It's been a little while since the 4th Season Finale of the TV sensation based on George RR Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire novels aired on US television. That means we're now at the point where it's more or less okay to talk about the season as a whole, provided that readers understand that an article like this requires ONE BIG ENTIRE SPOILER WARNING! IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN ALL THE SEASON FOUR EPISODES AND STILL WANT TO BE SURPRISED THEN YOU SHOULD STOP READING
Just to be clear, this article is aimed primarily at people who watch the show but don't read the books. Thus, there won't be any discussion of material from the books that has not yet been worked into the show. First up will be a look at the changes from the source material that were frustrating for those of us who have read the novels, so that the rest of you can understand why we're wigging out on some things. Following that will be some helpful tips for curbing your cravings for more Game of Thrones stuff during the long wait for next years episodes.
So if you haven't seen all 10 episodes of Season 4, turn back now (or at least don't get pissed at being spoiled).
5. Daenerys Becoming Less Interesting Than the Supporting Characters Surrounding Her.
Don't get me wrong here. I love Dany Targaryen. She's easily one of the five most compelling characters in the series. That makes it all the more aggravating that during the 4th season her personal plot arc took on a necessarily less engaging dynamic. After the 3rd season ended with her having successfully conquered Yunkai on top of kicking the crap out of Astapor, she started off the 4th season with an early conquering of Meereen and decided to stick around and try her hand at ruling there and making sure that her hard work of liberation wasn't undone.
It goes without saying that it's more visually interesting to see a battle than to see a diplomatic conversation. While Dany's attempt at being a Queen is a noble and important part of her growth as a character, it doesn't give her a lot to do on screen that keeps the viewer's eyes wide with shock.
During this time of careful and quiet action on her part, the slack in the "across the Narrow Sea" sector of the plot is taken up by the supporting cast which includes Barristan 'The Bold' Selmy, Jorah 'The Old Bear' Mormont, Missandei 'The Translator', Grey Worm 'The Unsullied' and Daario 'The Hot Sell Sword' Naharis (by the way, for the record I like New Daario better than Old Daario; Michael Huisman is a better and more interesting actor than Ed Skrein was, so there).
Watching Dany's underlings adapt to her new position as a stationary ruler (as opposed to a roaming conqueror) and play against each other does make for some interesting drama to be sure. Of particular fascination is the budding romance between Missandei and Grey Worm. The knowledge that Grey Worm's status as a eunuch prevents the two of them from ever being able to consumate their feelings in the conventional manner (barring a miracle of magic) is a heartrending twist of the plot knife.
It's worth noting that in the books, Missandei was a child of about 10ish. When the casting was announced with her character being played by an adult, it made sense insofar as avoiding the problem of yet another child actor who will keep getting older as time goes by.There was also some speculation that the choice would allow for another character to be used for gratuitous nudity. While this season did see some above the waist nudity from Nathalie Emmanuel, it's not exactly gratuitous. Her breast being seen by Jacob Anderson as he conveys Grey Worm's feelings of emotional longing for something that his body can not respond to in the typical way, and the later conversation between the two about the matter, offers an insight into the suffering of being a eunuch that the books never quite had.
Then there's the continued bristling between Mormont and Selmy that blows out when a is letter is delivered into Barristan's hands, which pardons the disgraced fugitive as thanks for engaging in acts of spying that he had abandoned. While the discovery results in a big moment in Dany's chambers when she banishes Jorah, the more intriguing display is after Selmy accidentally discovers Mormont's treachery. Seeing two men who clearly feel a sense of dislike, if not outright hatred, towards each other keeping civil as they discuss matters of such dire consequence is a slow simmering bit of twisted bliss.
It's great that the supporting cast members have such interesting things to do while Dany makes an attempt to practice the deadly art of ruling, but all that great interest doesn't make it any less irritating to watch her talk to people in her throne room instead of finally doing what the entire freaking audience is champing at the bit for. Get across the Narrow Sea so you can start fucking shit up with your dragons!
