Game of Thrones Season 4 Ep 2 (TV Show Review)

 Season 4 of HBO’s television adaptation of George R. R. Martin’s epic (political) fantasy saga A Song of Ice and Fire began on an interesting note. The previous season had ended on a very grim note as yet another player in the War of the Five Kings was brutally murdered, and the reign of his family and its political prospects all came crashing down. Now, the Starks are no more and the Lannisters are preeminent since they have a King on the throne who is about to be married, they have a Master of the Coin and a King’s Hand of the family, and they are about to have their Regent-Queen married off as well to further secure their power. But that’s not all that’s happening in Westeros since there is still Stannis Baratheon and his armies, along with Houses Greyjoy and Bolton, and more players yet in the ultimate game of power.

Where the first episode of the new season was meant to touch base with many of these characters, the second episode this Sunday went further and turned out a pretty damn amazing story that saw an end to a character I’ve long hated. Very cathartic I tell you. At the same time, we finally touch base with what the Boltons are doing following their betrayals last season and what has become of their… prisoner. Plus we see Bran Stark and the Reeds again, in a rather scary sequence altogether. The new episode lacked some excitement in the first half, but the second half was pretty good, if strung out a little.

Game of Thrones Season 4 Poster 0002One of the notable things about this episode is that it was written in part by George R. R. Martin himself. The noted author usually writes an episode in the second half a season, but it looks like that this time he has chosen to write one early on, and just the second episode itself, when returning audiences are in the middle of reconnecting with all of their beloved characters. And then bam, a character dies at the end, and for once at least the character who dies is not a hero, but a villain. Which is all well and truly good. Last season’s brutal Red Wedding episode mimicked the first season in that some truly beloved characters were killed off in a most graphic and emotionally-wrenching manner, so its good to see that it is not only the good guys who suffer, but the villains too. And this villain in particular is someone I’ve wanted to see dead for a long time.

Anyway, that’s by and by because there is a lot that happens here, so let’s take it step by step in terms of where the scenes are set.

First off we see how Ramsay Snow, the bastard son of the new Warden of the North Roose Bolton, has truly changed Theon Greyjoy from someone on the first steps to becoming a warrior to someone who is broken in mind and soul. Last season, Ramsay tortured Theon for several weeks and degraded him to hell and back. The poor boy’s transformation is now complete and we see him in his new… avatar as Reek, Ramsay’s trustworthy manservant. Unlike the previous seasons where Alfie Allen’s performance as Theon didn’t really strike much of a chord with me, that changed in this episode. He truly was magnificent here. Little shifts and tics in his expression show how changed he is and how much of a deer caught in the headlights he is. The secondary scene involving Roose, Ramsay and Theon perfectly illustrates how good of an actor Allen is this time around. And this extends to his fellow cast members as well, Iwan Rheon and Michael McElhatton, who play Roose and Ramsay respectively. Going forward, how these characters develop is something I’m looking forward to since Theon’s conspiracy and cover-up of some murders he committed is now exposed and Roose Bolton is of a mind to tie-up loose ends.

In a rather short sequence, we also get to touch base with Stannis Baratheon and Melisandre. The scene starts off as Melisandre burns some supposed infidels in front of Stannis and Davos, for the crime of not believing in the Lord of Light. Carice van Houten’s spectacular performance as the creepy and super-confident Melisandre touched some new heights in this episode. While she is much the silent witness in the first half of this sequence, in the second half we see her pontificate for her god and it is pretty amazing how well she can channel her beliefs to ostensibly convince someone that she is right and that they are wrong.

However, I’m not really convinced by either Stannis Baratheon’s character or Stephene Dillane’s performance. He lacks a fire in the portrayal and I had trouble believing that this was the same Stannis that we saw in the second season. The character is descending into an inner madness that is coming across well, but we’ve already seen all this happen in an entire season so hopefully we see a renewal that marks him as a serious threat to the Lannisters, as he was all throughout the second season when his forces laid siege to King’s Landing during the Battle of the Blackwater.

