That two-word phrase — which means “All men must die” in High Valyrian — has recurred several times in HBO’s blockbuster fantasy “Game of Thrones,” which returns for its fourth season on Sunday, April 6.
The premium channel seemed to be investing those words with foreboding during its run-up to the new season, however, by releasing a series of character portraits from the show bearing that fateful phrase. Virtually all the principal Lannisters were included, along with fan favorites Jon Snow (Kit Harington), Arya Stark (Maisie Williams), Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie), Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) and Iain Glen (Jorah Mormont), among several others.
The unmistakable subtext seemed to be: One or more of these characters are doomed.
That’s nothing unexpected in the brutal world of Westeros, where novelist George R.R. Martin has set his sprawling epic fantasy. Newcomers to “Game of Thrones” were stunned when Season 1 climaxed with the beheading of Ned Stark (Sean Bean), who had been looking very much like the principal hero of the series. The show topped that shocker in Season 3 with the infamous “Red Wedding” episode, wherein the next two characters who had seemed destined for a long, heroic run — Ned’s eldest son and widow — were slaughtered by a spiteful enemy at a wedding feast.
Fans of Martin’s books reportedly were braced and ready, although nervously so, for those grisly nuptials when they came along, but “Thrones” cast member John Bradley warns that some genuine shocks are looming in Season 4, even if you know Martin’s books.
“I’ve learned to make a separation between the show and the books, which seems like a healthy thing to do,” says Bradley, who plays reluctant hero Samwell “Sam” Tarly. “Once you get into Season 4, they really start to exist independently of each other.
“The book readers will always try to second-guess what we’re going to have in the show, but I think this year in particular David (Benioff) and Dan (Weiss, the show’s executive producers) have gotten wise to that. They’re determined to surprise the audience and really lull them into a false sense of security, then hit them with something unexpected that’s just going to blow their brains out. So don’t get comfy.”
Season 4 opens in King’s Landing, where Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance) is gloating over his clan’s apparent eradication of any threats from House Stark. Elsewhere, as the wedding of her son, King Joffrey (Jack Gleeson), and Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer) looms, Cersei (Lena Headey) has an oddly tentative reunion with her twin (and incestuous lover), Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau).
It’s a fraught situation, and one to which the “knight lady” Brienne reluctantly has a ringside seat.
“I think what we are going to see this season is Brienne being placed in a series of situations which are electrical,” the actress tells Zap2it, “because she is in a world that she does not know how to negotiate and keeps getting thrown into situations that she does know how to navigate, although she’s doing her best to figure out how to survive them. That will definitely continue.”
It’s a safe bet — well, safe in this fictional world, however — that Jaime usually will be Brienne’s primary focus. The two became tightly bonded last season, a fascinating relationship that revealed a whole new side to Jaime’s personality.
“I’m not sure that Brienne has truly redeemed Jaime Lannister, but she certainly wants him to remain this better man and not slip back into being the person that he was before,” Christie says. “Certainly, we see more of Jaime’s character and understand the kind of man he truly is, and what makes him such a fascinating character is because he has such a wide-reaching, complex personality.”
Meanwhile, far to the north, Bradley’s Sam finally has reached the Night’s Watch home of Castle Black with his devoted companion Gilly (Hannah Murray) and her infant son, where he happily reunites with his best friend and fellow Watchman, Jon Snow. Unfortunately, Sam’s joy is likely to be short-lived, the actor reveals.
“What [Sam] has achieved in killing the White Walkers is something that to everyone else just seems so impossible, even outlandish, that they can’t believe he’s actually done that,” Bradley says. “Sam just doesn’t get the respect he deserves for doing something that no one else in the history of Westeros has ever done. It doesn’t take long for Sam’s classic insecurities and disastrously low self-esteem to come to the fore and consume him. That leads him to make certain decisions and act upon certain impulses that could prove absolutely catastrophic.”
Bradley adds most fans may not realize that for the most part, members of the huge cast of “Game of Thrones” watch the show exactly as loyal viewers do, and they’re subject to some of the same shocks and delights along the way as well.
“There is so much material and so many elements of the show that you have no direct involvement in,” he explains. “So I can watch a Daenerys sequence … with the same sense of anticipation that a fan would. We [actors] get to see the first episode [of a season] at premiere screenings, but after that I watch the show broadcast at the same time that the fans watch it. I really like that sense of community, with everybody getting together, even the actors, and watching with completely fresh eyes and investing emotionally in it. We all go on that dramatic roller coaster at the same time as everyone else.”