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Grantland on Why Game of Thrones Season 4 was its best season yet -- and a Finale Precap for ‘The Children’

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Andy Greenwald on why season 4 has been so good: 

Precaps are all about looking ahead. But, if you’ll indulge me, I’d like to take a moment to gaze in the opposite direction. Even with a presumably boffo finale still to come, I think it’s safe to say that this has been the best season of Game of Thrones — and I don’t think it’s been particularly close. Part of this can be ascribed to the quality of the material. In terms of the raw story ore available to them, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss entered the year richer than the Tyrells. Thanks to the clever way they chopped up A Storm of Swords, the sprawling third book in George R.R. Martin’s ever-expanding series, there was almost no way for the fourth season not to be good. Instead of back-loading the fireworks, they started bursting in midair: The Purple Wedding happened in Episode 2. A woolly mammoth caught fire in Episode 9. In between was the trial of the century, an incredibly literalreenactment of Vanilla Ice’s greatest song, and the long-awaited implementation of Chekhov’s moon door. My head was exploding long before Oberyn’s ever did.

And yet the real accomplishment of the fourth season hasn’t been the story — it’s been the storytelling. My primary criticism of the first few years ofThrones stemmed from the way individual episodes would occasionally bump and lurch like those barrels Jon Snow and his pals were dropping from the top of the Wall: Some splintered midway, others blew apart too early, and precisely none took a direct path to their target. When considered en masse, these jolts smoothed themselves out into a satisfying, season-long whole. (I’m told that those who binge on Thrones like the Hound on rabbit stew find it even more fulfilling than those of us who peck at it, week to week, like an abstemious raven.) But in the moment, the experience could be more than a little jarring. This was especially true in the digressive doom and gloom of Season 3. As much as I loved the Jaime and Brienne road trip, for every bon mot that delighted there was a bear fight that dragged. Until his bloody end, Robb Stark was going nowhere fast. And while Bran and his warging pals were constantly moving, their destination felt far out of reach. There were times last year when I wasn’t just annoyed at the sight of Theon imprisoned in the Bolton basement, I could relate.

This year, by contrast, has positively glided. And it’s not just because of can’t-miss pairings like Arya-Hound, Tyrion-Jaime, and Salladhor-Jacuzzi. It’s because Benioff and Weiss have learned how to take the show’s least interesting threads — the knotty but necessary data dumps of exposition, the constant moving from here to there and back again — and hide them, elegantly, like doves inside a royal wedding cake. There was a bracing sense of forward momentum this season, even when the action stayed put. Think of the way King’s Landing has curdled before our very eyes, from the pomp of Joffrey’s lavish wedding day to the grim circumstance of Tyrion’s trial. (It’s no coincidence that we haven’t seen a Tyrell lady in weeks — flowers wilt quickly in hell.) Pedro Pascal’s electric performance — and more precisely, the way it was utilized — gave doomed Prince Oberyn the dignity of a complete, considered arc even though the character never once set foot outside the Red Keep. As adapters of such an enormous and enormously beloved work, Benioff and Weiss have always had all the ingredients for greatness, but now, at last, they know exactly how to deploy them. It’s the difference between smart shopping and gourmet cooking.

Yes, Theon (or what’s left of him, anyway) was still hanging around, but did you notice the way he never appeared in an episode without a heaping helping of Lannisters nearby to cleanse the palate? The way even the most egregiously ugly scenes, such as the drain-circling, skull-chugging nightmare at Craster’s Keep, were joined with eye-opening bits of world-expanding wonder? (Without Craster’s last kid, we don’t get the long, icy walk to Edgar Winter’s private stonehenge.) And so many long-trapped characters were finally loosed into new surroundings — Sansa, Jorah, Podrick, Davos — that Daenerys’s season-long retrenchment had the space to be interesting instead of dull. The world of Game of Thrones is no smaller — if anything, it’s bigger, with Bran ghost-riding Hodor completely off the map and Stannis seeking loans from an institution only dedicated book readers knew existed. But the characters are increasingly tripping over each other’s tracks, and the sense of urgency that traveled south with Ned Stark has, at last, infected all corners of the globe. As a result, this far-flung story now feels more tightly wound than ever. The beating of a dragon’s wing in Essos resonates like a hurricane an ocean away.

On Sunday, Game of Thrones’s best season will end with an episode called “The Children.” (The title could refer to the Stark sisters at the Eyrie or Dany’s scaly kids in Meereen. I’m hoping it focuses on those lovable, loathable Lannisters.) I’m eagerly anticipating something big, but what’s even more gratifying is that I’m fully expecting something great. This was more than just a well-told chapter in a story, it was an expertly made and executed — no Tyrion spoilers, please — season of television. How many shows round the turn into their fifth year with the lightness and momentum of a fresh start? If George R.R. Martin’s words are indeed wind, then David Benioff and D.B. Weiss are walking on air. Here’s hoping they can keep it up.

