HBO’s Game of Thrones dominated the field this year with its record-breaking fourth season. Based on George R.R. Martin’s high fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire, Game of Thrones boasts a cast of hundreds of characters, each one struggling to find his or her own moral center in a world rife with political intrigue, alliances and betrayals, and an imminent danger beyond the Wall to the north which threatens to overwhelm the entire continent of Westeros. Make no mistake, there are few conventional fantasy tropes here. Viewers looking for a traditional tumult between the forces of good and evil can seek elsewhere. Game of Thrones is painted in the most intricate shades of gray, and the canvas has only grown even more convoluted this past season.
On the tip of everyone’s tongue is newcomer Pedro Pascal, portraying the enigmatic Oberyn Martell. A Dornish Prince, Martell arrives in the capital for his own reasons, which become readily apparent as the season unfolds. He’s on a quest for vengeance upon the Lannisters, the House responsible for butchering his family several years past. Some fans were doubtful of the casting of Oberyn—a longtime fan favorite in the books—but Pascal quickly established himself as a figure going above and beyond his literary counterpart.
Peter Dinklage remains at the top of his game. As Tyrion, the Lannister sibling with a heart of gold, Dinklage faced a number of trials (no pun intended) and tribulations this season. Dinklage has become the reigning champion of delivering monologues designed to jerk at your heartstrings, and it would be almost criminal if he doesn’t win another Emmy for his masterful performance this year. Other players are still at large. Jon Snow, bastard son of the late Ned Stark, is readying the Night’s Watch for an assault from the wildlings beyond the Wall. It was a wonderful surprise to see Kit Harrington really step into his own this season as he finally demonstrated to fans an acting prowess which had been lacking in episodes past. Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) continues her liberation of Slaver’s Bay, and begins to realize that ruling a city isn’t quite what she’d had in mind. In King’s Landing, the Lannisters squabble from within as forces both internal and external fight to bring the ruling family down. Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) may just become a force to be reckoned with under the tutelage of Littlefinger (Aiden Gillen). Maisie Williams and Rory McCann delight as always as Arya Stark and Sandor “The Hound” Clegane, respectively. Clegane wanders around Westeros hoping to sell Arya to one of her surviving relatives, a list which is quickly diminishing in number.
The fourth season of Game of Thrones made HBO history as it raked in a total of 18.4 million viewers, a number which finally unseated The Sopranos from the throne as HBO’s number one drama. This should come as no surprise to anyone who has seen the fantasy show’s most recent season. In the past, the show has traditionally built to a climax in each season’s penultimate episode. That formula ended this year in what proved to be a much more balanced plot which still somehow managed to deliver all sorts of surprises. Of course, it wouldn’t be Game of Thrones without several major character deaths, but not all of them should disappoint fans this year. The producers of the show, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, have built something truly special, and I think we can all look forward with anticipation as season five approaches.
By Sam Williams