The Game of Thrones Season 4 finale is, for my money, the best season finale the creators have delivered thus far. The show achieved notoriety for its penchant of delivering the big series impacts not in the season finale but in the penultimate episode. The beheading of Ned Stark. The Battle of Blackwater. The Red Wedding. All of those seismic events took place in the ninth episode of each 10-episode season.
The season finale has been, up until now, a closing of doors and a whisper of what is to come for those who, like me, haven’t read the books. In a sense, Sunday night’s finale continued in that vein, dealing with the aftermath of the Battle of Castle Black and wrapping up the Hound and Arya plotline. Yet, the episode in no way felt like an epilogue. It had surprises all on its own.
While it would be hard to imagine topping the epic scale and filmmaking bravura on display in the previous episode The Watchers on the Wall, this season finale, titled The Children, fed on the adrenaline rush, giving us the slaughter of the Wildlings at the hands of Stannis Baratheon’s army. It also brought a significant amount of forward momentum to Bran’s idling story, delivering him to the three-eyed crow (and other oddities) after a skirmish straight out of a Ray Harryhausen film. As if that weren’t enough, we were treated to an epic battle to the death between the Hound and Brienne of Tarth, the chaining of Daenerys’s dragons, and a whole lot of Lannister family drama.
You’d think, given the grace and efficiency the writers moved through each story, Twitter would have been overflowing with praise. After all, this wasn’t one of the “do nothing” finales. This was a season finale that had real meat to it. It answered questions, and it evoked more. It closed doors and opened a hundred windows. This is what the best season finales tend to do.
Instead, Twitter and the Internet at Large was ablaze with criticisms over plot omissions and diversions from the source material. Where was Lady Stoneheart! Brienne never fought The Hound! Shae never loved Tyrion! Season 4 was nothing but a bunch of highlights! The shock and effrontery were so intense that you’d have thought Tyler Perry showed up as Madea in King’s Landing. Stop for a moment and imagine that…
Of course, everyone is entitled to his or her opinions, and I will admit my heart was pounding with excitement at the prospect of meeting Lady Stoneheart. But that’s not what the writers had in mind for this season as they explained to Entertainment Weekly. It’s not that I particularly mind the outcries as I do believe it comes from a place of love and obsession for the show/book. What it does speak to is a concern I have over the future of the series. The Internet may be the enemy it cannot defeat.
Given the overwhelming critical adorations for Season 4, you have to wonder how the creators will top it next season. Sure, there’s plenty of material left, and there will be a growing excitement once the show fully surpasses the novels. But, like Mad Men at Season 4, I am wary that Game of Thrones has reached a critical and audience-approval peak. When will D.B. Weiss and David Benioff stumble, starting the inevitable Internet backlash that almost all great shows face? When will it be cool to say “I hated Game of Thrones before you did?” Now that entertainment is force-fed to us at lightening speed through binge watching, how long will it be before the leisurely paced 10-episode seasons aren’t enough to satiate the Internet at Large?
Until then, we can ruminate on Season 4. We can bid fond farewells to Tywin Lannister, King Joffrey, (presumably) the Hound, Ygritte, and Lady Arryn among others. We will marvel on the trial of Tyrion and his fantastically stirring hate speech. And we will never unsee the head-crushing fate of Prince Oberyn Martell. To recap this packed season is an exercise in insanity. More than a collection of highlights, Season 4 is a culmination of seeds planted early in the show. It was the best season of the best show on television.
Emmy nominations will rain down like arrows from Castle Black. Writing (The Children), Directing (The Watchers on the Wall), Drama Series and technical nominations are written in stone. The trickier part is how far will the love of the series extend to the acting categories? Peter Dinklage seems a safe bet for a nomination based on his excellent trial performance, and I would put him squarely ahead for another win. Last year’s surprise supporting actress nominee Emilia Clarke seems less likely as Daenerys’s character arc wasn’t as compelling this year. In fact, the show’s riches of great female roles ironically seem to work against the actresses when competing for awards attention. Clarke has, thus far, been the only woman to register in the major acting categories with Diana Rigg receiving a guest dramatic actress nomination last year, a feat I hope she repeats this year. I would have added Michelle Fairley, Lena Headey, Natalie Dormer, and, although she has not been officially submitted, Gwendoline Christie to the mix.
After all, in a show that boldly proclaimed at the beginning of Season 4 “All men must die,” it really should be all about the women.
Now, what to do with the next 10 months of my life…