Game of Thrones – Season 4 – A Reaction

This article is part of a <a href=”http://www.studioremarkable.com/multi-part-articles/george-r-r-martins-game-of-thrones-a-reaction-series/”>series of reviews</a> on the “Game of Thrones” television adaptations of George RR Martin’s “A Song of Fire and Ice” book series.

Episode 1:”Two Swords”

Most of the episode’s focus took place at King’s Landing and much of what took place as memorable, if often only subtly so. Much was made of the title referring to the re-forging of the Stark family’s’ gigantic sword and it featured some nice clip callbacks. That effectively led into both Jaime and Tyrion’s introductions for the season.

Unfortunately, Tyrion’s problems with the females in his life haven’t been as interesting as his sibling conflicts. His trying to make peace with Sansa was awkward at best given the circumstances behind further death to her family members. Where Tyrion’s storyline showed signs of picking up was with clashing into Prince Oberyn, who seemed to have an unhealthy opinion of the Lanisters based on their role in the death of his sister.

Jaime seemed to also have female problems, with his lover sister having moved on from him. He had quite a step down for a character who had been at the top of his game at the start of the series. As it stood, he was spurned by his wife and humiliated as king’s guard to the son who didn’t realize that Jaime was his father. Jaimie’s complete alienation from his family was about the only explanation for why he seemed to still be entertaining the idea of making right with the Stark girls, per Brienne’s prodding.

The other storylines were largely of the ‘checking in’ variety. It was interesting to see how Jon Snow confessed to breaking pretty much every core oath involving the Night Watch, yet was taken off of the hook. Elsewhere, the Ygritte check-in was punctuated with a nasty little cannibal twist.

I was surprised by the size of Daenerys’ dragons when they were shown during her reintroduction, but realize that the story needs for them to continue to grow up. Clearly they weren’t as tightly under her command as in the past. The fact that the show recast the role of Daario was jarring. The producers seemed to be using facial hair to somewhat disguise the change, but it was still pretty disorienting.

A problem developing in the Daenerys’ plotline is that she seems to be repeating over and over, with her group about to encounter yet another city of slaves. One could argue that she’s been doing that for much of the past two seasons.

Oddly, the most entertaining segment of the show was the one with the Hound and Arya. This duo had largely been under the radar for quite some time but Arya suddenly showed signs of being the child-warrior that the storyline has long hinted at her becoming. First was a tense verbal exchange with Polliver, a man who had caused problems in the past for Arya and stolen her sword ‘needle.’ That led into a brutal bit of action, with Arya reclaiming needle and making her point against Polliver (pun intended). The result made me squirm.

In summation, a nice episode that took a while to get rolling. It certainly ended at an excellent ‘I have to watch the next episode’ point.

Episode 2: “The Lion and the Rose”

Most of the episode’s notoriety would obviously be centered on the long royal wedding scene in the story’s second half. As it was, the first half of the episode was mostly the season’s reintroduction of some of the less storylines that not yet been touched upon. One would say that the second half saved an otherwise mediocre first half.

The prior season’s subplot with Ramsay Snow and Theon Greyjoy continued and was marginally more interesting than their lackluster past scenes. The opening killing of an innocent woman over jealousy issues veered towards the last season’s interest in ‘torture porn’ with Ramsay, but the following scene with his father Roose was interesting.

Theon – now seemingly brainwashing into his role of Ramsay’s lackey ‘Reek’ seemed like a powder keg ready to go off. Interestingly though, he didn’t diverge from his broken demeanor upon learning of the death of Rob Stark while shaving Ramsey. Roose’s involvement in that death helped to bring the entire Ramsay thread into focus. Roose’s criticism of Ramsay’s torturing of Theon, screwing up quality trade bait, voiced what had been in my mind valid audience criticism of that season three subplot.

Ramsay did manage to redeem himself in his father’s eyes though, with Theon giving up the truth about the still-living Stark boys. Predictably, the check in with the Stark boys was bland. Bran seemed to be spending too much time inside his direwolf. Most viewers would probably want him to get trapped inside said wolf.

Besides some stake burning mayhem, Stannis’s bad witch Melisandre provided some interesting ‘theology’ nuggets toward his mildly-disfigured daughter Shireen. While it had been mentioned in the past that the majority religion in Westros involved worship of seven gods, the lord of light was explained further as being more akin to a heaven and hell model with only positive and negative deities.

The big story obviously took place amid Joffrey and Margaery’s wedding. With everything else going on, Tyrion seemed to have finally convinced Shae to leave King’s Landing for a safer life elsewhere. At the same time, Tyrion helped out Jaime by lining up secret left-handed sword lessons in what was a rather amusing seaside scene.

