Grace Dent on TV: Game of Thrones season 4 felt like being trapped in the world’s worst Center Parcs

This series has had its plodding and problematic moments
  • @gracedent

So, another season of Game of Thrones done and dusted. Hang on, is it “series” or “season” for Game of Thrones? I can’t quite choose the requisite term for a universal TV hit, funded by Americans, filmed in Croatia, staffed by ex-Hollyoaks, Skins and London’s Burning cast members, taking place in a fantasy kingdom whose citizens live in fear of a forthcoming winterland zombie Armageddon.

I think I’ll go with “season”, because there is something distinctly American about the amount of money lavished on a typical hour of Westeros. Those mammoths, giants and mass corpse burnings don’t fund themselves.

If the BBC made Game of Thrones, it would all be filmed in various National Trust buildings and after-hours at Longleat Safari Park and three quarters of the budget would go on a terrible wig for Joanne Froggatt to emote in. It would have been, and I’ll search again for the correct television critic jargon here, “total crap”.

Game of Thrones: Most memorable moments from season 4

Still, despite season four ending with a glorious hour of televisual splendour – Tywin murdered, dragons gone wild, Jon Snow cremating Ygritte, Brienne of Tarth kicked in the vagina nine times before biting off the Hound’s one good ear – this series has had its plodding and problematic moments. Hodor and Bran’s terrible potholing and orienteering mini-break with Jojen and Meera Reed has been a long, rather abstract affair. It’s been an entire season trapped in the world’s worst Center Parc. I cheered when zombie skeletons killed the one from Love Actually.

The wonderful Cersei Lannister – queen of the pithy one-liner – has spent an entire season in deepest umbrage about her forthcoming forced marriage to Loras Tyrell. One might think that this is the perfect arrangement: Loras is gay, Cersei has been shagging her brother Jaime for years. Cersei’s strop continued despite Jaime – thought to be dead –  returning from battle. I fail to believe that drab Cersei has been mourning the death of her son King Joffrey. Never before has one child slowly choking on his own vomit and curdled entrails until his eyes seep blood been so welcomed.

Daenerys Targaryen’s role in season four has been similarly low-key, having discovered the immortal truth that with great power comes a ton of tedious admin. She’s freed all the slaves in Astapor and given them back the gift of free will and leisure time, which they’re using to turn her court into a sort of medieval Marks and Spencer customer services desk-cum-Citizens Advice Bureau. It’s all, “My neighbour’s stolen my goat” and “My land is too sandy, I can’t grow onions” and “Boo-hoo, your dragon’s flame grilled my toddler.” I miss Khal Drogo. I miss Qarth. Daenerys is currently going through her Michael Jackson and Bubbles stage with her dragon children. Sure, it was cute at first, but now one’s just living with an ungrateful lumbering teenager who would gleefully use your head as a novelty fun-chew.

This has been a gore-filled season. So much so that I’ve found myself putting off watching episodes as my residual gloom makes it feel like a chore. I maintain that Ramsay Bolton shooting a girl in the face with a crossbow and setting hounds on her while his girlfriend humped his leg, wild with blood-lust, was unnecessary. The Ramsay/Reek storyline is about as cheering as an afternoon in a darkened room watching The Human Centipede. We also watched Prince Oberyn Martell have both his eyes gouged out and his head crushed to a consistency of a Strawberry/Banana Innocent Smoothie. The gore wasn’t as gratuitous as this in previous series. This week’s final episode was relatively blood and guts free – despite hundreds of deaths – and was stronger for it.

GoT-2.jpgOddly, this season did feel less sexy, which is a shame as I’m not big on entrails and garrotting, but the smut was always diverting. It felt like Prince Oberyn and his missus turned up and did everyone’s share of the shagging, made hay while the sun shone, before he quickly lost his head.

I laughed at the Benny Hill aspect of the tavern scene in Mole’s Town, where Gilly hid with her baby in a pub full of topless Rada alumna shouting the C-word, jiggling their nipples in the faces of the punters. It was exactly as if the writers had noticed the season’s dire nipple count and stuffed a sorority of nudists into episode eight.

'What an actress 17-year-old Maisie Williams is'

Regardless, the closing episode was a masterpiece. The Hound crying out to be killed as Arya sauntered off, denying him this respect. Arya’s hollow-eyed expression throughout this episode was wonderful. What an actress 17-year-old Maisie Williams is. Tyrion killed Tywin and fled the kingdom. Cersei and Jaime are back “on”. Stannis Baratheon and the Red Witch have reached The Wall, mob handed and drunk on their own self-belief. “If my father had seen the things I’ve seen, he’d tell you to burn those  bodies,” said Jon Snow to Stannis in the closing scenes of episode 10. Stannis didn’t seem wholly sure why.

The greatest thing about Game of Thrones is that the viewer knows, almost, everything. From the opening of season one, episode one, we knew what was truly meant by “Winter is coming”.

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