4. Arya and the Hound Showing up at the Eyrie but Not Getting Detained.
When it comes to adaptations from one medium to another, it's important to remember a profound statement by Neil Gaiman that adaptations should be like a cover song instead of like a carbon copy. The point being that it's more important to get the spirit of the work translated than the letter of it. As a good example of point and counter-point, in the realm of TV and movies Game Of Thrones is a great cover song, Robert Rodriguez's and Frank Miller's Sin City is a good cover song that's also a great carbon copy, while The Walking Dead is a bad cover song that mangles the tune. There's a fine art to changing up the source material to suit the strengths of a new medium - but leaving intact the things that made that material worth adapting to begin with.
Many of the alterations and additions to the show have served the medium of television for the better. One of the best examples is that instead of getting stalled out in the River Lands before parting ways, Arya Stark and Sandor Clegane make it all the way to The Vale and take off only to encounter Brienne of Tarth and her hapless squire Podric Paine. The burly brawl between the Maid of the Sapphire Isles and the Hound is one of the best scenes in the entire series and will likely remain atop the list of best moments of the whole show when the credits roll on the eventual series finale.
All praise aside, though, there's a big and glaring discrepancy in that scene which comes to light when one thinks about the previous scene with the young lady killer and her brutal companion. The last time Arya and Sandor were seen before their meeting with Brienne and Pod, they had just approached the Bloody Gate of the Eyrie, the foreboding capital of the Vale. After presenting themselves by name and station, then hearing that the Lady Lysa Arryn has recently died, Arya breaks into a fit of laughter (which, incidentally, is another one of the best "not in the books" scenes). That's the last time we see her before she encounters Brienne and there's a big-ass question raised that should also have occurred to every show watcher whether they've read the books or not:
HOW IN THE HELL DID ARYA AND THE HOUND GET FROM THE BLOODY GATE TO WHEREVER THEY MET BRIENNE AND POD WITHOUT HAVING TO GET PAST ALL OF THOSE DAMNED GUARDS!
Think about this for a sec, if you haven't pondered the question already. The guards at the gate seem to very much recognize Sandor Clegane (likely due to his distinctive and somewhat legendarily messed-up face) and they don't demonstrate any problems believing that Arya is who she's claiming to be. So why in the Seven Hells don't they put up any effort to stop those two from leaving? It seems like the appropriate course of action should be to send someone to inform the Lords of the Vale, (who are seen during that same episode gathered to discuss and investigate the recent death of Lysa) that the Hound has shown up with a girl he claims to be the niece of their recently deceased Lady. A girl who is also one of the few remaining heirs to Ned Stark.
If told that they couldn't leave, it's possible that Arya might have talked their way out of it, perhaps by claiming that she was an impostor Sandor was trying to sell for some coin. It's also possible that the Hound might have been able to bash enough heads in to make an exit. Unfortunately, neither event happens onscreen, leaving a huge gap in the story. If there's a deleted scene coming up the pike that was cut for time, that's a bit forgivable because there's only so much that can be put on screen in a 45 to 50 minute episode. If there's not a deleted scene, that gap will forever stand as a mark of flawed story telling on a show that gets things right most of the time.
3. Jojen Reed Getting Killed.
When it comes to wandering off the reservation of plot, Bran's storyline is the prize-winning example. There are a lot of details that have been changed or even omitted. Highlights include a pair of brats named Big Walder Frey and Little Walder Frey (grandsons of the infamous Walder "The Worst Wedding Planner Ever" Frey) who arrived at Winter Fell as guests and were generally dickish to Bran and everyone else. They showed up at the same time as Meera and Jojen during the second book and taught everyone a fun, deceptive game called Come Into My Castle which served as some interesting foreshadowing to their grandfather's eventual betrayal of Robb Stark. There's also a rather significant character from the 3rd book who hasn't shown up at all, even though he seems like a very important guy and there's no official word yet on whether or not that guy will ever show up on screen at all.
