‘Game of Thrones’ Revisited: Season Four

By April 22, 2016

As you know, fellow Throne Geeks, there is a phrase in the world of Game of Thrones: “Valar Morghulis” – all men must die. Up through season three, however, it seemed like it was only the good guys that were getting the ax. So it was with a fair amount of satisfaction that viewers watched a couple of Lannisters finally get what was coming to them in season four.

So, with season six set to premiere this Sunday, let’s do a deep dive into the series of episodes that gave us The Purple Wedding, several fantastic one-on-one fight scenes, a rare glimpse of the White Walkers (a surprise even to book readers!) and the Battle at Castle Black (if you missed them, here are our recaps of seasons one, two, and three).

To get things started, here are the major new places and faces we meet this season:

  • King’s Landing: Mace Tyrell, Prince Oberyn (The Red Viper) of Dorne, Ellaria Sand, The Mountain (aka Gregor Clegane) *new actor, Tommen Baratheon *new actor
  • Mereen: Hizdhar zo Loraq, Daario Naharas *new actor
  • The North: Olly, Janos Slynt (met him briefly in seasons one and two when he commanded the City Watch in King’s Landing), Styr (Magnar of Thenn – cannibal wildling)
  • Braavos: Tycho Nestoris (Iron Bank representative)

The good news about season four: less new characters! And one of them, Oberyn Martell, is one of the best characters the show has ever produced! But, much like in A Feast for Crows, the fourth book in George R.R. Martin’s series, and the source material for much of this season, the forward momentum of the story starts to drag a bit in places. The chessboard got a little trickier for creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss to keep straight, with many pieces moving around, but not necessarily getting anywhere. Luckily, a number of characters do find themselves in new and interesting situations by the end of the season, so let’s see how they got there.

In the War of the Five Kings, two are dead (Renly was murdered by Melisandre and Stannis’ shadow baby and Robb by treachery at the Red Wedding), one is without an army (Stannis), and another is…not really doing anything at all (Balon Greyjoy). Joffrey, thanks to the machinations of his grandfather, Tywin Lannister, has solidified his position on the Iron Throne and is finally able to marry his betrothed, Margaery Tyrell. Attending the wedding feast is the largest number of main characters we’ve seen together on the show since the very first episode of the series.

  • The Tyrells: Olenna, Loras and Margaery’s father, Mace.
  • The Lannisters: Tywin, Cersei, Tommen (Joffrey’s younger brother, played by a new actor this season), Jaime (sans his right hand and back in charge of the Kingsguard…much to his father’s dismay), Tyrion, and his wife, Sansa
  • Varys: Master of Whisperers
  • Brienne of Tarth: Who returned to the city with Jaime, but feels decidedly out of place, and unsure what to do about her pledge to rescue Catelyn Stark’s daughters now that Cat is dead (at The Red Wedding).
  • Oberyn Martell and his lover, Ellaria Sand: The extremely confident and sexy (you know he is…) Oberyn is the younger brother of the ruler of Dorne, and is in Kings Landing to seek revenge against The Mountain for the brutal rape/murder of his sister, Elia, at the end of Robert’s Rebellion, 19 years ago. Since the remaining Starks are scattered in the wind, it’s great to have a new character who hates the Lannisters too…and is in a position to possible do something about it.


Though, it turns out others are plotting against the Lannisters as well, because, after humiliating Tyrion at his wedding feast, Joffrey is poisoned and dies in his mother’s arms. Cersei is devastated (despite knowing her son was a monster) and orders Tyrion and Sansa arrested for the murder. Tyrion is thrown in a black cell but Sansa escapes with the help of a drunken-knight-turned-fool, Ser Dontos. Once they reach her getaway ship, Sansa realizes her true rescuer is Petyr Baelish, who, with the help of Olenna Tyrell (grandmother of the bride), orchestrated Joffrey’s murder. Baelish then kills Dontos and whisks Sansa away to The Eyrie, home of Sansa’s aunt Lysa (who is also now Petyr’s wife).

