Kit Harington as Jon Snow, Ciaran Hinds as Mance Rayder. Photo Credit: Helen Sloan/courtesy of HBO.

Kit Harington as Jon Snow, Ciaran Hinds as Mance Rayder. Photo Credit: Helen Sloan/courtesy of HBO.

“All I ever wanted was to fight for a lord I believed in. The good lords are dead and the rest are monsters.” – Brienne of Tarth

An appropriate theme for Game of Thrones’ fourth season was Valar Morghulis, the High Valyrian saying for “All Men Must Die.” The season certainly lived up to its name: the sadistic King Joffrey Baratheon was poisoned at his wedding feast, allowing for his younger, timid brother Tommen to assume the throne. The murder was falsely pinned on Tyrion Lannister, whom Prince Oberyn Martell attempted to save in a trial by combat that ended in his own grisly death. And finally, Tyrion was set free by his older brother and decided to shoot the almighty Tywin Lannister, his own daddy, with a crossbow while he was relieving himself on the toilet, Elvis Presley-style.

Arguably the most important death in the series thus far, Tywin’s demise, while rightly deserved because of his treatment of his son, couldn’t be worse for the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros — but it couldn’t be better for the show. Judging by “The Wars to Come,” an effective season opener full of juicy setup, the theme of the fifth season is shaping up to be “All Women Must Rule.” (I’m not sure how to say this in High Valyrian.) And if they’re not ruling physically, they’re ruling the actual show. Female characters like Daenerys Targaryen, Brienne of Tarth, Sansa Stark and Melisandre are shaping up to be some of the game’s most valuable players — Arya Stark, too, although she was M.I.A. in this episode.

Westeros is now in a state of limbo without Tywin, and Cersei Lannister has taken it upon herself to keep everything together and become the ruler she’s always wanted to be. She certainly thinks she has what it takes, but her inclinations to make rash decisions based on hatred and jealousy and a foretelling moment from her past might be clouding her judgment a little. OK, maybe a lot. But honestly, who wouldn’t hate Margaery Tyrell after a clairvoyant woods witch told you that you’d be queen for a time until another younger, more beautiful queen comes along to cast you aside?

That flashback, taken straight from George R.R. Martin’s A Feast For Crows, the fourth installment in A Song of Ice and Fire, is the best opening scene the show has had since season one. Nell Williams, who was cast to play young Cersei, was perfect capturing the Queen Regent’s mannerisms and mood, and the entire sequence made it clear that the witch’s statement — which also included a chilling bit about all of her children dying before her — has been playing in the back of Cersei’s mind ever since. No wonder she’s one of the most untrustworthy, cold-hearted characters on the show.

Without even a moment to mourn, Mama Lannister is already dealing with the return of her cousin Lancel, who’s no longer her cowardly pet and sometimes lover but a religious fanatic who has a lot of buddies dubbed “Sparrows.” And, of course, she has to come to terms with the fact that Margaery is that younger queen who will cast her aside. Speaking of Margaery, the soon-to-be queen is already making moves to get Cersei out of the picture with her plans to manipulate Tommen in more ways than one, which surely won’t be a difficult task considering he’s like 13.

Elsewhere, Petyr Baelish has concocted what could be a devious plan for Sansa, as the newly independent Stark daughter and her creepy uncle have left the Vale to head somewhere out of Cersei’s reach (remember, she thinks Sansa had a hand in Joffrey’s murder). Naturally, the Vale caravan bypassed Brienne and Podrick, both of whom are searching for Sansa in the name of her dead mother, not too long after they failed to keep Arya around. Brienne is obviously pissed at Podrick for not keeping an eye on the youngest Stark girl during her brutal fight with the Hound, but she’s resolved to not give up on her quest. Podrick just needs to do a much better job at squiring.