I concur and btw seasons 1 and 2 are worth rewatching now that you've seen season 4.

Mr. Martin, please don't let Samwell Tarley die a virgin.  

Sam will be fine. GRRM has a soft spot for fat characters (see also: HotPie, Hodor).

Another reason Sam won't die: He promised Lord Commander in season 3 he wouldn't.

Lord Commander Mormont meme Sam Tarly listened Imgur

In the books:

As he lies dying he asks Sam to send word to Jorah Mormont, his dying wish being to forgive his son of his crimes and let him come home to take the black, relieving him of his exile.

Reddit comments:

Also relevant: When Lord Commander Mormont gives his Valyrian sword to Jon Snow in season 1.

This is freaking fantastic: Who’s Going to Get the Final Shot of the Season?

Emily Yoshida: DISCLAIMER: I have not read the books. I have no idea what’s coming. But even if I had read the books, I still wouldn’t know who gets that all-important final shot of the season. This is more a question of sequencing and good old-fashioned cliffhangers than plot mechanics. First, let’s just do a quick, objectively correct ranking of the three final shots that have come before, which conveniently go in chronological order.

1. Season 1

daenerys dragon gif game of thrones season 1 finale imgur

Key players: Daenerys Stormborn, of House Targaryen, Mother of Dragons, the Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, the Unburnt, Daenerys Targaryen.

Revelation: There are dragons on this television show now.

Music: Choral, triumphant, Lion King–esque

Mood: Whoa!

2. Season 2

Sam zombies gif game of thrones season 2 finale imgur

Key players: Samwell Tarly, a bunch of zombies

Revelation: That’s a lot of zombies!

Music: Dirgelike, atonal rendition of GoT theme

Mood: Oh no!

3. Season 3

daenerys mhysa gif game of thrones season 1 finale imgur

Key players: Daenerys Stormborn, of House Targaryen. Rightful heir to the Iron Throne; Queen of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros, the Rhoynar, and the First Men; Mother of Dragons; the Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea; the Unburnt; and Breaker of Chains.

Revelation: They like her, they really like her!

Music: Lion King–esque Daenerys theme paired with triumphant GoTtheme

Mood: Celebratory, racially problematic

Now, allow me to observe a pattern in only three terms. On the most basic level, we’ve gone happy-sad-happy, which means we’re due for a sad one this season. This seems crazy, as it has already been a pretty bleak season, and another Daenerys victory lap would be welcome at this point. But I think the Mother of Dragons must wait her turn, especially since she’s not at a very victory-lapping place in her career right now.

Now, the Khaleesi-Walkers-Khaleesi pattern also probably rules out another Dany finale, but I don’t think it necessarily points to a Walkers-centric cliffhanger. We just spent a lot of time at the Wall. I think we’re pretty Walled out. Besides, what new shocking thing can the Walkers do at this point, besides walk a little closer? I think the only way we get a Walker-centric final scene is if one pops up in King’s Landing out of the blue. Do NOT tell me if this actually happens! I am just spitballing here! This no-books all-science process is more like making a mix CD than anything else. You can’t have two Smog tracks that close to each other.

We should also note that the episode titles of the last three finales have all vaguely pertained to the final scene. “Fire and Blood” = Targaryen house words, dragons; “Valar Morghulis” = all men must die, dead guys, zombies; “Mhysa” = the rallying cry of crowd-surfing angel Dany. This season’s finale is called “The Children.” 

My money, and I would actually be interested in putting some down if anyone were willing to take me up on this, is that (1) Bran and/or the Wonder Twins get the final shot, (2) it will be in the cool/”whoa” mood range (breaking pattern, because this season needs it), (3) there will be NO MUSIC (wild guess to make things fun), and, fingers crossed, (4) it makes us care about that plotline.

Good guess, but I think she's wrong.

She's close, though.

They essentially need to outdo the ending of S4E4 when Craster's boy is turned into a White Walker.

Otherwise that could have been the final scene of the season.

We haven't seen the White Walkers since.

I think we end with a zombie.

I agree that it will be a WHOA. 

S4E10 ending song -- with fade to black at 0:34 ...

Reddit comments might have a spoiler so beware:

Won't know for sure till tomorrow.

And I love this:

Jon Snow paper fortune teller meme Ygritte you know nothing Jon Snow Imgur

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