Warning: Spoilers to follow.
Some say it’s trying to fill the void that the end of the Harry Potter era left behind. In that sense, George R.R. Martin got lucky. Others say it’s like LOTR with women (lots of women parts certainly, being paraded around). Perhaps a mix between LOTR and what a fiction novel would look like had Mary Wollstonecraft written it.
While I concede that the ending of the Harry Potter series literally wrenched a huge chunk out of all our collective hearts, I am firmly of the opinion that Game of Thrones is very different from Harry Potter, for the same reason it is different from LOTR. Both Harry Potter and LOTR were fundamentally very simplistic (although far be it from me to insult either of the two series) good-over-evil stories. The heroes were good, kind, compassionate, basically flawless people, the villains absolutely filthy, vile, loathsome creatures. While Joffrey certainly fits the latter standard, my favourite thing by far about Game of Thrones is that almost all the characters have shades of grey. Joffrey is the only exception I can think of to this trend (sometimes I compare him to Umbridge; I can’t think of a single person who liked Umbridge).
Unfortunately I have only read the first book (yes yes, I know it’s sacrilege). I’m slowly making my way to the second book and beyond, so this review is going to be informed purely by the TV series. And I had never thought anything on television could have such meticulously designed character arcs. The sheer number of facets to each character in the series, not to mention the rate at which they keep introducing new ones, has made me a head over heels fan. For instance, I never thought much of Jaime, but he’s coming dangerously close to being the good guy this season. Then there’s the new entrant Prince Oberyn, who so far seems to be nothing but a righteous man seeking to do his own brand of justice. Then again, in GoT, none of the characters are really ever what they seem. And of course, it helps that he’s supposed to be from another part of Westeros, and the accent that the suave, stylish Prince (played by Chilean-American actor Pedro Pascal) has when he calls out to Ellaria Sand as ‘lover’ makes me go weak in the knees. Much of the nudity burden has thankfully shifted from the women in the series and fallen to him this season. I’m not complaining.
Another reason I love the show is the clandestine politicking that happens both in the castle and by-lanes of King’s Landing. While the scenes at Castle Black, onboard Littlefinger’s ship, spanning beautiful panoramas of greenery wherever Arya and the Hound travel by horse, at Stannis’s temporary home Dragonstone and everywhere else are beautifully designed, those at King’s Landing remain by far my favourite. The frequency with which everyone in the place screws each other over, and how manipulatively and shrewdly they do it, is almost outright Machiavellian. Sample Margaery’s superb yet subtle seduction of Tommen in the latest episode. Even Daenerys’s ‘breaking of chains’ at Meereen is not as entertaining, although the Mother of Dragons is certainly the very definition of a stud.
Of course, it helps that the series is gorgeously shot across such locales as Croatia, Belfast and Morocco. The stunning sun and sea behind Olenna Tyrell every time she sits at her usual spot in the gardens of King’s Landing and advises her granddaughter (the latest gems of wisdom about the birds and the bees are pure entertainment), only serve to enhance her infinitely vivacious intelligence and wit, qualities she uses expertly to scheme and plot and gain advantage for her House among all the other ‘liars’ in the capital.
I suppose no review of Season 4 would be complete without a mention of the Purple Wedding. It did make me me think that Martin had probably either been divorced or left at the altar one too many times, but jokes apart, I think it was the tipping point for Cersei to go stark raving mad. Yet, there is a depth to her character not many apart from Lena Headey could manage. Though in truth, the acting in the entire series is superb, especially that of the younger Lannisters who must convey so much just from their faces, being at the forefront of conspiracy and in the centre of the capital. Peter Dinklage is excellent as he always has been, and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, a Danish actor little known before the series came to prominence, plays the part of a man confusedly coming to terms with his realities and duties and being part of a ghastly, gruesome family, exceptionally well. Charles Dance as Papa Lannister is also brilliant as the patriarch of this ghastly, gruesome family (although I never really saw him in the same light after this or this). This doesn’t mean the Lannisters overshadow other characters such as Varys or Petyr Baelish, Podrick or Brienne, all of whom are portrayed just as well, if not better. The series really tends to involve you, draw you in. I spent a week worrying about what would happen to Tyrion after the Purple Wedding episode. The anxiety refuses to go away, even now. I’m very glad there is an ensemble cast which does not allow you to focus on a few all-important characters but has enough of them to leave you satiated every week. It makes for even more intriguing viewing.
At the end of the day, what makes the series really stand out is that it is not a simplistic tale of good winning over evil with lots of blood, gore and dragons, but essentially a fast-paced, yet very human story of love and treachery, lust and family loyalty (sometimes it’s easy to confuse the two: sample Jaime and Cersei), allegiance and betrayal. I’m sure most of us spend our Sundays speculating what lies ahead, a sure sign that Season 4 has got off to a cracking start.