Despite being initially welcomed by her aunt and strange young cousin Robin, Sansa finds herself at the mercy of Lysa’s jealousy. In a rage, Lysa tries to push Sansa out the moon door (after seeing Petyr kiss Sansa) only to have Petyr arrive and push her out instead (we also learn that it was Lysa who set the events of the entire series in motion: by poisoning her husband, Jon Arryn). Sansa then proves she has learned a few tricks from her “uncle Petyr” by convincing the lords of The Vale (Lysa’s bannermen) that Lysa accidentally fell to her death. Thus, after four seasons of being naïve, abused, and manipulated, Sansa finally starts to learn to play the “Game of Thrones.” This is, of course, physically represented by her dying her hair black and wearing a rather vampy dark dress…


Back in Kings Landing, Margaery isn’t sure if she’s actually the queen (not having consummated her marriage to Joffrey) and so maneuvers to marry Tommen instead. Tywin also latches on to the new young king in hopes of influencing him. Cersei feels as if she’s loosing control of having any say in her own life (or her remaining son’s) and spends her time constructing an airtight case against Tyrion (even if it means bribery, blackmail, and lying to get it done).  Jaime, unable to convince his sister that their little brother did not kill Joffrey, sends Brienne after Sansa (in order to fulfill both their oaths to protect Catelyn’s daughter). He gives her his newly forged Valyrian steal sword (made from the melted steal of Ned Stark’s sword, called Ice), a fresh suit of armor, and Podrick Payne as her squire (he did this as a favor to Tyrion who worried that Cersei would have the boy killed because of his loyalty to Tyrion). Brienne names the sword Oathkeeper and rides out toward The Wall in search of Sansa, only to learn that Arya Stark may still be alive and heading for The Eyrie…in the company of The Hound

Which turns out to be true! After fleeing the scene of The Red Wedding, The Hound and Arya are, in fact, traveling to The Vale to pass Arya off to her aunt. Though it takes them the entire season to get there, their scenes together pack a punch as Arya continues down the path toward becoming a hardened killer. During a fight at an inn, Arya kills Polliver (the man who, in season two, captured her, stole her sword Needle, and murdered her friend Lommy) and, as the duo travels through the devastated countryside, continues to recite the names of those on her “kill list”: Cersei, The Mountain, Walder Frey, Meryn Trant and…The Hound.

Upon reaching the Gate to The Vale, they learn that Lysa Arryn is dead (in a singularly brilliant moment, Arya breaks out laughing at the news…which is all the more tragic because she doesn’t realize her sister is just beyond the gate). Soon thereafter, Brienne and Pod find them, and the two females share a brief moment of bonding (over being such tomboys), but The Hound antagonizes Brienne, and convinces Arya not to trust someone wearing gifts from a Lannister. The Hound and Brienne engage in an absolutely brutal sword fight which Brienne wins, but Arya eludes her and Pod. Returning to the side of The Hound, who is badly wounded, Arya commits her coldest act yet: she simply takes his money and leaves him to die, despite his begging her to kill him. In the village of Saltpans, Arya shows a Braavosi captain the coin Jaqen H’ghar gave her (at the end of season two) and books passage across the Narrow Sea to Braavos.


Meanwhile, now that the Starks have been neutralized (thanks to the Red Wedding), the new Warden of the North, Roose Bolton, seeks to get rid of the last few Ironborn still entrenched in the strategic castle of Moat Cailin. His bastard son, Ramsey Snow, has mutilated and broken the will of Theon, son of Balon Greyjoy, who now goes by the name of Reek. Theon/Reek is so far gone that even when his sister Yara arrives at The Dreadfort (seat of The Boltons) to rescue him, he refuses to leave out of fear of Ramsay. Bolton is angered with his son’s treatment of Theon, as he wanted to use him to bargain with the Ironborn, but Ramsay proves his methods by sharing the information that Theon told him about the Starks: Bran and Rickon are still alive and somewhere in the north. Bolton sends one of his men, Locke, to seek out the young boys at Castle Black, where he assumes they’ve gone to be with their bastard brother, Jon Snow. He then charges Ramsay with taking back Moat Cailin.

While Locke arrives at the Wall and pretends to befriend Jon, Bran continues his search north for The Three Eyed Raven, who he sees in his dreams. Along with Hodor, who drags Bran in a sleigh, Meera, and Jojen (Rickon and the wildling Osha split up with them south of the Wall), Bran finds himself in cold and dangerous territory. Jojen grows weak, Bran has visions when he touches a heart tree (including the shadow of a dragon flying over Kings Landing), and Summer, Bran’s direwolf, is caught in a trap near Craster’s Keep, which is being held by the Night’s Watch mutineers who murdered Lord Commander Mormont last season.

Two loyal men, Grenn and Edd, escape the turncloaks and report back to Castle Black, where Alliser Thorne is acting Lord Commander…and he’s not a fan of Jon’s. Only Maester Aemon is able to keep Jon from being punished for killing Qhorin Halfhand and sleeping with Ygritte while he was spying on the wildlings. Jon warns Thorn about the wildling army, under Mance Rayder, descending upon Castle Black. He also calls for a group of brothers to march out and kill the mutineers at Craster’s Keep (to keep them from telling Mance how weak the Night’s Watch really is). Thorn agrees to send Jon (partly hoping he’ll be killed in the fight) with some volunteers, one of which is Locke.

