Game of Thrones Season 4 Ep 1 (TV Show Review)

Three years ago, HBO changed the course of science fiction and fantasy programming with its television adaptation of George R. R. Martin’s first novel in the A Song of Ice and Fire series, bringing A Game of Thrones to people’s screens. The books had long enjoyed a decent popularity but with the television adaptation, things suddenly kicked into high gear. For a series that had been called unfilmable, HBO seems to have done alright, and now the show is in its fourth season as of this past Sunday evening, bringing the ostensibly second half of the third book to the screen, and it exemplifies both the best and the worst of the show (and the books).

I’ve never read any of the books, nor do I have any inclination to. They are simply too humongous, and when I tried to read the first book, I lost interest somewhere before the half-mark. Plus it takes Martin 4-6 years to write a book, and I just don’t have that kind of patience. So the television show it is, which I’ve been watching since it premiered. The new season and its premiere take us back to Westeros, but a changed Westeros, where the Starks as a family are no more and the Lannisters are ascendant. The deadly dance for ultimate power continues and we touch base with a significant number of characters, to learn what they have been up to, and how they’ve all changed.

Game of Thrones Season 4 Poster 0002The season begins on a rather sobering note. With the Starks destroyed as a family, Arya Stark and her younger brothers presumed dead, and Sansa now forcibly married into the Lannister family, Tywin Lannister exacts his final revenge upon his enemies. He has Ned Stark’s Valyrian-steel broadsword melted and reforged into two separate swords, one of which he gifts to his son Jamie. This is a big moment in the show, because it marks how utterly defeated the Starks were in the last season, and how they no longer have any kind of power in this show. Arya might gallivant across the land with the Hound in search of vengeance, and Jon might labour at the Black Wall to keep the Wildlings off, and Arya’s younger brothers might be on their own quest with Hodor and Osha, but the Starks are finished. Their time has come and gone. And it is the Lannisters who are in the ascendance.

The glee in Tywin’s face as the sword is melted and reforged, aided by the ritualistic burning of Ned Stark’s wolfskin sword-sheath, it shows how victorious the current King’s Hand feels himself to be. His grandson is on the Throne, his eldest son is still alive, his daughter is to be married off again and his youngest son is the Master of Coin and married to Sansa Stark. His position is unassailable and he is comfortable in that fact. All that remains is for him to Jamie back to Casterly Rock to take over as ruler in his absence, which Jamie refuses of course, because he is not going to break another oath, the oath of a Kingsguard to always be a Kingsguard and nothing else.

There are lots of tense moments in this episode. The above-mentioned confrontation between Jamie and Tywin as the latter presents him with his new sword and instructs him to go to Casterly Rock is one. Then there’s the dramatic tension between Cersei and Jamie as the latter is fitted with a metal hand to compensate for his own that was cut off by a Stark sympathiser last season. Cersei blames Jamie for everything that has gone wrong with her for he went off on war and got himself captured. She is like a deer in the headlights, with no idea of what to do, and her connection with her twin is fragile. He wants to have sex with her, but she refuses. Nice of the show to remind us of their incestuous relationship and the fact that the King, Joffrey, is their son, rather than being Cersei and Robert Baratheon’s son.

We see Jon Snow as he is grilled by the council of Castle Black for abandoning his fellow members of the Nightswatch and for killing one of them. He even admits to having had sex with Ygritte, a Wildling archer whom he kind of fell in love with, and thus abandoning his oaths to the Black. We see Arya Stark as she has her revenge on the Lannister man Polliver, who killed her friend Lommy sometime back and took her sword, Needle, away from her. The sword was gifted to her by her brother Robb (or maybe it was Jon, tough to remember after 3 years), and it is the last heirloom she has of her family. Now she reclaims it and it hopefully marks a big turn in her character, especially since she murders two men in cold blood to get it. We’ve seen signs of this version of Arya for a while, and now it all blossoms back. Nice to see that she isn’t moping around like the ineffectual Sansa at King’s Landing, but is instead being proactive.

There are lots of other things in the episode of course. Oberyn Martell of Dorn, a second-son of the ruling family of that part of the kingdom of Westeros, comes to King’s Landing to attend the King’s upcoming wedding to Margaery Tyrell. The Martells loathe the Lannisters for when Robert Baratheon and Tywin Lannister rebelled against the Targaeryens, they murdered Prince Rhaegar Targaeryen’s wife, who was a Martell, and her children as well. As Oberyn tells Tyrion upon meeting, it is not just the Lannisters who pay their debts. And Oberyn is shown to be a man of action, skilled with a blade, and utterly calm and controlled. I’ve never seen anyone have the kind of disarming affect on Tyrion as he does in this episode.

Oh yes, we also get to see some scenes with Margaery and her grandmother, Margaery is reunited with Brienne, and most significant of all, the Mother of Dragons marches on her next target. Her dragons are all grown significantly now, enough that they can hunt on their own. There’s a great scene where Drogon, the big black dragon named after her dead husband Khal Drogo, snaps at her for interrupting the dragons’ fight over food, showing that she is not in as much of control of the dragons as she likes to believe. It is nice to see her humbled so, for she has been quite self-satisfied and smug for a long while now.

