By Chloe Gilke, Daily Arts Writer
Published June 18, 2014
Spoiler alert: this review contains major spoilers for every season of “Game of Thrones” and the “A Song of Ice and Fire” book series.
Game of Thrones
Season Four Finale
Since its humble inception, “Game of Thrones” has become more than just a TV show. During “GoT” season, an entire dormitory floor can fall silent on a Sunday night, with the exception of the clash of steel on steel playing through attentive earbuds. A dozen new Buzzfeed lists go live, listing “twelve times Daenerys Targaryen was the baddest bitch.” “Game of Thrones” has even surpassed “The Sopranos” as HBO’s most-viewed series, and crashed the HBOGo site more times than I’d like to count. “Game of Thrones” is a Gregor Clegane-size cultural phenomenon, fueled by the fact that its hungry viewers must spend most of the year waiting for three months of million-dollar fiery death spectacular.
In many respects, “The Children” was a satisfying capper to a whirlwind season. Some characters ended the season by starting down new paths — Tyrion escaping in a barrel, Arya trading Jaqen’s coin for a spot on a ship. Beloved characters (Sandor Clegane, Jojen Reed) lost their lives, and there was no shortage of cathartic villain deaths (Tywin Lannister was slain on the toilet). A few storylines that have been languishing all season (Jon Snow and Bran Stark’s dull adventures north of the Wall), received a new jolt of life. And the emotional appeal of the show is as strong as ever, as Daenerys heartbreakingly chains her beloved dragons and Tyrion faces another family betrayal.
But amid the excitement, there was a palpable sense of hesitance and fear. Sure, this season of “Game of Thrones” was action-packed, but how long can it sustain this degree of vigor? Although Lady Stoneheart, a resurrected and vengeful Catelyn Stark, was supposed to appear in this episode (as per the pages of George R. R. Martin’s “A Storm of Swords”), she was noticeably absent. Fan favorites Sansa Stark and Petyr Baelish were entirely missing from the last two episodes of the season. And, the tragedy of poor Reek has remained undeveloped for several weeks. Obviously, the writers are choosing to save some of the events of the third “Song of Ice and Fire” book for future seasons, but underlying that decision is a troubling thought. As GRRM takes his time writing the sixth book in the series, there’s a very real possibility that the show could catch up to the events of the novels, and “Game of Thrones” could run out of material to adapt.
The finale was also a showcase for another flaw that haunted the fourth season. Jaime Lannister, former chivalric Kingslayer, has never been the same since his disturbing rape of his sister/lover. Again, the violence of this scene was not present in the book, and continues the disturbing tendency “Game of Thrones” has toward gratuitous sexual assault. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau did wonderful work with the additional material he was given, but Jaime’s sugary-sweet brotherly caretaking toward Tyrion seemed insincere considering his past transgressions. In the finale, Cersei spited her father Tywin by gleefully admitting to the “twincest” affair, but the following passionate scene between the siblings was viscerally unsettling. Hopefully, time heals the injury to what used to be one of the most unique relationships on television.
Tyrion’s heartbreaking journey from circling the outskirts of Lannister approval to being imprisoned was one of the best threads of the season, but his raging murder spree in this episode was unnerving. Tyrion ruthlessly choked Shae, a kind prostitute and the supposed love of his life, with a necklace. Though Shae was a relatively minor character, her confidence with Tyrion was refreshing and his tenderness toward her always sweet. Between the loss of Shae and Jon Snow’s spunky lover Ygritte, “Game of Thrones” may actually run out of unconventional and interesting female characters before the book material runs dry. Tywin’s death was no surprise, but since he was the instigator of so much of the Lannister conflict, I worry that the show might have offed a crucial catalyst just to add to the body count.
The fourth season of “Game of Thrones” took interesting risks, but with mixed results. Every episode was punctuated by stunningly directed action sequences and buckets of carnage, but cheap gasps don’t always make for groundbreaking television. The best parts of the season — Arya and The Hound’s fraught friendship, Tyrion’s struggle to prove his innocence, Dany learning that there’s more to being a true Khaleesi than some cool CGI dragons — used minimal shock tactics. “Game of Thrones” may sit atop the Iron Throne of prestige television for now, but to remain the nonpareil that it is, “Thrones” has to step up its game.