Nothing will ever be as shocking as the Red Wedding back in season 3. It will undoubtably be a moment in the show’s history that will be impossible to top in terms of viewers reaction. But as anyone who’s seen the fourth season of Game of Thrones, you know that there were plenty of big moments to behold and plenty of main characters to watch die. Season 4 proved that Game of Thrones can still be a treasure trove of trauma.
This season was different from past seasons as the show didn’t build up to a specific big moment or episode like “The Battle of Blackwater” or “The Red Wedding.” Instead what we got were numerous big moments. And I’d expect it to be more like this as the show goes forward. Creators, David Benioff and Dan Weiss have stated that the show is going to have to exist on it’s own terms and George R.R. Martin’s books are going to serve as a blueprint.
They have made changes to the source material in the past, with most of them being an improvement of the story. Or if you don’t agree with that statement; a nice little addition to a story that is mainly told from the POV of certain characters. The creators where still faithful where it counted. Yeah a few big characters from the books never showed up, but the show should be judged on it’s own terms, as it’s own entity and I’d also expect this to be a pattern as the show moves towards it’s last three or four seasons, things will be streamlined. It’s a monster hit for HBO, they will definitely see it through till the end.
One of the biggest problems this show had this season was it’s lack of assured direction. There was a lack of trackable goals, with a real lack of forward momentum. However, I find it hard to blame the creators for that, as the story in the books is like that after the Red Wedding. There is no more war, no more Starks Vs The Lannisters; everything becomes about each character’s individual story. Even with the Lannisters go relatively unchallenged this season, that doesn’t stop people from dying. And a lot of people died, including the King himself.
Right at the top of season Joffrey met his slow, agonizing and completely satisfying demise. It was the first indicator that anything big could happen at any moment. That those moments were not going to be saved for the traditional “episode 9.” It really felt that anyone could go at any moment, it didn’t matter if you were a protagonist or an antagonist. In fact, it led some viewers to believe that the off book chat between Tyrion of Jaime about their mentally challenged cousin Orson, who spent his days smashing beetles was a friendly jab at the author.
For example, Oberyn Martell. Who rode into King’s Landing with such pride and determination to avenge the killing of his sister and her children that when he got his head squished in (like those beetles) it physically made me sick. Because of Pedro Pascal’s performance and presence, Prince Oberyn’s death came off much more horrendous on TV than in the books. It wasn’t a shock that he died so close to winning but he was just introduced to us this season and we liked him, and he had a strong desire to topple the Lannisters. He was also royal enough to feel powerful and protected; we felt like he could right some wrongs. Alas, in Martin’s world, not even his version of Inigo Montoya was safe.
Intertwined with Oberyn’s story was Tyrion’s fall. It was a fall that started after the Battle of Blackwater and ended in the finale for season 4. At the height of his power, Tyrion did his best to get rid of the treachery in the Red Keep and to repeatedly slap Joffrey. But after he saved the city, he found out he got to high for his own good. He became the target. This season Tyrion got a great close to his story. He was always the victim of Cersei’s blind rage and even Tywin cursed his existence, the opportunity arose with Joffrey’s death to rid themselves of his existence and together they conspired to end his life. And so many characters before him, it was Tyrion’s turn to lose everything. Which led to one of the greatest speeches Game of Thrones has ever delivered, as Tyrion cursed the existence of everyone in the courtroom.
Important to note that he and Arya both left Westeros in the finale. Two characters who have basically lost everything and only have a few select family who care about them. Both these characters were pushed beyond repair. For Arya, it was years spent learning that misery was life’s only guarantee, and for Tyrion it was reaffirmation that it was only a matter of time before his title and money couldn’t protect him from prejudice.
For me, Arya had the best character arc this season. Sure, it was just her and the Hound roaming around the Riverlands all season but the pair of them were so well written and acted that it in turn made the Hound into a more somewhat sympathetic character and Arya became a lot more harder around the edges. For once, Arya was with someone who had as much hate for the world as she did. Sometimes she hated him as much as he hated himself. It made her more callous and confident. To a point, when Arya would lose another companion, she would not grant the Hound’s request and give him a quick death. Definitely as way of avenging the death of Mycah the butcher’s boy. She was ready to be abandoned and she was ready to go off on her own. The scene with Arya on the boat sailing off was such a great uplifting scene for the show to end off on because even through all of it’s darkness, there are these beautiful moments of levity that can bring a tear to your eye.
