Around the Water Cooler: “Game of Thrones,” the Season 4 Recap (MAJOR SPOILERS)

THE SPECS:

Who:  “Game of Thrones,” aired on premium cable TV, specifically on HBO, Spring Sundays at 9:00 PM.

What: “Game of Thrones” is a fantasy drama based on the series of novels entitled A Song of Ice and Fire, by George R. R. Martin, which tells the tale of the land of Westeros and the various families and factions vying for the Iron Throne, i.e. rule of all of the seven kingdoms in a world of magic, dragons, swordplay, and death (for a more detailed Synopsis, read here).

When: The season finale aired on HBO, Sunday, June 15, 2014, at 9:00 PM.

Where: The show is set the fictional land of Westeros, a world that could be Europe, could be Middle Earth, or could be most fantasy/epic realms.  Westeros is divided into Seven Kingdoms, but rule of all kingdoms hails from the Iron Throne, in King’s Landing.  The show follows key characters across most realms.

Why: A friend basically said I had to watch it and for good reason.  I gravitate toward fantasy and science fiction most frequently; fantasy is also my favorite genre to read.  I haven’t read Martin’s currently-in-progress series, which has become something of a cultural watershed not unlike the Harry Potter novels, though I plan to do so.  Anything with magic and dragons and elaborate fictional worlds is going to appeal to me, considering my favorite books of all time are The Lord of the Rings series.  Thus, an obsession with Game of Thrones was born.

How – as in How Was It? – THOUGHTS

The fourth season of Game of Thrones covered the second half of the third book in Martin’s series, entitled “A Storm of Swords.”  As such, the slower third season paved the way for a stellar fourth season with increased action, tension, and an overall higher body count on a show – hailing from a series of novels – where stakes are high, and no one is safe.  After all, this is the story in which one of the popular, honorable hero types, Ned Stark, died in the first season/book.  Martin has created a violent, dangerous world where people fight to survive.  As a result, the characters are rarely happy, but that’s an acceptable subtext of the story, because the characters are depicted so richly and with so many layers, they are simply fascinating to watch.

This season, key figures met their demise, and everything changed for so many beloved characters. Following the third season finale, which covered the “Red Wedding,” in which Catelyn and Robb Stark and much of the host of the latter’s army were brutally slaughtered, many other characters were picking up pieces and attempting to forage new directions.  At the same time, House Lannister and all of the dysfunction culled by patriarch Tywin simmered and boiled, reaching an explosive popping point by the fourth season finale.  What’s more, Stannis Baratheon has begun his campaign to claim the Iron Throne in earnest, as he believes he is the rightful heir to the throne following brother Robert’s death (and with common knowledge that Cersei and Robert’s children were not in fact Robert’s but her twin brother Jaime’s, given their incestuous relationship), and Daenarys Targaryen, across the sea, is creating a kingdom of her own and practicing at being a queen – and finding it more difficult than she would have anticipated.  Castle Black and the Northern Wall are attacked by the Wild Northmen, and side characters provided some deliciously interesting scenes, including an epic battle between Brienne of Tarth and The Hound.

For the record, the horses I back are Dany, Tyrion Lannister, Arya Stark, and Jon Snow.  I may speak of them with more affection, but all of the rich and riveting characters progressed dramatically this season.

Let’s examine the various characters’ journeys this season.  Because this is Game of Thrones, however, we’ll do it by house.

House Greyjoy/House Bolton – Theon (Alfie Allen) is no more

Theon Greyjoy, once a ward of Winterfell and a friend to Robb Stark and Jon Snow, has been reduced to tortured ash by Ramsay Snow, now Ramsay Bolton, who captured Theon in the third season and tortured him into submission, dismembering him, castrating him, and forcing Theon to call himself “Reek.”  Now, Theon/Reek has a healthy case of Stockholm Syndrome, wishing only to please Ramsay, as the threat of violence and torture led Theon to subjugate his identity.  Indeed, when his sister attempts to rescue him mid-season, Theon fights against her, proclaiming, “I am Reek!” and leading her to forsake him forever.  As it turns out, Ramsay’s master plan was to please his father, Lord Roose Bolton, by brainwashing Theon into becoming a patsy and false ally. Ramsay instructs Theon to assume his former name, which allows Ramsay and the Bolton forces to peaceably overtake neighboring lands and build the Bolton holdings based on a perceived alliance with the seafaring Greyjoys using Theon as their false representative. Ramsay is the only surviving son of Lord Roose, but he is a bastard and has been treated as such all his life.  When his father witnesses the fruition of the plan to brainwash Theon, a plan initially distasteful to him (though he allowed it to continue), Lord Roose finally accepts his son publicly, and Ramsay Snow becomes Ramsay Bolton. Unfortunately, the man known as Theon Greyjoy is no more.

