This review contains spoilers.
Of the changes made in the fourth season by producers and television adapters David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, the most logical one is to tighten the focus of episodes. At points, especially in the second season, it felt like the show hopped around to every character and every setting at least once an episode, creating for a disjointed viewing experience. Five minutes of Dany, three minutes of Arya, seven minutes of Theon, and so on. This season, the episodes are much more satisfying because they are making certain characters focal points for the episodes, concentrating on a few characters at a time, and allowing more of the stories to play out during the course of an episode. It may be a few episodes before you return to Hodor, but when you go back there, you’ll get enough Hodor to Hodor Hodor’s Hodor.
Fewer characters for longer also creates for smoother transitions between scenes; for example, Dany’s hook-up with Daario 2.0 is matched amusingly with Selyse Barratheon having an in-depth conversation with the naked Melisandre about the merits of seduction and tricking men with potions to force them to see the Red God before giving them the actual power to see the Red God at work in the flames. Even when it’s a story element that isn’t quite as attention-getting (Jon’s political struggle at the Wall), it’s more tolerable because you won’t see it every week, just every couple of weeks; the Jon segments also stay long enough to gather a little steam, rather than just being a pop-up appearance. It helps, and as usual Game Of Thrones wastes no time in reminding us of the characters we’ll be running into with the opening “previously on” montage.
Director Alik Sakharov once again turns in a top-notch episode, as expected. The reintroduction of The Mountain is handled brilliantly, as the massive Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson just shows up with a giant sword, guts a guy (with impressive entrails spillage), kills a few other prisoners, and has a brief conversation with Cersei Lannister while being shot from below to emphasize just how gigantic he is. That visual flair continues on with Tyrion Lannister’s time spent in prison. The imp gets shot in dark gray, or framed by light through the bars of his cell, and is deliberately shot to emphasize just how alone the character is.
The scenes with Tyrion and his various friends and relatives are somehow more heartbreaking even than Shae’s betrayal in the closing moments of the trial. Bronn has been Tyrion’s constant companion, the man who saved Tyrion during his first trial of combat, and the co-star of one of the best sitcoms in Westeros along with his imp bankroll and running buddy. Somehow, the fact that it’s an amicable split that neither man is really happy about makes it even worse; it’s hard to see Tyrion in pain, but to see good-natured Bronn looking depressed is astonishing and agonizing by turns. Even though Bronn is marrying a rich, dense noblewoman and getting a castle, it still kind of feels like a defeat. Peter Dinklage is top-notch, and Jerome Flynn is able to bring some surprising pathos to the role.
Pulling together great writing, brilliant acting, and brilliant cinematography is the wonderfully disturbing series of confrontations in the Eyrie. What starts out as surprisingly beautiful and touching—Sansa getting to enjoy a lovely snowy trip to the garden—very slowly goes out of control. She bonds with her creepy cousin/fiance Robin (Lino Facioli makes a good spoiled kid, even if he’s not Joffrey) over a snow castle version of Winterfell, only for him to completely flip out and stomp the castle before getting slapped and storming off in a huff. Because it’s Sansa and she can’t have nice things, Petyr shows up to creep on her, and then after getting kissed by her uncle/guardian, Sansa nearly gets thrown out of the Moon Door by her Stark-raving mad aunt Lysa (Kate Dickie is back with a vengeance and gnawing on the furniture for good measure). It’s just a great compounding of problems. With every possible saviour comes another problem, and just when one problem is solved, another problem shows up and shoves aunt Lysa out Chekhov’s Moon Door.
Everyone involved in that little story point, from Favioli and Dickie to Sophie Turner and Aidan Gillen, deserves props for the way they handled that little exchange. It’s refreshing to know that there’s no depth Littlefinger won’t sink to, and Aidan Gillen is great at playing sleazy and prideful. That little smug smirk he gives whenever Littlefinger does something clever has made him the second most slappable face in Westeros after the late King Joffrey; Sophie Turner is able to keep Sansa sweet and kind, even hopeful, despite being as unlucky as a Thomas Hardy character. It’s a tough balance to strike, because by all rights Sansa should have PTSD after all she’s gone through, but it’s her innate goodness that has allowed her to survive her accumulating traumas. That little kernel of hope she keeps hanging onto is what makes her such a sad character. At least Arya can run her tormentors through with Needle, but Sansa just takes her lumps and keeps smiling like Hot Pie during a discussion of gravy.
Some emotional torment, a ruthless fight scene with Arya and the Hound dispatching Biter and Rorge, the craziness of Littlefinger, and a new champion for the Lion of Lannister and the Queen Regent… even without adding in the fun of Brienne, Pod, and the returning Hot Pie and it would have been a great episode. It just goes without saying that everything’s better with Hot Pie. It’s always fun to have old friends return.
Game Of Thrones is taking a break next week and will return with episode 8 on Sunday the 1st in the US and Monday the 2nd of June in the UK.
US Correspondent Ron Hogan is glad to see that Hot Pie is back and that his baking skills are better than ever. More wolf cookies, please! A living Hot Pie gives me hope for a happy ending for Pod. Find more by Ron daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.
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