a difference between sneaking around and lying with the enemy, but regardless Jon Snow and his beautiful hair live to see another day.

Joffrey is a sniveling little turd, as always. His Bieber-reminiscent, shit-eating grin as he berates his uncle Jamie as a “40-year-old former knight with one hand,” leaves even the most spoiler-evasive viewers Googling for hints as to if/when he will meet a (hopefully) gruesome end. I have nothing more to say about Joffrey, except that he is the worst.

Arya is still mucking about with the foul-mouthed Hound, and as she complains to the Hound about  together they come across some of Joffrey’s men. Long story short, the Hound is hungry, and so he kills like 10 dudes for a couple chickens. This scene was pretty gruesome, and had my usually desensitized husband yelling, “OH FUCK! JESUS!” Arya gets some bloody revenge for her family, and as an added bonus gets her beloved sword (the daintly-named “Needle”) back.

Overall, the episode was more of a set-up for the plot points of the season. While it was gory and filled with nudity, it was rather mild by Game of Thrones standards. It certainly wasn’t the most memorable episode, but if you’ve read the books you know there’s plenty to look forward to this season. What were your thoughts on the episode? Favorite moments?

Courtney Caldwell

Courtney Caldwell is an intersectional feminist. Her talents include sweary rants, and clogging your social media with pictures of her dogs (and occasionally her begrudging cat). She's also a political nerd, whose far-left tendencies are a little out of place in the deep red Texas.

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  1. The comedy in this episode was pretty great I thought. The Hound’s lines were all hilarious, like his response to dying over a chicken: “Someone will.” Oberyn and Tyrion had some hilarious interactions as well. Oh, and of course the Joffrey statue. I lolled.

  2. Rebecca, I COMPLETELY forgot about the Joffrey statue. Yes, that was hilarious. And as always, everything Olenna says is perfection.

  3. The Joffrey statue was definitely the absolute best, and everyone in my viewing group was super happy with who they cast as Oberyn.

  4. Probably my favourite line of The Hound’s was “What the fuck’s a Lommy?!” Which spurred my girlfriend to change the line into this.

  5. Oh my gosh, captaintripps – that is PERFECT. I showed that to my husband and we both had a good laugh. 🙂

  6. The lack of male nudity was really conspicuous in this one, since Oberyn was going to show that one guy what it’s like to sex a prince, but got cut short.

  7. Tywin, who ordered Elia’s death, indicates when asked by Tyrion that he did not intend for her to be raped or brutalized – merely, you know, butchered. Tywin’s a monster, but Gregor Clegane is even more of a monster.

    Of course, that doesn’t stop Tywin from using and continuing to use him, making him just as bad as Gregor. He just pretends that standing at a distance makes his hands clean.

    is starting to realize that keeping dragons as pets might present some problems to her own well-being

    Never happened in the books. I don’t know what they’re getting at for the show with this.

    Nobody ever accused anyone in Westeros of being sensitive! I’m guessing we will see more of this love triangle this season.

    They aren’t in Westeros, they’re in Essos, which is the other major continent.
    You’re right, though, Daario is not exactly a paragon of sensitivity. He’s a butcher and probably a rapist, since he claims he screws a new girl every night, and in the book his swords have handles of naked women.
    Danaerys gives me a lot of fits when I read her chapters. She glorifies a man who raped her (Drogo), sleeps with a psychopath (Daario), and gets everything handed to her on a silver platter (the Unsullied and dragons.) There’s very little that she actually accomplishes of her own wits – the whole “Unsullied” thing was as preposterously easy as it was in the books.
    Really, her freeing people from slavery is about the only part of her character that’s truly special.
    I think calling her a “white savior” is really a distraction, and probably more an artifact of the show than anything. In the books, the people of Essos are not all brown like they are in the show. It’s the only thing she does that is actually decent.
    Of course, this is complicated by how ludicrously cartoonish all of the cultures are in the books. The Dothraki are utterly preposterous, they’re like the Mongols if the Mongols had none of their impressive cultural achievements (and better treatment of women, too. Mongols sure did do a lot of raping and killing, but not like the Dothraki.)
    The Ghiscari successor states, Astapor, Yunkai, and Meereen, are all ludicrous slave states that would have made the worst New World plantation blush.
    The Wildlings glorify rape – the only way to win a wildling woman’s heart, according to the books, is to steal her at swordpoint.
    Only the Westerosi seem to go ‘Rape? That’s bad’, but in a hypocritical sense (this, sadly, is all-too-true in Medieval history. The lords and knights of Europe piously detested rape, only to do it all the time in war. They raped the women of Constantinople when they sacked the city, from peasants in the streets to nuns in their convents.)

