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'Game of Thrones' Returns: And You Thought Last Time Was Bloody?

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Remember flailing your arms around and howling is despair when that cold bastard Roose Bolton plunged his blade into poor old Robb Stark's chest? Remember your heart dropping when his wife and unborn child were slaughtered before his eyes? Remember Catelyn Stark's throat bursting all over your TV screen?

Season three of Game of Thrones was pretty gross, pretty traumatic and a lot devastating. It was also incredible television. And now the show's back for more.

There's a running joke about GoT creator George R.R. Martin's disregard for your attachment to a character - if he gets you to like someone, it's probably time to think it's a trap and they're about to die a grisly death. It's become the calling card of the books and the show: No one is safe, everyone's in danger and their world can come crashing down in an instant. It's what makes the books so compelling. The fourth series of the Emmy-hoarding show is back on Sunday and with it comes buckets more of this kind of stuff.

Confession: I've read all the A Song of Ice and Fire books and, let me tell you, if you thought everything was falling apart, we've barely even started. As sordid villain Ramsay Bolton told the tortured Theon last series: "If you think this has a happy ending, you haven't been paying attention".

As the season opens, we've got ethereal, seemingly sort-of-immortal baddies slowly making their way to the Wall along with the nomadic Wildings, lead by turncoat Watchman Mance Rayder, heading there too to bring anarchy to Westeros, while hero of the piece Jon Snow hauls ass back to his Night's Watch mates to let them know it's about to get real. Expect bloodshed.

Fly a few hundred kilometres south to the Westerosi capital, King's Landing, and tyrant pipsqueak King Joffrey continues to go through puberty and take out his hormonal frustration on the poor as everyone else plans his wedding to the beautiful but conniving Margaery Tyrell, who, just like literally everyone else, could be plotting and manipulating towards their own selfish aims.

His evil-as-evil-gets mother, Cersei, will be pleased to see her brother and lover Jaime's just returned from captivity, albeit minus his sword hand, his dignity and most of his bravado. Her other brother Tyrion Lannister (played by the utterly magnificent Peter Dinklage) becomes more and more the black sheep of the family as he continues his romance with prostitute Shae while going through those first few tough weeks of his sham marriage to Sansa Stark (his family just orchestrated the brutal murder of the rest of hers, so they're not off to a great start). To make matters worse, his father Tywin is interfering quite heavily with his sex life, as he continues his efforts to force Tyrion to strategically impregnate Sansa.

Rolling into town for the wedding is Oberyn 'The Red Viper' Martell - one of the patriarchs of the last major family in Westeros to be introduced into the show, the Martells. He's here to represent his family, take up his seat on the king's council, flirt with everyone and seek out revenge of his own against an old enemy.

Away from the capital, Sansa's sister Arya continues to lump around plotting revenge against her family's killers, having narrowly avoided being killed at the 'Red Wedding' with her mother and brother. She's still skulking around, with the intention of heading to one of the many new locations we'll see in season four, the Venice-like city state of Braavos, to train as an assassin.

Across the Narrow Sea in the heat of Essos is fan favourite, prospective queen and amateur Lawrence of Arabia impersonator Daenerys Targaryen, who's freeing slaves, rustling up revolts and trying to rule over cultures she doesn't yet understand, as she tries to find the means to return to her home country and 'rightful' throne. She's got three monstrous dragons and a strong sense of destiny on her side, so you might fancy her for the title by the end of the show's run - if she ever gets her act together and sets sail, that is.

This isn't to mention all the other players in the game: ex-king Robert Baratheon's little brother Stannis is pondering how best to be a hero and win the throne while associating with a witch and embracing a new religion which is creepily into burning people, former Stark ward Theon Greyjoy is undergoing a spot of torture by Roose Bolton's bastard son, Bran Stark heading beyond the Wall to seek out a mythical three-eyed crow, while a boatload of other supporting characters who make the Game of Thrones world tick scheme and fight and, yes, die.

The 'Red Wedding' was one of the major events in the "watching TV and reading Twitter at the same time" era and season four promises at least four times as many shocking set pieces - some good, some awful, most of them somewhere in between, that will be burned into the memories of viewers in much the same way. There's more weddings (which never go right on TV do they?), sex, war, betrayal, corruption, adultery, witchcraft, incest, heroic rescues, duels, accidental deaths, very intentional deaths, people who you thought were dead who aren't, people who thought weren't dead but are, and probably some more sex to take in. Something for everyone, really. I can't wait, and neither can the rest of you.

Game of Thrones returns to TV on Sunday 6 April on Sky Atlantic at 2am, and again on Monday 7 April at 9pm. Watch the Season Four trailer below if you just can't bear the wait...

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