Game of Thrones Season Four: A Retrospective

season fourSeason four was largely about moving chess pieces into place for future seasons.  With the notable exception of Oberyn Martell, our main group of named characters spent the entire ten episodes positioning themselves for next season’s plot.  It kind of dragged, honestly.

I’ve discussed Jaime’s character arc in depth in season one, season two, and season three retrospectives. It’s by far one of the most dramatic character arcs, and I’ve enjoyed seeing it develop. I wish I could be as enthusiastic about his arc in season four, too, but one particular scene left a bad taste in my mouth.

Trigger Warning: Rape. Skip three paragraphs to bypass the discussion.

This scene was discussed thoroughly in Tara’s article Why Rape Isn’t a Suitable Plot Device. The scene was changed from the books to be much less consensual. She still said ‘no,’ in the books, and, as Tara states in her article, that should not be downplayed. There were, however, at least moments where you can see some consent on her part that may make you question the context of the scene. This falls into the “dubious consent” category instead of flat out “non-consensual.” Still bad, yes, but something different than what we got here. It’s a fine line to straddle and unfortunately, the show failed.

Worse yet, the director of the scene doesn’t see what he did as non-consensual at all.

The director of Breaker of Chains apparently believed that he was depicting an at least somewhat consensual sex scene; he stated that “…it becomes consensual by the end, because anything for them ultimately results in a turn-on, especially a power struggle.” Unfortunately, this belief of Alex Graves is just as problematic as them simply wanting to make the sept scene more ‘edgy’ than it is in the books – if not more problematic, because Cersei resisting Jaime’s advances, saying ‘no’ and fighting back until the end, never once uttering the word ‘yes’ – is not a sex scene Graves or Game of Thrones or HBO should be proud of. It’s just another example of the rape culture that we live in.

For my own enjoyment of the show and continued appreciation of Jaime as a character, I blame this scene on the director.  Otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to tolerate him anymore and his entire redemption arc would be completely nullified. I’ll keep the dubious nature of the books, which highlight the toxicity of their mutual relationship, instead of this non-consensual mess for which there is no redemption. Still awful, but something that makes sense in the context of their relationship.

But I’ve talked enough about this, so I’ll just suggest that you read Tara’s excellent article linked above and conclude the triggery content here.

So let’s move on…

Season four was the first season where we covered episodes weekly here at The Geekiary. You can see our content on our Game of Thrones Season 4 Masterpost. It was a tough one to review, however, as most characters were being shuffled from point A to point B on their respective journeys. Sansa gets smuggled out of King’s Landing to the Eyrie. Arya likewise gets shuffled in that direction with Sandor Clegane, which led to some of the best character interactions on the whole show. Their journey gets cut short, however, due to Lysa’s death. Daenerys gets shuffled to Mereen while Astapor and Yunkai fall back into slaver ways after she leaves. Bran and his crew shuffle north of The Wall, much to everyone’s dismay (except the Reed siblings, of course). And we also have Brienne and Podrick getting shuffled… somewhere. Eventually, they end up at the Eyrie, though that wasn’t their initial goal. There’s just a lot of movement and positioning, without many plot triggers getting pulled.

That is… except for Oberyn Martell. He’s basically the only character who had an arc that didn’t feel like he was just being moved into place for something else to happen.  His arc has a clear beginning, middle, and tragic end. I was excited for the Dornish to be introduced even though I knew my favorite one wouldn’t last long. Dorne is such an amazing place to explore in the books and the characters are so interesting when contrasted with the rest of the realm.  Sadly, this is the only season where I felt their plot was done any justice. My excitement for Dorne getting a chance to thrive was snuffed out with Oberyn.

The concept of Dorne is amazing. It’s a region that seems to appreciate bisexuality and polyamory, embrace bastard children, and push back against many other of the social mores that dominate the rest of Westeros. The setting always sounded wonderfully unique, too. A warm desert climate largely removed from the chilly temperate setting that cloaks the rest of the realm and a population descended from the Rhoyne instead of the First Men and the Andals. My excitement to dive into this section of the series was high. That didn’t last long, but I suppose I’ll get to that in future retrospectives.

Oberyn’s plot was part of the larger Tyrion trial story, and though this plot has huge ramifications with the characters and I adore Tyrion greatly, it too felt like a bit of a drag. Still, we needed to see this, so I guess I can’t begrudge them for it. We needed to see characters one by one stand against Tyrion so that he felt completely alone. We needed him to lose everything that he loved and be sentenced to death. We needed to see that the only person who continued to stand beside him was his brother, and then we needed Varys to come to the rescue. And honestly, this is the first time in four seasons where it finally clicked that Varys genuinely had the good of the realm at heart. Back in my season one retrospective I touched on this; it took an incredibly long time for me to not view him as purely manipulative and to realize that I may have been misreading his actions. So yes, this plot dragged, but, like most of the season, the set up was needed for what’s to come.

One major thing I often forget about is the death of King Joffrey. Even when writing this retrospective it’s coming to me as an after thought. On a practical level, it has a huge impact. The King is dead. Tommen takes the throne. There’s one less sadist in power in the world. But from a viewers perspective, I was just grateful that he was finally done and we could move on to other things. I’m also grateful that Jack Gleeson could move on and continue his education, because acting always felt like sort of a side gig for him. The actor is a delightful dude and he played an entitled sadistic brat so incredibly well, so he deserves to get on with his life and achieve great things. Good job, Jack. We’re rooting for you.

By the end of season four, it felt like everyone was in a place where action could start once more. Arya is on her way to Bravoos. Sansa is in the Vale and seems to be gaining some sense of power and self confidence. Jon has returned to the Night’s Watch and is making progress with the Wildlings (even though the body count is growing). Brienne and Podrick have an unlikely partnership as they work towards holding Brienne’s pledge to Catelyn. And Daenerys is ruling in Mereen as she tries to take back the rest of Slaver’s Bay from the slavers. A finger is on the trigger for some massive plot development and it’s ready to be pulled. And boy, that trigger really gets pulled in season five.

Author: Angel Wilson

Angel is the admin of The Geekiary and a geek culture commentator. They earned a BA in Film & Digital Media from UC Santa Cruz. They have contributed to various podcasts and webcasts including An Englishman in San Diego, Free to Be Radio, and Genre TV for All. They identify as queer.

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