No S4 Spoilers
Created and written by David Benioff and D. B. Weiss, season 4 of HBO’s award-winning series Game of Thrones is based principally on the second half of A Storm of Swords, Book 3 in George R. R. Martin’s acclaimed fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire. Season 4 also includes material from Book 4, A Feast for Crows, and Book 5, A Dance with Dragons.
The writers of Game of Thrones continue to explore the themes of love, betrayal, and power, on the familial and national level. The storyline is expanded to explore themes of loyalty, hubris, spirituality, religious beliefs, religious intolerance, as well as the morality of violence. The principal families — Lannister, Stark, Targaryen, and Tyrell — remain, and their stories are deftly interwoven with those of new characters.
Though twins Jaime (Nicolaj Coster-Waldau) and Cersei (Lena Headey) are reunited, their relationship is strained, and not only because Jaime has lost his hand.
Cersei is intensely jealous of Jaime’s relationship with his knight-escort, Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie), who has made an oath to find Sansa and Arya Stark in order to return them to their mother, Lady Catelyn Stark.
Family patriarch Tywin (Charles Dance) and son Jaime clash over Jaime’s position in and responsibility to the family. Additionally, the political marriages arranged by Tywin are making everyone unhappy.
The youngest Lannister son Tyrion (Peter Dinklage), has been coerced into marrying hostage Sansa Stark, and is accused of a crime he insists he did not commit.
What will happen to the members of House Lannister as they turn on each other, exposing their weakness for others to exploit?
The Red Wedding has reduced the number of living Starks dramatically, leaving Sansa (Sophie Turner) in King’s Landing, forced to marry Tyrion Lannister, yet still threatened by King Joffrey (Jack Gleeson).
Her younger sister Arya (Maisie Williams, above L), previously hiding amongst thieves, outlaws, and murderers, is kidnapped by Sandor “The Hound” Clegane (Rory McCann, above R), who plans to take Arya to her Aunt’s home for ransom.
Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) continues his dangerous journey North. He is attempting to go Beyond The Wall in order to discover the meaning of his prophetic dreams. On the way, he learns that he is a Warg (also referred to as SkinChangers): someone who can put his mind into the bodies of animals. But, because he’s crippled, he likes the freedom of being in animals so much, his companions fear he will become trapped in one.
Who, of the House Stark, will survive?
Daenerys’ (Emilia Clarke) dragons are getting too big for her to control, which saddens and alarms her. While she is building an army comprised of freed slaves, she runs afoul of their former masters as well as of her own military advisors, Ser Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen, below L) and Ser Barristan Selmy (Ian McElhinney, below, center).
Her advisors fear that, by sacking cities and murdering slave owners, Daenerys is becoming like the wealthy group of people she claims to despise. Will she listen to them, or will they have to rebel against her themselves?
With the help, black magic, and guidance of the witch Melisandre (Carice van Houten, above) Stannis (Stephen Dillane, below, center) continues to battle with the Lannisters for possession of the Iron Throne. Does he have a chance to claim it?
Though Margery (Natalie Dormer, above L) is clever at handling and seducing the male members of the Lannister family, her Grandmother Oleanna (Diana Rigg, above R) is the true power-broker in the House Tyrell. Manipulative, subtle, and vicious, Oleanna is both protective and extremely dangerous. Is she a match for all the Lannisters combined?
Held prisoner by someone he does not recognize, Theon (Alfie Allen) begins to crack under savage torture. He doesn’t know whether the Stark family is punishing him for his betrayal, or whether his own father is causing him to be tortured for disobeying orders during the War. Will he survive the torture long enough to find out?
Roose Bolton (Michael McElhatton, above L) has been appointed Warden of the North by Tywin Lannister. He wants to expand his territory in order to have more power. His illegitimate son Ramsay (Iwan Rheon, above, center) attempts to prove himself worthy of the family name, by any means necessary. How far is Ramsay willing to go to become a Bolton?
The Martells of Dorn, led by Oberon (Pedro Pascal, above L) are introduced as relatives of the former Queen, who was murdered by the Lannisters when they usurped the Iron Throne. The Martells are, understandably, planning revenge. Do they want the Iron Throne themselves, or do they just want to punish the Lannisters?
The Men of The Night’s Watch
Much of season 4 is spent exploring the stories of the Men of the Night’s Watch, including Jon Snow (Kit Harington, above L), who has joined the Wildlings. Led by their self-proclaimed King Beyond the Wall, Mance Rayder (Ciarán Hinds, above R), the Wildlings plan on attacking the Wall so that they may travel further South, into the Seven Kingdoms.
The Men of the Night’s Watch must fight not only the Wildlings, but the re-animated corpses known as the White Walkers,
Giants, who fight for the Wildlings,
and mammoths, which the Giants ride into Battle.
There is also a monster who turns babies, abandoned in the woods as offerings “to the gods,” into NightWalkers.
The only paranormal beings that the Night Watch does not encounter in season 4 are the Wights: skeleton warriors buried under the ice and snow, who come out of the ground and attack Brandon Stark and his companions.
The Men of the Night’s Watch do not even know how many different enemies they have. How can they prepare for a battle with all of them?
Though I was slightly alarmed by the introduction of so many minor families and characters, I gradually was able to figure them out. This was not, in fact, because I’ve read all the books in the Martin series, since I cannot remember anything other than the major characters and plot events. Rather, my ability to follow the interconnecting plots and the various characters was due more to the flawless transitions from scene to scene in the show itself. Sansa, for example, might be mentioned by Cersei when talking to her brother Tyrion: next we see Sansa. Also, each episode tends to begin in the same dramatic scene where the previous one left off. This kind of tight writing keeps viewers from being confused while allowing them to become familiar with the characters and their stories at a reasonable pace.
Game of Thrones Season 4 is available for purchase for $19.99 from Amazon (or free with a 30-day HBO trial), for $28.99 from GooglePlay, and for $38.99 from iTunes. The season is always available free of charge for HBO subscribers.
Rated Very Mature for Graphic Violence, Explicit Sexual Situations, Nudity, Adult Content, and Adult Language.