Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Mired In Westeros: Game Of Thrones Season Four Stagnates!

The Good: Moments of character and performance
The Bad: Plot, largely, stagnates, as do most of the characters
The Basics: After the first, truly significant, plot development, Game Of Thrones Season Four wrestles with the consequences as most of the characters get mired where they are.

With the completion of True Blood on HBO, the premium cable channel has put its hopes for keeping the dollars of genre fans squarely on the strength of Game Of Thrones. My wife, who is a big fan of Game Of Thrones - whereas I am a bit more neutral to it and have not read the books upon which the television series is based – thought that it was odd that the third season of the show (reviewed here!) reached its climax with the infamous Red Wedding. Apparently, in the books, there is an equally huge event that was reached virtually simultaneously, which is where she had predicted the third season would end.

That event is the must-anticipated wedding between King Joffery and Margaery and it comes very early in the ten episodes that comprise Game Of Thrones Season Four. The fourth season of Game Of Thrones is another sprawling season of Game Of Thrones, in which several factions fight for control of the kingdom of Westeros while smaller factions defend the nation and/or are involved in generally unrelated quests of their own. More than any of the prior seasons of Game Of Thrones, the fourth season is revealed to be a fantasy soap opera that is more concerned with getting viewers to tune in to the next episode than with providing an hour of substantive television on each outing.

I write this because after the second episode of the fourth season of Game Of Thrones, much of the developments of the rest of the season revolve around dealing with the consequences of that episode. While I respect having long arcs for a television series, at some point one has to pay off the investments and Game Of Thrones is spending far too much time delaying instead of actually resolving issues in a timely – and realistic – manner. To that end, the fourth season of Game Of Thrones takes interminably long before the Wildling attack that was imminent at the end of the second season finally comes to the main portions of Westeros and the vague quest, based on dream imagery, that has consumed Bran, comes to what appears to be an end. But even those are climactic events of the fourth season of Game Of Thrones; getting to them is filled with so much filler that only the die-hard fans will actually argue that there is any real greatness in the season.

Following the Red Wedding, the various factions of Westeros settle on their next courses of action. For Joffery and King’s Landing, that means preparing for a wedding which will cement an alliance that could solidify the mad Lannister King’s hold over Westeros. Tyrion begins training the depressed Jamie on how to fight with his disability (Jaime having lost a hand in the prior season) and Jon Snow is brought back into the Night’s Watch following his trip north of the Wall. Daenerys’s march to power leads her to Meereen, the slaving capital of Westeros. But as Bran and his small group clandestinely move toward the tree Bran saw in his dream and Wildlings approach the northern border of Westeros, Theon’s relatives try to rescue him.

But when Joffrey is murdered at his wedding, the balance of power shifts dramatically. Sansa flees to her aunt’s stronghold, where she and Lord Baelish take refuge. So abandoned by his wife, Tyrion becomes the prime suspect in Joffrey’s murder. A showy trial shifts alliances in King’s Landing as a new child king is crowned and Cersei and Tywin Lannister take effective control over the monarchy. While Jaime grows to appreciate his doomed brother, Theon betrays his family and shows his true colors. Daenaerys becomes stalled in Meereen, stuck managing the lands she has liberated instead of moving forward, while Arya traipses around the wilderness accompanied by the Hound, a man she vowed to kill.

With so many sides in the struggle for Westeros, the key to getting viewers to care about Game Of Thrones - at least those not already sucked in by the content of the books – is having characters that viewers might be interested in. Unfortunately, Game Of Thrones Season Four is not the ideal season on that front. While the deadweight of watching episodes dominated by the resident psychopaths is pretty much eliminated early in the fourth season (Joffrey’s death and Ramsay Snow no longer torturing Theon on a weekly basis see to that), the cast of likable characters remains fairly stagnant. For sure, Jaime grows as a result of his disability and Tyrion gives some great speeches in his defense, but neither of them is in a good place to actually rule over Westeros. Daenerys is lost for virtually the whole season in a single city as her gains outside Meereen are threatened.

As for the rest of the characters, Jon Snow continues his heroic ascent, though he is stuck in the North away from most of the action in pretty much the most thankless area on the continent. Sansa allies herself with one of the most corrupt people as they take Creepytown and Arya seems to be headed directly into Young Psychopath territory.

The performances of the season come from Peter Dinklage and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, who play Tyrion and Jaime, respectively. Coster-Waldau is given fertile new ground to play Jaime as a man who has long sought power and had great abilities and the admiration of many, who is now wounded. His prop and character’s disability provide him with a credible new position to take his character’s journey from. Dinklage’s Tyrion is pleading for his life most of the season and Dinklage manages to do that with a strong sense of the character’s resounding dignity, so he remains magnetic on screen.

But much of the fourth season of Game Of Thrones feels like filler and the story does not advance as much as one might hope. The kingdom becomes more sprawling and disparate and the inevitable process by which one person might come to rule over all of Westeros seems stalled. Despite a major plot development at the beginning and a fantastic battle at the end, much of the fourth season of Game Of Thrones is underwhelming filler packed with characters who are hardly compelling.

For other shows from the 2013 – 2014 television season, be sure to visit my reviews of:
New Girl - Season 3
The Walking Dead - Season 4
Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. - Season 1
The Newsroom - Season 2
Breaking Bad - Season 5
The Clone Wars - Season 6
Orange Is The New Black - Season 2
Parenthood - Season 5


For other television season reviews, please check out my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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