The Crown season 4, episode 1 recap – the opening chapter explained

By Daniel Hart
Published: November 15, 2020 (Last updated: November 29, 2023)
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Netflix series The Crown season 4, episode 1 - Gold Stick


“Gold Stick” is a sombre opening as tragedy hits the family. It also starts the Princess Diana story, with Charles’ intrigue on the woman taking centre stage in the chapter.

This recap of Netflix’s The Crown season 4, episode 1, “Gold Stick” contains significant spoilers.

We recapped every episode — check out the archive.

The opening

“Gold Stick” opens up with Elizabeth petting a horse in the stables and then proceeding to ride out to crowds — what follows is a rhetoric narration from an IRA leader, coupled with archival footage of chaos in the streets; the IRA want the crown to retreat from Ireland forever. There’s a sense of dread that runs through “Gold Stick” — a cloud that edges clearer with each minute.

Charles meets Sarah, and also her sister

With many rumors regarding his love life discussed by the Royal Family, Charles meets Sarah Spencer. While waiting for Sarah, a woman in a costume is sneaking around as she’s preparing for a school play; she’s nervous as she was told not to be seen by her sister. The woman is Sarah’s sister Diana. Sarah tells Charles that her sister was obsessed with the idea of meeting him. Season 4 introduces Diana very quickly.

The first woman Prime Minister

With the Tories in the lead in the election, Margaret Thatcher, the first female Prime Minister, is preparing for her speech. Elizabeth watches the election unfold on the television; Philip questions how the country is going to be run by two women and couples his suggestion with more sexist remarks. Elizabeth thinks it’s going to be a good era.

Meeting Thatcher

We will never know what truly happened when Thatcher first met the Queen but “Gold Stick” makes it sound rather casual and laidback. Thatcher meets Elizabeth to confirm that she will be forming a government. Elizabeth makes a prediction on her cabinet. Thatcher says that women tend to not do well in high office as they become too emotional, which felt like an incredibly ironic remark to say considering she is a woman herself. When Thatcher returns home, she’s impressed that the Queen managed to predict most of her cabinet. Her husband makes a snarky comment about two menopausal women.

Philip reminds Anne that she’s a remarkable woman

The Royal Family head to Balmoral Castle. Philip tells Anne that the family is proud to have an Olympian in the family but Anne seems downbeat because she feels she has lost her identity a little. Philip calls her a brilliant and determined young woman but Anne does not seem to want to hear it. The complicated relationship between them runs through Season 4 almost immediately.

Charles makes his point about Camilla

“Gold Stick” then moves to River Hofsa, Iceland where Charles is enjoying a vacation. Lord Mountbatten rings Charles and they talk about Camilla — Mountbatten reminds Charles how they feel about Camilla but Charles is not happy with the unwelcome interventions and he reminds him how much he likes Camilla. The amount of stress placed on Charle’s shoulders is incredible to watch; his entire objective is to find a woman and nothing else.

The IRA strikes

And then that dark cloud that you can feel at the start of “Gold Stick” starts to pour down on the Royal Family. The following scenes show them all enjoying vacation time; fishing, hiking, and hunting. While out fishing, Lord Mountbatten’s boat blows up — he was on it with his young grandson. The police and rescue boats turn up. Margaret and Anne are on their trek and suddenly, they are alerted to what’s happened via a telegram from Dublin — Lord Mountbatten died along with others, a few are injured. The IRA has claimed responsibility. When Charles receives the news he screams into the river.

Mount Mountbatten’s letter

Lord Mountbatten left a letter for Charles before he died. It says he isn’t working hard enough to rise and that he’s trying to conceal an infatuation for another man’s wife; he advises that he should build a destiny with a woman so he can start a new life — a woman the public can admire as Queen. Lord Mountbatten ends the letter saying he misses Charles. We have to wonder if this what changed Charles’s course and led him to Diana.

Thatcher’s strong words

Prime Minister Thatcher rings Elizabeth and offers her condolences; she condemns the IRA and calls it criminal violence. She wants to attack the IRA and vows to end the war with them once and for all.

Philip admits to feeling resentful of Charles and Lord Mountbatten

Charles returns home and Philip tells him that Lord Mountbatten would not have feared death. Philip explains that Mountbatten wants Charles to do the reading at his funeral. He then explains how Lord Mountbatten became like a surrogate father to him but then he switched to Charles as the priority. Philip admits to being resentful about it in the past. You can feel the complications between Philip and Charles in this scene; both men are mourning a loss of a man they both considered to be a father — it’s a strange, dysfunctional family set-up.

The funeral

As the funeral begins, IRA narration claims responsibility and states, “Lord Mountbatten was the ultimate symbol of imperialist oppression”. The rhetoric continues and the narration asks when will the Irish deaths be remembered; they vow for the war to continue.

The ending

Diana Spencer offers her condolences to Prince Charles regarding Lord Mountbatten after a dressage competition. There’s a pause between them as they make small talk. As she walks off, Charles seems giddy after meeting her again. Later on, Charles rings Sarah and congratulates her on the eve of her wedding with a man named Neil. He asks Sarah about her sister Diana — Sarah explains that she’s turned 18 and that she does little part-time jobs. Charles continues asking her questions, getting all the specific information. Charles asks permission to ask Diana out and then rings her up. Season 4 has essentially jumpstarted the Diana story.

The Crown season 4, episode 1 is a somber opening as tragedy hits the family. It also starts the Princess Diana story, with Charles’ intrigue on the woman taking center stage in the chapter. The Netflix series continues to have a strong narrative, backed by wonderful performances.

Royal archives
  • Anne takes part in a dressage competition. She manages to put in a fantastic effort and finishes in sixth place. Philip is delighted to see his daughter doing well.

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