The year 1219 was not a good one for Inalchuq, the governor of Otrar in the Khwarezmian Empire (present day Afghanistan and Iran). A year before, he had captured a trading caravan sent by Genghis Khan to his city. Claiming there were spies in the caravan, he had seized its wealth and sold it and killed all but one of its 500 members. All of it was done with the blessings of the Sultan Muhammad II, his Shah and nephew. The surviving member of the caravan escaped and fled back to Genghis Khan — who was busy with his war against the Jin Dynasty of China — and told him of what happened. This would start a chain of events that would end with Inalchuq’s death and the destruction of the Khwarezmian Empire.
The great Khan, opting for diplomacy at first, sent three emissaries — a Muslim ambassador and two Mongol companions — to the Khwarezmian Sultan, demanding he hand Inalchuq and the stolen caravan goods back. The Sultan responded by shaving off the hair and beard of the Mongols and beheading the Muslim ambassador. This prompted a response by Genghis Khan of between 100,000 and 250,000 soldiers, including his greatest general, Subutai. They proceeded to lay waste to much of the Khwarezmian Empire. The Sultan would be forced to flee into exile, where he died destitute and alone. Inalchuq was besieged in his tower in Otrar for five months and, when finally captured, was executed by having molten silver poured into his eyes.
Now if that doesn’t sound familiar….
This is but one of the many examples of Genghis Khan enacting his vengeance on someone who wronged him. Whether he sent spies into Otrar or not, he felt that Inalchuq and the Sultan had betrayed the proper treatment of his caravan traders and worse, his ambassadors. His response was both brutal and permanent. It would also have long-term consequences on the Mongols that they could not see as they destroyed the Khwarezmians.
Every season of Game of Thrones focuses on a theme. Season 1, it was honor. Season 2, it was power. Season 3, it was betrayal. With Season 4, which follows the second half of A Storm of Swords, that theme will be vengeance. And with good reason, as the ripple effects from last season’s “Red Wedding” will continue to reverberate for the characters. However, it won’t be the only vengeance sought this season as old wounds continue to fester for the characters of Westeros and Essos.
For the Lannisters in King’s Landing, the War of the Five Kings is winding down and they appear to be the victors. King Joffrey Baratheon and Margaery Tyrell’s wedding will be the final act. It will seal the union of three of the major houses – Baratheon and Lannister through Joffrey and Tyrell through Margaery. Combined, they’ll have enough power to subdue what’s left of the rebel forces that remain fighting on the field. Their mind is therefore turned to consolidating their power base. Lord Tywin Lannister, Hand of the King, will ensure that his quest of a millennia-long Lannister rule is fulfilled.
Except that his own house is not united one bit. His children, Queen Regent Cersei, Ser Jaime and Lord Tyrion, are at odds with themselves and one another. Cersei loathes the engagement to Ser Loras Tyrell that her father forced her into. Tyrion hates that his family hates him and that he’s never recognized for any of his worth. Jaime, having returned from imprisonment at the hand of the Starks and torture at the hand of Lord Bolton’s men, is a man unaware of all that has changed since he last saw King’s Landing – when he left as a member of King Robert’s Kingsguard. Worse for him, lacking his sword hand, he finds himself lost of what defined him.
But if the Lannister clan thinks that it is all over, they are mistaken. For from deep south rides a man seeking justice promised. He is Prince Oberyn of House Martell, the rulers of the sandy lands of Dorne. The Martells are a proud people as they were the one kingdom that the Targaryens could never conquer – opting to bring them into the rule of the Iron Throne by marriage. Prince Oberyn comes for the great wedding and to sit in the Small Council as per the deal sent by Tyrion when he acted as Hand of the King. But Tyrion also promised him justice for the murder of his sister, the late Princess Ella, the widow of Prince Rhaegar Targaryen and mother of his children.
Which is a problem for the Lannisters since it was by Lord Tywin’s command that Princess Ella and her children were murdered by Ser Gregor Clegane. And the Mountain didn’t simply execute her. After he and his men butchered her children, with her infant’s brains still on his hands, the Mountain raped Princess Ella before killing her. Such was the depravity of his men’s actions that Lord Tywin had to cover the remains of the late princess and her children in the crimson cloaks of the Lannisters – to better hide the bloody remains To the Martells, it is not just the Mountain who must pay for the desecration and violence visited upon their sibling, but the man who ordered the attack: Lord Tywin Lannister, Hand of the King and de facto ruler of the Seven Kingdoms.
