Game of Thrones Season 4 Review: The Great, the Good, the Meh & the Ugly

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BIG SPOILERS FOR SEASON 4 OF GAME OF THRONES.

I read a review before Season 4 of Game of Thrones started that claimed this was the show’s “imperial phase.” What the critic meant was that every TV show has a season where all the elements come together almost perfectly, resulting in its strongest season.

I have to disagree with this reviewer. While in some ways this was a fantastic season, it was far from perfect. Overall, the sum of its parts was greater than the whole. The great and good stuff were pretty darn amazing. But the not-so-great stuff was deeply disappointing.

THE GREAT:

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The Purple Wedding – after last year’s Red Wedding, where Robb, Talisa and Catelyn Stark were slaughtered by erstwhile allies the Freys and the Boltons at the behest of the Lannisters, it probably felt to viewers as if the bad guys would never get what they deserve. And then came the Purple Wedding, where psycho-teenager King Joffrey was poisoned in front of all his wedding guests. It culminated in the arrest of fan-favorite character Tyrion and the escape of his wife Sansa, who was spirited away by the scheming Petyr Baelish.

The wedding scenes were masterfully done on every level. While people were cheering the oh-so-deserved death of Joffrey, somehow the show managed to generate some pity for him as he died in his mother’s arms. All the actors were great, but special shout-out for Natalie Dormer, who played Joffrey’s bride with just the right amount of bravado and deep contempt.

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PEDRO! PEDRO! PEDRO! – when it was announced that the much-anticipated role of Oberyn Martell (aka The Red Viper) was cast with unknown Chilean actor Pedro Pascal, there was a lot of grousing. It probably took Pascal all of two minutes to win over even the skeptics to his side. From day one he took command of the character–a pansexual prince with an inflated ego and surprisingly strong principles–and never let go. There is no question this was a star-making performance. I thoroughly expect him to show up in a Star Wars movie at some point. The man was born to play a Jedi.

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Just Mail Peter Dinklage His Emmy Now – this may not have been the show’s imperial season, but it was certainly Dinklage’s imperial season. His monologue during Tyrion’s trial crammed all the justified outrage at the unfairness life has lobbed at him from the day he was born. His final scenes in the final episode of the season were both cathartic and tragic. He deserves every award out there.

Arya/The Hound and Brienne/Pod – these unlikely pairs were terrific viewing. Arya and The Hound were a perverse surrogate father/child pairing. The Hound imparted his knowledge of killing and cynicism to Arya. He was so successful she refused to perform a mercy killing on him, leaving him to die a slow and horrible death. So much for Stockholm Syndrome.

Brienne and Pod were more comic relief, but it was fun to watch and if ever a show needed some comic relief, it’s this one. Pod’s inexperience at being a squire who actually has to, well, SQUIRE, was hilarious. They are also a great pair because while Pod may be a screw-up when it comes to cooking rabbits, he has superior instincts, something Brienne is sometimes lacking.

The Mountain/Red Viper and The Hound/Brienne duels – epic confrontations. Everything you want when you watch a show like this. Bravo to all involved.

THE GOOD:

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Sansa Finally Getting a Clue – Sansa’s relentless naïvete has made her a less than adored character, but she finally started learning how to play the game after her escape to her Aunt Lysa’s home in the Eyrie. When Baelish tossed her aunt out of the moon door, Sansa shocked everyone (including Baelish) by defending him to his judges and saving his life. She’s also manipulating Baelish by using his obvious attraction to her. This may not end well for her, but for now, she seems to be less a victim–which is a nice change.

The Return of Hot Pie! – Yay! What a delightful surprise to see the character return, albeit briefly and for a sole important plot point. Love the actor, and I’m glad they gave us a bit of closure with his story. Not to mention some rad tips for making kidney pie.

Stan the MAN – Stannis is an interesting case because he’s neither outright hated, nor is he at all beloved. But it was pretty awesome when he and his army showed up at The Wall to help the Night’s Watch repel the Wilding army. It was also one of the best directed scenes of the season, with the symmetrically formed troops taking down the scattered Wildings shown from overhead shots.

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Dany Losing Her Dragons and Jorah – it was inevitable that Dany find out about Jorah’s original goal of spying on her for Robert Baratheon so he could win a pardon, but it was still sad when she sent him packing. It was even sadder when she realized she could no longer control her “children” and was forced to chain them in the catacombs beneath the city. Both very important character moments, very well executed.

Missandei and Grey Worm – yeah, yeah, there was some complaining about this budding romance(?) but I liked it. As with the humor in the Brienne/Pod scenes, a little star-crossed love is a nice change from all the betrayal and hatred. The actors have a lovely chemistry and the characters have a REAL problem standing in the way.

The Skeleton White Walkers – Oh, my goodness! This reminded me SO much of the old Ray Harryhausen special effects. Loved it!

THE MEH:

The Watchers on the Wall – this is probably going to be a very unpopular opinion, but I did not like this episode. Sure, there were some fantastic elements–the giants and the mammoths, for instance. They were terrific. The scenes of Pyp’s and Grenn’s deaths were genuinely affecting. But I object strongly to the decision to devote the ENTIRE episode to the battle. After a while, I got battle fatigue. They needed to break it up somehow, as they did in Blackwater, when the scenes shifted to those waiting in the keep for the battle to end.

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The Death of Ygritte – no, I’m not objecting to her death, but the way it played out. It wasn’t as heart-rending as I remember it from the book.

Pretty Much Everything That Happened at Craster’s Keep – this is a major deviation from the books. Sure, they’ve changed a lot of characters and plot points, which is to be expected. But this was SO major, as a book reader, I felt completely lost. Maybe that’s not a completely terrible thing (it is kind of nice that something surprising happened and no one could spoil it). The scene where we see the fate of Craster’s babies after they are left for the White Walkers could be a flash-forward to things that will be in the yet-to-be-released last two books–or totally made up for the show. Not sure it was a great idea, either way.