The arrival of Stannis Baratheon, his associates and his army has shaken things up at the Wall and put Jon Snow in a precarious position. Stannis is determined to conquer the north, currently held by the traitorous Roose Bolton, and wants the Wildlings to join his cause. The go-between is Jon, who ultimately wasn’t able to convince Wildling leader Mance Rayder to bend the knee to Stannis. Doing so went against his “free folk” beliefs. And, as we all know, if you defy Stannis Baratheon, you get burned at the stake as a gift to the Lord of Light (aka R’hllor). Sure enough, Melisandre, who is for sure set on making her next victim of seduction Jon Snow, preached her word and lit up Mance on a pyre. It was all pretty gruesome, but before the flames really started to do what they were intended, Jon put Mance out of his misery with an arrow to the heart — proof that Lord Snow genuinely cared for the Night’s Watch traitor.

Nathalie Emmanuel as Missandei, Jacob Anderson as Grey Worm. Photo Credit: Helen Sloan/courtesy of HBO.

Nathalie Emmanuel as Missandei, Jacob Anderson as Grey Worm. Photo Credit: Helen Sloan/courtesy of HBO.

In Meereen, Dany’s rule is going far from smoothly. Not only does she have zero control over two of her increasingly ferocious and imprisoned dragons, but she also doesn’t even know where the third (and largest) one is flying about. Her sellsword lover Daario Naharis rightly tells her that she can’t rule as a queen of dragons without dragons. But, you know, she doesn’t want the bones of dead babies thrown at her feet anymore. Our favorite Khaleesi is also dealing with the uncomfortable reality that if she wants to please a majority of the Meereenese people, she may have to reinstate the city’s morbid tradition of human pit fighting, an act that would go against her beliefs. Unlike Mance Rayder, Dany knows that in order to be a successful ruler she’ll have to do what’s best for her people, regardless of whether she likes them or not. Oh, and did I mention that there’s a horrifying underground group of masked men killing off Dany’s Unsullied? The Sons of the Harpy, a group undoubtedly formed by former slave masters in defiance of Dany’s actions, have escalated their frequent attacks on the Unsullied to straight up murder. What specifically caused this to happen was the symbolic toppling of the Harpy (in a magnificent CGI scene), a Free Cities statue that symbolizes centuries of slavery. Regardless of what she ends up deciding, Dany is starting to realize that being a queen is not all it’s cracked up to be; it actually kind of blows.

And finally, for the first time, Dany’s story isn’t the only one we’re following in Essos. Tyrion and Varys have arrived in Pentos after a long journey across the Narrow Sea that involved the beloved half man drinking copious amounts of wine in a small box. Once they arrived at the home of Illyrio Mopatis (he appeared as Dany and Viserys’ host way back in the pilot), Varys revealed that he and Illyrio have been plotting forever to get a Targaryen back on the Iron Throne — and who better than Dany? As the spider puts it, she has the right temperament and family name. She would be loved by millions of people — a ruler that Westeros hasn’t seen in a very long time. The old Tyrion would’ve been completely onboard in helping Varys out. But the current Tyrion just wants to drink himself into oblivion, and who can blame him? He did strangle his lover after he found her in the bed of his father, whom he murdered moments later. He kind of has to make peace with that before he embarks on a Targaryen political campaign. It’ll be interesting to see what’ll cause the Imp to get back on his game. And honestly, who doesn’t want to see him and Dany meet?

Throne Room Notes

– So the first thing Melisandre asked Jon was if he was a virgin. I know you like redheads Jon, but sex with the Red Woman never ends well. Just ask Gendry.

– This might be the first episode that had more male nudity than female nudity, thanks to Daario, Loras Tyrell and Olyvar. And given Thrones’ previous track record of an unequal female to male ratio of bare skin, this is a really good thing.

– Most awkward scene in this episode? When Margaery casually walked in on her brother Loras and Olyvar doing the nasty and sat there, completely unbothered.

– Charles Dance made a guest appearance as Tywin’s corpse and it was still glorious. He may have played a monstrous father, but his presence on the show is missed.

– Those that were upset by the lack of Arya, whose trip to Braavos closed out last season, need not worry. The fearless Stark daughter returns next week.

Video courtesy of Game of Thrones.

Video courtesy of Game of Thrones.

Catch an all-new episode of “Game of Thrones” on Sunday, April 19th at 9 p.m. on HBO, HBO GO, or HBO Now.