All seemed to be going well for Tyrion until the royal wedding reception, at which point Joffrey repeatedly humiliated him. There was a tension throughout that lengthy sequence, with it being clear that someone was probably going to die and that a wine glass might be involved. In the end, Joffrey went out in graphically horrible fashion, a rarity on the show in that someone long-running and evil actually died.

With Joffrey’s death, any number of people could be fingered as the likely suspect. Clearly sorting that mystery out would be a launching pad for the rest of the season.

This episode was George R. R. Martin’s scripted contribution to the season. As usual, he picked what would appear to be a plum episode and the critical accolades after its airing were well deserved.

Episode 3: “Breaker of Chains”

The main talker after this episode aired seemed to have been the ‘rape scene’ near the very beginning, with Jaime literally pushing himself upon Cersei. I’ve seen the excerpt from the book and that really seemed like the better approach to the situation, with Cersei actively wanting to have sex with her long-lost lover. In the show, Jaime had returned prior to Joffrey’s death and Cersei had been giving him the cold shoulder. As a result, in the television adapation, Cersei kept yelling ‘No No’ during the scene.

George R.R. Martin came out in a way seeming to defend the deviation on the show. At the very least, his response pointed out that the show was following a different path than his books. The showrunners had spent the past two seasons seeming to build Jaime up as a redemptive hero and the rape scene undermined that character arc.Jaime had undergone a character redemption of almost epic proportions, and that no longer made much sense in the TV series, now that he’d been portrayed as lust-crazed sister rapist.

Maybe that was the point, but it seemed a really odd move to build up sympathy for Jaime and then take it away so quickly. Rather, the decision struck me as uncharacteristically sloppy. Surely they knew what they were doing and the consequences, but I don’t see the long-term creative upside to reversing course on Jaime at this point.

That scene was relatively brief in what was otherwise a very busy episode.

Viewers saw the full escape of Sansa Stark, who found herself on a ship guided by Littlefinger. She’d been led there by SerDontos, the jester of sorts whom she’d saved at the beginning of Season three. In fact, he’d been under the employ of Littlefinger, who managed to expertly defend his decision to kill Dontos.

Tyrion had a nice scene in jail, recapping why is situation as prime king killer suspect was particularly bad. Elsewhere, Tywin worked out a cunning deal with Oberyn Martell. At first, it might have seemed that Tywin would kill Oberyn as a potential suspect in the Joffrey killing. Rather, the alliance between kingdoms was too valuable to loose, so he instead agreed to help Oberyn meet up with the Mountain, the man who had killed Oberyn’s sister.

Arya continued to learn about cold-hearted survival from the Hound. The duo’s stop-over at a peasant farmer’s home provided an amusingly inappropriate dinner sequence. The literal mugging of the farmer the next morning by the Hound was both heartbreaking and sensible to watch.

The Wildling advance on Castle Black became clearer as men returned from the north side of the wall with word of Caster’s death. Concern grew the Wildlings whom Jon Snow had snuck south with would soon attack the Castle, particularly if they realized that only a hundred men stood guard.

The Daenerys storyline impressed me tonight after I ripped on her slow progress last week when her army arrived at the slave city of Meereen. It was a nice scene that ended with me wanting more. Dario showed his mettle in single combat against the city’ champion, killing him predictably quick fashion. The speech that Daenerys gave to the city’s occupants and the catapulting of former slave’s chains was magnificent.

Episode 4: “Oathkeeper”

The episode opened with the rather-brief takeover of the slave city of Meereen. Dany’s forces had little trouble sneaking into the city and rallying those slaves inside to rebel. The shots of the pyramid at the city center were impressive and seemed likely to serve further use this season.

I was glad to see the Jaime clusterf*** appears to be completely ignored as of the literal next episode. Given the contradictory comments around the third episode’s rape scene, is it possible that there was a measure of bad direction involved?

‘Good’ Jaime was at the center of the episode’s name when he gave Brianne the reformed half of Ned Stark’s ‘Ice’ from the season’s first episode. Brianne departed with the mission of tracking down and protecting Sansa Stark. Jaime also seemed to begin to come around to Tyrion’s innocence and offered his aid after being counseled by the sell-sword trainer who had been working for Tyrion and saw Tyrion’s loyalty to Jaime.

