Now THAT was more like it!
The opening three episodes of thrones were pretty one-sided in terms of style. Two were entirely character driven, one was an all-action epic. Thrones tends to work best when it finds a balance between the two, and that’s exactly what episode 4 does. I know this season is getting some blowback from fans, but then again, fans not being able to cope when something subverts their expectations is rarely a reliable indicator that something is actually wrong. I’m not exactly happy with how the White Walker arc was resolved, but i’m still willing to give the last episodes a chance to justify that decision. Judging by episode 4, the show may still stick the landing.
Varys and Tyrion scheming was a highlight of Season 2, and it was nice to see them actually debating about the future of the realm again, rather than just throwing cheap jibes at each other. Both have been somewhat sidelined for the last 3 and a bit seasons, so getting them to have a hand in who finally sits on the Iron Throne would be more than welcome. The tension between the Starks and Daenerys is producing some of the most compelling stuff right now, and bringing in conflicted loyalties among Tyrion and Varys has really set up an interesting conflict for the last two episodes.
While the action is what this episode will be remembered for, it contains some key character beats as well. Bronn’s confrontation with the Lannister brothers felt long overdue, and Jerome Flynn reminds us that for all the good Bronn has done over the years, he is at the end, a mercenary – one who hasn’t been paid his dues. The realisation that Bronn probably would kill the pair of them if he thought Daenerys would lose helped make this a great scene. Arya and Brienne also had some key moments with their respective love interests, neither of which ultimately seem likely to end well – although should Arya and Jaime survive the last two episodes, who knows. Nikolas Coster-Waldau, Maisie Williams, Joe Dempsie and Gwendoline Christie all do great work here, and really capture the raw emotion of these rejections. Another standout moment was Jon’s funeral speech, which coupled with yet another haunting track from Ramin Djawadi, brought home the losses from the Long Night in arguably a more effective way than episode 3 itself managed.
MAJOR SPOILERS FOLLOW. LAST CHANCE TO TURN BACK!
I criticised the last episode for not being shocking enough. Not so this time. Rhaegal’s death came out of nowhere and was all the more devastating for it. The show has clearly been doing a bait-and-switch with the Missandei-Grey Worm romance. Everyone expected Grey Worm to die in the Battle of Winterfell, but I doubt anyone expected Missandei to get executed by Cersei instead! Those two deaths seem to be the final straw that makes a bloody final two episodes inevitable – as well as the moment that completely pushes Daenerys over the edge. She really has lost virtually everything now – most of her allies are gone, two of her dragons and most of her closest advisers are dead, and to top it all off it’s clear to her that her ‘destiny’ of taking the Iron Throne has a serious obstacle, willing or not, in Jon Snow and his supporters. Jon’s protestations were all well and good, but let’s face it, with now more than half the surviving cast loyal to Jon, Sansa or Arya rather than Dany, its clear her paranoia isn’t entirely unjustified.
The show has done a very good job setting Daenerys up as a potential last villain once Cersei and Euron are dealt with. Her horrific executions of nobles in Meereen (whether they deserved it or not), her arrogant belief in her own right to rule, her insistence on everyone bending the knee and burning the Tarly’s alive for refusing to do so… there’s always been shades of Cersei in her, as well as similarities to Stannis. Her statement that civilian casualties were a price she was willing to pay for taking King’s Landing was chilling. Her recent losses coupled with her increasing paranoia could easily turn her into someone as cold as Stannis, as arrogant as Joffrey and as ruthless as Cersei. She’s only a few steps away from being her father’s daughter. And I think Varys was right – it seems doubtful even Jon can bring her back from the brink now, especially after seeing Missandei coldly butchered right in front of her. With Varys plotting against her, Sansa hostile and Tyrion wavering, things are looking bleak for Dany right now.
Overall episode 4 is classic thrones. Humour, action, shocks and a hell of a final gut punch combine to ease some of the doubts people may have had about this final season. The stage is set for one more epic battle – and quite possibly a few final surprises…
Rating: 5 out of 5!
Next Time: The Mad Queen(s) face off in the Battle of King’s Landing as Jaime and Tyrion both must decide where their loyalties truly lie…