Written PostJosh Reviews Game of Thrones Season Four

Josh Reviews Game of Thrones Season Four

I keep waiting for Game of Thrones to stumble, but so far show-runners David Benioff and D. B. Weiss have continued on an impressive winning streak, with each season successfully building on what came before.  I wondered, in my review of season three, how the show would continue after it seemed like all of the main characters who I had been rooting for had been killed off.  I knew the show would go on, but I worried that I wouldn’t be as invested in the continuing narrative as I had been.  Thankfully, this didn’t wind up being an issue for me at all.  Season four gave us ten episodes filled to the brim with extraordinary drama on a small and large scale, and an array of incredible moments that I still cannot quite believe all happened in one ten-episode season.  There are some SPOILERS ahead in this review, friends, so beware!

Season four had so many spectacularly gasp-inducing and/or nail-bitingly suspenseful moments.  Joffrey & Margaery’s wedding.  Tyrion’s trial.  The Mountain versus Oberyn Martell.  Brienne of Tarth versus the Hound.  Arya’s laughter at the news of Lyssa’s death.  Mance Rayder’s army’s attack on the Wall and the Battle at Castle Black.  The revelation that Littlefinger’s role in the death of John Arryn, and as such the start of the whole Game of Thrones story.  Our first glimpse of Braavos.  Sword-wielding skeletons.  And so much more.  Did all of this really happen in just one season??

As I have written before in my previous Game of Thrones reviews, I have not yet read any of George R. R. Martin’s novels.  I am definitely interested in doing so, but I am enjoying the show so much that I don’t want to read the books until the show is finished.  That might sound weird, but I can’t recall the last time I have been this gripped by a TV show, one that has been able to so consistently thrill me with the story’s unpredictable twists and turns and with so many shocking deaths.  I don’t want to be spoiled by the books!  I want to continue to enjoy this show without having any fore-knowledge of what is going to happen next.

While there is a lot that is great about Game of Thrones, my favorite thing about the show is this way that it is able to continually shock me.  As I noted above, I worried about a decrease in my investment in the story and characters following The Red Wedding and other events of season 3, but if anything I have become even more invested in what happens to my favorite (surviving) characters.  As an example let’s take two moments from the season four finale, “The Children.”  First, the brutal fight between Brienne and The Hound.  On paper you’d think this would be a clear good-guy-versus-bad-guy situation.  But, incredibly, over the past two seasons I have really grown to love the Hound!  Yes, he’s a vicious, despicable murderer.  But we’ve slowly gotten see what makes him tick.  And his bizarre bond with Arya has been incredible to watch unfold.  So when he and Brienne started going at it, I feared equally for both characters!!  I didn’t want anything bad to happen to either one of them.

Then, of course, there was the question — strung throughout the latter half of season four — of  the fate of Tyrion.  The cumulative result of all of the character deaths we have witnessed so far in this show was for me to spend the entire second half of this season sweating the possibility of Tyrion’s death.  I truly believed that could happen.  (What a remarkable achievement for a show to make the audience believe that no one is safe.  Look at how that elevates the intensity of the drama!)  I thank my lucky stars that Tyrion, my favorite character on the show, will still been on the show next season.  How great is Peter Dinklage in this role?  Mr. Dinklage has gotten some extraordinary moments on this show, but boy this season he really knocked it out of the park.  The slow burn of Joffrey’s wedding in “The Lion and the Rose”  was amazing, and of course it was ultimately eclipsed by Mr. Dinklage’s extraordinary work during his trial in “The Laws of Gods and Men,” which built to that magnificent catharsis of a closing scene.  Wow.  (We also can’t forge the powerful story Tyrion tells of his mentally-damaged cousin in “Mockingbird.”)

The very first scene of this season, in which Tywin Lannister melted down Ned Stark’s humongous sword, was a perfect start to the season.  (I loved the idea that Ned’s sword was so huge that Tywin was able to turn his one sword in to two perfectly good normal-sized swords!!)  It’s hard for me to find many low-points during the season following that extraordinary beginning.  This was a remarkably consistent season, entertaining through and through.  I am hard-pressed to think of any story-line that didn’t work at all.  (The way the slow torture of Theon in season three was a continuing distraction that year.)

In seasons two and three, the show took its second-to-last episode to focus in on one location for the entire episode, to tell a longer, more in-depth story in that one location, rather than the show’s usual model of jumping from location-to-location and character-to-character multiple times within each episode. One of my favorite aspects of season four was that they didn’t wait until the penultimate episode to do that.  The season’s second episode “The Lion and the Rose,” spent almost all of its run-time at Kings Landing.  This extended sequence in the episode’s second half, the wedding of Joffrey and Margaery, could be one of my very favorite sequences in the run of the show so far.  There were so many amazing moments and vignettes, in which characters we’d never before seen together crossed paths.  And then, of course, came the delicious ratcheting-up of the tension as Joffrey turned sour and began baiting Tyrion.  The tension was extraordinary as it was clear that something horrible was going to happen.  And yet I never in a million years would have predicted what actually went down.  (As with the Red Wedding in season three, I had somehow, miraculously, avoided all spoilers of this event.)  Here again, it’s a mark of how great this show is that, when we finally got the thing we’d be hoping for since season one — comeuppance for that brat Joffrey — it was still painful because of the consequences we knew this event would have on Tyrion.  What a magnificently clever twist of the story.