Sansa, of course, was still with Littlefinger, who essentially laid out the particulars behind the plot to kill Joffrey. Lady Olenna confirmed her part in that plot while counseling Margaery on the need to get closer to Tommen since he would soon be elevated to king. Margaery followed a cunning story involving how Olenna had landed her husband by sneaking into his bedroom and stealing him from her sister. Margaery wasn’t as aggressive, but did sneak into Tommen’s room for an amusing chat.

At the wall, Jon Snow rallied together a group to take on the traitor Night’s watchmen who had conquered Caster’s keep. His motive in doing so also related to Sam’s revelation to Jon that Bran and Rickon were alive near Craster’s keep. Popping up unexpectedly to join Jon’s party as a volunteer was Roose’s right-hand-man Locke. Locke’s motive was obviously the same as Jon’s, with him following up on Theon’s information regarding the Stark boys who still lived.

How much longer those Stark boys remained alive was up for debate. Their party was captured by the drunked group who had taken over Crasters. The identities of the Starks became known at Crasters after they were captured while trying to free both the dire wolf Ghost and Bran’s captured wolf Summer. Their mentally handicapped companion Hodor was roughed up to the amusement of some, but seemingly not killed.

I was surprised to learn that the ‘north of the wall’ storyline is actually from the 5th book in the series. As crazy as it might have sounded a few weeks back amid reports confirming the notion, it is now seeming increasingly likely that the show will finish before Martin finishes the final book.

The episode-ending revelation seemed to prove that point. Viewers learned that Caster’s ‘gifted’ boys were being transformed into White Walkers by a ‘Night King’ figure was apparently something not yet covered in the books.

Episode 5: “First of His Name”

The latest update with Daenerys proved to be rather sobering in that her entire quest felt somewhat deflate din short order. Daario had secured ships, but only enough for 10,000 troops and that wasn’t deemed enough to reclaim Wstros. Further, it was revealed that the slaver cities that she’d freed during the past season had since been reclaimed by cruel masters. As a result, she seemed to settle in Meereen with plans to learn how to rule a kingdom. While that might make logical sense for the character, it also felt like more treading of water would be ahead.

Life wasn’t well for the Lannisters either, despite Tommen being crowned the new king. Cersei made the rounds, first seeming to firm up an unsteady understanding with Margaery. Then she was about to perhaps make some sort of impression on Prince Oberyn ahead of Tyrion’s trial for Joffrey’s murder. Most problematic though was Tywin’s admission that the family was in serious financial trouble, not a position that the Lannisters were ever assumed to be in.

Arya and the Hound had another brief but memorable scene together, with Arya’s old sword masterSyrioForel being mentioned. While Arya believed him to be dead, that still had never been officially confirmed as-yet in either the show or the books.

North of the wall, the Stark boys seemed in a head-on crash, but that didn’t end up happening. Instead, the Locke threat was ended in a nice bit involving both Hodor and Bran. For once, Bran was legitimately interesting while warg-ing into Hodor. In reading about Hodor more in the first book, I can’t help but feel like I’m starting to get a sense for Martin’s thinking a bit more. I could be easily proven wrong, but he see seems to clearly favor the unconventional underdog types. I’m warming up to the theory that Hodor will somehow play an unexpected role as a major element in the end (most likely as a tool for Bran, etc.).

Although Jon Snow was able to take over Craster’s he didn’t seem to be intending on going any further. If anything, it sounded as though a return to Castle Black was in the cards.

Really though, the talker of the episode involved the events at the Vale of Arryn. I can’t believe that we finally learned the true murder of Jon Arryn… was his wife Lysa. Frankly, I had sort of thought that it was long since resolved with the Cersei being the obvious person behind it and totally forgot about it being open. I guess not. As usual, Lysa was downright creepy. From her marrying of Littlefinger and wedding night screaming to her interrogation of Sansa with intent to marry her mentally ill son Robin, Lysa was a tour de force of nutso.

As a result of this revelation though, the situation boils down to Littlefinger having been behind the War of the Five Kings. He’s basically fooled the Baratheons, Starks, and Lannisters into all killing one another off. In doing so, he also managed to find a cozy stronghold to hide in. Make no mistake, the Vale of Arryn appeared to be a well-situated fort, with talk of only three men being able to pass down a narrow valley at a time. Basically giving now way for a large army to take the main castle.

Episode 6 – “The Laws of Gods and Men”

This was another episode that started with brief ‘checking in’ scenes and then settled for the second half with a lengthy sequence at King’s Landing.