House Targaryen – Daenarys (Emilia Clarke) becomes queen across the sea

Dany and her trusted advisers, including Ser Jorah (Iain Glen), continued their march through the Slavers’ Cities across the Dothraki Sea, with her legions of Unsullied (castrated boy soldiers) at her command, which she obtained at the end of the third season, and her now two dragons becoming bigger and wilder with each passing day.  Dany pushes forward with her mission to free the slaves in several of the Slaver cities, including Astapor, Meereen, and Yunkai, but she discovers, as she marches toward the west, that the slave-masters readily renege on their treaties, and that she is unable to sustain the peace and freedom she hoped to bring to all slaves in these cities over an extended period.  Ser Jorah and her other adviser do their best to provide their input, until a sell-sword from Yunkai joins her camp.  After a brief fling in bed, and a bout or two in which he proves his ability to fight for Dany’s honor and loyalty, he reveals that he is from King’s Landing. He also informs Dany that Ser Jorah accompanied her to begin with, when she was initially betrothed and married to Khal Drogo, so that Jorah may apprise then-King Robert Baratheon of the goings-on of the last remaining Targaryens, the rulers he disposed to attain the throne, despite their legacy as dragon-masters. The sell-sword reveals that Ser Jorah has been sending communications to Lord Varys, the spymaster of King’s Landing.  Dany, upon learning of these truths about both her lover and her most trusted friend, who also loves her and has confessed his deep feelings for her, sends them both away, the former of which is on an errand that may very well result in his death. In the meantime, she hears the entreaties of her new subjects and learns that simply freeing slaves across Slaver’s Bay is not enough to maintain order.  What’s more, her dragons have taken to killing people with abandon for food.  By the season finale, Dany, a cautious queen, elects to lock her dragons away, which causes them to cry, though one of her three dragons, Drogon, was sold to a slave-master in exchange for the Unsullied forces.  Dany clearly suspects that Drogon has been unleashed to undermine her precarious hold over Slaver’s Bay, and she orders her captains to seek him out.

House Stark, and by extension, House Arryn and Castle Black

With Catelyn and Robb’s deaths in season three, the remaining Stark children are: Jon Snow (Ned’s bastard), Sansa Stark, Arya Stark, Brandon Stark, and Rickon Stark.  The youngest, Rickon, was not followed this season, having been accompanied by Wildling Osha to safety as Bran and his companions set out for the north.

For the purposes of this summary, I’ll start with the youngest.

Brandon Stark

Bran (Isaac Hempstead Wright), along with Jojen and his sister as well as Hodor the Giant (Kristian Nairn), continued to travel north toward the Wall, determined to find the white tree and the source of the three-eyed raven of Jojen and Bran’s visions.  This season, Bran’s power of possession evolved and grew – he was able to possess Hodor, for example, while Jojen’s visions grew stronger.  At one point, Bran nearly missed his brother Jon when knights of Castle Black finally descended upon Crastor’s Keep, the slovenly brothel where Sam met Gilly, and burned it to the ground, after Bran and his companions attempted to seek shelter there.  In fact, it was at Crastor’s Keep that Bran discovered he could possess more than birds and dire-wolves – he took possession of Hodor and led him into battle against Crastor’s men.  He managed to crawl to safety, just as Jon and his legion of Night’s Watch men arrived, slaughtering Crastor and his men and burning the Keep to the ground, as his various women – including daughters, wives, and daughter-wives – resolved to settle elsewhere.  Bran wanted to cry out to his brother, but Jojen convinced him that his purpose was to go north without delay. By the end of the season, Bran and his companions reached the White Tree near the Northern Wall, but as they attempted to figure out what to do next, they were attacked by wights, most of which were resurrected dead of the north. Jojen met his demise when a wight got the better of him; his sister finished the job at her brother’s urging that she do everything to protect Bran, having seen his own death in visions.  Bran even possessed Hodor for a time, but they were escorted to safety by a faerie like creature, who brought them into a cave protected magically from the wights.  There, Bran met an old man on a throne of bones, in a chamber littered with the remains of the dead.  Bran recognized the man to be the three-eyed raven, who informed him that he had been watching Bran and the other children all their lives.  Who he is or what his purpose may be will most likely be revealed next season.