As the handful of loyal brothers descend on Craster’s Keep, Bran and his friends are captured by the mutineers and locked in a side hut. Rast, the leader of the group, attempts to rape Meera but is distracted by Jon’s attack. Locke finds Bran and lies about it to Jon, but when he returns to kidnap Bran (to take him to Bolton), Bran is able to warg into Hodor and break Locke’s neck. Hodor releases Meera, Jojen and Summer while Bran longingly watches Jon fight and win against the traitors. He chooses not to reveal himself, however, as he and his friends continue their journey north.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world in Slaver’s Bay, Dany finds it rather easy to conquer the ancient city of Mereen (after taking Astapor and Yunkai last season), but much harder to maintain order. She hears that Yunkai has been retaken by the slave masters and her decision to crucify over 1oo masters in Mereen (vengeance for their having crucified that many slave children to scare her away) isn’t exactly going over well with the locals. In a surprise move, she decides to stay in Mereen and rule…as a way to prove that she has the ability to do so when she finally sails for Westeros to take back the Iron Throne. This proves to be fairly difficult and somewhat…boring. Her heart is in the right place as far as wanting to keep the slaves free, but the tedium of ruling and her rather unyielding nature don’t make for riveting television (her relationship with Daario doesn’t either). Further complicating her position at the end of the season is the realization that she no longer has much control over her three dragons, one of which, Drogon, kills a young child and then flies away. She chains up her remaining two “children,” and then takes another blow when she learns the truth about Jorah (via Tywin Lannister – king of letter writing), her most trusted advisor. Though he has since committed himself to Dany’s cause, when Jorah first joined her and her brother in season one, he was doing so as a spy for King Robert Baratheon. Despite his clear devotion to her, she banishes him for his betrayal. Dany is down an important advisor, but is another one on the way…?

Back in King’s Landing, Tyrion is finally put on trial for the murder of his nephew (after more than a few scenes of him in his black cell…). Cersei amasses an impressive list of witnesses who help her prove her (false) case, one of which is Tyrion’s love, the prostitute, Shae. Though Jaime had secured his father’s promise to let Tyrion take the black after being found “guilty” at the trial, it is Shae’s lies that push Tyrion over the edge, causing him to bitterly denounce the entire court and demand a trial by combat.


Cersei chooses The Mountain to represent her in the fight, but Tyrion gets an offer from a surprising source: Prince Oberyn. The Red Viper sees this as his chance to get The Mountain to confess to raping/murdering his sister (and killing her children, who would have been Dany’s niece and nephew) as well as being ordered to do so by Tywin Lannister. And so commences a brilliantly choreographed fight between The Mountain, hacking away with his broadsword, and Oberyn, moving gracefully with his long spear. Ultimately, Oberyn’s thirst for a confession is his undoing, for, despite bringing The Mountain to the ground (and poisoning him in the process), Oberyn refuses to give a killing blow. He steps too close and is tripped up by the giant knight, who then uses his bare hands to crush Oberyn’s skull…ew.

Rather than see his brother killed (because his champion lost), Jaime helps Tyrion escape. But on the way to the ship set to take him to Pentos, Tyrion takes a detour to his father’s chambers, where he discovers Shae in his father’s bed. Tyrion strangles her and then confronts his father with a crossbow (while Tywin is sitting on the privy (or toilet), of course). Tywin dies at the hands of his son, who then meets up with Varys (who was helping Jaime). They both board the ship (Tyrion in a crate, Varys sitting on top) as the bells ring out across King’s Landing: another Hand of the King is dead.

Back in the north, Ramsay Snow uses Reek (who “poses” as Theon) to get the Ironborn to surrender Moat Cailin, and is legitimized by his father as a reward. As the Boltons move into Winterfell (last seen as a burned ruin), Bran finally reaches the Three Eyed Raven (though Jojen dies in a fight with animated skeletons) who promises to teach Bran how to “fly”, and Jon is preparing for a battle at the Wall. The small wildling party that Jon had been with in season three (led by Tormand, a vengeful Ygritte, and a cannibal named Styr) kills a number of villagers on their way to Castle Black from the south. The Watch is warned by Olly, a young boy who saw his parents die, and Gilly, who had been staying in Mole’s Town after she and Sam returned from the Night Fort. But the clear sign that an attack is imminent comes courtesy of Mance Rayder, The King Beyond the Wall, who follows through on his promise to “light the biggest fire the north has ever seen” by setting the forest on fire.