Stannis and Davos visited the Iron Bank in Braavos with a request for cash with which to rise an Army. The approach to Braavos had a couple of night shots of the city’s impressive entry status. Braavos really hadn’t seen much action since early in the series, a shame given that it doesn’t appear to be a lengthy boat ride away from Westros. After Stannis made a poor case for why he should be given money, Davos saved the day. He made a compelling case for Stannis paying back his debts and raising doubts regarding the long-term prospects for the Lannisters.

Davos wasn’t done though, as he turned around and used the newly-secured funds to re-hire the pirate SalladhorSaan. Saan had been part of the Battle of Blackwater, but his fleet had survived due to being positioned in the rear of the armada.

Elsewhere in Essos, Daenerys heard from a number of disgruntled residents of Meereen. Amongst them was a man whose sheep flock was killed by Daenerys’ dragon and the son of a man who was crucified seemingly by mistake.

These scenes were another reminder that I always find scenes set there extremely interesting (most of them involving Daenerys, but this Iron Bank visit being another example). Given George R. R. Martin’s Dungeons & Dragons background, I always feel like he made Westros his ‘conventional’ campaign and Essos more of a homage to Robert E. Howard and it being more of a Conan-ish land of magic and fantasy.

Back in Westros, Theon’s sister Yara led a rescue party to free him from Ramsay Snow. While they were successful in getting to Theon, Yara quickly realized that her brother was ‘dead’ in his Reek incarnation. The group left Theon behind Ramsay seemed to be on the verge of complicating the situation by setting a pack of dogs loose.

The centerpiece of the episode was Tyrion’s trial at King’s landing. Amongst those testifying against him were MerynTrant, Pycelle, Cersei, and Varys. All gave somewhat out-of-context quotes that made Tyrion look bad. The capper was when Shae appeared to give false but angry testimony that seemed to genuinely shake Tyrion. The episode ended with Tyrion giving a defiant ‘confession’ speech in which he ultimately demanded trial by combat.

The trial scene gave a nice recap of Tyrion’s various hijinx and gave Peter Dinklage a good showcase for his acting talents. However, it showed another problem that hounds (pun intended) the character. Most viewers would agree that Tyrion has a good strategic sense for things, but he ends up shoot himself in the foot. This episode showed what happened when all those foot shootings converged in one place.

Episode 7 – “Mockingbird”

This episode jumped back to Tyrion’s cell at King’s Landing a number of times, showing his discussions with potential recruits to fight the Mountain on his behalf. Jaime was the first to refuse, although that discussion led to an amusing point regarding how if Jaime had fought it might have led to the demise of the Lannister name should he have lost. Bronn was approached as well, having fought for Tyrion back in the first season while he was Catelyn Stark’s prisoner at the Eyrie. Amusingly, Bronn refused after seemingly have been bribed by Cersei with the possibility of marrying into a noble family and the hint that Bronn could easily knock off the family’s heir. Tyrion seemed to understand and the men parted friends.

Arguably the episode’s crowning emotional moment came when Oberyn Martell visited Tyrion and shared the story of seeing Tyrion as a baby. He talked of rumors of the ‘Lannister Monster’ and how he was actually not a deformed baby. How Cersei was cruel to Tyrion even as a baby. After that story, Martell announced that he would fight on Tyrion’s behalf in order to seek revenge for his sister’s death at the hands of the Mountain. Just as Tyrion became choked up over the act of vengeful kindness, I too found the scene easily as emotional as Tyrion’s trial.

Speaking of the mountain, viewers might have been confused that the actor playing that character was the third such actor in the role since the show began. He was briefly shown in a brutal scene with prisoners being killed by his sword, a reminder of how formidable he would be.

This week’s visit with Daenerys continued to reinforce that she was somewhat under Daario’s spell, but also that she was still his to command. Ever the talker, Daario managed to talk his way into Daenerys’ bed in rather rapid fashion. He also talked her into letting him taking the Second Sons back to Yunkai in order to regain control. Ser Jorah awkwardly run into an aloof Daario the next morning, surmising what has occurred. However, Jorah makes a convincing case for having Daario show mercy to the masters in Yunkai and Daenerys’ lets him have his comeuppance.

The scenes with Daenerys have shown some of the limitations of television in that viewers can’t get into the characters’ heads like they can in the books. Ser Jorah’s passion for Daenerys has taken a back seat, yet he’s still somehow able to function in his role despite having been spurned by her. It was nice to Daario brought back down in ego size.

Some of the less interesting storylines were also touched on. A visit to Dragonstone had an awkward meeting between Queen Selyse and Melisandre, with it becoming clearer that the pair have an odd relationship of understanding. Melisandre pulled back the curtain in amusing fashion, admitting that some of her tricks are faked in order to get attention. Obviously viewers knew that not all her tricks were fakes though. Stannis’ daughter Shireen was confirmed as continuing to need to play a role in whatever would take place next.

