While we Game of Thrones fans have had ten months to recover from the Red Wedding, for the people of Westeros, it’s like it was just yesterday. (Or last week. Or last month. It’s so hard to tell time in their world, given those extra-long seasons.) A refresher course is definitely in order before season four begins this Sunday on HBO. Who is dead? Who is, perhaps not so wisely, getting married? What armies are approaching the ill-defended Wall? All of these questions and more will be answered in the new season, which further skews some plots, timelines, and characters from George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” series, providing ample surprises even for the most avid readers. Read on for a character-by-character guide to what you need to remember before Sunday. (And warning: Mild spoilers are coming).
KING JOFFREY AND MARGAERY TYRELL
Where we left them: The cowardly lion Joffrey, who still takes credit for winning season two’s Battle of the Blackwater even though he ran away, is a teen tyrant barely controlled by his grandfather, Tywin Lannister, Hand of the King; his mother, the Queen Regent Cersei; his uncle Tyrion, the former Hand of the King; and his other “uncle,” his unacknowledged father Jaime, a member of the Kingsguard. In what should be the most expensive royal wedding Westeros has ever seen, Joffrey is slated to marry Margaery Tyrell, a union orchestrated to unite the most powerful families in the land. This will be the second marriage for Margaery, the not-so-lucky bride-to-be, after a brief pairing with would-be-king Renly, who was killed by his own brother via a shadow conjured by Melisandre’s magic.
What to look for: Joffrey’s cruelty knows no bounds, and only Margaery seems able to divert his attention elsewhere, especially with her acts of charity. But even she can tire of this task, since she’s known from almost day one she’s about to marry a monster (thanks to a warning from Sansa, Joffrey’s former fiancée). Margaery’s grandmother Olenna, the Queen of Thorns, can provide support and counsel, and maybe even a way out of this mess.
CERSEI BARATHEON AND JAIME LANNISTER
Where we left them: The Queen Regent Cersei, who engages in petty rivalry with her son’s fiancée, is supposed to be engaged to Margaery’s brother Loras, Renly’s true love, but doesn’t give it much thought. Her cold, cold heart belongs — or belonged — to her twin brother, Jaime Lannister, who had just returned to King’s Landing a changed man. He’d lost his right hand while a prisoner, but he’d gained his first real friend, Brienne of Tarth.
What to look for: Cersei didn’t exactly jump into Jaime’s arms when he walked back into her life — and not because she’s now betrothed to another. The two siblings have a lot to sort out with each other, not least of which is whether it’s too late to co-parent their other non-Joffrey children, Tommen and Myrcella. (Remember them?) Cersei’s love for her brother was wrapped up in wanting to be him — to wield a sword, a visible source of power — but for him to do so again might require her giving him a hand.
TYWIN AND TYRION LANNISTER
Where we left them: Tyrion always knew his father despised him, but Tywin finally revealed that he had actually wanted to kill him the day he was born. This arose during a discussion in which it was revealed that Tywin had provided the rubber stamp for the Red Wedding, so that he could end the War of the Five Kings. (“Explain to me why it is more noble to kill 10,000 men in battle than a dozen at dinner,” said Tywin, who clearly doesn’t know much about wedding etiquette. Or precedents.)
What to look for: Tywin’s second son is even less useful to him now that Jaime is back, and the tension between the two is at an all-time high. Tyrion knows that Tywin doesn’t want him to have any prostitutes at court (which is why he turned Shae into Sansa’s handmaid), but he can’t hide her forever. And Tyrion’s marriage to Sansa is even more problematic now that she knows what happened to her brother and mother at a Lannister’s behest. Tywin doesn’t always get his own hands dirty — he murders from afar — but his victims have relatives who will want the Lannisters to pay their debts.
SANSA, ARYA, BRAN, AND RICKON STARK
Where we left them: Sansa has long been a prisoner of King’s Landing and her own fairy-tale fantasies. She wanted to marry Joffrey, and then realized that being engaged to a prince wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. She thought the handsome Loras would make for an even better fiancé, but that, too, was yanked out from under her. And now that she’s learned of the Red Wedding, she feels alone in her grief. She’s forgetting Arya — who tried to crash the Red Wedding with the Hound, only to realize that it’s better to arrive fashionably late to weddings in Westeros. And though Bran and Rickon are believed to be dead by the world at large, they’re very much alive. Rickon’s split off with Osha the wildling for a nanny, and Bran took Hodor and the Reed sibs Jojen and Meera on his trip beyond the Wall.
