Love Arya+The Hound, Tyrion and Oberyn, bored of Danaerys, spoilered long ago, impressed by Baelish and want to write a character like him, respect for Jack Gleeson for playing Joffrey, super interesting characters everywhere like Brienne, Tyrells, no sympathy for Theon, Samwell is a well meaning idiot, major issue with army of Unsullied marching without food and shelter, Podrick+Brienne+Jamie are hilarious, touching is Missandei/GreyWorm, Sansa got scary finally, Bran’s story a bit meh, Samwell+Gilly is so sweet, meh CGI skeletons, awesome Brienne/Hound fight, Arya gets even scarier, and Tyrion wins at life
So I finally got around to watching Season 4 of Game of Thrones. I’ve been bombarded with spoilers much earlier in the year as it was airing, so I had a good idea of what to expect as I sat down and started watching the episodes in earnest. It took a while for me to get going, especially since a lot of the plot and characters felt foreign having not seen them for some time. It was a good season filled with even more interesting characters, albeit without anything really blowing me away.
It might make sense to some for a review to go in episodic order, but I feel that for a show as complex as Game of Thrones, while multiple concurrent arcs, it makes more sense to focus on characters and the stories surrounding them, rather than the twitchy nature of each episode. Obviously, there are going to be major spoilers ahead.
Arya and The Hound
We start off first with the dynamic duo of Arya Stark and The Hound. I wouldn’t say their story is particularly interesting. On hindsight, much of it was chock full of convenient circumstances too, such as Arya’s friend meeting Brienne, and the duo chancing upon the guy who stole Needle.
No, the focus here is on the characters, and how they’ve changed over the course of the story. I’ve always respected George R.R. Martin for creating complex, nuanced, unique characters throughout his entire universe (unlike a certain wizarding world we all know), and this is one of the stand-outs in terms of acting, characterisation and just sheer fun.
Arya and The Hound make for a fascinating duo, and not very far off from Arya’s fake account of them being father and daughter. They are very much like a dysfunctional family, with one a hostage and the other a target to be killed. Yet, they seem to have a grudging concern for the other’s life that goes beyond The Hound’s desire for a ransom, or Arya’s desire to find her family and kill whoever she felt had wronged her.
There were plenty of fun moments between the two as they made quips (this season seemed particularly mirthful despite some controversially awful scenes), but the high points came when The Hound was discussing his brother, and when Arya watched him die. The former demonstrated that The Hound was pretty much a victim of circumstances, and never recovered from his trauma. The latter showed that Arya was changing from a little girl into a different beast altogether. She was independent and a little wild before, but now she’s dangerous and even cruel to her enemies. That’s a pretty dark turn for a beloved character, and I loved it.
Of course, discussing the death of The Hound naturally brings us to…
Brienne (and Podrick)
I love Brienne of Tarth. I can say that for many characters to be honest, but I love Brienne not because of how impressive her character was written, but the character herself. She’s loyal, idealistic, and a bit naive; everything I’m not a fan of writing into my own characters because I can’t relate. But she’s such a fun character to watch as she tries to forge her own way in the pits of Westeros and King’s Landing, and somehow succeeding to stay alive.
I love the romantic angle of Brienne and Jaime too, because it somehow doesn’t demean Brienne as a tough cookie. I like that she runs completely against female stereotypes for fighters, not being speedy, sinuous, or using poisons. Yet, she retains a touch of femininity with her love for Jaime, and it’s just awesome to see. I wish I could write characters as wholesome as her.
And who can forget Podrick, the well-meaning former squire of Tyrion Lannister? He’s often times the comic relief for the series, but has evolved in this season, becoming more than just the funny follower of Tyrion. His loyalty stands out in the darkness that envelops the GoT world, and his interactions with Tyrion were quite touching. Unfortunately, he reverted to being comic relief with Brienne, but now that The Hound is dead (killed by Brienne in combat no less!), they can be the next dynamic duo of the series.