Arya and the Hound encountered a dying man who was killed by the Hound as a grant of ‘mercy.’ Quite surprisingly, the Hound soon found himself ambushed. After fighting off his attacker while Arya killed another man, the Hound had to have a wound stitch. In what surely seemed like a foreshadowing of doom, the Hound refused to have the wound cauterized with fire. In so refusing, he told the story of how the Mountain had scarred his face with fire as a child. It was a sad tale that further established a dislike in the audiences’ mind for the Mountain, perfectly setting up the pending death match for Tyrion.

Not much happened at the Wall, but tensions continued to build around an expected attack by ManceRayder’s forces. Given the giants amongst his army, Jon Snow suggested collapsing the access tunnel under the Wall that led north. The leader of the builders went along with the refusal, but viewers should note that it was with reluctance.

In a happy coincidence for Brienne, she and Podrick ran into Hot PIe at an inn. After complimentary talk, they were able to get Hot Pie to open up aout his relationship with Arya. After learning that Arya was alive, Brienne and Podrick reasoned that they should travel to the Eyrie where they mistakenly thought the Hound might have taken Arya for ransom from LysaAaryn.

The episodes events closed at the Eyrie, and focused on Sansa. After an oddly childish interaction with Robin Aaryn over the destruction of a Winterfell snow sculpute, Sansa found herself being kissed by Littlefinger. Littlefinger was in his usual creepy form while doing so, obviously viewing Sansa as the Catelyn proxy who he could finally have. Lysa happened to see the kiss and first tried to throw Sansa through the Eyrie’s deadly Moon Door. Instead, Littlefinger manager to talk Lysa out of doing so before insulting her by admitting that he only ever loved Catelyn. Lysa never had much chance to respond to the insult, since Littlefinger pushed her to her death through the Moon Door. As usual, another shocker ending concluded another solid episode.

Episode 8 – “The Mountain and the Viper”

This episode jumped around quite a bit, returning to some locations more than once. It moved along at a fast pace though, with even some of the less-interesting storylines turning more-interesting.

The opening concerned the Night’s Watch and a slaughter by Wildlings in Mole Town near Castle Black. Gilly was feared dead by Sam but viewers knew that she’d been aided in hiding by Ygritte.

Theon’s storyline took a new turn, but more to the benefit of Ramsay Snow. Theon was forced to under the northern fortress of Moat Cailin where Ironborn loyalists blocked the Bolton forces access to the North. Theon appeared to broker a surrender deal, with the Ironborn commander stubbornly dying at the knife of one of his own men. In truth, the deal was a horrific double-cross and the Ironborn men were slaughtered. In the process, Ramsay was upgraded to full Bolton status for his deeds and the forces headed for Winterfell.

It was interesting to note that Roose pointed out how much larger the North is than any other kingdom. It spanned an area of several hundred miles in any direction, larger than the cumulative sizes of the other kingdoms.

Two key storylines emerged involving the group in Meereen. Grey Worm, despite being presumably castrated was caught staring at a naked Missandei. After conferring with Daenerys, Missandei and Grey Worm seemed to have a flirtatious make-up scene. How things might progress was uncertain, since the characters never engaged in a romance in the book series due to significant age differences.

At the same time, Ser Jorah was finally revealed to be a spy. The particular detail of Jorah’s spying that seemed to irk Daenerys the most was his admission that he’d reported on her ill-fated pregnancy. This was a plotline from the first season, although he had long since abandoned his spying. Regardless, Daenerys seemed no longer able to trust Jorah and banished him from Meereen. This was a pretty massive change given how long he’d served as adviser to Daenerys and it seemed difficult to imagine how he might somehow redeem himself to her in the future.

Over at the Vale, Petry Baelish was under heavy suspicion by allies of the Aaryns’ until Sansa stepped forward and covered up his murder of Lysa. She admitted to being Sansa Stark and not Baelish’s ‘niece’ while telling a tale of Lysa’s jealousy over her presence leading to suicide. Baelish seemed somewhat grateful but he still seemed to warn Sansa to not entirely trust him. She claimed to know what he wanted, but it wasn’t clear if it was her or something else. Sansa’s behavior continued to change as she wore a sultry dress amid plans to make Robin Arryn more capable.