I loved the pairing of Bronn and Jamie that we got a few glimpses of, when Jamie turned to the scoundrel to re-train him in how to fight.  I can’t believe how significantly the show runners have changed my opinion of Jamie.  He was such a hateful villain in season one, but he’s become almost noble in seasons three and four, and this is despite that ugly act with his sister Cersei in their just-killed son’s crypt!  Yuck.  Jamie’s farewell to Brienne was a surprisingly sweet, tense moment, and of course I was delighted to see him finally stand up for his brother at the ends the season.  This is as good a time as any to praise the structure of “Mockingbird,” an episode framed around the imprisoned Tyrion’s three visitors: Bronn, Jamie, and Oberyn.  Each scene was delicious, each one better than the next.  That was another highlight of the season for me.

Speaking of character turnarounds, season four was the first time in which I finally started to care for Sansa Stark.  The arc of her relationship with Tyrion was sweet (I do hope those characters are eventually reunited) and I loved the way that she, for the first time in her life, look control of her own destiny up in the Aerie.  There were a lot of fun goings-on in the Aerie this season, from Sansa slapping Robin to Lysa’s trip through the moon door to Littlefinger’s continuing scheming.  (By the way, I loved how this season echoed the events in the Aerie from season one, both with another death via moon door as well as Tyrion’s calling another Trial by Combat, albeit this time with a different result.)  (Though why on earth did the Aerie never re-appear in the show’s opening credits?  I was a little let down by the opening credits this year.  Places we seldom visited appeared regularly (like the Dreadfort and Braavos) while other important spots like the Aerie were never seen.  What’s up with that?)

But forget about that, season four gave us the unexpected return of Hot Pie!  Wow!

I have found the Jon Snow and Daenerys story lines to be among the weakest aspects of the show for a while now, and season four was not much different.  However, while I was never as engaged in either of those story lines as I was by say, the goings-on in King’s Landing, both story-lines were perfectly fine in season four, not bad just not great.  I liked that Daenerys’s story-line showed her trying to deal with the busy and difficult work of actually RULING a kingdom, not just conquering it.  I love that choice for her continuing narrative.  And as for Jon Snow, well, the episode-long battle in “The Watchers on the Wall” was pretty freaking awesome.  Absolutely incredible stuff.

Some other thoughts:

Whereas the season three finale showed us that Stannis and Ser Davos were very concerned about the threat in the North, that story-line was totally dropped in season four until the last episode, I guess as a way to prevent the audience from guessing that the arrival of Stannis’ cavalry would save the day for Jon Snow.  I think that was a silly decision, as it made me wonder all season long why Stannis and Ser Davis had forgotten all about the threat from beyond the Wall!  It made them look stupid.  Also, I feel their story would have had more momentum had the show clearly established for the viewers the extra ticking clock of their needing to gather forces, not just to elevate Stannis to king, but I save the entire realm in time.

I loved the glimpse of Braavos.  I hope to see more of that soon.  And it was a great surprise to see Mycroft Holmes (Mark Gatiss) as one of the bankers!

I loved seeing Treme’s Michael Huisman as the recast Daario Naharis.  I hope this character has more to do next season.

It was great hearing Arya say Valar Morghulis.

I was pleased to FINALLY see Mance Rayder (Ciaran Hinds) again.  That was a long wait.  I hope that he has more to do it future seasons.

The death of Jojen was a rare Game of Thrones death that didn’t have much of an impact.  I never really cared about that character, or really understood who he was or what he was about.  Oh well.  Those fighting skeletons were sure awesome though.  We’re getting into serious fantasy-land with Bran and the old wizard in the tree.  I tend to not be thrilled when GOT dips too deeply into weird fantasy stuff (exhibit a: season two’s weird demon-baby that killed Lord Renly) so for me the jury is still out in those developments.  I am of course curious to see what we learn about this next season.  I hope we get some explanation soon about what the heck Bran has been doing for the past two seasons…

How great was Diana Rigg as Olenna Tyrell?  Her scenes with Charles Dance as Tywin Lannister were marvelous.  (And as for Tywin Lannister’s death on the toilet?  Also marvelous.)

How great was the pairing of Podrick and Brienne?

I could go on and on, but I think it’s time to wrap this up.  I had some questions about the show following the Red Wedding at the end of season three, but all my doubts have been swept aside.  This was an extraordinary season of an extraordinary show.  Valar Morghulis.