**NOTE** This is a season review of Game of Thrones Season 4 and it will contain spoilers. Read no further if you haven’t finished the season. Also, I have read all the available books in this series, and while I WILL NOT spoil future plot points, I will shed some light on some small details from the books that have been left out that helps explain the situations of some current characters (I.E. – Bran and Arya).
Let’s get right down to it. Season 3 was brutal (in the best way). After The Red Wedding, people were devastated. Many claimed they were done with the show. Predictably, they lied. Through the course of season 4, Game of Thrones became the most watched show in HBO history. And while everything living in the world of Game of Thrones is actively trying to kill each other still, unlike the dire and grim outlook of season 3, season 4 was more about hope, finality, and new beginnings. After three seasons of unprecedented hate for a child, we the viewers were thrilled when we were treated to The Purple Wedding. Joffrey, the king, was at long last dead. And in spectacular fashion I might add. The symbolism leading up to his death scene was amazing. After he died, everything changed. All the major players for the crown are affected in some way. Joffrey’s younger brother Tommen is now king. He is just a child, and even more controllable for Tywin, basically putting him in charge. Tyrion is finally turned on by his family. Stannis regroups and rebuilds his army thanks to Davos and the Iron Bank of Braavos. Instead of making another attempt at King’s Landing, he listens to the Red Lady and brings his army to the North and saves The Night’s Watch and defeats the Wildlings. Once more there is a new king in the North and he will have to learn to work with The Night’s Watch who serve no king. What will become of the surviving Wildlings? What will become of the Greyjoys and the Iron Islands now that Theon has proven that he belongs to the sadistic Boltons? No Joffrey, no Tywin, Tyrion in exile, Lady Aryn is dead, Stannis in the North, no more Wildling threat, no leader for The Night’s Watch, Dany is stuck in a holding pattern, Jorah is exiled, The Hound is dead, Arya is on her own, and Bran has finally reached his destination. Yeah, I would say that is a pretty good way to shuffle the deck and restart the game.
Look at Arya, one of Game of Thrones most beloved characters. If we know anything about Arya, it’s that she is a survivor. For four seasons we have watched her adapt to survive. It is no coincidence that she is one of the few Starks left alive. We have seen her grow and start to understand the world. Ever since Ned’s head was chopped off, she has been fighting to get back to some form of her family. Along the way, she slowly learns that she is better off on her own. We as the viewers even began to understand that really before she did. That’s why we laughed right along with her when she finds out her aunt Lysa Aryn has died (not realizing her own sister was close by). Of course Lysa was dead when she got there. The world has repeatedly shown Arya that she doesn’t need her family. So when The Hound is mortally wounded, Arya finally realizes she is going to be okay (also we get the coldest stare ever and conformation that she is a bad-ass). With one final attempt, she tried to board a ship north to Jon Snow. Finally, she remembers the coin she received from Jaqen H’Ghar way back in season 2. Arya’s journey back to her family is over. Now she is riding to her destiny. This is where I will explain a little bit beyond what you may not realize from the show. Jaqen gave her the coin so she could learn what he was and how he did what he did if she ever chose to. Jaqen was a Faceless Man. The Faceless Men are the most bad-ass assassins in the world of Game of Thrones. Arya is going to learn. Be exited.
One more long journey that came to an end was Bran Stark’s. Ever since his fateful fall and becoming paralyzed, he has been having visions and dreams. He has realized that he is a Warg and he has been becoming stronger and better at it. But we never knew what he was heading north for. Neither did he really. Only that he had to find the three eyed raven. My one gripe with the show has been that they have never properly given details on the ancient history of Westeros. You hear the name The First Men every now and then but that’s about it. The First Men were the people that first dared to cross the Narrow Sea and find and settle in Westeros. But they weren’t the first ones there. First, there were the Children. The Children are basically mythical beings with unnatural long life and great powers. You might have noticed that as we finally met one (they are believed by everyone else to be long dead or simply just a myth), and she proceeds to start throwing fire and energy balls from her bare hands. (How bad-ass was that scene with the undead skeletons by the way?!?!) She takes Bran and company (minus Jojen, RIP) inside the great Weir Tree they have found and Bran finally meets the three eyed raven. He turns out to just be an old man seemingly becoming one with the tree as he is entwined in the roots of the Weir Tree. What isn’t explained to you is that he is a Greenseer. What is that? The best way to describe them is that they are like the Grand Wizards of the Old Gods. They can see through the eyes of all creatures in the land and other Weir Trees. Bran has just met the last one. He tells Bran he has been watching him and guiding him his whole life. The guy looks pretty old….. You see where this is going. Like so many others, Bran’s first journey is over. A new one has begun.
