Premium cable network struts its stuff with three premieres this weekend

Charles Dance
Charles Dance

Game of Thrones

"The Rains of Castamere" no longer soundtracks our nightmares, and the Red Wedding's deep cuts have pinkened into scar tissue. The audience, at least, has had a year to recuperate. Not so for the battered people of Westeros: Season four makes clear that the wound is still new – and very, very raw – in HBO's adaptation of George R.R. Martin's still-in-progress epic fantasy about the endless and bloody power grabs for the Iron Throne.

At the tail end of season three, throne contender Robb Stark lost his head like his father before him, and – oh, the indignity – Daddy's sword is about to get dismembered, too. In season four's cold opening, the ice-in-his-veins House Lan­nister paterfamilias Tywin (Charles Dance) takes a victory lap by melting down Stark Valyrian steel into two swords which he strategically regifts to his clan. Based on the three episodes advanced to press, I'd venture Dance is making serious moves at season four MVP, so silky, so shuddering is his Hand of the King – aka his operation of the puppet strings.

David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have proven to be exceptionally skilled at juggling many balls at once. Pause here for a deep bend to their derring-do in whiplashing the audience – from the Wall to the Crownlands and on to Daenerys' long tromp across Essos – without sending 14.2 million viewers to the chiropractor. But their greatest strength is in the less razzle-dazzle but still essential character work that emerges when two opposing forces are lashed together. Let's give a hand (too soon?) to Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) and Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) for their Hope-and-Crosby-on-the-Road-to-King's-Landing routine in season three, but the new season wastes no time in reminding us that Jaime is a sister-shagging, kid-crippling, stone-cold killer who supplied half the DNA to an ascending monster, King Joffrey (Jack Gleeson). In want of another improbably endearing twosome? Season four tenders fan favorite Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) and her captor, the Hound (Rory McCann).

Still: so many balls. It's a relief that season four doesn't kick off with a barrage of new characters, but there are a couple of debut players worth keeping an eye on. So far, House Martell has only supplied backstory in the TV series (maybe you recall the name from a late-night Wiki-binge?), but this season gives us a flesh-and-blood someone to watch in the person of Oberyn (Pedro Pascal), a sexed-up middle-child prince nursing a blood feud. Michiel Huisman – lately seen on CBS' Nashville playing bearded eye candy as music producer Liam – assumes the role of Daario Naharis, a new convert to Daenerys' cause. (The role requires fewer guitar licks and more knife skills, but the endgame's the same – bearded eye candy.) To say any more would be spoilsporterish, so instead we'll close with an aside to the casting director: Since you're foraging the network TV ranks now, might we suggest Josh Charles? He's got the royal beak, and the 'shippers come included.

Game of Thrones (season four), Silicon Valley (season one), and Veep (season three) premiere back-to-back-to-back on Sun­day, April 6, at 8pm, 9pm, and 9:30pm, respectively, on HBO.

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