And in between all of this we also get to touch base finally with Bran and the Reeds as they continue their trek beyond the Wall, and continue to head deeper into the north. With some of the secrets of Bran’s heritage revealed last season, we continue to see some more development in that regard, and we also get to see him exercising his powers in a very different way. Doing this casts some silent commentary on the past, present and future of Westeros, hinting at what is going to happen when all of it is taken together. As I admitted in last week’s review of the season premiere, I haven’t read the books, so I have little idea of what is going to happen next. But I think that I might finally be starting to get into their own subplot. Previously, it has all been rather haphazard and a bit of a travelogue, but it looks like there is finally some development in that regard.

Finally, scattered throughout the episode and somewhat well-paced, are all the scenes set in King’s Landing. And they take up the bulk of this episode since the final event has connections to everything that happens here. The distribution of power in the city, and by extent all of Westeros as well, is about to change significantly. After Margaery and Joffrey’s wedding, Cersei will no longer be Queen-Regent and Joffrey will finally have someone who can curb some of his worst excesses rather than indulging them. The Lannisters will also be financially indebted to the Tyrells now, and this is going to open up a subplot where the long-rumoured and long-mentioned Iron Bank of Braavos is finally brought into the picture.

Frankly, there are a ton of things that happen in this episode as far as the Lannisters are concerned. There is the Wedding of course, and while the event itself didn’t really resonate with me, what happens before and after did. Such as the heart-to-heart between Jaimie and Tyrion as they finally get to talk and chill out as brothers. We have Tyrion and Shae take the next step in their relationship. We have Olenna Tyrell and Tywin Lannister discuss what the future holds for their families. We have the presentation of gifts for the new bride and groom, and this involves the Valyrian steel sword that Tywin commissioned in the previous episode. And then there is the Wedding and the after-party.

Through all of it, one thing was clear: Joffrey Baratheon is the worst monarch there could ever be. He has no respect for anyone and he takes every opportunity he gets to show that. Case in point is the after-party, where he displays just what exactly he thinks about his new relatives, his own family, and even his own wife. He has been one of the most despicable characters on the show and this episode just might be his crowning glory. And the worst part, story-wise, is that no one makes a move to stop him, except for Margaery. Neither Tywin nor Cersei try to head him off. The simple truth here is that Joffrey is not fit to be a king.

And in that is the golden ticket for actor Jack Gleeson, who plays Joffrey. His performance as the boy-king has been spectacular right from the start and he has typified the worst traits of a monarch from the get go. If any other actor was in the position, it is hard to imagine him doing any better here. Jack Gleeson was on top form in this episode and it showed through.

Game of Thrones Season 4 Stills 0002

But truly, the champion of King’s Landing was Tyrion and Peter Dinklage, who is the actor in the role. Every wit, every barb, every remark that he throws at those around him is a calculated insult. More than ever before, Tyrion tries to control his own temper and his baser urges and Dinklage’s performance is second to none. And it is quite unfortunate that he is the character that everybody spits on. George R. R. Martin is dead-set on making this season a living hell for Tyrion and by the end of this episode, things are just getting started for him, for as we saw in the season trailer, he is eventually going to be brought before the law of Westeros as a criminal, for reasons that are starting to become clear.

There are lots of small moments in King’s Landing, such as Oberyn Martell talking with Cersei and Tywin, hinting at his purpose in the city. This in turn calls back to season 2 when Tyrion sent off Cersei’s daughter to Dorne to seal an alliance between the two families. That is coming back to bite the characters now, and through this we are going to hopefully see the rivalries and feuds between the two families go to the next level. That is going to be fun. Can’t wait for that.

The episode ends on a very grim note. The distribution of power in all of Westeros changes fundamentally and some big things are in store for everyone. Up until we got to the after-party scenes, the episode had kind of been plodding along since we were going around Westeros meeting with all sorts of characters and seeing what they were all up to. But once we get to it, the episode really ratchets up the tension, whether we talk story or the characters. Some of the best scenes of the entire show are in the second half of the episode, and I really do recommend giving it all a see-through at once.

More Game of Thrones Season 4: Ep 1.

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Posted on April 15, 2014, in Game of Thrones, Review Central, TV Show Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

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