Notice: The following review will contain spoilers! You have been warned!
I’ve been talking a lot lately about things I love and high on that list, as far as television is concerned, is Game of Thrones. HBO’s fantasy series, based on George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series is probably the most unlikely series to have be a cross cultural hit, but I’ll be damned if that isn’t what’s happened. If I had to compare it to anything, it would be the 2004 Reimagining of Battlestar Galactica. A bleak, dark, character focused show that simultaneously uses and deconstructs tropes and cliches common to the genre in order to challenge the genre itself and subvert audience expectations. And even if it is, at times, imperfect, I’m really glad it exists.
This season, s**t is getting, as they say, real. I mean, it’s been real but it’s getting realer…okay, lemme start over. In the aftermath of the conflict redefining Battle of Blackwater and Red Wedding, the War of Five Kings seems to be winding down. The Starks are mostly defeated, Stannis is holed up on Dragonstone but that doesn’t mean everything is settled. Across the Narrow Sea, Daenerys is continuing her noble, but ill planned, attempt to abolish slavery in a place called Slaver’s Bay, the Wildling attack on the Wall is quickly moving from a possibility to a certainty and Joffery’s wedding surely isn’t gonna go off without a hitch.
If all of that sounded a little heavy on the technicalities and character names and a little light on the explanation, it’s because this is a review of the 4th season of this show. And this is not exactly Archer here, this is a complex story driven show with literally dozens of characters, based on a book series with more than one book clocking in at over 1,000 pages. There is a lot of stuff going on and if you’re not already on board, you should probably go back and watch the first three seasons. Then you can come back and read this review. Don’t worry, I’ll be here.
Back? Excellent, now we can get started. Season Four is a season starting at something of an awkward position, as it’s an adaption of the second half of a novel. While there’s more than enough meat to make a good season long story out of on some of the plots, like Tyrion’s or Arya’s, some of them get…cut off. Suffering the most is Bran’s story, which hit the 80 percent mark last season, and thus has to wander around until they finally hit the concluding scenes towards the end.
But that’s not a complaint, overall it’s actually a compliment. The people adapting A Song of Ice and Fire have a tough job, never tougher when they have to adapt the second half of a novel into a season on it’s own, and they did a pretty damned good job here. It falters and stumbles at points, has some issues and hangups, but for the Herculean task they had set for them, they did a damn fine job.
As with many character driven stories, of the plot is on the cast to carry and in that way the show has never faltered, even in Season 2. The big new addition this season is Pedro Pascal as Oberyn Martell, which was a bit of a sticking point for me in the lead in. Like it or not, the Martells, like all the Dornishmen, are coded pretty heavily Arabic and Pascal, while not quite white, isn’t exactly Middle Eastern. But he makes the role work, finding an easygoing nature that connects both Oberyn’s open sexuality and his political decisions. He also manages to sell his intensity when he…you know what, I’m not gonna spoil.
In the returning cast, the best performance comes from Peter Dinklage. Dinklage is probably Game of Thrones‘ biggest find. He’s an incredible actor playing an incredibly complex character and while I can’t tell you why he’s so good this season without spoiling it, I can say that you do not want to miss this performance. Also notable is Kit Harrington as Jon Snow, who gets to do a ton of physical acting in this season and Sophie Turner who’s story goes through a couple of…interesting turns in this season. And of course there’s Maisie Williams who does a good job of showing Arya Stark’s rapidly unraveling psyche. And then there’s Lena Heady and Nikolaj…look, they’re all good, all from them, from Charles Dance to Aiden Gillen, the cast is top notch.
The issues with this season mostly stem from adaptation and finding enough material from A Storm of Swords to keep the season going without winding up spilling into A Feast for Crows or A Dance With Dragons and leaving the ending of the season unsatisfying. The result is that several storylines don’t really go anywhere. The most irritating of these is Yara’s (Asha) attempt to rescue Theon from Ramsay’s Playhouse. It’s an interesting idea in concept and a good way of getting us more invested in a character who will become more important later, but ultimately it can’t accomplish anything, and the resolution (which amounted to “Let us not go to the Dreadfort, tis a silly place.”) was disappointing.
Still, when this season works, it works like gangbusters. The final moments of episodes like The Laws of Gods and Men and The Mountain and the Viper are some of the better sequences in the show as a whole, The Watchers on the Wall is in the running with Blackwater and The Rains of Castamere to be the best episode of the show as a whole, and the action scenes are all around top notch. The writing is great (based on a well written book series), the direction, locations, costumes, it all looks incredible. I remain absolutely floored by the production values on this show, even for an HBO production.
There have been other missteps, some minor (the shifting of some events from A Dance With Dragons into this season) some major (the omission of Lady Stoneheart and Coldhands) and some just frustrating (the shifting of a consensual sex scene between Jamie and Cersei into a rape scene, which has been discussed enough by people more qualified that I don’t feel I need to go into it) and it’s not as good as Season 3 was, but it’s overall a good season. So given that I’ve had to rewrite this review 4 times (my first draft approached 6 pages and consisted of me praising every good thing and ragging on every minor issue), I think I’ll end this review here. Rather abruptly, when you don’t even know if your favorite character survives.
Elessar is a 24 year old Alskan born cinephile and the original draft of this review had an entire paragraph bitching about the lack of Coldhands.
-fantastic action scenes
-still one of the best things on tv
-occasional adaptation issues
-several storylines have to meander around for a while
-no Coldhands OR Lady Stoneheart!