Bran Warging Into Hodor – I wish they would stop resorting to this. It’s disturbing. Making Hodor a killer against his will seems plain mean.

Reek – due to Alfie Allen’s contract with the show, they had to bump much of the story up into this season, otherwise he would have been off the canvas. The actors involved in this storyline are all great but I don’t think this was the right point in the story to have it happen. It felt like a distraction from more important things.

THE UGLY:

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Jaime Raping Cersei – without question, the most controversial scene in the series up to this season. First of all, because it was different than in the book (the sex is consensual in the book). For many viewers it diminished Jaime’s carefully constructed character arc over the previous three seasons. While I didn’t think Jaime had evolved into a boy scout, they certainly gave us the impression that he was not the same man who had thrown Bran out the window. I thought it meant something when Brienne called him “Ser Jaime.” Now, not so sure. It also lessened the impact of subsequent scenes, such as Jaime’s farewell to Brienne and his scenes with Tyrion after his arrest.

There are people who defend the scene, saying that there are a lot of other violent scenes in the story and that the medieval world Westeros was based on was equally cruel to women. True, there have been a lot of violent acts on the show–but when they happened, the acts had a profound impact, generating even more story. Here, there was no impact. At all.

There’s something in writing called “scene and sequel” where characters act on or react to something that happened in a previous scene. Even the scene of rogue Night’s Watchmen raping Craster’s wives–equally gratuitous, in my view–had a sequel (one of them helped Jon kill the leader in revenge). There was no sequel here. In fact, when Cersei and Jaime speak in the final episode and she tells him she “chooses him,” it was as if the rape scene had never happened at all.

It would have been much better if it hadn’t.

No LSH – non-book readers, you will have no idea what I’m talking about. Book readers, you probably can guess what I’m referring to.

I get some of the rationalization behind dropping this element from the show, but SEVEN HELLS. It was THE most AWESOME plot twist in a book chock FULL of them. Some think they will get to it eventually, but interviews with certain people involved in the show seem to negate this.

Oh, well, I guess I’ll just get my copy of Storm of Swords out and read the scene again.

11 thoughts on “Game of Thrones Season 4 Review: The Great, the Good, the Meh & the Ugly

  1. This might sound silly, but I was really excited to see what happened to all of Craster’s male children. I have a really hard time with seeing children (especially babies) suffering, even in a fictional story. So up until that point I was imagining the worst kind of death for those poor babies and it hurt my heart. So then when I saw that baby boy and how he wasn’t crying as he was carried off by the walker and as his eyes turned ice blue, I was all, “Yay!!! The babies aren’t being painfully murdered!!!”
    Now, I strongly suspect the walkers are not a benign and peaceful group, so I may come to regret saying that, but in that moment all that mattered was that the babies aren’t in pain.

    1. I get what you’re saying. It was horrible to think of those babies being–eaten–or something by the Walkers. That they don’t exactly die is strangely comforting.

      My main problem with it is how is this going to connect to what happens in the books. I don’t mind deviations from the source, but this was so completely divorced from it I was bothered by it. We’ll have to wait (and wait, and wait) to see how Martin handles this in the books.

      1. It’s interesting to hear the analysis from people like you that have read the books. I would love to read them myself, but I have to ask – are the books as graphic as the tv show? I mean, I’ve gotten good at covering my eyes at certain points for the tv show but I don’t think I could just skip over any graphic descriptions in a book.

      2. I would say overall the books are not quite as graphic. They definitely go farther in the TV series. Although in some cases they pull back a little in the show. For instance, Tyrion’s injury from the Battle of the Blackwater is far more horrific in the book than the series. Probably so the actor doesn’t have to spend as much time in make-up. :)

  2. I don’t know about “imperial season” but I would argue that this was an “imperial season finale” if such a thing exists. So many times a show fails to tie up loose ends but this one did and sent the characters into new directions. The Viper vs Mountain episode was also one of the best episodes of the series.

    Great show – I chat about it from time to time on my blog though I’m not sure I will much till it comes back next year. Feel free to check it out sometime at:

    http://www.bookshelfbattle.com

    1. I agree! It was a nice change that the strongest episode of the season was the finale instead of the previous one. The past three seasons the 10th episode was usually a bit of a letdown. I heard the show only submitted the finale for Emmy consideration. Not surprised.

  3. Great post Debbie! There are so many highlights of the season but if I had to pick a couple it would be Tyrion’s speech at the trial and the trial by combat. The final shot of Arya sailing off is pretty awesome too. I hadn’t heard about Alfie Allen’s contract until now, his story line this season was an improvement over season 3, if only they could go back and fix that. :)

    1. Thanks! Yes, I loved that scene with Arya taking off to Braavos, too. (Had to pick and choose, or else the post would have gone on forever!) I read that a couple of different places about Alfie Allen. Makes sense, from a practical point of view. I’m sure they could have worked something out with him if they wanted to delay the Reek storyline so it was closer to the timeline of the books, but I guess it would have been unfair to ask him to sit out an entire season. That shows one of the problems with adapting these huge, complex stories.

  4. C+J’s rape scene was undermined by the director not really thinking of it as a rape scene (unlike the producers). Yeah, Alex graves needs to shut up. He may be decent, but wtf is up with his mouth? He called Brienne a lesbian, for god’s sake!

    Bran’s supposed to be disturbing. Warging Hodor is part of that.

    1. Oh, I agree, Graves is a good director but a lousy interview. Gee, for a lesbian, Brienne falls in love with a lot of guys! :)

      I suppose you’re right about Bran, but Hodor is so beloved, it’s hard to watch.

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