Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) was so close to reuniting with her brother and mother -- and then the Red Wedding happened. She's getting so toughened that even the Hound, her grizzly companion, is impressed by her thirst for vengeance. (Helen Sloan/HBO)Link
An ex-knight who's scared of fire but not much else, The Hound (Rory McCann) has become Arya's unlikely sidekick. He took out the rest of the bragging Frey men after Arya made a quick kill out of one of them. (Helen Sloan/HBO)Link
Every romantic fantasy Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) had as a young girl has died a hard death. First, the cruelty of Joffrey (Jack Gleeson), who threw her over for Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer); now an awkward union with Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage). Stay strong, sister. (Keith Bernstein/ HBO)Link
Missing an appendage and tortured on the regular, Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen) got the new nickname Reek. His sister has set out to save him -- if there's anything left. (Helen Sloan/ HBO)Link
You can take the boy out of the Night's Watch, but you can't take the Night's Watch out of the boy. Ygritte (Rose Leslie) pumped a bunch of arrows into her ex-lover, but Snow (Kit Harington) still made it back to his brotherhood, and his dear friend Sam (John Bradley). (Helen Sloan/ HBO)Link
What a coincidence! Bran (Isaac Hempstead Wright) bumps into Jon Snow's friend Sam. Bran asks Sam to take him and his entourage of psychics and arrow-slingers north of the Wall. (Helen Sloan/ HBO)Link
The dwarf Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) is the sharpest wit in the Lannister family, but his final exchange with his steel-hearted father left him speechless. To make matters worse, his tearful new wife, Sansa, wants nothing to do with him. Good thing there's always wine. (Helen Sloan/ HBO)Link
Orchestrating secret massacres and arranging unwanted marriages for his adult children -- it's all in a day's work for Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance), the most Machiavellian of clan heads. (Macall B. Polay/ HBO)Link
The world's fiercest den mother, Cersei (Lena Headey) continues to look the other way while her baby king fumes and narrowly avoids getting himself killed. Her big advice to brother Tyrion: Get Sansa pregnant. (Good luck with that, says everyone else.) (Helen Sloan/HBO)Link
Who should Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer) fear more? The cruel-for-sport King Joffrey, or Cersei, her future mother-in-law? Either way, she'll need the survival skills she learned from her quick-witted grandmother, Lady Olenna (Diana Rigg, on the right). (Macall B. Polay?HBO)Link
Sadistic boy king Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) might wear the crown but everyone knows his Grandpa holds the real power. When Joffrey threw a tantrum, Tywin sent him to bed. (Macall B. Polay/HBO)Link
Spreading freedom wherever she goes, Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) liberated the city of Yunkai and other slave cities. Cue the mother of dragons crowdsurfing across a sea of new followers chanting "mother" in their native tongue. (HBO)Link
Frustrated Stannis Baratheon(Stephen Dillane) keeps counsel with the Red Priestess Melisandre (Carice van Houten) who surprisingly advised him not to kill Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham) for letting the bastard Gendry (Joe Dempsie) escape. (Helen Sloan/HBO)Link
Jamie Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) lost a hand but gained a soul (maybe). He and kindred spirit Brienne (Gwendoline Christie, on the right) finally made it to King's Landing -- where his sister Cersei sees his injury for the first time. (Helen Sloan/HBO)Link
HBO’s “Game of Thrones” returns to the small screen Sunday night to begin its fourth season, which will follow much of the action in the latter half of “A Storm of Swords,” the third novel in George R.R. Martin’s sprawling literary fantasy.
Though the epic show is known for its slow builds, word on the streets of Westeros suggests that swords will be drawn swiftly and without mercy.
So where did we leave off? In a nutshell, the Lannisters were up and the Starks were very down.
After the bloodbath of the Red Wedding, where matriarch Catelyn, her son Robb and his pregnant wife were all knifed to the tune of “The Rains of Castamere,” few members of clan are left alive. However, bloodthirsty Arya Stark just might be the one to exactly revenge, even if she must wait to mete out her punishments.
Power never stays in one place (or one family) for too long in the Seven Kingdoms, so while the Lannisters appear to have a lock on the Iron Throne, appearances can be deceiving. Will their dysfunction and backbiting get in their way, if the survivors of House Stark don’t get to them first?
As a refresher in advance of the Season 4 premiere, Hero Complex has created a gallery to remind fans where the major characters found themselves at the end of Season 3, which finished its run some 10 months ago.
Who will be the first to go in the next installments? Start the betting pools now.
— Margaret Wappler | @MargaretWappler
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