When you play the Game of Thrones you win or you die, there is no middle ground.
Queen Cersei Lannister spoke those words in the seventh episode of season one of HBO’s epic fantasy series, Game of Thrones, based on George RR Martin’s ongoing series of novels A Song of Ice and Fire. The series returns for its fifth season next Sunday April 12, 2015 and with its endless cast of characters and locations, shocking deaths, and plot twists, you might need a refresher. So here’s most of what happened in seasons one-four (sorry if you are a Hot Pie fan… but I applaud you, so there’s that).
Robert Baratheon, Ned Stark, Jon Arryn, and Tywin Lannister conspired to assassinate Mad King Aerys Targaryen. Aerys was murdered by Tywin’s elder son, Jaime, a member of the Kingsguard (basically the ASOIF Secret Service), Robert killed Crown Prince Rhaegar, and Tywin’s henchman, The Mountain, took out his wife, Princess Elia of Dorne and their children. Aerys’s younger son and pregnant wife escaped. Robert became King and married Tywin’s daughter, Cersei. Jon became Hand of the King (ASOIF Chief of Staff). And Ned went home to Winterfell.
Jon Arryn dies, leaving Robert a Handless King, so he travels up North to convince his BFF to take the terrible thankless job that anecdotally murdered their old friend Jon, who, coincidentally was also married to Ned’s wife’s sister. Said Ned’s wife, Catelyn, thinks Ned should say no but Ned has unhealthy levels of Strong Moral Fibre and can’t imagine declining the King. This is but one in a long, long line of examples of people not taking Catelyn’s Correct Advice and suffering for it a lot. A lot, a lot (see Figure 1).
Ned says yes and the King’s cavalcade return to King’s Landing, now with Ned and his two daughters, Sansa, betrothed to the Crown Prince, and Arya, Your Favorite Character. They are accompanied by direwolves, two of a litter of six found in the woods with their dead mother and adopted by each of the Stark children. Sansa’s wolf, Lady, is killed at the King’s command before they reach the capital and so Arya sends her wolf, Nymeria, away. SAD.
Things go downhill from there. To wit: Ned discovers that the Queen’s three children are not the King’s three children, but her brother’s. Being of strong moral fibre he tells her he’s discovered this in order to give her a day to take her family and flee. Instead, she uses that day to get everybody important on her side so when King Robert dies it’s Ned and not Cersei who is charged with treason.
Joffrey is crowned king. Ned Stark is beheaded. Sansa is a prisoner of the Lannisters. Arya escapes dressed up as a peasant boy. Dead Ned’s eldest son, Robb, and Dead Robert’s younger brothers, Stannis and Renly all declare themselves King and go to war.
North of King’s Landing, Ned’s bastard son, Jon Snow, joins the Nights Watch, a brotherhood of soldiers who guard the Wall that separates the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros from the Land of Always Winter (so…Narnia?). The Watch is made up of criminals and cast offs, and Jon and his white wolf, Ghost, make enemies, but also friends.
South of King’s Landing, Aerys’s younger son, Viserys Targaryen, sells his little sister as bride to the leader of a barbarian tribe of horsemen. Daenerys loses her brother, her husband, her baby, and most of her tribe — but she finds her power and gives birth to three dragons.
Winning: Cersei, Joffrey, Daenerys, Robb
Dead: Lady, Robert, Viserys, Ned, Drogo
Balon Greyjoy declares himself King (of the Iron Islands) so now there are five men fighting for the crown, plus Khaleesi Dany slowly but surely making her way back to her birthright.
In The North, King Robb ignores his mother’s advice (see Figure 1) and sends Balon’s son Theon to convince him to abdicate his crown and throw in with the Starks. King Balon berates and abuses his son which convinces Theon to ignore everyone’s plans and all good sense and attack Winterfell directly. He captures the youngest Starks and when they cleverly escape kills two peasant boys in their place. This only succeeds in making his father more angry.
King Renly marries Margaery Tyrell but he’s really in love with her brother. Margaery’s fine with the situation because all she really wants is power. Unfortunately, King Stannis’s witchy paramour, Melisandre, gives birth to a smoke monster that murderers Renly. Catelyn Stark — sent by her son to treat with Renly — and Brienne of Tarth, newest member of Renly’s Kingsguard witness the killing and flee, becoming prime suspects.
King Joffrey throws himself parties and tortures random prostitutes while his mother and uncle bicker over how the city should be run, how the war should be done, and how to get their brother back from Robb. Meanwhile their father manipulates the masses from a haunted castle and contemplates adopting Arya Stark because she reminds him of his daughter, only more sane. Arya’s other mentor this season is an assassin, so she is moving along nicely on her path to Dark Avenger.
Despite Joffrey and Cersei’s best attempts at self-sabotage, Tyrion is able to save King’s Landing from Stannis’s siege but Tywin gets all the credit when he rides in with House Tyrell, secured through the betrothal of King Joffrey to the late Renly’s Margaery. Sansa is freed from her engagement but remains a pawn in the war of Kings.
Having lost her husband and sons to war, Catelyn defies her son/King and sends Jaime Lannister back to his family in exchange for her daughters. Thus starts Brienne and Jaime’s road trip path to redemption. Robb is mad about it but distracted by love. Against his mother’s advice (see Figure 1) he marries a pretty doctor despite being promised to an ally’s daughter.
Jon Snow and the Night’s Watch travel beyond the Wall. Jon falls in with the Wildlings who live there and turns spy. Daenerys drags her caravan across the desert and briefly loses her dragons in a labyrinth. The Night’s Watch are attacked by zombies.
Winning: Joffrey, Tywin, Arya, Margaery