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Game of Thrones Season 4 Review [Spoilers]

June 19, 2014

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There are about fifty thousand characters in this show at present, but there were four who dominated this season:

Oberyn

The Hound

Arya

Tyrion

[Special mentions to Davos, Tywin, Jamie, Brienne and Littlefinger, but they did pretty much what was expected]

First up, the imp. It was obvious Tyrion would be strong, he always is – he just gets all the best material even though half of the season forced him to sit on fake straw in a prison cell and wait for people to come and talk to him.

Remember when Ned Stark was in the same cell? Not half as interesting. As honourable as Ned was, listening to him talk was like watching a footballer being interviewed. Of course I would like not to be executed, but I’m just taking things one day at a time. It’s really out of my hands, it’s up to the gaffer [Joffrey] whether I live or not. Of course I’m not happy to be in this cell, but if I sit hard, keep my head down then hopefully I can get the fuck out of here and back to that shitheap of a castle up near Sunderland or wherever.

Tyrion on the other hand, said this [to Pod]: ‘I’d like to think that if I had engineered his [Joffrey’s] death, I wouldn’t have left myself to stand gawping in front of everyone when it happened.’

And this [to Bronn]: ‘You’re an evil, amoral bastard, but that’s why I liked you to begin with.’

Then there was the trial, where Tyrion channelled late 80’s Sean Penn and told the posh half of King’s Landing to go fuck themselves. Great stuff. I did wonder where all those soldiers who had seen Tyrion step up at the Blackwater had gone to, but I guess they were all too low-born to get into the throne room for the trial. People do gossip in King’s Landing though, so it must’ve been publicly well-known that Joffrey was a dick and Tyrion wasn’t.

Maybe they did know and that’s why a lot of people were cheering Oberyn in the trial by combat? Or maybe it’s because he elaborately spun a spear around his head?

There was the semi-danger that Tyrion would be killed off this season, but even non-book readers knew that was never gonna happen. Characters usually die quickly in this show, not with a seven episode build up, so Tyrion was always gonna be spared. You can kill off Robb Stark and Ned Stark and any other good guy because they’re dull, but you can’t wipe Tyrion off the board.

But then, possibly to keep the balance of decent people to dickheads relatively even, they killed off another great character…Oberyn.

It was a little loaded in the way he was written, but Pedro Pascal really knocked it out of the park with his performance. Or out of the field. I don’t think they have parks in Westeros. Margarie would probably build some if she were queen for longer than five minutes, but that dream died in episode 2.

Anyway, I say loaded because there were no negatives in the character of Oberyn at all. Nothing that would make him unlikeable. He hates Lannisters, so do we. He loves his girlfriend and his bastard children. He thinks King’s Landing is a cesspit, so do we. He went backpacking around Essos when he was younger, so do most kids nowadays. He even writes bad poetry. In short, he’s a like-magnet. And when the majority of your scenes are spent sparring with Cersei and Tywin then you’re basically guaranteed main table convention work for the rest of your life, as well as random hotel sex with the fans that Peter Dinklage doesn’t have time for. Also, as Oberyn pointed out, Dorne is a more liberal, caring place than the rest of Westeros so he’s got something close to morals too, even though he is a prince that assumes a born right to lead [and have huge feasts and fuck around in brothels with young British actors].

I knew he was gonna die badly in the trial…I’d read the books, so it wasn’t really any shock at all. In fact, it was a sadder moment than I thought it would be. I didn’t watch the episode for a week, that’s how much I suspected it would affect me. Even now, I stop the scene after he’s stabbed the Mountain and just pretend he walked off back to Dorne, spear behind his back, job done.

Or maybe they have good hospitals in Dorne? Maybe he’ll be okay after a little reconstructive surgery?

George?

What else?

Arya and the Hound went on the longest road trip since that New Zealand travelogue movie. Cheap line, but it’s true. They just walked around and around and had some nice scenes together, but ultimately, we all knew what the writers were doing. They needed to stretch it out until the end of the season when they could sever the link and send Arya off to Bravos, and that’s exactly what they did.

Ah, Bravos…one of the best moments of the season and testament to the money HBO is willing to throw at this show. When Stannis sailed under the statue’s legs and the camera panned up to reveal the whole city…a medieval Venice…it was spectacular, wasn’t it? I paused it just to see how much detail they’d put in.

Anyway, despite the stretching of their plot, Arya and the Hound were great together. Their scenes were never tedious or repetitive, and it was a huge plus that they never betrayed what had come before for either character. Arya never grew to like the Hound, not really, and the Hound never became a nice guy. Both had moments, but ultimately, any progress made in their relationship was unsaid and totally open to interpretation. Perhaps in another world, they’d end up being father and daughter. In this one, she leaves him to die.