While that was all happening inside, Arya and the Hound arrived near the Eyrie to learn that Lysa had recently died. Their situation went from bad to worse as the Hound appeared to have an increasingly infected wound and Arya’s maniacal laughter upon learning of her aunt’s death probably didn’t help them in the eyes of the local guards.

The big story of the episode was brief, but satisfying. Prior to the trial by combat, Tyrion and Jaime shared a drink in his cell. Tyrion told a story about their simple-minded cousin who spent his life focused on killing beetles. The story seemed to mirror Tyrion’s life, in that people kept trying to do him harm for little reason other than existing. His father’s frequent disregard for his welfare being a prime example.

A harrowing battle then ensued between Oberyn and the Mountain. Oberyn was assured victory but kept pressing the Mountain to admit that he’d killed Oberyn’s sister. The Mountain eventually did so, but also managed to grab the nearby Oberyn’s foot in the process. Oberyn ended up having his head smashed by the Mountain, but then the Mountain appeared to possibly die himself. Regardless, Tywin proclaimed the Mountain the winner. Tyrion’s fate was left unresolved, although death seemed eminent.

Episode 9 – “The Watchers on the Wall”

It is inevitable to compare this episode to “Blackwater,” the second to last episode of the second season. While the pair of episodes are similar in that they both featured a single focus on an important conflict, the settings were vastly different. In this case, it was all about Jon Snow and Sam TTTT.

Since the end of the FIRST season, viewers had wondered when ManceRayder’s 100,000-strong wilding army would make its move against the wall. Also in the wings has been the raiding party that Jon was briefly a part of but that still contained his wilding love Ygritte. That group had just taken out much of the nearby town of Mole Town and was poised to strick against Castle Black. Basically, a two front battle was about to unfold. The majority of Mance’s forces would test the Wall’s defenses while waiting for the raiding party to strike against the Night’s Watch from behind.

Tension was in the air early on, even as Sam tried to sort out interest in sex and fear that Gilly was dead from the Mole Town raid. Jon waxed on admittedly non-poetically about his time with Ygritte while Sam admitted that theyd not done anything with Gilly. Luckily for Sam, Gilly shows up at Castle Black soon thereafter and Sam is able to lock her away in a room inside the castle. In doing so, he promises that he won’t die during the pending battle, but such promises always seem dicey on “Game of Thrones.”

Also prior to the battle was a nice moment for Sam with MaesterAemon. Aemon referenced his former life as part of the TARGERYAN royalty. He admitted to having his own love in the past who he could still clearly picture but whom he refused to detail for Sam.

When the battle did finally begin, it was as impressive as hoped. Mance’s forces north of the wall are an overwhelming sight. The commander of the Night’s Watch, SerAlliser Thorne, made an unsettling admission that closing the tunnel might have been the right move but pointed out that leaders can never second guess themselves. He ordered the initial volley of attacks from atop the wall.

Down below in Castle Black, the raiding party made their move, picking off men defending the castle gate by use of arrows. After realizing what was going on, Thorne left the forces at the top of the wall in the hands of the cowardly and inept Janos Slynt. Thorne arrived below in time to give a rousing speech to his men before leading them in battle against the invading raiding party.

At the same time two giants from Mance’s army used an elephant-like Mammoth begin pulling away the wall’s north tunnel gate. Realizing the urgent situation the men atop the wall lie to Janos about orders to decent to Castle Black. Janos believed the lie and left Jon as the de facto commander atop the wall. Janos ended up hiding with Gilly inside the castle as opposed to actually fighting against the raiding party.

Sam’s friend Pypar was soon thereafter killed by an arrow while continuing to try to defend Castle Black. Alliser Thorne was badly injured while in a duel with the wilding leader Tormund

Jon and the men atop the wall were able to stop one of the Giants and the Mammoth, but a Giant remained who was particularly determined. He began to lift the wall’s outer tunnel gate all by himself, prompting Jon to send a group down to defend the wall tunnel’s inner gate. Shortly after doing so, Jon himself descended to join the fight against the Castle Black raiders. He also had Sam release Ghost, with the direwolf briefly providing a brutal ‘wolf-vision’ perspective for viewers.

The episode began to come to a conclusion while Jon faught against the notorious wildling Styr. Despite earlier claims by Yritte that she’d kill Jon Snow, she looked on as he defeated Styr with a well-placed use of a hammer. Jon had justed a misdirection trick involving spitting blood into Styr’s face that he’d likely learned from having it used on him by Karl Tanner in a fight at Craster’s Keep in the earlier episode “First of His Name.” During a stand-off that followed, Yritte seemed to hesitate from killing Jon. He smiled at her just as she was shot by Olly. Olly would be remembered as the boy who was lone survivor of a wildling raid on his village back at the beginning of the season. He’d managed to get his revenge on Ygritte for killing his father. After a brief exchange with Jon, Ygritte died in his arms. Her death and the death of Styr seemed to signal a winding down of the raiding party’s effectiveness. Tormund would eventually be captured as the only surviving member of the raid.

