Picture for a moment the following hypothetical. It’s June. The sun is finally starting to come out, you’re spending your off-time at the beach, and all of your friends won’t shut the hell up about Game of Thrones. You’ve never watched it before. But god dammit they have. By the time the season finale rolls around every year, you’re left standing on the sidelines while your friends babble on about things you neither know nor care to understand. Thankfully, we’re here to help on all fronts.
Catching up on a show six years after the fact can be a daunting task. So instead, we’re going to run you through Game of Thrones, beat-by-beat, and season-by-season. So without further ado, let’s dive headfirst into everything that happened in Season 4.
Justice has a rough time over at King’s Landing
King’s Landing is a hotbed of corruption in Westeros, rarely caring much for a high concept like justice. At the beginning of Season 4 though, it looked like we finally might get a win. King Joffrey, after three-plus seasons of making himself into the most universally reviled character on TV, finally got what he deserved, and at his own wedding no less. The young monarch gets poisoned during a particularly awful series of jabs directed at his uncle, Tyrion.
It’s not long before the widely rooted-for death of Joffrey backfires horribly. Cersei, while holding her dying son in her arms, immediately turns to Tyrion and accuses him of the crime. And because virtually no one in King’s Landing seems to be sympathetic to the cause of the clever dwarf, he’s led away in chains for a crime he almost certainly didn’t commit (we later find out that Petyr Baelish and Lady Olenna Tyrell conspired to do the deed themselves).
This escalates into a parade of misfortune for Tyrion, who nows finds himself on trial with his father Tywin acting as judge. The proceedings unravel from there: A series of “witnesses” testify against Tyrion, including Cersei, Varys, Grand Maester Pycelle, and to Tyrion’s horror, his former lover Shae, who lies and claims their relationship was forced upon her. Heartbroken by Shae’s testimony, he demands a trial by combat.
Cersei then appoints the 7-foot-tall Gregor Clegane as her champion for the trial, leaving Tyrion with little in the way of options to ensure his survival. Lucky for him, Oberyn Martell has a bone to pick with Ser Gregor, and volunteers to help.
(A little context: Oberyn is the brother of Elia Martell, who was married to Prince Rhaegar Targaryen before he was deposed and killed in Robert’s Rebellion. In the final siege of King’s Landing, Ser Gregor and Lannister forces take the Red Keep. Gregor rapes and kills Elia, and then brutally kills her children to end the Targaryen line of succession. Now years later, Oberyn is out for revenge).
In the climactic trial-by-combat, Oberyn puts Gregor on the ground and has his dead to rights. His thirst for revenge gets in the way though, demanding Gregor confess to killing Elia and her children. Gregor seizes the opportunity, tripping Oberyn, proceeding to cave his skull in with his bare hands. It’s one of the more horrifyingly graphic kills in Game of Thrones history, and spells doom for Tyrion, as Tywin declares him guilty of regicide.
While awaiting his death sentence in the dungeons, Tyrion is broken out by his Jaime, who directs him toward the harbor to set sail for Essos. Tyrion takes a small detour on his way out, stopping in Tywin’s quarters for one last showdown with his father. He finds Tywin on the toilet, and after a heated exchange, puts two crossbow bolts through his chest. He then finds Shae in his father’s bed, strangling her to death while tears stream down his face.
Checking in on the Stark family
The Starks have been dealt a bad hand ever since the end of Season 1, and Season 4 does little to amend that. Jon is still having trouble keeping things together at the Wall, Sansa is embroiled in one of Petyr Baelish’s complex schemes, Bran is close to starving north of the Wall, and Arya is roaming the countryside with Sandor Clegane. But because we don’t have 5,000 words to tell each story in detail, we’ll give you the short version of each. First…
Jon Snow: Having returned from his time in the Wildlings’ camp, Jon brings news of a coming invasion force. Alliser Thorne and the rest of the Night’s Watch higher-ups still don’t trust him though, and send him out once again to root out a group of mutineers holed up in a remote keep. Jon gets the job done, and gets back just in time to help fend off a massive Wildling attack led by his former lover, Ygritte. Ygritte gets shot through with an arrow and dies in Jon’s arms, and eventually the Night’s Watch wins the day.
Sansa: The eldest Stark daughter is stolen away from King’s Landing after Joffrey’s death, and hidden away in the Vale with her Aunt Lysa by Petyr Baelish. Baelish quickly marries Lysa, and then murders her after she, in a jealous rage, tries to kill Sansa. Littlefinger is then made Warden of the Vale, with Sansa by his side as his ward.
Arya: Wanders the countryside with Sandor Clegane, kills a few people she’s been vowing revenge on since Season 2, and eventually runs into Brienne and Podrick, who’ve been tasked by Jaime with protecting the remaining Stark children. Sandor doubts their intentions, duels Brienne, and gets the ever-loving crap beat out of him. He begs Arya to finish the job, but she opts to leave him to bleed out instead, before booking passage on a ship bound for Braavos.
Bran (*sigh* and Rickon too): Bran has now gone north of the Wall in search of the Three-Eyed Raven, an ancient entity thought to be able to help him understand his strange new abilities. Bran gets captured by the Night’s Watch mutineers, and escapes during Jon’s ensuing siege on the keep. He eventually finds the Three-Eyed Raven in a mysterious cave guarded by the Children of the Forest.
Daenerys takes over an entire city
It makes sense that someone aiming to rule a nation for the first time would want a little bit of practice. Thankfully, there are plenty of cities ripe for the taking in Slaver’s Bay. Season 4 sees Daenerys take over the city of Meereen, in her continuing effort to abolish slavery and raise up the downtrodden underclass. She encounters some early struggles along the way, eventually deciding to remain in Meereen indefinitely to stabilize the city.
While this is all going on, her trusted advisor, Jorah Mormont, gets a letter from King’s Landing thanking him for his work spying on Daenerys way back in Season 1. Fellow advisor Barristan Selmy sees the letter, and brings it to Daenerys, who subsequently banishes Jorah for his treachery. The real tragedy occurs when Daenerys finds out her dragons have killed a small child while roaming the city. This forces her to chain two of them up in a dungeon to ensure the safety of her citizens (the third escaped).
And that covers all the highlights of Season 4! Stay tuned for more Game of Thrones in the coming days.
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