A lot of these changes make sense from an economic stand point. The two Walders aren't important enough to the overall plot to justify spending the extra money for two young actors who wouldn't have been on the show after the second season without new scenes being added for them. A similar situation applies to the Reeds. There's nothing that they do in the second book that was essential enough to not bump them back to season three. Unfortunately there are some significant things that Jojen does in later books that got cut short during the season finale.
The final moments of Bran's journey to meet the Three-Eyed Raven culminated in the desperate and heart breaking choice for Meera to leave her brother to die so she could save her own life. This is frustrating because in the books Jojen made it to the giant Heart Tree with Bran, Summer, Hodor, Meera and the one guy who isn't on the freaking show at all. There are a whole season's worth of scenes that Thomas Brodie-Sangster won't get to perform and it's aggravating because he's a helluva good actor.
As frustrating as Jojen's death was and still is, it's not exactly a surprise. The writing was on the wall throughout the 4th season as Bran stepped into new "this wasn't in the books" territory. While there was a bit of retreading in the department of Bran choosing his mysterious future over reuniting with his half brother, having that retread take place at Craster's Keep was a great bit of addition to the plot, as it served to give better and more final closure to that whole scenario while also introducing a much bigger element of the story than readers expected (more on that later). Jojen's dehydrated talk of his visions of the future and what he's seen about who will make it to the Heart Tree and who won't pretty much seal the deal that he's not long for this mortal coil.
Of all the changes in Bran's plot, this is the most jarring because it will leave a gap in the interaction dynamics for season 5. With at least one and possibly two of the characters hanging out at the Three-Eyed Raven's place not being around, a lot of good dialogue is going to be gone. It's especially frustrating because the later books have created a mystery about Jojen's current status that hasn't been resolved, and would be more fun to see unfold on screen that what we got.
2. Tyrion and Jaime Parting as Brothers Who Still Love Each Other.
Of all the plot threads that ran through the 4th season, the one with the highest stakes is definitely Joffrey's death and the accusation that leads to Tyrion's trial. With his life hanging in the balance and the deck stacked so heavily against him that the table is straining under the weight of too many cards of false testimony, every scene focused on the Imp or the surrounding cast is thick with tension. There are a good few heartfelt partings. Pod being dismissed from Tyrion's service and told to get the hell out of King's Landing post-haste to save his own hide, and Bronn denying Tyrion's request to be his champion and saying a regretful farewell are great scenes, eclipsed only by the bittersweet parting between Tyrion and his beloved older brother in the penultimate scene of the season finale.
There's one seriously big fucking hiccup though...
That was not originally a fond farewell. It was instead an angry and caustic "fuck off" between two people that have a mutual love for another which is now and forever will be tainted by hatred. The hatred between the brothers Lannister was born from two things: a confession of truth and a lie given in anger.
You should recall back in season 1 a scene where Tyrion, Shae and Bronn got into a drinking game of telling dark truths. Tyrion talked about how he'd been briefly married to as a young man to a young woman named Tysha, that he and Jaime had saved from a potential rape. Shortly after their secret wedding, his pops got wind of things and handled it in his typical brutal fashion. He got Jaime to confess that Tysha was a hired prostitute, and then Tywin forced Tyrion to watch a group of soldiers pay a silver apiece as they took turns having their way with her.
In the closing chapter of A Storm of Swords (the 3rd book in the A song of Ice and Fire series) Jaime confessed to Tyrion that Tysha was not, in fact a prostitute and that his father forced him to lie about the matter to get things squashed. In his raging anger, Tyrion lied and told Jaime that he killed Joffrey so that he can return the awful hurt done to him. He also told Jaime about the various men that Cersei had taken to her bed while he was away. The two leave each other with bitter, acidic anger burning away towards one another. Tyrion's next rage-directed move was to go commit patricide.
While the change in Tryion's motive for icing his pops is notably different on the show, the result is the same. The dynamic between TV Tyrion and Jaime vs. Book Tyrion and Jaime is a vastly different scenario, however. This change-up isn't all that surprising either. The signs have been there since that drinking game from season one when Shae told Tyrion how obvious it should have been that Tysha wasn't who she presented herself as, reasoning that a normal woman wouldn't have offered herself up to him after almost getting raped.