Atop the wall, a ‘scythe’ was released that swung along the wall to literally scrape away any of Mance’s climbers. At the same time, the giant that made his way into the wall’s tunnel was brought down by the men who Jon had sent to defend the inner gate. The men lost their lives in the process.

The next morning led to sobering revelations. As harrowing as the battle had been, it had really been a simple test of the effectiveness of the wall’s defenses. Mance’s forces would try again and still outnumbered the wall’s defenders by 1000 to 1.

The episode continued to end on a dire note when Jon deciding to try to assassinate ManceRayder. This seemed like a suicide mission, but Jon thought that it would be the only way to break up the alliances that formed Mance’s wilding army.

Episode 10 – “The Children”

This episode’s title would end up having several meanings, as so many of the up-and-coming or younger characters were the spotlight, as well for focusing on Tywin’s children and a new fantasy element that operated under that name.

Picking up from the end of the last episode, Jon Snow met with ManceRayder under the guise of asking for peace terms. Rayder saw through to Jon’s plan to kill him but that point was moot as Stannis arrived to quickly defeat Rayder’s 100,000-strong wilding army with a large force of disciplined riders.

Jon managed to keep Mance as a captive, while Stannis made clear that he was pressing ahead to deal with the White Walkers. Mance claimed that he was simply trying to get south of the wall to escape the walkers, but the truth wasn’t clear. This portion of the episode ended with Jon saying good-bye to Ygritte by burning her body amid plans to burn all of the dead in the area.

Even further north, Bran and his crew reached the giant tree from his visions. They were attacked by Ray Harryhausen-style skeletons and Jojen was killed in uncomfortable fashion. Despite Br an again taking control of Hodor, the group needed to be saved by a magical person identified as one of ‘The Children’ (of the Forest). Bran, Hodor, and Meera were led into a vast cave under the tree and briefly met an old wizard-like man who indicated that Bran would somehow someday ‘fly.’ Viewers were given no further details, but this marked the introduction of Westro’s magic-wielding original inhabitants.

Things went from bad to worse for Daenerys, who ended the season on a low note when it became clear that her dragons were dangerous. A man brought to her the charred remains of his daughter, thus prompting Daenerys to chain up two of her dragons. The third, Drogon, was actually the culprit and had gone missing. Unfortunately, the special effects in the dragon chaining scene were underwhelming and general direction of the Daenerys character as quite discouraging.

A number of major events occurred at King’s Landing. Viewers learned that the Mountain was poisoned by Oberyn in their duel two episodes back. The poison used happened to be the same poison that was used in the assassination attempt on Daenerys back in the first season. Rather than let the Mountain die, Cersei set up turning him into a sort of ‘Terminator’ with the help of a magician in place of the usual care given by MaesterPycelle.

Cersei went from that scene to confronting her father Tywin about not wanting to marry Loras. She rejected that plan by revealing to Tywin that indeed her children were all fathered by Jaime. Tywin, a man usually with all the answers, seemed shocked by the revelation. He was put in problematic position in that Cersei admitting that her children were not fathered by the former king would make the Lannister claim to the throne illegitimate.

Cersei then proceeded to seduce Jaime, coming oddly full circle from his apparent rape of her back in “Breaker of Chains” early in the season. That scene and potential consequences were largely swept under the proverbial rug as it seemed that the siblings were now back ‘on’ with one another.

Despite Cersei wanting Tyrion dead, Jaime then turned around and freed his brother from the castle dungeon. In doing so, he said was a rather emotional good-bye to his brother. It seemed possible that the pair might never see one another again, as Jaime had worked out Tyrion’s passage to Braavos.

Not content to simply leave the area, Tyrion snuck up to the Tower of the Hand. There he found Shae in Tywin’s bed. A brief struggle ensued with Tyrion strangling Shae amid his heartbreak. Tyrion then took a crossbow off of a nearby wall and went to find Tywin . Tyrion found his father sitting on the ‘privy’ toilet. After a brief exchange about Shae and Tywin’s claim that he wouldn’t have actually killed Tyrion, Tyrion shot his father twice. Note that the song “The Rains of Castamere” was again played in the background, but this time the song signaled a negative turn for the Lannister family.