What to look for: Arya has already killed her first man and is good at it. The Hound doesn’t even mind so much if she’s going to kill men on the road, so long as she tells him first. This is not going to end well, at least for those she encounters. Bran’s powers are growing — he’s learned to warg into both his direwolf Summer and into Hodor. (It makes you wonder what could have happened had Sansa and Arya been able to keep their wolfie friends). Sansa is sans skills or powers, for now — if only she could find a knight in shining armor to help her escape! And while the Stark kids might be orphaned, they’re not alone. They’ve got a powerful aunt in the wings — Lysa Arryn, Lady Regent of the Vale, a widow whom Lord Petyr Baelish, a.k.a. Littlefinger, her childhood friend, was sent off to woo. (News of the murder of her husband Lord Arryn, if you recall, was in part what set off the war between the Starks and the Lannisters.) And then there’s their great-uncle Brynden Tully, the Blackfish, who escaped the slaughter at the Red Wedding, plus Uncle Edmure, who is currently a captive of the Freys. All this, plus Uncle Benjen, too, although he’s still missing north of the Wall. Speaking of which …
Where we left him: After getting himself entrenched in the wildling army in order to spy on them, and then breaking free, Jon made his way back to Castle Black with three arrows in him, courtesy of the heartbroken wildling Ygritte, and news of the Mance Rayder’s army, since the King Beyond the Wall has united the free folk and is driving them south.
What to look for: Jon’s broken his Night’s Watch vows (including the one of celibacy). The penalties for oath-breakers can be severe. Can crows forgive?
STANNIS BARATHEON AND MELISANDRE
Where we left them: Stannis had let Melisandre do her blood magic (courtesy of Gendry’s blood) to name three kings to die: Robb, Joffrey, and Balon Greyjoy. And he has renewed faith in her powers now that at least one of those is dead. Stannis is also the only king who seemed to read the note from the Maester Aemon about the White Walkers and their army of the dead. Melisandre tells him, “This War of Five Kings means nothing. The true war lies to the north. Death marches on the Wall.”
What to look for: Even if Stannis is rightfully the King of Westeros by birth (given that Joffrey was not actually Robert’s son), it takes more than birthright to make a man a king.
THE BOLTON BUNCH: ROOSE, RAMSAY SNOW, AND THEON GREYJOY
Where we left them: The Boltons were up to no good, as you might guess from their sigil, the flayed man, which Ramsay was taking literally during his playtime with Theon, who has been tortured to the point where he now goes by his new name of Reek. And then Roose, who was hanging with the Starks as one of their bannermen, turned traitor and stabbed Robb in the back. (Well, literally the front, but still…) But to what end? Why did this Northman (and his bastard son) become villains? For the power, of course. Originally, Ramsay rooted Theon out of Winterfell because Theon was thought to have killed two Stark kids, and while Roose isn’t opposed to torture, per se, he had no stake in it until he realized being loyal to the Starks put him on the losing side. Now he, not one of the Starks, is Warden of the North.
What to look for: When poor Theon’s manhood was chopped off and sent to his family in the Iron Islands, his father didn’t really care — Theon can’t further the line anymore. But protective sister Yara took the fastest ship in the family’s fleet and the 50 best killers in her rolodex up the Narrow Sea. But is it too late?
Where we left her: She’s the Mother of Dragons, and now the Breaker of Shackles — freeing the slaves all along Slaver’s Bay, where she’s acquired an army of the eunuch Unsullied soldiers. Dany, who was supposed to be the price for her brother’s Dothraki army, is now a messiah figure.
What to look for: It’s time for the Khaleesi to do more than conquer and move on. How can she ever hope to become Queen of Westeros if she doesn’t first learn how to rule? Starting with her dragons, who are entering their teenage years — and you know how messy those are.