I don’t know if this counts as a ‘hot take’ but I think Game of Thrones Season 4 is the last truly great season of Game of Thrones. That being said I am a 37-year-old man, so I don’t really know what a ‘hot take’ is, either. I still love Game of Thrones after Season 4 but it is where the show really goes from a character-driven, political fantasy thriller and morphs into something more cinematic and action-packed. There are some early signs of this visible in Season 4 as we get a lot of pay-off across the entire season, but it still always feels like everything is rooted in character.
Perhaps one of the most defining moments is the ‘Purple Wedding’ (Episode 2: “The Lion and the Rose”), the moment that we’ve been waiting for over the last thirty or so hours of television. There’s no denying that Joffrey Baratheon (the first of his name) is one of the best/worst villains in TV history; he’s a psychotic killer that would make Dexter seem well-adjusted. Even his wedding is a horrible affair that he uses to torture his uncle, his aunt, Sansa and her family, and pretty much anyone else he fancied taking a swing at. The real brilliance of the ‘Purple Wedding’ is that it’s a moment that we’ve been waiting to see for a long time but even then it’s not that simple. The series does a brilliant job of reminding us that despite all of his (many, many) issues Joffrey was still just a child, and he died in a truly horrible way. As the scene plays out it becomes quickly apparent that this isn’t going to be a fist-pumping moment but instead something that’s incredibly hard to watch. Of course, his death also sets in motion changes to the Seven Kingdoms that will echo throughout the rest of the series.
The death of Joffrey also has implications that shape the rest of this season; after all, a king has been killed and somebody has to pay the price. With Littlefinger and Lady Olena pulling the strings from the shadows then someone else has to take the fall for the crime, and who better than his evil uncle Tyrion? Everyone knows that he didn’t really do it, but someone needs to take the fall and getting rid of Tyrion kills several birds with one great big stone. It seems like another simple decision on the surface, but again it is one that rocks the entirety of the Seven Kingdoms (and beyond).
Game of Thrones Season 4 gives us an introduction to Dorne and Prince Oberyn (Pedro Pascal), who is an absolute delight from his first moment until his very last. He is something of a wildcard in King’s Landing, and isn’t really like anyone we’ve ever seen on the show before. Oberyn is flamboyant and charismatic and more importantly filled with rage about the death of his sister, Elia Martell, and her children at the hands of The Mountain. Oberyn may only appear on the show for a short time (far, far too short) but he burns very brightly while he is onscreen and he gets quite a send-off in his fight with The Mountain (Episode 8: “The Mountain and the Viper”).
The death of Joffrey not only sees the arrest of his uncle, and the crowning of his brother Tommen, but also ultimately results in the death of his grandfather and legend of the Seven Kingdoms. After Tyrion manages to escape his cell, with the help of Varys and Jamie, he kills his father in the most undignified way possible: a crossbow to the guts while Tywin is enjoying a post-prostitute poo. It just goes to show that no matter how great you are in life, death is always unforgiving. Again, shows how every action has long lasting affects across the entire series.
Elsewhere, it’s not just the Lannisters and Kings Landing that are seeing all of the action. Game of Thrones Season 4 gives us a look at another great Game of Thrones double-act as Arya and The Hound begin their adventures together as they wreak havoc across the countryside. The two of them are just brilliant together and I could have happily watched an entire season of the two of them getting revenge and solving problems all over Westeros. Sadly, all good things have to end and this particular friendship ends with The Hound begging for Arya to kill him after he ends up on the losing side in a fight with Brienne. I just hope that they get to meet each other again before the end.
Over the Narrow Sea, Daenerys begins her quest to end slavery in… well, in Slaver’s Bay. I’ve always felt that Daenerys gets a bit of a raw deal in the books and to a lesser extent the series, as she’s just in a holding pattern in Essos. She obviously learns a lot while she’s there, but it could have been condensed in some way. Still, at least in the series we never get the scenes of her alone in the wilderness with only a dragon and diarrhoea for company. Although we do get a new actor playing Daario (Michael Huisman) and Daenerys finally gets to have a little bit of fun as a queen.
Bran also finally gets somewhere on his extended gap year north of The Wall, when he finally finds the Three Eyed Raven and a whole host of skeletons that Harry Hausen would be proud of. It’s the end of a long journey (and Jojen Reed). Actually, it’s also the end of Bran for a little while as he takes the rest of the season off to… get exceedingly tall.
Last but by no means least is the climax of Episode 9 (“The Watchers on the Wall”) as the Wilding army finally makes its move on the Wall (thanks to the biggest fire the North has ever seen). Perhaps most importantly going forwards is that it gives Jon his chance to get a few hero moments in, get his first taste of leadership and bid farewell to Ygritte thanks to potentially the worst child in the series, Olly. It’s a stunning set piece (that lasts a long time) that manages to show a huge battle and still do things that we haven’t seen before (more of that later).
Most inappropriate method of mourning: It’s a scene that was discussed a lot when the season first aired and it really doesn’t feel to have gotten any less contentious with repeat viewings. The fact that Jaime and Cersei are in a longterm incestuous relationship is bad enough, but Jaime forcing his sister-lover into sex right next to the body of their recently deceased son pushes the levels of unpleasantness to hitherto unreached heights.
Best weapon hidden in a wall of ice: ‘The Watchers on the Wall’ is a fantastic episode and the battle with the Wildlings is great; it’s a very different battle to what we’ve seen before. It’s also probably the most prolonged battle in the series to date. There are a lot of cool moments but perhaps one of the best (and most unexpected) is when the Night’s Watch release the ‘Ice Scythe’, which is exactly as it sounds. It’s a massive metal blade at the end of a chain, buried in the ice of the wall, and it is not good news for anyone out for a nice, quiet climb.
Most ill-judged statement in a trial: I get it, Tyrion had been s**t on from pretty much every angle for his entire life and none more so than from his own father. You can understand his seething resentment and pent up fury that’s been growing for years. Here he is, about to be sentenced to death for a crime that he didn’t commit so why not let fly? There may not be any confessions about wanking into Cersei’s stew here but it’s still great stuff, particularly when he tells the baying crowd ‘I did not kill Joffrey, but I wish that I had. Watching your vicious bastard die gave me more relief than a thousand lying w****s.’
Great Westeros Bake-Off Winner: While on the trail of the Stark girls Brienne and Pod have a chance encounter with Hotpie, Arya’s previous travelling companion and master baker. As the two of them are leaving he hands them a new and improved wolf-shaped loaf and it’s wonderful. Not a soggy bottom in sight.