Every couple of weeks here on my First Time Writing blog I look back over a past season of Game of Thrones after re-watching it and give it an informal review/ share some spoilery thoughts now that we have the benefit of hindsight. This time I’m looking back over the fourth season of the acclaimed fantasy drama. Looking back season 4 is the best season yet of Game of Thrones; it works so well because not only does it tell great and succinct season long storylines but it also wraps up many from season 3, mainly due to this season being based on the second half of A Storm of Swords. The pacing is perfect with filler being very limited to make way for nothing but set up and well orchestrated conclusion. Season 4 marks the end of an era for the show; it is half way through the overarching narrative and we lose both major antagonists of the show but, as always, there are many characters waiting in the wings to fill their boots. This is part 2 of my Season 4 recap focusing on The North, The Wall and beyond.
Jon returned to the Nights Watch this season and it was great to see the Castle Black set again after it had been missing for the past two seasons. While I was glad that the ‘Jon Snow the mole’ storyline only lasted the one season it would have been nice to see him more conflicted about his allegiance to the wildlings this season instead of him going straight back to being the loyal boy scout of the Watch. After watching season 5 it is weird to see The Night’s Watch go so long without appointing a leader, especially when they are on the eve of the toughest battle they have faced since the mythical Long Night. On re-watch it’s even more obvious to me that Jon Snow is Azor Ahai and that Melisandre will revive him, flaming sword and all, come season 6; that look through the flames she gives him in the finale says it all.
The Wall storyline finally comes to a head in the ninth episode “The Watchers on the Wall” which is the only episode/event to match, if not beat, the scale of battle seen at Blackwater Bay. While it’s not quite Lord of the Rings level (love how all fantasy battles are compared to that now) but on the television budget it couldn’t be better and can even do some things that LOTR couldn’t do with the R-rated violence. For television it is one of the best looking and well choreographed action episodes ever but its scale never overshadows its emotional heart, not with Jon and Ygritte, but with Sam and Gilly.
On the Bran front, his vision in episode 2 is one of my favourite moments of the season giving our first brief glimpse of The Night King (similar to the vision he seems to have in the season 6 trailer), the snow filled throne room that we saw in Deanerys’ season 2 vision (prophesying Jon Snow ending up on the throne?) and an awesome shot of the shadow of a dragon over King’s Landing. Bran’s story this season is more of a psychological one, especially without the inclusion of Coldhands from the books, and so it would seem his cool little excursion to Craster’s Keep is purely included to give him something quantifiable to do. I really love the scene in which the three eyed raven is finally introduced giving us more of the mythology of the world which will be explored further in the upcoming season 6.
The first scene featuring Stannis this season mimics his first of season 2 which begs the audience to question how much has changed in his storyline since then. The decision to keep the fact that he is heading to The Wall a secret until he reaches there in the season finale definitely makes it seem like this season is a lull in his story and while the reveal is cool was it worth it overall? Shireen’s death next season is foreshadowed with Melisandre telling Stannis she has to come to The Wall and that the Lord of Light needs her, in hindsight these things seem so obvious, why didn’t we pick up on this before? It was awesome to see Braavos for the first time and on this re-watch I payed close attention to when certain locations and pieces of mythology are introduced. The writers do an amazing job including such a dense lore at a constant rate while maintaining the human drama. There are some Westerosi legends I would like to see pop up in the show but with it being such a balancing act you have to be careful not to flood the more casual viewer with background information.
Now it’s time for the Stark sisters. Arya continues her buddy cop movie/sworn enemies relationship with The Hound and her independence and fighting spirit continues to grow at the steady rate laid down in past seasons. Sansa’s story begins with her reacting to The Red Wedding which is something there wasn’t time to do last season and it’s not long before she is finally out of King’s Landing and starting her partnership with Littlefinger. Her ‘Femme Fatale’ moment in episode 8, in which she dyes her hair dark and dresses in black is a fantastic scene for a first time viewer but on the re-watch it packs less of a punch because next season we don’t get the Sansa we were promised from this scene. It was great to finally hear that the murder of Jon Arryn was Littlefinger’s doing and therefore all the events of the show can be blamed/attributed to him finally revealing the extent of his scheming because we learnt what his rival Varys was up to in season 1.
Brienne’s interactions with unexpected characters are some of the highlights of this season whether it’s with Pod, Olenna or with Arya as they bond as strong female warriors, a scene I had forgotten and wish we had gotten more of. Her fight with The Hound is a cool departure from the books and the face off is as cool as it is unexpected. What starts as a fairly noble duel soon turns into one of the most brutal fights of the show; I think it’s better than the Mountain and the Viper fight which seemed to lose its impact because its shock comes from gore rather than story.
Theon’s, or should I say Reek’s, drastic character change continues and is only made believable through the last season of torture he endured which I guess makes it all worth it although I still didn’t enjoy his scenes last season. Now that Joffrey has been killed off Ramsey takes the crown as the bad guy we all desperately want to see die but for me he is a little too over the top, almost pantomime levels, at times. During my re-watch of season 3 I realised I had forgotten how big of a deal they make of Yara going to rescue Theon and now this season it is almost like they didn’t want to follow it through so they threw in that brief scene at the start of episode 6 for very little purpose.
What’s your favourite Season 4 moment? Let me know in the comments and geek out with me about Game of Thrones on Twitter @kylebrrtt. Like, Subscribe and why not have a look at all the awesome stuff on the site like the many podcasts and blogs. I’ll be back next week so come back then for some more First Time Writing.