[There are spoilers ahead, but there is a bigger warning before those actually start]
Four seasons in, HBO’s Game of Thrones is hitting on all cylinders. The ratings are high, the budgets are getting bigger and the story is progressing. This show is so different than anything else on TV, mostly thanks to the fact that it is (almost entirely) based on a book series. But what is so interesting is how drastically things seem to change in this show. If someone were to watch the first 1–3 episodes and then skip ahead to last night, it’s almost impossible for them to have any idea what is going on. And that fits in with the serialized dramas that have become commonplace to this point. But this show is does something that Breaking Bad and Mad Men wouldn’t. In an almost reality show like way, no one is safe. Julianna Marguiles was not supposed to survive her suicide attempt in the pilot of ER. Aaron Paul was not supposed to last past season 1 of Breaking Bad, but both of those things happened in response to audience reactions. Not having the ability to react in that way is both a blessing and a curse. The blessing part comes with the “anything can happen” mentality without having to be too outlandish, or spending too much time trying to “top” previous stories. This means that the show just has the added suspense of knowing that any character could go at anytime without much warning in ways that would never happen on other shows. The curse comes from the fact that bad storylines cannot be abandoned. The best examples of the latter can be found throughout Friday Night Lights where there are numerous forgotten storylines or just big continuity questions. For now though, this strategy continues to pay off for Game of Thrones, which is arguably the best show on TV right now1.
Season 4 was solid for the most part, and had enough “OMG!” moments to make it very enjoyable2. Rather than re-hashing the entire season blow by blow, it might make more sense to take a look at some of the major storylines and where they seem to be heading.
The Wall and Jon Snow
The former leader of The Wall (don’t remember his name) was conspicously absent from the funeral for the dead men. It’s unclear whether or not he survived the attack. Is Jon Snow going to become the new leader? More importantly now that the Wilding army has been stopped by Stannis, is it time for more Whitewalker battling? Jon Snow is one of the few characters that seems pure enough to be unabashedly rooted for at this point, but he is a bit of a dry character and his story has been a bit boring at times. If he is now the new commander of The Wall, then things get interesting. Otherwise, his story has hit a bit of a wall (no pun intended). Completely random thought: was there something between Snow and Melisandre? Did I catch something there? Could she be his mother?
Speaking of the Whitewalkers, this story has dragged on damn near forever. It was literally the first scene of the first episode, and this looming threat seems emptier by the day. “Winter is coming”, they all say, but WHEN!??!
Arya’s buddy journey with the Hound was entertaining, but more importantly it let her character grow significantly. The Braavos coin was surely going to come into play at some point, and her meeting back up with her sister never really make much sense. It seems clear that she is going to be on her own, with a new batch of characters potentially. Some informal polling seems to indicate that Arya is one of the most like characters on this show, and at this point has the most room to grow.
Simply an amazing performance, and even more amazing story in season 4. Several spectacular scenes in the cell, including his epic story about his cousin. But little tops his trial monologue, which might have been the best moment of the entire season. Then there is that totally crazy moment when he shot his dad on the toilet which took things right to 11. Then he climbed into a wood box with holes to be smuggled elsewhere. There is no telling what chain of events this sets off, or where he will end up (presumably Braavos or somewhere else across the Narrow Sea). He is almost everyone’s favorite character at this point, and this season really elevated him on this show. Presumably his sister will have people looking for him, so if he can’t use the Lannister name, how will he get by?
The Other Lannisters
Tywin Lannister, the patriarch, is dead. Things are going to get very interesting within the ranks of the Lannisters. Cersei could get rid of the alliance Tyrells (or at least Margaery), and Jamie could potentially be named Hand of the King and not have to go back to Casterly Rock. But how long will it take for them to figure out that Tyrion is responsible? And what if Cersei finds out Jamie released him? This should be a very interesting dynamic next season.
Once the most interesting part of the story, she has devolved during the last two seasons into somewhat of a bore. It has become clear now that the Iron Throne is far from her target anytime soon. Her freedom fighting across the sea is a bit stale, and her dismissal of Jorah leaves her entourage without it’s best component. Now two of the dragons are locked up, and this story just really isn’t as interesting as it once was. Her fight is a noble one, but anything that doesn’t directly tie to the bigger picture just isn’t that interesting.
A very slow burn, but at least the finale paid off with some intrigue and mystery. The problem is that this story is terribly uninteresting on it’s own. Like with Dany, it’s much better when it ties into the grand picture more than when they are isolated. Arya and the Hound managed to debunk that, but Dany and Bran haven’t. This story will be far more interesting when (if?) it interweaves back in with the main plot.
The “one true king” finally made a move of sorts. He rode to the Wall to take down the Wilding army, quite easily it should be said.
What is confusing here, and perhaps is just a product of only having 10 episodes to play with, Stannis was broke, and his army weakened significantly by Blackwater; the Iron Bank turned down his request for money; what kind of deal was made with the pirate to make this raid possible? Seems like a confusing hole in the story [edit: I have been told Stannis did indeed get the money from the Iron Bank, but this seemed confusing and I missed it]. Also, what does Stannis get out of doing this vs. saving his men and money to attack King’s Landing again? Assuming Tywin Lannister is dead, no one is in a better position than Stannis, who almost certainly will take another shot at King’s Landing. The show has spent far too much time with Stannis up to this point for there not to be a bigger payoff coming.
Sansa and Littlefinger
Absent from the last two episodes, but clearly on their way to something, althoughit’s unclear what Littlefinger’s long game is at this point. Is it just to live well at The Erie and marry the daughter of his lifelong crush? One would have to assume that Littlefinger’s return indicates a much bigger involvement in season 5, but to what end is yet to be determined. Sansa finally seems ready to play the game, and one has to wonder if Littlefinger will try and retake the North with Sansa at some point.
- The Theon/Bolton arc has been boring, but again is clearly building toward something bigger. Hopefully sooner than later.
- Where is Rickon Stark? This guy has totally disappeared and it seems like he won’t be playing a role anytime soon. Is he dead?
- Does Jorah go fight as a sellsword? Does he have a bigger plan? Or is he just gone forever now?
- What about Brienne and Podrick?We still don’t know his secret with women. And Brienne’s story seems far from over.
- The Martells will certainly be involved going forward. With Tywin out of the picture perhaps they go for more revenge.
- If I was making a personal TV Mount Rushmore of current shows it would include Game of Thrones, Mad Men, Shameless and The Americans. [↩]
- I have long been of the belief that the quality of a TV/movies is much easier to determine on a second viewing, so it’s interesting to see how the quality holds up for starting over [↩]