Watching this entire episode, there were some good bits, and there were some bad bits. This was a very long episode, a bit longer than the show’s episodes usually are, and it suffers from a lack of proper pacing. But that’s the curse of the show. It has a huge cast and even though we got to see so many damn characters, we still didn’t see Stannis and his men, we didn’t see Theon or Asha (renamed to Yara for the show), we didn’t see the zombies who are supposed to be this big huge threat, we didn’t see the Boltons, we don’t see Littlefinger or Varys, and so on. Lots of characters just weren’t to be seen and we saw new characters on top of all that.

I think that this is the point where the show is going to struggle. With a 10-episode per season format, I’m not sure how they can keep such a complex story in motion. There’s already so much brevity, and there’s going to be even more.

The performances by most of the actors were pretty good. Natalie Dormer, Charles Dance, Peter Dinklage, Maisie Williams, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Lena Headey, Rose Leslie, Rory McCann, Gwendoline Christie, Pedro Pascal, Sibel Kekilli and Jeromy Flynn were all rather good in their respective scenes. But Emilie Clarke, Jack Gleason and Sophie Turner weren’t all that good. The novelty of their characters has rather worn off I must say, and I’m not really enjoying their particular arcs either.

Game of Thrones Season 4 Stills 0001

If there’s one thing that really bothered me about the acting, it was that the casting for Daario Naharis has changed. Last season, the character of the mercenary lord was played by Ed Skrein, who I thought did a fantastic job. He was a very different sort of character to almost everyone else in the show, especially those around Daenerys. This season however he is played by Michiel Huisman, and I just don’t feel the same kind of charisma from him, at all. Very, very disappointing. The character’s flamboyance has been severely toned down.

Even as the new episode gave us some great performances (mostly) and some really intense character drama (such as between Oberyn and Tyrion), it also gave us some more headdesk moments. For one, the episode typified the show’s obsession with naked women, whether they are shown topless or full naked. An argument could be made that for a scene set in a brothel this is appropriate, but I’m sure the scene could still have been shown in a way that the show’s obsession with naked women isn’t on full display like this. What I mean to say is that I don’t mind some nudity here and there, but the show has made an obsession out of it. Almost every second episode has some nudity and it is almost always the women who are shown so, never the men. In fact, I can only ever recall two instances of male characters being nude and there was the whole sex-torture thing with Theon Greyjoy last season. This is something that the show really needs to get better on. Either the writers/directors/producers introduce a parity for this kind of thing, or they tone it down altogether.

And one thing I wanted to point out was the subplot involving Tyrion and Shae. As we know, Shae is someone that Tyrion is in love with, but since she is not a noble he cannot marry her, and marriage is an impossibility anyway since he is married to Sansa now and thus has those obligations. Shae has been frustrated at what she feels is his lack of love since his marriage and that bloomed in this episode when she chews him out for it. I don’t get it. Doesn’t she understand that he has certain responsibilities that he has to fulfill, especially given Sansa’s extreme situation right now in which, as far as she knows, she is the sole surviving member of the Stark family, with her entire family having been brutally murdered one after the other? I’ve seen Shae as a very understanding and intelligent character so far, but this entire subplot just comes off the wrong way to me. Surely there is a better way to handle the relationship between her and Tyrion, for whom every breath is a struggle since his own sister wants to kill him, preferably, and his family’s worst enemy is now in the capital, Oberyn.

Nothing spectacular really happens in this episode, it must be said, but that’s fine since it is an episode meant to touch-base with as much of the cast as possible. Some characters stand out, some don’t, and that’s fine too. It was a decent episode, when all is said and done, but it definitely lacks that gut-punch of the show’s premiere episode, but I suppose that’s the novelty speaking.

Either way, I’m looking forward to seeing the next episode next week. Should be more interesting than this one.

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Posted on April 8, 2014, in Game of Thrones, Review Central, TV Show Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 14 Comments.

  1. I have been reading this blog for a while now and I can’t believe you have never read a Song of Ice and Fire series of books, I thought you would have at least read the read the first one. Compared to some other series of books Martin’s series are not that big in comparison.

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  2. The Martell girl was not a Queen yet. She was married to Rhaegar Targaryen, and he was only the Prince. And Oberyn doesn’t talk to Tywin. He talks to Tyrion. Tywin is the head of the House Lannister, and Tyrion is the “Imp”. Dracarys is not the name of the dragon – it’s the Valyrian word for “fire”, which Daenerys uses to command her dragons to attack. The big black dragon, which is also her favourite (he is the one that was on her shoulder as a baby, the one that protected the gold given to her, the one that was about to be given to the Valyrion guy in Astapor), is Drogon (named after Khal Drogo). The two others are Viserion (named after her brother Viserys) and Rhaegal (named after her brother Rhaegar).
    As for Shae, I just believe that she doesn’t understand the lack of interest of Tyrion in her. He used to bed her often, and it’s been weeks since he touched her. And even if he’s married now, he is a lord – he can have whores, and lovers. What Shae fears is that Tyrion falls in love with Sansa and out of love for her. She remained there to be a support and help for Tyrion, but now, she does not see the use in it at all.

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    • Thanks for all the corrections. Things can get muddled at times since I don’t read the books, nor do I have an inclination to. As for Shae, yeah, that could be it, but the subplot just comes off the wrong way. It makes her seem bitchy and a control-freak when she isn’t like that, not for me at least.

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