Jul 31, 2014

[TV] Game of Thrones: Season 4

With this review, I'm finally back up to speed in terms of my coverage of the Game of Thrones television show. This may not matter all that much in the greater scheme of things, at least I feel better with myself for unknown, supposedly OCD-like reasons. Moving on.

When one tries to consider the success of the show, I suppose you could just go back to the strength of the source material. Such fantasy stories are "epic" for a reason given their rich sense of world-building and complex character development. At least these are the traits of the better fantasy franchises out there - of course not all such stories are created equally.

This season in particular was particularly heavy on viewers. As a person who has read the books, I knew we were destined to go through a number of tragic and highly emotional events this season, but the end results were still pretty jarring. And thus we move from the strength of the original story to how well-crafted the show is and how well it has been able to tell this particular story to a wider audience - one that includes folks who wouldn't typically read fantasy novels and yet are fully enjoying the program.

Synopsis: The fourth season of Game of Thrones continues telling the story of the Song of Ice and Fire series of novels written by George R.R. Martin. It was adapted for HBO by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss. This season generally covers events from the second half of A Storm of Swords along with other plot threads from A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons.

The season opens with the final preparations for the wedding of Joffrey Baratheon (Jack Gleeson) and Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer), including the arrival of guests from all over Westeros. One rather unexpected arrival is Oberyn Martell (Pedro Pascal), who has a personal oath of revenge against The Mountain (Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson), whom he believes was responsible for the murder of his sister, Elia, and her two children. And of course Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) is now the wife of Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage), who is hardly the favorite Lannister in the family. And all this just makes for an even more tension-filled wedding, one that starts the season with quite a bang, so to speak.

Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) is still being escorted around by Sandor "The Hound" Clegane (Rory McCann) after narrowly escaping the events of the Red Wedding. With the core Stark family now dead, it seems their best option is to try and bring Arya to her sole remaining relative, her mother's sister Lysa Arryn (Kate Dickie) in the Vale. Jon Snow (Kit Harington) tries to work with the rest of the Black Watch left at the Wall to defend against Mance Rayder's (Ciarán Hinds) inevitable attack. Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) continues further North following the visions in his dreams. And Daenerys Targaryan (Emilia Clarke) and her army of liberated slaves continue to conquer the various slave cities, thus growing her power base.

The prior seasons of the show all had that big moment - typically around episode 9 for that season. You know, the one with the key emotional moment that has everyone reacting. Or perhaps the one that involves some pretty impressive production quality on the part of the cast and crew. This fourth season felt a lot like one sustained ordeal with key event after key event after key event. A lot of plot threads that go all the way back to the first season get resolved at this point in the story, thus clearing the board for future stories and of course more complex evolution of the existing character plot lines.

Greatest character development definitely has to go to Sansa Stark. Without going into too much detail (because spoilers), I am glad that all the abuse that she has suffered over the past three seasons is finally paying off in terms of one major karmic reward. And while she's not exactly out of the woods just yet, she has grown a lot more confident and has moved beyond her child-like naivety. She has a better understanding of just how bad things are and the sort of lengths that people will go to in the name of power. And perhaps we'll see her actually fighting back in a meaningful way soon enough.

I feel worst for Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryan, who seem to just wander around their plot lines in circles. And while they both have their stories to tell and their pieces of the overall plot to fulfill, you have to admit that they seem almost stationary in terms of overall development. Jon gets beaten back down to being just another member of the Night's Watch when he manages to make his way back to his brothers. And Daenerys eventually settle down for a bit and becomes, well, more boring. She's decently fierce as she brings her army from city to city, but as a ruler / administrator, things really bog down.

As a book reader, I'm glad that this season has actually done a lot to expand on the original story while also remaining true to the original tale. More and more see little shifts that are different from how things were depicted in the books including plot pieces that may or may not be "spoilers" for unpublished novels. Only time will tell really if some of these changes prove true once the last books in the series finally come out.

It's hard to pick out one single moment in this season that really stands out since there were so many key events that took place during these episodes. But the end of the season, one can't help feel a sense of "so what else is left to do?" or something along those lines given the many changes and political upsets as power continues to shift around the board of this game of thrones (roll credits!) And that's just how great this show is and why it continues to be such a brilliant television experience.

Game of Thrones has managed to capture an audience and keep their attention week after week after week. And more and more I'm eager to see how things will resolve as we get closer and closer to this tales inevitable end. Thus the fourth season gets a good 4.5 moments of Pedro Pascal being the sexiest character on the show regardless of your own gender out of a possible 5.

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