Arya Stark

Arya (Maisie Williams), who was captured by Sandor “The Hound” Clegane (Rory McCann) in season three, was listless, for she discovered, when The Hound attempted to return her to her mother, Catelyn, that her mother and her brother Robb had been killed in cold blood at the wedding of a proposed ally. Arya’s revenge list grew, as The Hound decided to change his plan and make for the Vale of Arryn, where Arya’s aunt Lysa, Catelyn’s sister, currently resides.  Their journey takes them across the northern country, with The Hound’s uncouth and direct lack of manners prevailing in some situations in which finesse is needed and is taught by noble-born Arya.  At one point, while she and The Hound seek shelter and food at an inn, they encounter the men who initially enslaved her, men with whom she hid to escape King’s Landing following the death of her father.  In lieu of the aggression of The Hound and Arya’s own sense of vengeance, she struck first blood and was able to reclaim her sword, Needle, which they had confiscated from her all those weeks ago. The Hound later reveals the story of how his face came to be burned to Arya at one point, though Arya includes The Hound in her regularly recited list of revenge hits.  It’s clear that there is an uneasy comfort if not exactly a fondness forming between the two.

By the end of the season, Arya and The Hound, not far from the Vale, encounter Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) and Squire Podrick Payne (Daniel Portman), who was assigned to Brienne by Jaime Lannister upon Tyrion Lannister’s imprisonment for his alleged poisoning of King Joffrey Baratheon. Brienne set out from King’s Landing, after returning Jaime there at Catelyn Stark’s orders, in order to fulfill her promise to Catelyn, i.e. that she would find Catelyn’s daughters and return them to Winterfell.  Brienne realizes that the young girl is Arya after they exchange surprisingly similar background stories of being females who want to do male things, such as fight with swords.  The Hound, not about to give up his possible source of ransom money, fights with Brienne in a sweaty battle.  The homely female knight topples the lumbering Hound over a bluff, emerging victorious, but Arya sneaks away from the battle and finds the battered shell of The Hound on the side of the bluff, begging for a quick death. Arya watches him a moment, stoically listening to his pleas for something akin to mercy, and decides to take his money and walk away, not granting his wished for demise.  She finds a horse and rides to the seashore, securing passage aboard a seagoing vessel, while The Hound’s fate hangs in the balance.  In the meantime, Brienne calls out to Arya, receiving no answer.

Sansa Stark

Sansa (Sophie Turner), after her forced marriage to Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) in the third season, finds herself clinging to any scrap of peace she can manage to attain in the ever hostile environs of King’s Landing.  Though Tyrion is respectful of her, allowing her to forego consummating their marriage and genuinely sympathetic when they learn of her mother and brother’s deaths, Sansa is loathe to love the dwarf. Things come to a surprising head during the wedding of King Joffrey Baratheon (Jack Gleeson) to Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer).  Joffrey is poisoned and dies at his “purple wedding.”

Fearing for her safety, the King’s Landing fool whisks her away to meet with Lord Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish (Aidan Gillen), who has resolved to remove Sansa from King’s Landing once and for all, in honor and memory of her mother Catelyn, for whom he confessed his undying love. Littlefinger sails Sansa to the Vale of Arryn, to be cared for by her Aunt Lysa, also Littlefinger’s paramour.  It seems, however, that Lysa is legitimately crazy and beyond jealous and protective of her love of Baelish, who she coveted even when she was married to her deceased husband.  She rushes their marriage and reveals that it was she who ordered the death of the Hand of King Robert Baratheon, the occurrence that ignited the events of the series (and books) and started this whole violent Game of Thrones to begin with, and all at Littlefinger’s manipulative behest, as she pandered for his love.