    Sansa is substantially more interesting in the books, that’s for sure. Most of her character development is scythed out of the show because it’s so internal.
    Ever notice how she and Dany are pretty similar, but where Sansa is beaten repeatedly, the universe bends over backwards to give Dany whatever she wants?

    Regarding Jon Snow, it’s a bit like Jaime Lannister returning to King’s Landing and the Hound getting out of that inn without a serious wound – everything in Season 4 is out of order from the books. Jon Snow successfully defends the wall in the book before he’s put on trial, Jaime doesn’t return to King’s Landing until after the wedding (and the very first thing he and Cersei do is screw – she doesn’t get cruel with him until a little later), and the Hound was… well, that’s spoilers.

    That said, I did appreciate greatly that Arya had the opportunity to give Polliver back his desserts for earlier. It’s dark, horrible, and not at all a good thing, but it’s a starkly brutal moment that perfectly encapsulates the dark road her character is trending.

    GoT is interesting from a progressive standpoint.
    ASOIF is a series that takes place in a harsh, brutal world and does not flinch from showing all the insanity that results from it.
    However, it’s also a series about diversity – not just of culture, but of people in their myriad forms. There’s women that run the gamut from fully embedded within the patriarchal dominance to those who stand totally outside it. There’s men who go from the most sickening sort of monster to the alert and decent. People’s views evolve and change, too – Jaime Lannister went from an idealistic young man to become a bitter, ruined man and is on his way back to seeking redemption and empathy. Cersei Lannister, who as a little girl learned that men and women are treated differently and women are given the short end of the stick, tries her best to claim power for herself against male dominance while at the same time crushing other women. Brienne of Tarth holds to ideals and a way of life that are seen as exclusively for men and is willing to fight and die to live the way she wants. Arya Stark has always struggled to be more than just a doll to be married off. Sansa Stark believed firmly in the ideals of her time and is learning every day how they don’t measure up to reality. Tyrion Lannister is an oppressed man struggling against society’s scorn, most especially his father who is pretty much the living personification of all that is wrong with Westeros…

  8. You’re totally right about “Essos!” I’ll fix that momentarily. Thanks!

    As far as calling Dany a “white savior” being a distraction, I have to disagree. My goal here is to provide readers with a progressive lens with which to view the show, and the white savior meme is played out and grating. I mean, if Sandra Bullock does it, it should just be over. In fact, if it’s not that way in the books (I truly don’t recall if it was or was not), that makes me question the motives of the showrunners even further. If it’s simply an “artifact of the show” as you say, that’s an exact demonstration of what I’m saying is wrong.

  9. As to the ‘white savior’ thing, without being too spoilery, remember that Dany’s story is far from over. Freeing one city-state’s worth of slaves is only a first step, and with essentially a nuclear weapon at her disposal, was the easiest one. It still remains to be seen how much of a savior Dany can be when it comes to problems that can’t be solved with dragonfire. I am not sure how the show is going to play the next parts of the story, since they seem to be adjusting the Dany plotline quite a bit, but the story is all about turning the tables on expected tropes (for example, prophecies don’t always come true, the “main character” can die before the first book/season is over, etc.) I think this portion of Dany’s story is very much part of that. I’m not saying you’re wrong to characterize it as such at the current moment in the plot — that’s exactly how it stands just now — but I think it’s a little premature to judge this plot device before it has completely played out.