From Podrick, we find our way back to King’s Landing to Tyrion. Much of his story this season was his imprisonment for the assassination of Joffrey, and it’s endeared him to us even more. His struggles have sometimes been made light of in prior seasons, often by himself no less. But it was never more stark as his world crumbled before him; pinned for regicide, wanted killed by his sister, his lover betraying him in words and in bed, his father showing just how little he cared…
And yet, it also showed how despite being a foul-mouthed, rich prat, his innate goodness and moral code had found friends. His brother Jaime had always been fond of him, and their relationship was given major development here. Varys proved that Tyrion did have a friend in him. Podrick remained loyal to the core, and even when Bronn was saying farewell to Tyrion, you could see that the sellsword was more than reluctant to end the friendship, and only The Mountain stood as a near insurmountable barrier between them.
And that final episode, where he killed both Shae and Tywin, was the moment the straw had broken the camel’s back. It showed the depth of Tyrion’s suffering and how it broke him emotionally and morally. It’s a very, very different Tyrion that entered the crate headed to places unknown from the one that was hiring whores at the start of the show, and I can’t wait to see what this new Tyrion does.
…and The Other Lannisters
Cersei had taken the bulk of the character development in past seasons, so Jaime gets a shot now that he’s finally escaped. Far too often, we’ve seen him as a cocky man, undaunted by anything that comes his way because he has both the strength and the money to overcome obstacles. But ever since his capture and his escape, we see that beneath all that posturing, he’s just another man, formed and moulded by circumstances (and Tywin), fuelled by love, haunted by regret.
We see him perusing the book on Kingsguards often, a sign that he wants to have a greater legacy, to be a better man. His struggles with Cersei and his secretiveness about training with Bronn, shows a man frustrated by his impotency (the loss of his hand). That all culminated in the controversial rape of Cersei, which I think needs to be seen from more than just a neutral observer’s perspective.
We also see his softer side as he tries to help Tyrion while struggling to do what he wants in the demanding household that is the Lannisters. We see him gifting the priceless Valyrian sword to Brienne, showing his fondness and gratitude for the friend who had done so much for him. And there was genuine humour too, when he presented Podrick to Brienne. Jaime Lannister became so much more in this season, and I can’t help but grow fond of him too.
Of course, the show tries to make me hate Tywin without fail. To a certain extent, it succeeds, but he’s the kind of character I would relish writing. I’d like to believe there’s more to Tywin than just his unfeeling approach to matters. His motivations are clear, but how did he grow to become so obsessed? What made him fall down the slippery slope? There’s a story behind Tywin, much like every ‘villain’ should, and I would love to read that story.
And finally, there’s Cersei. I can’t say she’s any different than before. There’s nothing that demonstrates a deeper, different Cersei than we’ve seen previously, but that’s okay. She’s always been just as obsessed with her children as her father is with preserving the Lannister name, and that obsession (along with her hate of Tyrion) makes itself very well known. Beyond that, however, she’s been merely performing her duty as the ultimate bitch in the series.
Oh, the Tyrells. They are what the Lannisters want to be, and are pretty much the most efficient, cold and brutal family I’ve seen in the series. They pretty much own the Lannisters and the Iron Throne (and with it, Westeros), they managed to pin Tyrion for murder (which led to Tywin’s death and Tyrion and Varys’ exile), and they’ve come out of the entire fiasco squeaky clean, masking their intent with pretty words and faces.
All the female Tyrells are manipulative, frightening women who will use whatever they have to get whatever they want. They are the antithesis of Brienne, whose idealism and brutish fighting tactics are a far cry from their hidden plots and seductive words and actions. Throughout the episodes, I found myself gaining a greater respect for the way they conduct matters, but I can’t say much about character development. These are characters that I thoroughly enjoy watching, but don’t endear themselves to me one way or another.
What to say about Oberyn? I loved him the moment I saw his character. Here’s a man much like Tyrion from the first season, yet there was something else about him. Seductive, powerful, mysterious, he was the kind of character that made you want to know more about him.
We see his promiscuity with both men and women, yet his obsession is with family and avenging his dead sister Elia; an obsession that even led to his death. This dichotomy is fascinating, and this is on top of the hidden depths that peeks out whenever he gets involved in politics. I sure as hell am glad that he’s the one sent to the wedding and now his brother suffering from gout, because a sharp-tongued, quick-witted playboy Oberyn Martell is a joy to watch.
A pity he’s gone.
