All men must die.
I have not read any of the books. Since the first season of HBO’s Game of Thrones aired, I made the decision to lose myself in the insanity of Westeros via the show. It wasn’t easy. Lord of Light knows I had been tempted to forklift one of Martin’s tomes and start tearing into the story. But I’ve refused because a) it’s not like the entire saga has been completed so why subject myself to the waiting game and b) I have become addicted to the Sunday evening appointment viewing this show has become.
Not knowing what looms–and I’ve stayed remarkably spoiler-free during this entire run despite being surrounded by people who are dying to spill their guts–is a huge thrill.
So here we are with my favorite season yet, a ridiculously entertaining stew of everything I’ve come to appreciate about the show (awesome characters, unrivaled production design and jump-out-of-your-seat plot twists) while adding some new wrinkles (a heightened amount of fantasy elements and the best action I’ve ever seen on TV). The upshot? This is the best season of the most entertaining show on the planet and is not to be missed.
Don’t expect a deep dive into the storylines from me. For one thing, they’re always shifting and should be experienced in real-time. And, second, it would be just too much work.
Broadly speaking: the power-plays in King’s Landing are given added juice with marriages arranged by Tywin (Charles Dance, Strike Back) despite the misgivings of Tyrion (Peter Dinklage, Elf) and Cersei (Lena Headey, 300); Arya (Maisie Williams) continues the vision quest with The Hound; Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) hones her queen skills across the Narrow Sea; and up at Castle Black, Jon Snow (Kit Harrington, Pompeii) is prepping to wage war against an unstoppable army.
That’s all you’ll get from me. Season Four introduces colorful new characters, major story shifts and, as one would come to expect by now, shocking death scenes. The show, and this season in particular, remains a case study in pacing and juggling multiple narratives.
Episodes will pass with character arcs moving only a few inches, but when the final episode drops it feels like major progress has been made and the wait for the next season becomes intolerable. While there are plotlines that are more compelling than others (Daenerys sort of runs around in place this go-round), it is no small feat to maintain momentum with so many faces clamoring for screen-time
The biggest benefactor this year is Jon Snow. As one of the central characters of the show and portrayed by the series’ breakout stars, Snow has a lot riding on him. In the past he’s been more bystander than bad-ass. Thankfully, that changes in a big way. Game of Thrones has carved out a reputation for putting out large-scale, action-rich penultimate episodes and this time everyone goes all-out for “The Watchers on the Wall,” an assault-on-Castle-Black show directed by Neil Marshall.
It is, quite simply, one of the greatest hours of television I have ever seen and gives feature film battle sequences a major run for their money. Even if the rest of the season was sub-standard–and it’s not–this episode alone makes set worth its asking price. It’s that good.
What else is good? HBO’s Blu-ray, a top-shelf product that provides an incredible bang for the buck. The technical merits are all out-of-this-world. Video quality is flawless, rendered in a perfect 1.78:1, 1080p (MPEG-4 AVC encoded) that pumps out the varied locales of the show with vibrant color and vivid detail. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround supplies a rich soundscape, from sending out clean dialogue through the center to blasting battle effects from the surrounds.
A great set of extras: in-episode guides featuring pop-up video and resources about Westeros; “Histories and Lore” illuminates the mythology through the eyes of the characters; “The Politics of Power” offers a retrospective on Season Three’s events; “New Characters and Locations” delves into the additions to Season Four; “Bastards of Westeros” features George R.R. Martin and the show-runners talking about the importance of the bastard characters; “Behind the Battle for the Wall” is a fantastic documentary on the making of the “Watchers on the Wall” episode; “The Fallen” is my favorite extra, an informal roundtable with the casualties of the season. Audio commentaries, a pair of deleted scenes and a blooper reel round out the set.