  10. To be absolutely 100% fair, Oberyn and his wife aren’t the only bisexual characters. We’ve already seen one, albeit of the most depraved variety imaginable. But it’s nice to see one who’s a hero, for a change.

    @Paul: That’s actually interesting about rape. Val says she’ll castrate any man who tries that with her. The prevailing opinion among readers is that Ygritte is some sort of masochist, and most wildling women are more like Val in this regard. (Always remember the unreliable narrator. GRRM makes a huge deal of it.) Of course, the real irony is, when she’s captured by a man, she has to say that if he doesn’t sleep with her, her friends will kill him.

  11. My line of thought is, “What does the story gain by having the slaves be people of color?” Regardless of how the story pans out – and do tag spoiler-y comments with SPOILER ALERT at the top, please 🙂 – unless there’s some scenario I’m not thinking of, nothing would change about the story if the slave people were white. And that’s the problem in itself – we’re used to seeing slaves be POC by default. It’s a fantasy story. Is breaking the “slaves are always brown people” narrative simply too unbelievable in a series that has dragons and magic priestesses?

  12. To be 100% fair, I don’t think Oberlyn is married to Ellaria. The show only refers to her as his “paramour,” and I *think* that’s how the books played her as well (to be honest it’s been a LONG time since I’ve read them)

    TOTALLY forgot about Renly though. I try to forget about Renly as much as possible! 😉

  13. @courtney
    As I indicate in my post, that’s an artifact of the show which is kind of weird and suspicious. Heck, it’s not even consistent, since Doreah (the slave girl found with Xaro) was white. Slaves in the Ghiscari cities came from all over the world.
    One nice point about ASOIF in general is that skin color is not a relevant concern for anyone. In the books, there’s a dark-skinned exile in King’s Landing and the people of Dhorne range from dark brown to light-skinned (depending on region.)
    This is carried into the show to a large extent as well, which is why it’s nice to see Saladhor Saan and Xaro being treated no differently for being black, or Oberyn and Ellaria for being tan, or the like.

    Ultimately, the white savior thing bothers me because Dany’s decision to free slaves comes because she herself was once a slave, sold off and traded, and so this is very much her responding to her own life with ideals unique to her. It’s the one thing I give her serious credit for.

    Also, Ellaria and Oberyn are not married. Ellaria is, however, the mother of several of Oberyn’s children regardless (as are numerous other women. His bastard girls are major supporting characters in the later books. Many of them are warriors.)
    Dorne is an interesting place that way. Unlike the rest of Westeros, the Dorne practice equal primogeniture, which means that inheritance falls to whoever is eldest in line regardless of gender. This is why Myrcella with them is dangerous, since they’ll support her claim over her brother Tommen’s to get revenge against the Lannisters.

    @Jon Brewer
    Yeah, you’re right about that. We really only see Ygritte’s perspective on it, and Ygritte is an extremely odd person. There’s also Tormund’s daughter Munda, who is captured by Ygritte’s kinsman Longspear Ryk.

    It’s possible that among most wildlings, the kidnapping is just a formality – as in, the two are already courting, and then when the parties feel they’re ready the man comes and takes the girl from her family. I’ve heard of rituals like that before, and they’re quite consensual.

  14. (Corrections to previous post)
    Ahem, the apparent “white savior” thing does NOT bother me for the stated reasons above. I think it’s a peculiar artifact of the show more than the books.
    Also, one cannot fairly compare Danaerys to the normal “white savior” tropes I feel, given her character’s background. I don’t like Dany, because she has no real reason to desire her throne and rarely accomplishes anything of her own wits or skill, but her freeing the slaves is something I can unequivocably praise.