The Martells are obviously not the only great House to harbor enmity against the Lannisters. King Stannis Baratheon and his Red Priestess are still out there, licking their wounds and looking for a way to continue the war. Melissandre has shown Stannis her visions in the flames and he has seen some of the darkness that is coming. His Hand, Lord Davos, has also shown him the pleas for aid from the Night’s Watch. But what can he do? How can he do anything when the black brothers are besieged by wildlings, the North belongs to House Bolton and he is desperately short on warriors?
As for the Boltons, they are now the Wardens of the North thanks to their role in the “Red Wedding”. And while Lord Bolton is ensuring his alliance with the Lannisters is secure, his son, Ramsay, is busy torturing Theon Greyjoy. His sister, Yara, is on a mission to rescue him; not to avenge him. But can she reach him before he’s dead or worse? Yara and Theon are alone as their father opts to continue his attempt at freedom and conquest. Can he hold out against the other great Houses?
Meanwhile, what remains of House Stark have great hate towards the lions. But for now, they are scattered and lost to the winds. Sansa remains married to Tyrion in what has to be the most disappointing marriage of convenience ever. Brandon travels far to the Lands of Perpetual Winter in search of the three-eyed raven, with the Reed siblings and Hodor along. Rickon and Osha are gone to parts unknown. And Arya rides with Ser Sandor Clegane, the Hound, as his captive. He’s desperate to offload her to anyone who’ll pay, but with the Starks dead and Arya’s value decreasing, he’s unsure of where to go.
As for the young Stark girl, she’s harboring a secret list of assassination targets that all deserve to feel her vengeance. Joffrey. Cersei. Tywin Lannister. The Hound. Will she visit her vengeance on the brutish and brutal captor who desperately seeks to sell her off? Can she? They will wander the countryside and encounter the remains that the War of the Five Kings has left of Westeros. Given their identities, it’s likely they will draw friends and foes to them. Warriors and sellswords who will seek their revenge on the Hound now that he’s no longer protected by Joffrey’s position.
Which is what is about to happen to Jon Snow, her half-brother. Having returned from the failed Northern expedition of the late Commander Mormont, Jon brings the ill news of a wildling campaign against Castle Black, led by Mance Rayder and Tormund Giantsbane on each side of The Wall. Among this expedition will be Ygritte, the spurned lover who will come seeking retribution for his betrayals of the wildling cause and of their love. And if that were the only person coming to seek vengeance on Jon Snow, that still would be a lot. But Jon will find that the fall of the Old Bear has left open the door for other enemies of Lord Snow to take their vengeance upon him.
But if anyone embodies the idea of vengeance, it is Danaerys Targaryen. As the last remaining member of House Targaryen, she now leads an army that she hopes will one day bring vengeance upon those who betrayed her family and will restore her to the Iron Throne of Westeros. As she’s finding out though, it is one thing to conquer. It is something far different to rule. Specially if one is a ruler who is bent on upending the norms and traditions of the world. This creates enemies. And those enemies are bent on their own form of vengeance against the young queen. It’s a good thing she has her dragons to protect her.
That is, if her dragons can protect her. Or anyone for that matter. Dragons are not dogs or horses or other pets or beasts of burden. They have a mind all their own.
And that is the way of vengeance. To quote Hattori Hanzo, “Revenge is never a straight line. It’s a forest, And like a forest it’s easy to lose your way.” In its pursuit, people can get lost and end up sacrificing things of great value to them to achieve it. As he sought to end his Khwarezmian campaign, Genghis Khan finally was forced to choose a successor – opting for his third son, Ogedei over the elder son, Jochi. Jochi never forgave his father and this would create the seeds of hatred amongst the sons of Genghis Khan that would one day lead to the breakup of the largest empire the world would ever know for a millennia.
As the old saying goes, “He who seeks vengeance should first dig two graves.”