Thus far, this season of Game of Thrones has been a slow burn.
After a run of horror culminating in that infamous head-squashing scene, the first three episodes of season four seem comparatively, well, tame.
But as Jon Snow says so decisively in this instalment, “winter is coming” and it’s about to get real.
And just how will the people of Westeros cope with impending doom? Through sex and religion, of course.
As Roose Bolton wisely tells his wayward son, Ramsay: “The best way to form a lasting alliance isn’t by peeling a man’s skin off, it’s by marriage.”
Well said, Roose. You murderous bastard.
First, let us analyse the most compelling storyline in this entire episode – that of poor, beleaguered Sansa Stark.
Passed around like a pawn from enemy to enemy, is she finally reclaiming her future? It appears that way.
The eldest surviving Stark is set to marry the ruthless Ramsay Bolton in an effort to avenge her family and reclaim the North.
This was all Littlefinger’s idea and, despite his slimy exterior, we truly believe he has Sansa’s best interests at heart with this move.
While it’s difficult to believe Ramsay’s promise to Lord Baelish that he “will never hurt” Sansa given all he did to Reek (the artist formerly known as Theon Greyjoy) Sansa is a different person to the timid, spoilt little girl who left Winterfell so long ago.
Maybe she’s actually capable of ditching the “bystander” role and taking her rightful position as lady of the North. Her servant seems to think so, uttering powerful words upon her return: “Welcome home, Lady Stark. The North remembers.”
That, or the “Red Wedding part two: Sansa’s Revenge” is on the cards. The icy stare she shoots at Roose Bolton doesn’t rule the possibility out.
Sansa’s story in the show marks another major deviation from the books.
In the books, Sansa and Littlefinger hang around the Vale and go nowhere near the North. We think we prefer this storyline – far more exciting.
The House of Black and White
Sansa’s sister Arya, meanwhile, is doing everything in her power to renounce her name in order to become “no one”.
After finally gaining entry to the House of Black and White, the youngest Stark is finding it tricky to fit in.
Everyone is very tight-lipped about what she needs to do join the Faceless Men and it’s getting her down.
When Jaqen H’ghar suggests that she could start by ditching all her possessions from her past life, Arya happily obliges.
She throws everything into the sea, including her silver, but when the time comes to part with her trusty sword, Needle, she can’t do it.
She buries Needle in a pile of rocks, signalling that the Arya we know isn’t gone yet.
Also, anyone else get surprisingly emotional over a sword? It felt like another Wilson/Tom Hanks in Cast Away moment.
It’s an unnatural sensation, feeling sorry for Cersei Lannister.
However, one couldn’t help but pity the Queen Mother as she watched her only remaining son get married off to a woman she regards as the ultimate “whore”.
Despite Cersei’s disdain, it’s clear Tommen Baratheon and Margaery Tyrell are a match made in heaven, despite the awkward age gap.
The fact that Tommen is, like, 12 years old doesn’t seem to deter Margaery from bedding him ASAP, an uncomfortable concept for anyone who knows the age of consent.
Plus, now she’s in a position of power, Margaery is ready to remind Cersei who’s boss, using a bit of reverse psychology to encourage Tommen to distance himself from his mother.
After all, at a certain stage it becomes uncool for little boys to hang out with their mums.
A return to Casterly Rock seems imminent for Cersei, unless she can figure out a way to make herself indispensable.
Eminently aware of this, she sets about forging some powerful alliances by visiting the High Sparrow – a character as yet unseen in the series.
Cersei meets with him to discuss the indiscretions of the High Septon – the kingdom’s head of faith – in a brothel. Not very pious behaviour.
What she’s really there for is to suss out the mysterious, super-religious Sparrow sect and get on the High Sparrow’s good side.
“The faith and the crown are the two pillars that hold up this world,” she tells him.
“One collapses, so does the other.”
In English: you scratch my back, High Sparrow, and I’ll scratch yours.
The woman is the Frank Underwood of Westeros.
Despite her fighting prowess and steely demeanour, it seems Brienne of Tarth is just like other girls.
In a rare moment of vulnerability, she opens up to Podrick about her origins story.
Essentially, she went to a ball as a teenager, was teased by a bunch of nasty boys, realised she was “the ugliest girl alive” and decided to direct her attention elsewhere.
The kindness of the late Renly Baratheon, who danced with her when no one else would, appears to explain her loyalty to him and her desire to see justice served.
Meanwhile, Jon Snow has decided it’s “no more Mr Nice Guy” for him.
Faced with dissent when he places Janos Slynt in charge of a “ruin”, the new Lord Commander decides he’s had enough of taking the high road.
He takes the cowardly Slynt outside and, despite Slynt’s pleas for mercy, beheads him in one fell swoop.
That’s more like it. Even Stannis seems impressed. Or angry – it’s hard to tell with that guy.
What did we say after the last episode, Tyrion? It’s dangerous to be a dwarf in Westeros!
The imp did not listen and instead took Lord Varys to a brothel (insensitive given Lord Varys is a eunuch) for some ales and some action.
Tyrion’s little vacation backfired, however, when he was spotted by a down-and-out Jorah Mormont who is looking for any way to get back to being relevant.
He seizes a drunk Tyrion and says he is taking him “to the queen”.
That could either mean Tyrion is on his way back to his enraged sister OR he will be meeting Daenerys sooner than expected. Let’s pray for the latter.
And the other loose ends…
• Cersei’s Qyburn is clearly working hard in his creepy lab – the question is, on what? The moving thing under the sheet is a cause for serious concern.
• Cersei sent off a letter to Littlefinger with a sense of urgency, stressing the word “immediately”. What exactly the letter says, we’re not sure.