    I also kept calling Dorne “Dhorne” for some reason.

    To reiterate and expand upon a point in that post, color in ASOIF is really not a big deal. There are numerous people in the books encountered who are described as being darker-skinned than the average Andal/First Men Westerosi, but it never enters in as part of their character. The things that are most relevant are their culture.


    (And let me say, we need a spoiler tag.)

    Interestingly, Dorne itself has a very North African look in the books. There was a bit of a dust-up over hiring Pedro Pascal. (I can actually see reasons for it, but…that’ll show up in season 5, probably.)

    @courtneycaldwell: I didn’t mean Renly, who struck me as more “egomaniac” than “villain”. Also, Renly followed a mythic tradition, David marrying Jonathan’s sister, for instance. But Ramsay’s torture of Theon has some obvious (as in, “I did not want to think of it that way, but I can’t unthink of it that way”) homoerotic subtext, especially the part where…well, that’ll be in season 5, probably. But I have a bile fascination with the Boltons, so theorizing on my part as to why they’re so creepy (especially since GRRM is on record as saying the only pure evil character in the books is the Mountain) is another thing entirely.

    @Paul: Rape as punishment is a recurring trope in Westeros. For instance, the Northern version of “Sweet Polly Oliver” is a beautiful song about Danny Flint, who dressed as a man to join the Night’s Watch. She was raped and murdered by her black brothers for her trouble. The other source we have about the wildlings is Old Nan, who would be more credible if she didn’t claim they were also cannibals and kidnapped Northern children. (Yeah, there’s Craster, but his father was a man of the Night’s Watch, and he was seen as an abomination by the other wildlings.)

  16. @Jon
    I believe the Dorne were always meant to be Andalusian Spain, though with perhaps a bit of North African Morocco and Algeria mixed in as well.

    And yes, that is correct. In general the Westerosi abhor rape, but they’re a premodern society with very nonprogressive views.

  17. Well, it has various elements. The names (Doran, Oberon) are mostly Celtic, and the treatment of bastards is reminiscent of Wales.

    In Westeros’ defense, people in our world hate rape, but rape is what dark men do in darker alleys; people always write apologia for rape. Look at the fanfic world, look how many fans ship Arya with, well, every man she’s encountered (and one she hasn’t), even if she’s only, what, 9 at the start of A Game of Thrones? Sansa gets a similar treatment, even if everyone at King’s Landing is trying to rape her except Tyrion. (And the other popular Sansa ship…is some ignorant bastard at the Wall.) No wonder GRRM hates fanfic.

    I just figured out a bit ago that Arya and Sansa are both musical references. (Especially since an aria is a solo, and a sansa is played by thumbs, or ‘little fingers’.) The ice and fire is…well, you should’ve figured it out by now.

  18. Martell is, I believe, an alpine Italian town and a French or Italian name, so not very reliable guides there.

  19. True. I’ve always been under the assumption that Dorne was a melting pot. (After all, the Daynes are almost as pale as the Targaryens.)

    But the Martells are still descended from Nymeria, and in the books we have Tyrion recalling Daeron I (presumably with calipers in hand) describing Dornish features. (Storm of Swords, Tyrion VI) That’s where the weirdness in choice of casting comes from. I know why they did it, though. I’d mention why, but it’s kind of a huge spoiler.

  20. There are three types of Dornishmen, as Tyrion observes.

    There’s the Salty Dornishmen, who live along the ghosts, there are the Sandy Dornishmen, who live in the deserts, rivers, and oases, and then there’s the Stony Dornishmen, also known as the Marchers.

    The Stony Dornishmen are pale skinned, as they have very little Rhoyne blood in them; their ancestry is primarily First Men and Andals.
    Lord Beric Dondarrion is himself a Marcher lord. So was Ser Arthur Dayne, the Sword of the Morning.

    This maps quite strongly to the Andalusian invasion of Spain, which was stopped short at the Spanish Marches by the Carolingians.

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