Lost in the middle of all the gore and amazing revelations we saw, was the story of Petyr Baelish and Sansa Stark. After Littlefinger rescues Sansa when he helps to murder Joffrey, he brings her (and us) back to The Vale and creepy Aunt Lysa and the most annoying child in the history of anything, Robin. Yes, we all rejoiced when Littlefinger pushed Lysa to her death, but what was missed by so many in that moment, and something I wish the show would have stressed more, was the revelation of just what Littlefinger has been up to all along. Remember when Varys said that Petyr would see the whole world burn if he could be the king of the ashes? That is what he has been doing! Littlefinger seduced Lysa and had her kill her husband John Aryn and incriminate, the Lannisters! Without Petyr, Ned would have never have left Winterfell to become the Hand of the King and NONE of this would have ever happened. Littlefinger is literally the ENTIRE reason for the story we have been watching!
More than ever, the writers of the show have deviated from the books this season in several spots. Of course this has drawn the ire of many fans, but for me personally, it is expertly done. Sure, we didn’t see characters such as Cold Hands, Strong Belwas, or Lady Stoneheart (although I would bet all my money we see her next season). There are more than enough characters on the show already. I for one believe that these were good cuts to make. And yes, there have been deaths that didn’t happen in the book, or at least in different ways. But they have all served to tell a better story through a visual medium. Jojen’s story in the books is done. He has been doing nothing for awhile. Why not make him go out in a really cool way. And yes we all love Gren, but in the grand scheme of things he sadly didn’t matter. And nobody can tell me that watching him bravely stand with his brothers and recite the Night’s Watch’s vows as a giant barreled down on them wasn’t one of the best scenes in television history. And yes, Brienne and The Hound never fight in the books. In the books, Brienne wanders around looking for Sansa. Her chapters are incredibly boring. And The Hound dies of an innocuous neck wound. Hardly fitting for the awesome character they had built on the show. Having them fight and further establishing just how good Brienne is and giving The Hound an actually cool death made perfect sense. If anything, the show writers have earned our trust. Any changes they make, book readers just need to accept that they know what they are doing.
In my humble opinion, season 4 was perfect as a whole. Season 3 was my favorite season of any show ever, and season 4 trumped it in every way. Everything from the acting, to the cinematography, to the story telling was absolutely brilliant and perfectly executed. The show certainly has a formula and it continues to work. We get gigantic moments and events that occur every few episodes, leading us to a HUGE episode nine, followed by a finale that is usually a cool down and set up for the next season. The moments have never been bigger than they were this year with The Purple Wedding, Lysa’s death, the gruesome fight between The Viper and The Mountain, and the incredible battle at The Wall (which might be my favorite episode of TV ever). But this year’s finale wasn’t just setup for next season, although it did that nicely. From the surprise arrival of Stannis in the North, Dany realizing that she must learn to control and rule (including her dragons) and not just conquer, Bran’s fight with the undead, the awesome showdown between Brienne and The Hound, to the tear jerking escape of Tyrion where he murders Shae and his father Tywin and flees the Seven Kingdoms, all were just gigantic moments.
So where do we go from here? The board has truly been reset and the game will change drastically. The gigantic moments that we were spoiled with this season won’t be as plentiful next season, but I can promise you they are still coming. We will see many new players in the game as several new characters will be introduced. We will also visit new places. Remember Oberyn “The Viper” Martell? His death will have consequences and we will spend a lot of time in the one of the seven kingdoms that we haven’t visited yet, Dorne. And trust me, Dorne is awesome! Also, we will spend much more time in the Iron Island and across the Narrow Sea in the Free Cities with several key characters now being there and not just Dany. So yes, next season will feel very different. But trust me, Game of Thrones will continue to do what has done every single season. Be the best damn show on TV.