This is the season that fans of George R. R. Martin’s books have been anticipating since the series started, and with no little trepidation. This is the point in the saga where everything changes, and nothing will ever be the same. Rest assured that show runners David Benioff and D B Weiss have been building up to this since they first pitched the show. If you’re a huge fan of the books, especially Storm of Swords, you really won’t be disappointed by the penultimate episode.
As the season starts the Lannisters are basking in their victory at the Battle of Blackwater, however their newfound alliance with the scheming Tyrells proves to be a double-edged sword. Tyrion Lannister (one of the series’ most popular characters and fast becoming a sex symbol) is not coping well with no longer being the Hand of the King.
The Starks are losing the war with the South in spite of having won every battle. Some bad decisions by Rob Stark have seen his armies fall in number and have lost him many powerful allies. Jon Snow has joined a Wildling raiding party and fallen for Ygritte, a Wildling woman he was unable to execute last season, leading to torn loyalties. While the Night’s Watch face insurrection and an army of advancing White Walkers, the weasily Theon Greyjoy is held hostage and tortured throughout most of the season. Stannis Baratheon broods impotently in his castle and turns to black magic.
Arya Stark falls into the company of the Brotherhood Without Banners, a band that are as amoral as they are idealistic, then escapes them only to find herself in the clutches of the Hound, whose intentions are not as dishonourable as she first thinks. Across the narrow sea, Daenerys Targaryen obtains an army of slave eunuchs, sets them free and sacks two cities to free all the slaves proving herself one of the few truly admirable characters left alive at the end of this season.
To me this has actually become a weakness of the series, the fact that most of the admirable characters have been killed off. I know that Martin has been praised for the fact that none of the characters are safe and anyone of them can die, no matter how key they may seem to the plot, or how popular they are with the audience. However I think ‘death’ has become an over used device in ongoing genre fiction. Whenever the editors or producers of a popular franchise want to give it a boost all they can ever seem to think of is to kill off a popular character.
While I’m certainly not accusing an author of Martin’s stature and talent of such obvious tactics, I do think that he’s milking the deaths in the Game of Thrones. The death of a character is often a pivotal and defining moment in any plot but it’s not the only dramatic device available to a writer. When you use death too much it starts to lose its power and you start to lose your audience. Without wanting to throw in any spoilers the ninth episode ‘The Rains of Castamere’ involves the most catastrophic deaths yet.
These deaths purposefully wrong-foot the viewers because they defy the expectations that have so far been set up about the direction of the series. We think we’ve been watching one sort of story and instead it’s something quite different. While I am personally all in favour of wrong-footing your audience and defying their expectations, in this instance I think it’s done quite sadistically and with a mean spirit. I feel that the story has now lost its moral imperative and that the fortunes of the characters are in the hands of an authorial power that resembles the evil and psychotic King Joffrey more than anyone.
David Benioff and D B Weiss have stated that they think if the audience makes it to this key episode they will be hooked until its finale. I have to honestly say it has had the opposite effect on me. I’ve gone from being an avid watcher to being relatively uninterested in how it all turns out, with the possible exception of a couple of characters’ fates. I’m sure I will be in the minority on this matter but I know I’m not the only viewer who feels this way.
As to the special features, on the face of it there don’t seem to be too many on the Blu-ray edition. There are a few voice-overs with the cast and crew and an in-episode guide that lets you keep track of all the different characters. However the documentary on the making of the pivotal ninth episode ‘The Rains of Castamere’ is of such depth and quality, containing pop-up links to mini documentaries within the main documentary which cover every aspect of the production, that even the most discerning buyer will feel they’ve got their money’s worth by the end.
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