Sansa Stark and Petyr Baelish
To me, the most interesting Stark has always been Arya. Sansa has too often been the whiny, spoilt princess completely out of her depth in the vipers’ pit of King’s Landing. But near the end of this season, Sansa was transformed, turning into something much more frightening. Her tears as she recounted a obscured truth to the lords of the Vale scared me.
To think, a girl frightened out of her wits by practically everything that happened beforehand, is now able to lie in the face of others while protecting a man she has now entered a mutually beneficial agreement with. A man she has manoeuvred into a position of weakness despite his many talents at playing political games.
Of course, the transformation was a bit jarring, and that’s one criticism I have in terms of character building. The jump from a frightened, girly Sansa to a manipulative one was too quick, too sudden. There didn’t seem enough time for her to grow into that role. But it’s a welcome change, and it’s only a small criticism.
And we must obviously discuss Baelish too. What a character. With his finger in every pie, his attempts to win the game of thrones are as risky as they are brilliant. A slimy character with no scruples, no morals, just an unyielding desire to grasp power. I loved the brutality behind his elegance. Ah, if only he was not human and prone to a miscalculation that conveniently led to Sansa’s development…
You Know Nothing, Jon Snow…wait, is that Stannis???
Ah, Jon Snow. Frankly, it’s a little tiresome to hear that running gag. But he’s become quite the character in the series now. I don’t care for him to be honest; he’s one of those near-perfect characters in stories that does everything ‘right’. Given that this is Game of Thrones, obviously he’ll face ups and downs and losses (like Ygritte). But otherwise, he’s a pretty bog-standard hero in a world that doesn’t want them.
No, what interests me about Jon Snow, is that his arc now encompasses both Stannis Baratheon and Bran Stark. Sure, Brienne and Arya’s arcs overlapped, and they nearly did with Sansa’s. And there were even more mentions of Braavos, which hints at their increasing importance in the series. But for Stannis to march beyond the Wall, and for Bran to be dragged deep into the North, means that the arc is going to be incredibly important for the overarching story.
After all, winter is coming. We get more hints about White Walkers. Stannis going to the North means that Melisandre directed them there, on orders of the Lord of the Light. Bran Stark is there too, meeting the Children. The entire backstory of Game of Thrones is unfolding in the North, and frankly, I don’t care about any of those characters (except maybe Ser Davos). I care about their involvement in an arc that will tell me more about the world GRRM created.
Oh, and Samwell’s love with Gilly is so sweet. It’s a nice break from the horrors that is relationships in the rest of the Game of Thrones universe.
Meh, is about all I can say. Her arc was far more interesting in previous seasons, but now that she’s established in Essos, she’s become a little stale as a character. Her emotional lockup of her dragons was demonstrative of her growth from the somewhat hotheaded young woman into a queen, but otherwise her arc has been lacking.
The only interesting thing is Grey Worm and Missandei’s potential love story, which is bittersweet in many ways. Even Jorah’s exile was predictable and not really anything special. I can envision him returning to the story in some capacity, but hopefully it’s in an interesting way. I also hope Daario Naharis is more than just the enamoured leader of the mercenaries that Danaerys is now bedding. It’ll be boring if he was just that.
Beyond the main characters (and there are many), some other characters also stood out. The Boltons and Theon Greyjoy have had lengthy portions of the season, and I suppose they might become major antagonists for the Starks in the future. I have little sympathy for Theon to be honest, despite his sad state. He was en egocentric idiot in the past, and that never endears characters to anyone.
Lysa was the typical yandere, a woman so obsessed that she’s willing to do anything for her man, even kill. Her words hint at so much of Baelish’s activities behind the scenes, and it raised my respect of Baelish even more. Her death was predictable, but I can’t help but wish she stayed around a bit longer to get in Baelish and Sansa’s way.
So that’s 2500 words about a season of Game of Thrones. I’m surprised it isn’t longer. I can’t help but continue reiterating my desire to write characters like George R.R. Martin does, to develop a world so detailed, so nuanced, so amazing. I’m glad they didn’t try to make this a movie franchise; given the movies I’ve seen recently, character development is really difficult in a medium with time constraints like films do, and with the vast number of characters that need attention, TV is the way to go.
Season 5 is airing soon. I really should read the books instead. That way I’m safe from spoilers.