Game of Thrones
…or how I stopped worrying and learned to love the uncertainty.Season Four of Game of Thrones took the show to new heights in terms of spectacle, drama and viewership. The show has never had a bigger budget, a wider audience and after abruptly bumping off one of the most loathed villains in tv history just two episodes in, Season Four was like a clean slate for the series. It signalled that there were new characters, new stories and new landscapes in Westeros to explore.
I fretted a lot after the infamous episode The Lion and the Rose and wrote about whether the show had potentially lost its sense of direction. It turns out I needn’t have worried. Season Four served up plenty more excitement and talking points. One of the strengths of the show right from the outset is its unpredictability and willingness to drop major characters and shift focus to others so every episode, every moment of peril, is wrought with tension because the stakes are so high. No one is safe. We once had an era where Eddard and Robb Stark were the centrepiece heroes with Tywin Lannister and Joffrey Baratheon the primary antagonists. Nowadays its all about Jon Snow, Ramsey Snow, the white walkers and Daenerys’ slave army.
One of the great new developments in the show is seeing how the extra budget lavished upon the production has resulted in some spectacular new battle sequences. I remember in the first season the show actually had to go to great lengths to mask its smaller budget so when the story called for a scene with armies waging war, we’d see Tyrion Lannister charging into the fray in a single, low angle camera shot. He gets abruptly knocked out and then we cut to a scene immediately after the conflict has ended. Since Season One, the show has skyrocketed in popularity and has been granted a much more generous budget allowing for the battles to be given the sense of spectacle that they deserve.
To that end, there’s been a pattern developing where the ninth episode of every season has a huge military conflict and in Season Four we get exactly that with the excellent episode The Watchers on The Wall in which Jon Snow and his brothers in the Night’s Watch defend Castle Black from the wildlings. This episode features some stunning choreography to effectively capture the smaller details amongst a chaotic wide scale battle. The sequence involving Ygritte’s last stand where we see her perspective as she fires her bow was particularly well put together.
The visual effects team is on also point this season and deserve kudos for the scenes where we see the wildlings scaling the wall and then getting unceremoniously dumped by a massive swinging pendulum. For a tv show to even come close to rivalling the sort of spectacle produced by Weta Workshop for the Tolkien films is some feat.
My favourite characters this season are probably the same as everyone else’s. I loved Peter Dinklage’s performance as an embattled Tyrion Lannister who spends most of the season on the brink of death, attacked by his family and betrayed by his beloved Shae. I also got plenty of kicks out of the further adventures of Arya Stark and The Hound roaming the countryside and axing any poor fools who crossed their path.
I was also pleasantly surprised by the character development shown by Sansa Stark who finally begins to show signs of agency and has to navigate an extremely delicate political minefield when placed in the company of a lunatic (Lysa Tully), a sociopath (Varys) and a spoiled little brat who finally gets what’s coming to him (Robin Arryn, the weird kid who still breastfeeds).
With so many characters and narratives running at once, it seems that every season, one or two characters get saddled with nothing to do. Remember in seasons past when Theon Greyjoy spent the entire season getting tortured? Or that time Jamie Lannister got kidnapped and that was pretty much the only thing that happened to him? Sadly, in Season Four it’s Daenery’s turn to get saddled with a raw deal. Our beloved Khaleesi captures the city of Meereen and spends most of the season miserably toiling in the life of a council worker, listening the problems of her disgruntled citizens and finding out how difficult city planning can be. It’s about as exciting as it sounds.
Season Four finishes as it starts. With more deaths of significant characters, new horizons for the surviving Stark kids and an audience still hungry for more. In Season Five we start to get into seriously uncharted territory however as the tv show has effectively caught up with George RR Martin’s still unfinished book series. Where we go from here, no one really knows.