Character Development

This is one of things I like about Game of Thrones. It doesn’t always force its characters into arcs, where they start as one thing then become another thing, and at each point, they only represent that one thing.

The best example is Jamie Lannister and his rape of Cersei. It got a lot of criticism apparently, but I liked it, as much as you can like a rape scene. I liked it because as much as you want to romanticise him, Jamie is still the guy who threw a child out of a window. He’s still the guy who sleeps with his sister. He’s still the guy who killed his own cousin so he could get back to her. This kind of thing doesn’t go away in real life, but it usually does in movies. Jamie may be generally more decent than he was at the start of the series, but he’s still in love with Cersei, and raping her after not touching her for over a year is exactly what he would, as a character, do. Well, maybe not ‘would do’ for sure, but it’s believable.

Another one who developed is Jon Snow. Well, he learnt how to spit in someone’s face when they had the upper hand. Thank you, psychopath in Craster’s Keep.

Does that count as character development? I think it does, just about. It’s subtle, but it’s a lesson he needed to learn. They also humanised him a bit more by making him less skilled in some of the big fights. In fact, he came across as a bit of a big fight bottler. The guy in Craster’s Keep didn’t do anything spectacular, but seemed to have the edge on him. And the cannibal was about a foot bigger so, realistically, he had to get the upper hand as Jon doesn’t really adjust his tactics like Oberyn does…because he’s a bit thick. But hopefully now he’ll learn…

Anyone else?

Arya turned into a cold-blooded killer, but we stayed on her side because the people she was killing were pricks.

She doesn’t seem to be growing any taller though.

Danerys conquered Mereen by convincing the slaves to risk their own lives to kill their masters…then she marched in and quickly turned into Chairman Mao. ‘Hey Ser Selmy, I’m doing bad things to rich people who used to keep slaves, so it’s okay.’

‘Maybe you should show some mercy…show that you’re not the same as the slave-owners?’

‘Shut up, you old bastard.’

This is one character that needs a wake-up call. The first three seasons made her look like a saint, so it’s good to see that she’s becoming more rigid in her beliefs. Realistically, if you liberated a city that had kept slaves and flipped the entire culture on its head then there would always be problems, no matter how well-intentioned you were, especially if you’re unable to compromise.

It’s a nice contrast in general, the depiction of the free cities and the kingdoms of Westeros. Both are controlled in different ways, but both have distinct class systems, people who rule, people who work, people who get abused. It’s almost tempting to say Westeros is better, as at least they don’t have slavery, but when I think about it, it’s probably just a matter of semantics. What is living in Fleabottom if not a form of slavery?

The mistakes you make will decide your fate

This is a recurring theme in the season. A lot of characters, like Robb Stark in Season 3, won or lost because of mistakes made mostly from their character traits.

The Hound faded badly because he wouldn’t let Arya burn the infected wound on his neck. Then he lost the fight against Brienne because…well, that defeat probably didn’t come much from his character, it was just 50-50 and Brienne edged it on the day. As Ned Stark the footballer might’ve said, ‘on another day I could’ve scored five or six.’

Oberyn won then threw it all away because he couldn’t keep his temper in check.

Jon Snow survived the fight at Craster’s Keep because the psychopath had treated the girl so badly that she was willing to stab him. If he had been nicer to her, Jon Snow would now be dead.

Joffrey died because he was a complete cunt and if you’re a complete cunt for long enough and to enough people then you will be murdered at your own wedding.

Danerys…she was self-righteous, self-important and crucified 167 guys who might or might not have deserved it. She’s not dead [yet], but her rule is floundering and it all stems from her character as far as I can tell.

Ygritte murdered a small boy’s parents then stood in the middle of Castle Black pretty much begging to be shot by the same boy. You could say this one came from her previous actions, not specifically her character, but then wasn’t it always part of her character to shoot strangers with arrows and not feel bad about it?

Grenn held the gate when he should’ve said, hey, I’ve got a bit of a headache, can someone else go instead? He was just too damn brave and decent not to sacrifice himself.

Jojen knew how he was going to die and did nothing to stop it. Ludicrous, and more a case of self-fulfilling prophecy than character trait. If you know a skeleton hand with a knife is going to stab you, you do something about it. Unless it’s a character trait to obey prophecies that could easily be altered?

Littlefinger is the odd one out. He just got lucky. Who knew Sansa would lie for him? Not even him, it seemed.

With each character, all of their fates were sealed by something they couldn’t change within themselves. Even with hindsight, they’d probably end up doing the same things because it was the only thing they could’ve done. Anything else would’ve been out of character or Deus ex Machina.

Actually, with hindsight, all of them probably would’ve done things differently because they would’ve had hindsight. It was a stupid comment. If you know you’re gonna die, you do things differently. Except perhaps Grenn and Joffrey, the former a victim of fate/duty, and the latter a coward who would’ve been murdered sooner rather than later anyway, even if he had skipped the wine.

