Disclaimer the First: I have read all of the A Song of Ice and Fire books—many of them more than once because: come on!—and this reflection is with that point of view in mind. While I am careful to hold the television show up on its own merits as a TV show, I do compare and contrast it to the books on occasion.
Disclaimer the Second: This post will contain spoilers up to and including the finale of season 4 of the television show. I will not include book spoilers from A Dance with Dragons for those of you that only watch the show. However, I may include references to things that were in the first 4 books, but were not included on the show for some reason.
Pictured: Sir Not Appearing in this Film
Disclaimer the Last: Trigger-warning for a discussion about the non-consensual sex scene between Jaime and Cersei.
On its own, with no comparison to the three seasons that preceded it or to the books it was based off of, Season 4 of Game of Thrones can stack up quite nicely to any season of the best television shows in recent memory. But if you do compare it to its source material, and seasons 1-3, you may find an uncertain feeling in your gut—or is than an arrow? I do not think anyone would classify this season as bad, but probably not all that it could have been.
It’s a difficult thing to put your finger on. What was different about this season from the previous three? Well, for one, this season deviated from the books more so than the others.
“Is he talking about me? People have lost limbs for that, you know!”
Now, I’m not one to beat the drum that video-based media should stay 99.9% true to the print it is based on. Telling a story through television is much different than with the written word. But the first three seasons did a very good job of balancing telling the story the right way on television and staying true to the novels. Season four added things that seemed unnecessary and left out others that were near heartbreaking.
The storyline of the renegade Night’s Watchmen taking over Craster’s Keep is just one example. Its over-the-top violence and the portrayal of the renegades mistreating the women seemed thrown in for no real reason other than a combination of filler and shock value. And speaking of the Night’s Watch, even I couldn’t contain my immediate rage over the deaths of Pyp and Grenn. What the crap was that? So much for the, in my opinion, brilliant homage to Tolkien’s fellowship.
Probably the most jarring example of the way things were added or changed to the canon this season was the now infamous rape scene between Jaime and Cersei after Joffrey’s death. In the book this was the first time Cersei had seen her twin brother and lover since his imprisonment under Robb Stark. She rebukes his advances at first, but eventually does give in to desire and consents to the copulation.
Things went, ah, a little differently on the HBO show. No consent was ever given and the scene ended up going down as an actual rape. Keep in mind; this occurs right at the foot of their dead son’s casket. To recap: Jaime rapes his twin sister in the same room where their bastard son born of incest lies dead after having been poised just hours earlier. We know this is a show that pushes decency boundaries, but for many viewers, this scene was just too much.
But I learned this was not the only thing this season that started to give some viewers apprehensions about the direction of the show. I am blessed—I think?—to have a slew of people in my office who watch the show rabidly but haven’t read a word of the books. Since they know I’ve read the books in full, they cannot contain their excitement in sharing their thoughts on the show’s latest developments each week, and their theories for what they think will happen next. And many of these show-only fans were really off-put, and threatened to stop watching the show, after this happened:
“Ow.” – Oberyn Martell
The show had killed off an instant fan favorite after giving him just a few episodes where he had any face time. As one show-only fan had opined to me, he understood the point of killing off Eddard Stark in season one. You rattle the fans and make them realize that this show is about cold reality and even the good guys can end up dead. It’s fresh and new and exciting. But then the death toll of protagonists kept growing. I literally just started typing out all of their names and realized that the list would be too long, so here’s a cast picture from season one. Who’s left?
While the idea that no character is safe is a thrilling one, it also makes it more difficult to get emotionally invested into new characters as they appear on the show.
Now, all of that having been said, this season also rewarded us with some of the best scenes and storylines in the series to date. My friend who was ready to give up on the show after The Viper’s demise was fully bought back in to the show’s greatness after the battle between the Night’s Watch and the Wildlings.
“HOLY CRAP! HOLY CRAP! HOLY CRAP! HOLY CRAP!” – Everyone.
For me, despite the things it did to the show-only fans’ hearts, I absolutely loved The Viper versus The Mountain. This was one of my favorite scenes in the books and I had been waiting four years to see it come to life. And it did not disappoint. Pedro Pascal was a brilliant casting, they finally got the right man to portray Gregor, and the choreography was superb.
For as good as that scene was, I honestly thought that Tyrion’s escape in the season finale was a bit flat. Perhaps that is because I knew what to expect going into it, but it lacked the same sense of danger and righteous revenge that the books had. I think this is for two reasons:
1. Shae told the truth. At Tyrion’s trial, on the TV show, Shae did not say anything that wasn’t true. Yes, she still betrayed him. But in the book, Shae spouted off a series of concocted lies to make her betrayal all the more bitter. In truth, after Tyrion’s trial on the show, Shae was still seen as a victim of circumstance who didn’t really do anything wrong. Thus, when Tyrion ultimately choked her to death, you weren’t altogether on his side. It was difficult for Tyrion to remain righteous after that scene.
2. Tywin is too likable. I think this goes back to Joffrey. When Tywin shows up in King’s Landing after defeating Robb Stark’s army and takes over as Hand, he immediately starts putting Joffrey in his place. Since Joffrey is the most hated character on this show, the audience sides with Tywin. Yes, he is ruthless and something of a jerk. But so was Walter White. So is Sherlock Holmes (BBC). So was Gregory House. (See more here: http://www.geekorama.net/2014/03/house-of-cards-and-new-archetype_29.html.) We’ve come to love the relentless jerk who’s better than everyone and gets things done. There was at least a small part of everyone, I bet, that felt bad for Tywin when he got an arrow in his gut while caught with his pants down.
But I think the best part of season 4 of Game of Thrones had to be these two:
They really are quite precious when they aren’t psychopathically killing people.
If you didn’t love every scene with Arya and The Hound, please see a doctor. Two individuals that could not appear more different on the outside, but who are both suffering internally due to a lifetime’s worth of misfortune, find uneasy solace with one another as they murder their way North. Everything about this storyline was portrayed almost exactly how I pictured it in my head, right down to the tragic end. Had Game of Thrones gotten unceremoniously canceled after this season for some reason, I definitely would have watched The Wolf and The Hound spinoff show.
Oh yeah, and this happened, too.
Now, who wants some pigeon pie?