You could be forgiven for spending the latest episode of season four in a tense paralysis. The kind where you only realise how tightly your muscles are wound when the credits start to roll and you can breathe again.
A lot of carefully laid plans met their maker in this instalment and, perhaps as a small concession to audience patience, the writers appear to have let most of them fall neatly in place.
It all smacks faintly of short-lived hope, but we’re enjoying the golden glow of possibility while it remains.
Lucky for everyone, Tommen holds great promise as the Seven Kingdoms’ latest king. When the crowd erupts in cheers following his opening scene induction, it’s clearly out of joy, rather than learned fear.
Thankfully, Cersei appears to also have been seized by temporary joy and lets Margaery into the fold. She catches the pretty Tyrell making eyes at her son and, rather than berating her, joins her for a woman-to-woman chat.
“He will need help,” Cersei says to Margaery of Tommen. “A mother is not enough”
Playing coy as she does so well, Margaery promises to ask her father and, with that, a powerful alliance is reborn.
Cersei also asks her father and Tywin wholeheartedly agrees that the marriage should take place in a fortnight, with Cersei’s wedding to Loris Tyrell to come the fortnight after.
Although the Queen is reluctant to marry Loris (who, if you recall, is as close to being openly gay as one can be in Westeros) she recognises that it is for the good of the Lannister family, which Tywin promptly informs her is running low on cash.
“Our last working mine ran dry three years ago,” Tywins admits. “The crown owes the Iron Bank of Braavos a tremendous amount of money.”
That particular branch of bank sounding familiar? It should. In last week’s episode Ser Davos realised he might be able to use the same bank to help Stannis.
Cersei is a schemer, so it’s unsurprising that after two crucial meetings she’s still not tired. She meets with Prince Oberyn to cleverly appeal to his fatherly side (he has eight daughters).
“What good is power if you can’t protect the ones you love?” Cersei implore, before asking Oberyn to deliver a gift to her daughter Myrcella, who now resides in Dorne.
They’re not so different, Cersei and Oberyn. Oberyn can relate to Cersei’s sorrow over Joffrey as he lost his sister. This new bond could spell danger for Tyrion – Oberyn is one of the judges in his murder trial.
Sitting pretty atop the city walls of her latest conquest, Daenerys learns of King Joffrey’s death from Ser Jorah. For a moment, she considers attacking King’s Landing with her newfound navy and loyal men. While her advisors believe she can take the child king no problem, there are more pressing issues at hand.
With no Unsullied to enforce her rule, the slave masters have taken back Yunkai. To make matters worse, the council she installed in Astapor has been overthrown by a butcher named Theon.
Daenerys is deeply troubled by the news that her domination of Slaver’s Bay does not seem to have held.
“Why should anyone trust me or follow me?” she asks Ser Jorah, before deciding not to cross the Narrow Sea.
“I will do what Queens do. I will rule.”
What, or where, she plans to rule, we’re not quite sure.
As Sansa and Lord Petyr Baelish cross through the bloody gates of The Eyrie and into the realm of the, ahem, unconventional Lysa Arryn, we learn that good old Littlefinger seems to have a far more pivotal role than we first thought.
We knew he was a schemer, but it appears he can out-manipulate even the most devious of fiends. As he delivers Sansa to her aunt, we learn that “Uncle Peter” (as Lysa’s creepy son Robin calls him) has been conducting a tryst with Lady Lysa.
He’s also convinced her to do some pretty heavy dirty work on his behalf, including poisoning her husband and Ned Stark’s friend Jon Arryn and writing the letter that told her sister Catelyn Stark something pivotal about the Lannisters.
Before she can proceed, Lord Baelish cuts her off and the extent of her dastardly deeds remains a mystery.
Blinded by love, Lysa has followed his every order and demands his hand in marriage in return. Baelish obliges.
Of course, we all know his true love is Lysa’s dead sister, Catelyn. Lysa knows it too and seems hell-bent on making her sister’s surviving daughter pay. She accuses Sansa of having sex with Petyr while Sansa tearfully insists she is a virgin.
“Soon you’ll marry Robin,” a much calmer Lysa tells Sansa as she attempts to soothe her. “You’ll be Lady of the Vale.”
The poor girl can’t catch a break.
Not much progress going on in the middle of nowhere; just two friendships developing in different directions.
After the Hound robbed a nice old man of his silver, Arya has added him to her “to kill” list. Whatever father/daughter bonding they had going on is gone.
Meanwhile, Brienne is struggling to make do with her new squire, Podrick, who is lacking in most basic survival instincts. When he reveals that he killed a member of the King’s Guard to protect Tyrion during the Battle of Blackwater, however, Brienne seems impressed.
She begrudgingly lets him help her with her armour.
Beaten, bound and grossly malnourished, Bran, Hodor, Jojen and Meera are in trouble. The only solace for them comes from Jojen’s ability to see the future and Bran’s talent for shifting bodies. Jojen knows Bran is headed for greater things, although he’s not so sure about the rest of them.
Thankfully, about the same time the evil Karl and his men decide to rape Meera, Jon Snow and his men decide to storm the keep. It’s a battle of a level we haven’t seen since last season and gore is plentiful.
Bolton’s spy Locke deters Jon from where Bran is being held in order to kidnap the crippled Stark son. He’s making good progress until Bran possesses the body of the hulking Hodor, who swiftly breaks Locke’s neck.
The group get themselves to safety and Bran is unable to resist the urge to call out to his older half-brother. Jojen silences him – “He’ll want to protect you. He’ll take you to Castle Black” – and Bran realises his friend is right. He has bigger fish to fry. Sadly, our hopes for the first likely Stark family reunion in a long while are painfully dashed.
Meanwhile, Jon Snow doesn’t need any distractions. he’s up against master swordsman and all-round bad guy Karl Tanner. When Karl knocks him to the ground it seems as though Snow may finally have met his match and we’re reminded just how much we love this curly-headed, perpetually straight-faced underdog.
Thankfully, one of Craster’s spunkier daughters plants a knife in Karl’s back. This gives Jon just enough time to slice a sword through his skull. Great teamwork.
The men of the Night’s Watch have successfully taken Craster’s Keep, but not without casualties. In the happy moment we so desperately needed, Jon is reunited with his missing direwolf Ghost.
As the men burn Craster’s Keep to the ground, our hope lights up like the flames that lick the night sky.
Could a shift in power, favouring the right people this time, be taking place?
What do you think? Will all these new allegiances and victories lead to harmony or horror? Have your say in the comments section below.