Repetition

There weren’t any huge problems this season. All the big moment delivered, and it never felt like they were stretching things out too far the same way they did in Season 3.

The only slight issue was repetition.

There was a point in episode 8, in Mole’s Town, where the prostitute is talking about the guy having a hangnail cock…when it just seemed to get a little tedious. Do they always have to talk about cocks and fucking? Is there nothing else for them to say? Like the attacks that are happening near the town…or the state of the kingdom since Robert died…it just seemed a little obvious for the prostitute to be talking about sex. Same with the violence. It’s still creative in places, but it can be a little samey at times. And uneven too.

In Episode 9, you had a great fight between Thorne and Tormund, both moving reasonably well and swinging swords as if they really are heavy things…then you had Jon Snow prancing about, slashing people who didn’t seem to have a clue what they were doing there or why they were holding weapons.

In fact, how many Nightswatch men died? They said there were only a hundred of them in Castle Black before the battle, and it seemed like close to that number were slaughtered by the wildlings…Tormund and the cannibal were just running around killing seven or eight men every time they were on screen. Shouldn’t these victims be harder to kill? They do have some training, don’t they?

And on the flip side, why did Mance surrender to Stannis when he had 100,000 troops backing him up? Surely the numbers were still on his side?

Other highlights

Davos promoting the cause of a pissed off Stannis to the Iron Bank.

Dav would make an excellent Hand, though Melissandre will probably burn him before he gets the chance. There would also be some irony as he’s missing most of his left hand. Would that be irony? The Hand of the King doesn’t actually need a hand to do the job…I don’t know. Maybe it is.

Bronn teaching Jamie how to fight

Bronn treads the line well…the line between being a sociopath and a likeable guy. And you’d put money on him beating most people in a fight, simply because he fights to win. He’s the Marco Materrazzi of Westeros, but without the casual racism.

The Psychopath in Craster’s Keep

This actor was great…he only got three episodes, but he was one of the nastiest pieces of work since Ramsey Bolton got his castrating knife out. The way he spat his lines out, along with actual spit…the way he tried to pick a fight with one of his own men…the way he made a cup out of Mormont’s skull…brilliant.

Fucking Chicken

The Hound could’ve got out of that pub without killing anyone. The guy actually offered him a job, and he still picked a fight with him. It didn’t seem to matter that there were three other guys behind him because the Hound had Arya.

Purple Wedding

Twenty-five minutes of tension, psych-outs and dwarf jousting. The only disappointing part was the lack of pain and suffering in Joffrey’s death. In the books, he clawed at his throat, in this he just went a bit veiny. It wasn’t enough for such a despicable prick. There should’ve been stabbing or flaying or…he should’ve at least had enough time to realise what was going to happen to him. Five episodes of being locked in a cell would’ve done it.

But still…the best part was seeing all these important figures, Lords and Ladies, sitting there, forced to indulge this little shit without complaint. Everyone except Tyrion, who’s got more balls than all of them combined.

Oberyn Vs The Mountain

Not one to watch more than once. It’s too frustrating…though the look of surprise on Jamie’s face as Oberyn defeats Clegane with some beautiful spear work is priceless. If he still had his fighting hand, he’d probably lose to Oberyn too, something that probably didn’t cross his mind.

But then it was all a little strange, the hype of Jamie as the greatest fighter in the land. Was it all just hype? He was rich, good-looking, fought well…but there was no proof that he could’ve beaten Selmy or Oberyn or even the Hound…I like to think it was a little bit of exaggeration on Jamie’s part…matches his character better, at least his character at the start of the series.

Pyp dying

It didn’t mean all that much, how can it when we only see the guy for a few scenes each season, but it was a moment given more poignancy due to one little detail. When Sam tried to put him down and go to find someone with a bandage, Pyp pulled him back without speaking. Don’t leave me alone, stay with me while I die. That’s what his eyes said, and it worked. Very sad.

Season 5?

Apparently this show is quite popular so they’ll be going back to Croatia and Iceland and Morocco[?] for another season, and probably another two after that.

Here’s what will probably happen:

Melissandre will have more baths.

Jon Snow will become Lord Commander of the Wall and train his men to be sullen and introverted. Mostly sullen.

Lady Stoneheart will appear and not be half as interesting or shocking as you’d expect [she’s got no voice!]

Someone will be stabbed in a way that’s never been seen before. Through the ear and out the neck?

Cersei will glower

Tyrion will drink wine and become a dancing slave

Davos’s reading level will improve and he’ll pick up Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Without Varys around to keep him on his toes, Littlefinger will forget how to scheme and be outmanoeuvred by little Robyn of the Vale.

Tormund will turn into the equivalent of Spike in Season 4 of Buffy.

Oberyn will live again!

What else?

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