The biggest difference in TV Tryion's plot arc so far is Shae. Book Shae and TV Shae are two very different women. Book Shae is a far less sympathetic character who doesn't love Tyrion at all. She's pretty much a gold digger toying with Tyrion's emotions and desires for love to get more gold and jewelry. In the end he feels like an idiot for having been dumb enough to fall in love with a woman who never loved him back.
TV Shae is a far more sympathetic woman who actually does love Tyrion. As opposed to wanting a big fat batch of gold and gems for lying about what happened to Joffrey, TV Shae is motivated by love soured when Tyrion insults her as he tells her to flee because he doesn't want to see her harmed. Her betrayal is that of a woman scorned rather than a woman paid.
All of this complexity and intelligence on the part of TV Shae gives viewers a good reason to presume or assume that she was right about Tysha. With the removal of Jaime's confession Shae's logic is validated. This results in a much more complex relationship between her and Tyrion that leads to a far more heartbreaking final moment when he kills her before taking out his father.
That complexity comes at the price of a very much altered dynamic between TV Tyrion and his older brother. Book Jaime ends up head tripping over Tyrion's lie about Joffrey, (though not as much as does about Cersei having cheated on him). Meanwhile TV Tyrion is consumed with regret about the life he could have had with Tysha and the lost love between him and Jaime. The two each have a repeating mantra in their respective heads that reflects the way they're stuck in a loop of angry regret and loss they don't know how to escape. Sadly, that loss and regret will not be carried over into the show.
While it'll be interesting to see where the two characters go in the TV universe, it's nerve-wracking to know that the bitter displacement that is so integral to their journey in the books will be missing.
1. The Night's King Incident Spoiling Something That Hasn't Been in the Books Yet.
Thus far the TV series has had two great moments that book readers were aware of well in advance which shocked viewers (at least the ones who hadn't been spoiled). This season marks a first time for the tables being a little bit turned. Episode 4.4, Oathkeeper, ended with one of the White Walkers (also known in the books as the Others) carrying the last male child born of Craster far into the north, father in fact than viewers or readers have ever seen before.
The nameless White Walker arrives at foreboding ritual site and sets the baby on an altar. On the other side of that altar are 13 White Walkers dressed in leather clothes, creatures far more sturdy and detailed than any that have been seen on any previous members of this race. One from the center approaches the baby. As he gets closer we see horns on his head in a crown-like pattern. This mysterious and powerful figure then places a finger nail upon the baby boy, whose eyes turn to the unnatural shade of blue that is the visual hallmark of the White Walkers.
As intriguing and revelatory as this scene might be for show only viewers, it was a door busting shock to book readers... especially in light of how that White Walker was briefly identified on HBO's website. The short version is that someone listed the character as the Night's King, which is the name of a very important figure to the legends of Westeros and the History of the Night's Watch. After book readers across the Internet freaked the fuck out, the listing was quickly pulled down from the HBO Go site. It's not clear if this was an error in assigning the wrong name to a character, or if someone goofed up and revealed too much info too soon.
There are a lot of elements of that scene that have been suggest by the books without being confirmed. George RR Martin's forthcoming 6th volume The Winds of Winter has already been confirmed to have scenes taking place far north in the land of the Others, and it feels like we've seen a glimpse at what one of the scenes will be like. It is known already that there's a potential for the TV show to eventually catch up to and surpass the plot of the novels. Until now that possibility has been an abstract point on the mental horizon of readers hoping that Martin will get the books finished first. None of us expected to be spoiled this soon.
We are now in a new territory where all bets are off and there's no guarantee that watching further episodes of the show won't result in spoilers for books we can't read yet. It's a frightening and frustrating place to be, but a fun place all the same.
Now that you non-readers have a bit more insight into where we bookworms are coming from, move onto the next page to see some fun activities we can all enjoy while waiting until next spring for new episodes of the series.