Later commentary on the episode has questioned why the showrunners left out mention of a key reveal from the book. Specifically, Jaime admitting that Tyrion’s love and brief bride Tysha had actually been in love with him. In fact, Tywin had ordered her killed simply to torment Tyrion and not became their marriage was a farce. That revelation would lead to Tyrion logically killing his father as a way to stop the continued torment that Tywin. That torment that had been inflicted on him as a result of indirectly blaming Tyrion for deal of Tywin’s wife while giving birth.

Tyrion was then helped by Varys to escape on a ship from the harbor. Varys heard the castle bells ring to signify Tywin’s death and must have had second thoughts about returning, since he boarded the ship as well. Why did Varys help Tyrion? Presumably it had to do with his owing his life to Tyrion from the Battle of Blackwater as well as penance for betraying Tyrion at his trial.

The season largely closed out with the events that happened at the Vale. Brienne and Podrick encountered the Hound and Ayra. Arya refused to be ‘rescued’ by Brienne, feeling that she had nowhere ‘safe’ to go. The Hound then battled Brienne, that fight ending with the Hound taking a nasty fall down the side of a cliff. Ayra hid until Brienne and Podrick had departed. She then said good-bye to the Hound, as he was seemingly mortally wounded. She did refuse to give him a mercy killing but did follow his example by stealing his gold.

Ayra then boarded a ship for Braavos, using the coin and passphrase that JaqenH’ghar had given her at the very end of the second season. It was clear that the coin and phrase had special significance since Arya was not only given free passage but also given her own cabin on the ship.

Conclusions

The major positive of the fourth season was that it helped to bring about a more satisfying conclusion to the rather-dark place that viewers had been left at the end of the third season. The core story that had been the rise and continued power plays of the Lannisters felt like it was winding down. In many ways, the major story of the initial trilogy came to an end even if we haven’t seen the full consequences.

The showrunners mentioned in an interview that they felt as though the story would stop expanding going forward and begin to close in toward the final resolution. New characters would still be introduced, but it was obvious from this episode that long-ignored situations such as north of the wall were finally getting attention. This is good to hear although it spells doom for the books ever finishing before the television series.

Arya’s storyline moved on along with two other characters over to Essos and I applauded that increased focus on the strange land beyond. The story of the threat to the north finally moved forward as well, with the storylines of both Stannis and Bran both taking significant steps. Bran’s storyline in particular had the potential to move from one of the most underwhelming to one of the more interesting threads.

The major negative this past season was that it often felt at times that things occurred in order for the show to keep certain plots moving forward even if the actions required to shortcut to those end points were dubious in terms of character behavior. Taken in turn, there were several stumbles this past seasons and ambiguity as to exactly what is going to happen in terms of character dynamics to sustain another four seasons.

Tyrion killed off his father in a way that could have been more effective had the showrunners simply followed the book’s lead in providing better motivation. It seemed like a definite misstep with such a crucial moment in the series even if the non-book-reading viewers didn’t realize what they’d missed out on.

Stannis did finally show up to face the threat to the north, but he only did so after spending the entire season essentially ‘sitting around.’ His appearance took some of the drama away from Jon Snow’s storyline, ending what appeared to be positioned as a larger cliffhanger involving the killing of Mance Rayder.

The character that ended up in the most perplexing way was Daenerys. She was a fan favorite who looked now like a failure of sorts in need of redemption. She’d been the darling of the first season, had some nice moments over the past two seasons, then her storyline hit a wall after the first couple of episodes of season four. There was no sense of momentum left for her.

On a casting note, the loss of Charles Dance as Tywin Lannister will be unfortunate. He’d emerged as one of the best and most interesting actors on the show. While it made sense that his scheming would eventually come to an end, his shadow emperor-like character will be missed.

One interesting trend to watch for in the future would be the emerging heavy fantasy elements. The introduction of ‘the children’ in particular had a dark “Chronicles of Narnia” by way of “Lord of the Rings” feel to it. The show had largely been devoid of more blatant fantasy elements at first but that had changed as the dragons were introduced as well as the White Walkers being further defined and some of the lower-level magicians popping up. Those elements, particularly the magic element, seemed to be increasingly coming to the forefront in unavoidable ways.

The biggest continuing issue remained the obvious fact that the show would clearly outpace George R.R. Martin’s writing if this was indeed the end of the first half. Four seasons and four more years left little time for Martin to finish two more giant volumes. Given that season four already dipped into books four and five, it seemed clear that material that was new to everyone would become increasingly the norm.

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