Game Of Thrones: Season Four - TV Review

'Season 4 as a whole is characterised by action, where in previous seasons there has been non, or at least a lack of willingness on behalf of the screenwriters to give us a clue why what we were watching was important.'

Perhaps the entirety of why Games Of Thrones' fourth season is a vast improvement on the previous two can be summed up by The Mountain And The Viper (S4E8), during which one of this season's new characters, Oberyn (Pedro Pascal) gets his moment in the sun and several other things happen which lift this series of the show to a level of quality storytelling not seen since the show's first.

Before you get to that point though you do have to wade through some of the reasons why GOT has been a little problematic of late. The Lion And The Rose (S4E2), better known as The Purple Wedding, for example, bore an ill-wind for me, a sign of what was wrong with GOT for the majority of Season Three and parts of Season Two. Focusing on characters we don't really care too much about nowadays in order to fill the hour (Margaery, Stannis, Theon), the episode burbles around gentle political Drama, doing very little before engaging in an over-long conclusion, which finally, finally culminates in A Significant Event, certain to get fans talking on Twitter and Facebook and to friends who might not watch the show 'but really should'. That model has been the GOT model for too long now and it is becoming tiresome, never more so in this season than during that episode, which is manipulative, badly edited and, above all, dull for long periods.

The Mountain And The Viper, on the other hand, follows the model of having something worth shouting about at its end, but where it gets away with it, as many of Season Four's episodes post-The Lion And The Rose do also, is in the quality of the filler that comes before the thunderous conclusion. Harking back to the first season of the show, where Ned Stark actually did something about things he wasn't happy about, rather than merely whisper about them in cloisters, The Lion And The Rose features definite advancement in several areas. Jaime and Tyrion's relationship for example, gets a wonderfully scripted discussion about killing beetles. There's some meaningful bonding for the men on the wall, Sansa (Sophie Turner) finally takes the reigns and does something proactive, Arya (Maisie Williams) completes another trek and shows off her level of command over her narrative, something furthered in the season finale to good, if quite shocking, effect. Things happen. People make choices. There was definitely less whispering.

Season 4 as a whole is characterised by action, where in previous seasons there has been non, or at least a lack of willingness on behalf of the screenwriters to give us a clue why what we were watching was important. The torture of Theon (Alfie Allen), for example, has previously felt very much like an excuse for the series to earn its 18-rating, whereas now that character's relationship with Ramsay (Iwan Rheon), is starting to look more like something the plot has a right to be interested in. Jorah Mormont's (Iain Glen) previously annoying simpering has some point and some proper story development and Littlefinger's (Aidan Gillen) plotting starts to reveal its aims, rather than being an excuse for him to, well... whisper in cloisters... or in his case brothels.

It's a fair defence to say that some of this wouldn't have been possible without the build-up of previous seasons, but as several episodes here show, it is possible to set us up for future happenings, whilst still providing interest in individual episodes themselves. Oberyn is a prime example. Yes, he's new and yes, his key moment comes in The Mountain And The Viper, but that doesn't mean he needs to spend his time filling gaps until we get there. By the time episode eight kicks off you really care about Oberyn, testament to some great writing. Contrast that with Ramsay, who has spent a bloody long time being a very boring, nasty character, whose impact on the core plot has been negligible.

The problems elsewhere are largely balanced by the improvements. Jon Snow (Kit Harington) remains an interesting hero to follow, though his brother Bran (Isaac Hempstead Wright) is increasingly anonymous. The latter's involvement in the final episode is meaningless; setting up Season Five concerns but having little of actual relevance or import to that which you have just been watching. The property's predilection as a whole for killing off key and/or beloved characters too is starting to get wearisome, rather than innovative and honest, though a well-liked if minor character does at least get a fitting and fairly emotional send-off during the finale. It would be inconsistent at this point not to highlight how Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) is still managing to exist as a character completely independently to almost every other major character in the show. Whilst I'm sure this mirrors the books (and whilst she has at least stopped aimlessly wandering the desert) it just doesn't work for me. By now, she should be having some impact on at least someone in King's Landing to truly matter as a part of this plot. Four seasons (and more?) of that setup is just too much.

The quibbles though, after a third season I still think was pretty weak, have started to disappear again. Neil Marshall's triumphal return as director for The Watchers On The Wall (S4E9) is an outstanding hour of television: a real showcase for just how good Game Of Thrones can be when it gets some expert input and narrows its focus to people you care about. 'I am the watcher on the walls. I am the shield that guards the realms of men. I pledge my life and honour to the Night's Watch, for this night and all the nights to come.' Quite.





By Sam Turner. Sam is editor of Film Intel, and can usually be found behind a keyboard with a cup of tea. He likes entertaining films and dislikes the other kind. He's on , Twitter and several places even he doesn't yet know about.

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