The finale of the fourth season of Game of Thrones changes the fortunes of the series’ characters. Salvation comes from the most unexpected of sources and often turns entire stories around. By this season’s end, our characters are more far flung than they have ever been and not just geographically speaking either; there is cautious optimism at the Wall following the episode’s opening which contrasts rather starkly with the utter despondence Tyrion finds himself filled with. Compared to previous season finales, this one doesn’t jump around as much – a small handful of storylines get their conclusion and everything else is a more minor update to remind the audience of how matters currently stand. In the past, Martin has spoken of the butterfly effect that the show’s changes have on the story being told in the adaptation. With season 5 on the horizon, this final ‘historical’ write-up will focus on where the show will go in the upcoming season, while also commenting on the character’s various arcs and how effective they were now that they’ve been completed.
Like ‘Blackwater’ two seasons prior, the penultimate episode of *Game of Thrones’* fourth season centres on a single, decisive battle. The similarities don’t end there; in both cases, the season hyped up both events and the show dedicated movie-level budgets to the filming of the episodes. Unfortunately, ‘Blackwater’ was the stronger of the two, but only marginally and blessed as that part of the story is with better characters and better actors, it’s fair to say that that speaks very highly of this episode, ‘Watchers On The Wall’. It is a complete episode, with everything from humour to hopelessness to inevitable tragedy covered within. Beyond that however, it is the Night’s Watch’s time in the spotlight and the first of several moments in which the show begins to shift its focus from the politicking in the South to the more dire matters in the North. It is the first moment in the saga when the Night’s Watch finally makes everyone sit up and take notice.
The nature of hope is a strange one, isn’t it? Even despite knowing what the outcome of this episode’s trial would be, I couldn’t help but wonder, deep down in my heart of hearts whether somehow, however impossibly; Oberyn might not just pull off a surprise win. Hope defies logic and rationality and instead clings to the smallest iota of possibly despite the odds. Watching that hope smashed like bowl of pudding is often worse than the dreaded outcome would been in the first place; watching the Mountain cave Oberyn’s head in like a particularly obstinate water balloon brought back all the despair of reading his death in the books, and then some. It was an appropriately macabre death for one of the series’ most flamboyant characters while elsewhere in the Seven Kingdoms, others’ fortunes similarly rise and fall – Sansa and Littlefinger’s stock skyrockets while Jorah’s plummets but the proud owner of the episode’s worst crash is ultimately Tyrion Lannister.
There are many ways to ruin a perfectly good scene. Even without trying particularly hard, a scene can ruined by bad acting, by poor directing or by awkward dialogue. Any of one those things can ruin a scene but having those elements present right from the scene’s start signals to the audience that the scene is going to be a wash from the get go. The truly infuriating scenes are the ones that are inches away from being perfect but then collapse under the weight of a single calamitous mistake. It’s especially bad if the mistake in question was completely avoidable and unnecessary. The death of Lysa Arryn was a big moment in the source material – it was the moment that Littlefinger’s ubiquity in the various political conflicts since the beginning of the first book was unveiled. It was unfortunately ruined by an entirely needless change of dialogue that derailed the otherwise perfectly acceptable execution of an important scene. As the last scene of the episode, it also detracted from the episode’s strength, which is unfortunate because the episode was chockfull of solid scenes from each of the show’s various plotlines.
The ending of this episode was quite possibly the strongest solo performance by any single actor in this show in any of the four seasons so far. I would go so far as to say that it might be the most captivating performance we’ll ever see from this HBO adaptation and that’s actually saying a lot. Tyrion trial was always going to be a major part of this season’s storyline but I am very impressed with its execution (no pun intended). The writers have been a great job of making minor adjustments here and there in order to better utilize the changes in the story thus far and the end result, thanks largely to Peter Dinklage, is a spellbinding final 10 minutes. I’ll go into more detail about why exactly I think the scene worked so very well as well as some other comments on how it differed from my expectations but first we should also talk about everything else that’s going on in the other stories in the show.
We’re mid-way through Season 5 and our plotlines are shaping up pretty well. One of the challenges in doing these write-ups is that due to the segregated nature of the plot, it’s really difficult to get an overall, macro-level sense of how the season is being structured. To some extent, I think that’s a result of the writers plotting out each set of character’s storyline by season rather than the other way around – for example, it feels like the writers have certain end-of-season goals for characters like Jon, Cersei and Sansa and are pacing those character’s storylines with those end-goals in mind. However, with others like Dany, Bran and even Brienne to some extent, I can’t really tell where the story is going and more often than not, it feels like the story is just continuing because it hasn’t found a place to stop rather than moving towards a specifics objective. It’s possible, even likely, that I’m thinking about this all wrong but compared to last season, I’m just not feeling that same sense of purpose and drive in the characters and story-telling. I feel like the absence of Joffrey is a big contributing factor – without the antagonism he provided, it’s much harder to make the events in King’s Landing as compelling as they were before.
Fans have long dreaded the day that the show would officially and undeniably go past the source material. To most, it’s because they want to see the story they began originally through to its intended ending, without any cuts or considerations for format. Some others don’t really care – they’ve lost faith that the books will ever get done and so it’s better to just get some closure regardless of the source. Why am I mentioning this out of the blue? There are certain revelations in this episode that the book-readers have suspected for years but have never been confirmed. Until this episode, that is; it isn’t utterly game breaking nor is it enough to totally spoil the series’ ending but it is major and marks the frontier beyond which I, as a book-reader myself, can no longer say – oh, I knew that was going to happen.