Even Sansa got some great material this year. She finally got to escape King’s Landing and is now part of Littlefinger’s plan of world domination. And we even discovered that Littlefinger was the one who poisoned John Arryn all the way back in Season 1, using Lord Arryn’s wife to do it. Then he poisoned Joffrey with the help of Olenna Tyrell. It’s always the quite ones. Although, Sansa may not think much of her surroundings at the Eyrie, even she knows that it’s much better than the life she left behind and has the protection of smart albeit a creepy older man. And her change of clothes from bright and sunny to dark and drab signalled her transformation from victim to accomplice.
There was less Theon this season and that was probably a good thing. Especially considering how much last season was loaded up on his torture. All we needed were a few scenes to remind us how abused and scared he has become at the hands of his new master, was plenty.
Moving back South again, given how big Jaime’s story was last season and it being one of my favourites, it’s quite disappointing to see him fall back into his old ways with Cersei and the only scenes of his that had any merit were the ones where he was visiting Tyrion in prison. Also, the writers and director Alex Graves may have unintentionally ruined his character arc due to the editing of his sept scene with Cersei. Many people, including me, are calling out that scene as being rape, while Graves maintains that Cersei was protesting them having sex in this particular place, at this particular time and not the act. All I know is she said no, and he still had sex with her. It’s rape.
And because Jaime’s storyline floundered this season so did Briene’s. At least during the first half of the season but then she was off with Podrick and ran into Arya and the Hound. And, their fight was one of the best fight sequences this show has choreographed. It was visceral and carried some serious weight. It was a moment that was not from the books but one that was satisfying and fit into the story so well. We had only seen Brienne fight once, in Renly’s tournament, so it was great to see her prove her muster in a fight where her life hung in the balance.
I’ll tackle Jon and Bran’s storyline together, since their stories came together in the first half of the season as Jon came back to Craster’s Keep to take care of some old business. The reason why John went to kill or apprehend the deserters at the Keep was flimsy at best but it wound up being a decent way to tie up a plot thread and give us some exciting action. Jon’s story would have the most action packed beats this season as his story was gifted with the Neil Marshall directed, “Watchers on the Wall.” A stunning, edge of seat of your seat underdog battle, that features one of the most gorgeous single takes that I’ve seen on TV.
Also, Stannis is finally part of a story and doesn’t appear onscreen to remind that he still exists. After season 2 he lost all importance and it was nice to him and Davos finally meet Jon and Mance and I got excited seeing all four of these stoic and sullen characters finally meet each other. And Melisandre eyeing Jon through the fire was mighty ominous.
Finally, we had Daenerys’ storyline. Which feels like it’s stalling because as much as I enjoy watching Daenerys grow and learn what it takes to be a good ruler, her story is running out of steam. She’s not travelling the land, which at least would give us the illusion that she’s doing something but in her defence it seems like she’s on the cusp of losing everything: banishing Ser Jorah and chaining up her dragons. A lot of what she lost was due to her pride and others may be due to the fact that she may never have held the control she thought she held.
I can’t finish this review of Game of Thrones without mentioning the overuse of sexual violence on this show. It’s unnecessary, especially when it happens to unnamed women characters. It doesn’t serve any story purpose and just makes a show with already heavy tones even heavier to bear. After four seasons we know that this is a sexist and patriarchal world, we don’t need the constant reminders, because that scene in Craster’s Keep was practically unbearable to watch. Especially when you consider that scene came in the episode right after the Jaime and Cersei rape screw-up.
Game of Thrones is a near perfect show that tends to stumble now and then. I remember trying to have a discussion of which season was my favourite and had a hard time picking one because they’re all just different levels of great. For book purists all of the books changes might have been a bad thing but I welcome it! TV is a different medium with different narrative and structural rules, I find the show as equally absorbing and compelling as the books, if not more.
Season four of Game of Thrones was fantastic. This late in the series and characters are still having their best story arcs yet, speaks volume about the quality of the show. This season was our champion season proving that Game of Thrones can still deliver quality story-telling and continuing to tell a great fantasy story at the same level of other quality programming on TV.
Score: 9.0 out of 10.