That night, thousands of wildlings, as well as giants on mammoths (!), attack the wall from the north, while Tormand’s group attacks the castle from the south. The battle is brutal as less than 100 black brothers barely hold off the attackers. Two of Jon and Sam’s closest friends die: Grenn defending the gate against a giant and Pyp by one of Ygritte’s arrows. Alliser Thorn fights bravely but is injured, while Janos Slynt (formerly of the City Watch in King’s Landing) hides like a coward. Jon leads the men, first from the top of the wall, and then down on the ground where he faces, and defeats, Styr, Magnar of Thenns (the cannibals). Afterwards, he turns to find Ygritte aiming an arrow at his heart but she is, instead, hit by an arrow shot by Olly. After one last “you know nothing, Jon Snow” Ygritte dies and the battle ends. Tormund is captured, and the wildlings retreat.

Jon, however, understands that they will attack again and that the Nights Watch cannot hold out against Mance’s massive army. So he sets out on a suicide mission, despite Sam’s pleading against it. Marching into the wildling camp, Jon meets Mance face to face. They share a drink in honor of their friends who died in the battle and Jon makes a move to kill Mance, knowing it would mean his own death as well, but also hoping it would cause the wildling coalition to disintegrate. Before he is able to do so, however, another army charges onto the field: Stannis Baratheon and his resourceful knight, Davos Seaworth, managed to convince the Iron Bank of Braavos to lend them enough money to buy ships and an army to invade the north (to help the Night’s Watch, but also to face the Boltons, as well as whatever Melisandre saw in the fire…). Mance is captured and the wildlings flee. Crisis averted…

Except, that, oh yeah, there was a really good reason the wildlings wanted to get south of The Wall in the first place! Mance told Jon that the battle was not so much to fight The Night’s Watch, but to get his people away from the White Walkers, and the army of the dead they lead. It’s a legitimate threat, as we see the leader of the White Walkers (The Night’s King?) in the farthest reaches of the north, where no human can survive, as he performs some sort of ritual on one of Craster’s last baby boys..turning his eyes to an ice cold blue. Chilling.

Well, there you have it! Another very dense and complex season that leaves us with several great cliffhangers (which help make up for some story drag that happens in the middle of the season).

Best Episode:

The Children: Though “The Watches on the Wall” is very similar to “Blackwater” from season two, the balance of story is spot on in “The Children.” Plus, more than a few of the storylines end on game changing moments: Tyrion murdering his father, Arya leaving Westeros, Dany chaining two of her dragons (I find it hard to watch that scene without getting misty eyed…), and Stannis showing up with an army at The Wall to defeat the wildlings. Oh yeah, and then there’s the best sword fight of the entire series: Brienne vs. The Hound. Amazing.

Best Quotes:

  • “Nothing isn’t better or worse than anything. Nothing is just nothing.” – Arya
  • “Given the opportunity, what do we do to those who’ve hurt the ones we love?” – Petyr Baelish
  • “I am guilty of being a dwarf…I did not kill Joffrey, but I wish that I had. Watching your vicious bastard die gave me more relief than a thousand lying whores. I wish I was the monster you think I am. I wish I had enough poison for the whole pack of you. I would gladly give my life to watch you all swallow it. I will not give my life for Joffrey’s murder and I know I’ll get no justice here, so I will let the gods decide my fate. I demand a trial by combat.” – Tyrion

Best Scenes:

  • The “Purple Wedding.” Bye-bye Joffrey!
  • The Mountain (Gregor Clegane) vs. The Red Viper (Oberyn Martell). Oberyn…we came to know and love you in a single season…but we are not ok with having watched you get your eyes gouged out!
  • The Battle at Castle Black is pretty darn good, but the moments that really stand out are: when Grenn and four of his brothers chant the Nights Watch vow as they prepare to take on a giant (sniff), and that crazy impressive tracking shot of Jon as he joins the battle on the ground (the giant scythe knocking wildlings off the wall was pretty good too).
  • The Hound (Sandor Glegane) vs. Brienne of Tarth. Brienne is a BAD ASS!

Well, that’s it for season four! Make sure to keep checking back for our further Thrones updates leading up to the premiere this Sunday!

Game of Thrones season six will premiere this Sunday on April 24th.

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Rachel Cushing
Rachel is a television editor by day and either a Jedi knight, vampire slayer, or elvish warrior by night. In between she makes time for movies, movies, and more movies (plus a few books, television shows, and then…more movies). When she’s supposed to be sleeping, she writes about movies as well, both here on Geeknation.com and on her own blog. Tweet her @RachelJCushing