No metal is rarer in the whole of Westeros or Essos than Valyrian steel. Weapons forged out of Valyrian steel are treasured by their owners. Some will refuse to part with them, even as they are losing everything else of value. Part of the value lies in the quality of the material. Spells and runes are cast into the steel, making it lighter, but stronger than even the strongest swords made out of any other metal. But they’re truly valued because they are tied into the apocalyptic destruction of the ancient kingdom of Valyria. With its destruction, the secrets of how to properly make Valyrian steel have disappeared. No more Valyrian steel shall ever be made. All that one can do is repurpose it and remake what remains in the world.
Each great House of Westeros either has or had at one point a family weapon made out of Valyrian steel. Just like their seat of power and their sigil and their words, this family weapon was a treasured heirloom. It was passed from heir to heir as a line that stretched back into the times of legends. To lose it was considered a great misfortune. Which is exactly what happened to House Lannister many decades before, when during a failed expedition to Valyria, the Lord of Casterly Rock took his family’s Valyrian steel sword with him. For years, his heir, Lord Tywin Lannister, has looked for ways to replace it. He has offered treasure to whoever would sell it and found no takers. This absence has rankled at a man who demands perfection in every aspect of his family. And in the great sword of the dead House Stark, Ice, Lord Tywin has finally found enough material to make his sword – better yet, make two swords.
Thus begins Season 4 of “Game of Thrones”: with a man repurposing the legacy of one great House to build the legacy of his own. This is nothing new for Tywin Lannister. His ruthlessness and his cunning have all been used for the singular purpose of raising his family to the highest seat in the land and to build them a legacy that will never be rivaled. And here’s where he finds himself at crossroads with the heirs to that legacy. Because none of them are really up to his standards.
He welcomes his son Jaime back with one of the reforged Valyrian steel swords and offers him the chance to leave the Kingsguard – which has been his plan all along. His son and heir, denied to him by a spiteful act of the Mad King, would be returned to Casterly Rock and rule there while he runs the Kingdoms in his grandson’s stead. Except that Ser Jaime doesn’t want Casterly Rock. He doesn’t want to rule House Lannister. He wishes to remain in the Kingsguard and close to his sister and lover Cersei – whom Lord Tywin has decreed must wed Ser Loras Tyrell. That act of defiance causes Lord Tywin to renounce his son and heir – which is odd. Without Jaime, the heir to Casterly Rock is Tyrion Lannister, whom Lord Tywin has already stated will not inherit the Rock but can have the North through his loveless marriage to Sansa Stark.
Poor Sansa finds herself unable to move, eat or do anything but deal with the aftermath of her family’s terrifying fall. She does not know her brothers or sister are alive. All she knows is she’s what’s left of House Stark and she’ll be used to give the North to the Lannisters. But maybe her own noble action in saving Ser Dontos from the wrath of King Joffrey will help her yet. Ser Dontos offers her all he’s got left in the world as token of appreciation. A small ray of sunshine born out of an act of desperate kindness.
As for the North, they have been left to fend for themselves as the wildlings move en masse towards their fight with the Night’s Watch. The legacy of bad blood between both sides guarantees that Jon Snow is greeted as a traitor and not a brother by those who sit in charge of the black brothers; to say nothing of the personal animosity that Jon and Acting Commander Ser Alliser Thorne. Likewise, this legacy of hatred and blood forces Tormund to question Ygritte’s decision to let him live and warn the Night’s Watch of everything he had learned amongst the wildlings. Not sooner is Tormund questioning her than Styr, the leader of the Thenns arrives to question Tormund of his own mistakes in handling Jon. Though united in cause, the legacy of bad blood amongst the free folk is difficult to forget.
Speaking of bad blood, Tyrion is forced to confront the legacy of his father’s ruthlessness in the form of Prince Oberyn Martell of Dorne. Just as he destroyed House Reyne – the inspiration of the “Lannister song” – and just as he ensured that House Stark was ripped up, Lord Tywin was key to the murder of Oberyn’s sister, Ella and her children by Prince Rhaegar. He gave the order to Ser Gregor Clegane to kill the heirs to the Targaryen line and his Mountain went a step further in his brutality, raping and killing the princess by splitting her in two like she was her horse. House Martell hasn’t forgotten that bit of butchery and they’ll make sure the Lannisters pay that debt in blood.
But Lord Tywin and his killers were not able to extinguish the Targaryens like they were the Starks and the Reynes. Danaerys Stormborn still lives and, far across the Narrow Sea, she marches with her army. Her march is the legacy of her father’s madness, of her brother’s act of selling her, of her life as a servant and slave and of the men and women she has drawn to her with her strength. Her desire to free slaves has made the Slave Masters of Meereen to crucify slaves as signposts to their city. They should know better than to mess with the Mother of Dragons – even if the dragons are growing stronger and wilder.
Stronger and wilder may also describe young Arya Stark. The prisoner of Ser Sandor Clegane, she is being taken to the Vale of Arryn, to be ransomed into the care of her aunt, Lysa. But when she spots the chance to take her revenge upon Polliver, the Lannister soldier who took her Needle and used it to kill her friend, she jumps at it. Polliver and his fellows are drinking, raping and killing their way to King’s Landing, secure in their position as soldiers of the winning side. Until they run into The Hound and his little companion. Poor Polliver doesn’t even recognize the girl until she runs him through – with his last breath used to realize how his actions – his legacy of carnage – has led to a tiny girl killing him.
And this is where we start, with each character forced to confront the legacies of their own mistakes as well as those made by elders years before. For Tywin Lannister, legacy is everything. It is his guiding star. His children will bow to it. The Kingdoms will bow to it. But for every action, there’s a response. And sometimes, the response that is received by those who play the game of thrones is to watch as their legacies burn away or are torn to shreds or simply bleed out through a small hole. And after their deaths, others come and reforge their broken legacies and failed dreams into the swords that will be used to create new legacies.
For some, that response is called justice. For others, it is dubbed vengeance.