April 7, 2014 at 9:04 AM ET
"All men must die" is the tagline for the fourth season of "Game of Thrones," but in Sunday's premiere — clearly an establishing episode but fantastic all the same — the body count was surprisingly low.
Unless you count the 163 crucified Meereen slaves serving as mileage markers on Daenerys Targaryen's march to the Slaver's Bay city-state. And whomever the cannibalistic Thenns were serving up on the barbie. Or the Lannister men-at-arms slain by Arya and the Hound at a tavern.
OK, "Valar Morghulis" it is, then! But beyond all the death, season four kicked off with four especially great scenes.
Lady and the tramp
Arya is still the Hound's hostage, indignant at having to share his saddle as they roam the Riverlands. "Lady wants a pony," he said mockingly when she demanded her own horse. Their odd-couple bickering almost deserves a sitcom spin-off. Except for the fact that they'd just seen her brother's gruesome corpse while fleeing the Red Wedding. Sandor Clegane might seem like a softie now — gallant even, in his protection of both Stark princesses — but Arya won't forget him bragging about killing her friend, the butcher's son Mycah, on Joffrey's orders.
However, she did get vengeance for another murdered boy, her friend Lommy, when the pair happened upon his killer at a tavern. Even worse, Polliver is still carrying Needle, the sword he stole from Arya and used to kill Lommy. As the Hound massacred the rest of Joffrey's defenders (mostly because they were standing between him and a pair of delicious chickens), Arya reclaimed Needle and stabbed Polliver in the throat, reiterating the words he had used to kill her young comrade.
But revenge wasn't her only reward: When she and the Hound left the tavern, Arya was riding her own horse. And it wasn't a pony.
So, "Game of Thrones" has more in common with "The Walking Dead" beyond zombies (the White Walkers are just icier versions of the AMC hit's putrefying undead) — cannibals!
While Ygritte and Tormund were licking their wounds after their skirmish with the traitorous Jon Snow (poor Ygritte was apparently the one who knew nothing, sigh), the Thenns crashed their camp with a bagful of body parts. Winter is coming — Maybe? Eventually? It sure is taking its time — and with it a bunch of nasty folk from o'er The Wall.
Do the handful of Night's Watch men guarding Castle Black even stand a chance against Mance Rayder's army and these vicious creatures who hail from the north? It's not looking too good, especially considering what the Thenn said when inviting Tormund to taste the human arm roasting over their spitfire: "Just one time before you die, you really ought to try crow." (Samwell Tardy, be careful, or you might end up on the Thenn menu as Samwell Tasty! Shame that Joffrey is so skinny.)
Jaime Lannister has been back at King's Landing for weeks and Cersei is still spurning his advances. What's a brother gotta do to get some affection around here? Even with his brand-new gilded hand and a valeryan steel sword — courtesy of his papa and the dearly departed King in the North — the peeved queen regent is making her twin/lover pay for abandoning her. Tywin pretty much washed his hands of him (ba-dum), and then his own son/nephew Joffrey — who ran away like a scaredy-cat from battle — ridiculed Jaime's unheralded career. But Jaime's got it easy compared to Margaery Tyrell, who is just days away from her wedding to a psychopathic, sadistic teenage king.
How to train your dragons
Dany's babes are all grown up and the biggest stars of the show — and not even their mother can tame these glorious beasts. But Khaleesi does have a massive Unsullied army willing to do her bidding — including taking Meereen and its pretty pyramid. And they aren't the only ones — her lovestruck captain Daario Naharis (whose role has been taken over by a new actor) is actively campaigning for his queen's heart. With flowers!
The line of the night came from the Hound, who insisted to Arya that he's not a thief.
"You're fine with murdering little boys," said his disbelieving hostage, "but thieving is beneath you?"
"Man's got to have a code," he deadpanned.
"Game of Thrones" airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on HBO.