Dead Season Discussion: Trials of Ice and Fire (and Mountains) in Game of Thrones Season 4 (Part 1)

Title CardWith the passing of Breaking Bad and Mad Men and Homeland’s nosedive, HBO’s Game of Thrones is as close as America has to consensus television. Adapted from George R.R. Martin’s popular A Song of Fire and Ice book series by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, Game of Thrones has racked up Emmy’s and Golden Globes, as well as awards that matter, such as the Peabody and Hugo Awards.

To commemorate the end of Season 4, Jeff (of Slazenger1) and I break down the good, the better, and the occasionally bad of Game of Thrones’ fourth season, which premiered on April 6, 2014 and ended on June 15, 2014.

As per the usual, SPOILERS ABOUND. Also, people die. If that’s a spoiler to you, you have no business clicking on a Game of Thrones link. There are, however, NO BOOK SPOILERS beyond what Season 4 of the show covers.

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Patches: Jeff, it’s an honor and a pleasure to be here with you once again for another Dead Season Discussion!

Jeff: Indeed! After bombarding everyone with 24 for a year, we’ve let our duties slide a little bit (well, there was that little comedy show). Now we’re back in full “better-late-than-never” mode!

Patches: Hahaha. Doesn’t that imply that we usually operate in some other mode most of the time?

Jeff: How about “always late, but never better”? Hmmmmm, maybe that implies that we never improve. Maybe we should just take it from Gandalf.

Patches: I’m down with that. I’ve used “A teacher can’t be tardy” once or twice in my day. All I know is that I’m really glad that we don’t have some sort of a shtick for our reviews. You know, the “Best and Worst” of something or “the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” of something else. I’ve seen some websites do those things incredibly well, but we would be so screwed for our Game of Thrones write-ups. “The Good, the Also Good, and the, Like, One Thing That’s Not Good” of Game of Thrones Season 4!

Long story short, we love this show. What jumped out at you this season? Why was Season 4 so damn good?

Jeff: You know what Patches? You might as well just go back and read our Season 3 discussion. Combine skilled adaptation, assured direction, a mostly-pretty-great cast and the best book in the series and you get Game of Thrones Season 4 (and 3). I’ll try to speak in generalities for a little while here and then throw it back to you before we get into specific stories or moments.

The character moments and pairings remain great, but different characters come to the fore than in seasons past. Tywin and Jaime take a bit of a back seat after a stellar Season 3, but the both still have some great scenes with Tyrion that reveal new depths of their enmity and love, respectively. Oberyn Martell was a wonderful addition whose every scene was better than the one previous. Brienne and Pod offer a nice odd couple pairing. Davos gets some brief chances to shine. Even some of the boring ol’ crew at the wall–and trusty Sam–get their moments of glory.

Best of all, the Stark girls both hit new highs, in my opinion. After episode 7, I noted that Sansa is officially the most interesting she’s ever been, in the TV show or the books. That’s no mean feat, but I’m not entirely surprised that this show and this cast could make me so interested in what she and Littlefinger are up to going forward.

0x600Lastly, Season 4 beautifully pays off the pairing of Arya and the Hound that started near the end of Arya’s somewhat draggy Season 3. The Hound coldly teaches Arya about how to survive in the hell that is Westeros and Arya not-so-naively soaks it all in. There’s a great father-daughter dynamic there, except there really isn’t, or at least neither is willing to accept that, or ever let it turn into that. Their final scene together caps more than a season’s worth of character building, and it plays perfectly.

I could probably drag out a few other examples of why I loved Season 4, but maybe you have some thoughts too, Patches. I know you’ve been slightly down on Arya in the past, do you agree that she had a strong year? Also, any notable additions to the great characterizations that continued this season, or perhaps you have other feathers for Season 4’s cap?

Patches: Yeah, it’s hard to talk about the good moments of Season 4. Um, basically all of it? I don’t know what I could add to your shortlist, other than how happy I was that Bran & the Gang were virtually written out of the season. The pairings were great. The direction was, I think, the best of series, particular with Alex Graves at the helm. Overall, it was just a supremely good television show at the top of its game. What can you say about Michael Jordan shrugging? Or hitting a game-winning jumper? It’s the best being the best.

I’m glad you brought up Arya because I’m ready to get on board. For years, I’ve felt like an outcast because I just couldn’t get what other people saw in Arya. Jeff, you, and a couple others, tried to explain it to me without success. I just didn’t see anything other than TV’s laziest tomboy trope. When we first meet her, it’s “I don’t wanna do girl things! I wanna shoot a bow!” Then she sees pops lose his top and it’s “Grrrr! I want revenge!” for two more seasons.

This year, and you hit the nail right on the metaphor, the writers let her grow as a character. They let Arya be an equal partner with the Hound in Season 4, rather than more Season 3’s Revenging Tomboy Hostage. Like you said, she had important discussions with the Hound and sat under his sad, shitty learning tree, soaking in everything she could about the deplorable state of Westeros and of human nature. It made for some great moments, none more so than their final scene where Arya put his teachings into practice.

eb42e320-c6c2-0132-46b4-0e9062a7590aUltimately, I think that what made Sansa interesting too. Her pairing with Petyr Baelish allowed her to learn the “Game of Thrones” and, in doing so, grow beyond “Innocent Damsel in Distress.” She never made it past that in the books, but here she is, giving misleading testimony and crying crocodile tears to manipulate her aunt’s bannermen.

That said, I’m pretty sure pairing up a ham sandwich with Aiden Gillan’s Baelish would make it interesting. “Chaosh ish a lettush…” Is that Welsh? What accent did I just give him? I wanted more Baelish after Season 3 and Game of Thrones delivered.

I’ll lead us into our more specific ideas with one last observation. I thought Episode 10, “The Children,” left the show in a tremendous place. Stannis is in a position to do cool and important things (and more Davos!), Arya is off to have awesome adventures on her own, and Dany finally got to do something more than eat bowls of shit from her Meereenese constituents. Heck, even Bran is on the cusp of being interesting. I certainly thought it was a step up from last year’s crowdsurfing.

[Note: This was the topic that got cut off when we both got crushingly busy at the same time. Parts 2-4 are more or less complete.]

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