In addition, she threatens her niece to stay away from Littlefinger, while simultaneously exhibiting open jealousy of Sansa’s beauty.  It is all the worse when Littlefinger steals a kiss from Sansa in the Vale courtyard, which Lysa sees from a distance.  Lysa finds Sansa by the Moon Door in the throne room and nearly tosses her to the precipices below, but Littlefinger discovers the scene and intervenes, forcibly pushing Lysa through the door instead. Though an inquisition is convened, Sansa lies (to an extent) for Lord Baelish’s sake, backing the “evil she knows” as opposed to the people of the Vale, who she does not know.  In the meantime, Lord Baelish encourages the inquisition council to train Lysa’s stunted son (who was breastfed well past infancy) in the ways of war, so that he might make a claim to the Iron Throne.  It seems that Littlefinger’s bid for power may be the most formidable, even as it is the most sneaky and underhanded. Sansa, in the meantime, seems minimally relieved that she is safe from both the reach of King’s Landing and her crazy Aunt Lysa.

Jon Snow

Jon Snow (Kit Harington) returned from his time in the Wild North and his sharing of beds with Wildling Ygritte (Rose Leslie) a pariah of the Night’s Watch, despite Jon’s warnings that the Wildlings are marching upon the Wall with a force of 100,000, including cannibals and giants.  He spends most of the season looking after Sam (John Bradley), who frets over the safety of Gilly, one of Crastor’s daughters and his secret love. Sam tries to stow Gilly at a nearby brothel, but the Wildlings march on the border settlements, killing everyone and destroying everything they find. Jon also attempts to make differences where and when he can.  He proposes to the masters of the Night’s Watch that he and a select party of men eliminate Crastor’s Keep, and they burn it to the ground.  Unfortunately, Jon misses his brother Bran, watching from a distance.

In the meantime, though Ygritte continually opines to her father that she has no other intention but to murder Jon Snow should she encounter him, it is clear that she loves him, and he her.  In an epic battle in the ninth episode, the Wildling army reaches the Wall and attacks it.  The Night’s Watch is decimated, but they hold the Wall, and most of the Watch’s leaders are killed in the fracas.  In addition, Ygritte, who hesitates to put an arrow through Jon’s heart, meets her own demise by the hand of a young squire eager to earn his mantle of Night’s Watchman.  She dies in Jon’s arms, uttering her famous tag line, “You know nothing, Jon Snow.”

In the final episode, knowing that the Night’s Watch is vastly outnumbered, Jon takes it upon himself to enter the Wildling camp and request parlay with their new chief.  While they jockey over honesty, the Wilding leader reminding Jon that the Wildlings want the tunnel under the Wall in order to escape the invading winter and the arrival of the White Walkers, the army of Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane) marches into the Wildling’s territory and slashes several of their company to death.  Stannis demands that the Wildling chief kneel to his rule, but when Jon reveals that he is Ned Stark’s son, Stannis asks how the honorable Ned Stark would treat the chief, who refuses to kneel to the alleged king.  Jon encourages Stannis to take the chief prisoner, and he watches as Stannis’ army capture Wildling forces and storm upon the Wall.

House Baratheon – Stannis puts his money where his mouth is

Stannis Baratheon, having amassed enough loyal followers and with the backing of sorceress Melisandre, begins his march toward King’s Landing.  He starts with the Bank of Westeros, demanding funds to support his claim to the throne.  He eventually reaches Castle Black, as noted above, and claims the Wildling survivors as his conquest.  In the meantime, Melisandre reveals a few secrets about her tricks and sorcery to Stannis’ wife, who might be as in love with her as Stannis is.

House Lannister and, by extension, House Tyrell and the Prince of Dorn – Their ongoing dysfunction finally rips them apart

This House garnered the most focus this season, as the Lannisters finally imploded.  For this, I will simply discuss the family at large.

The season begins with the pending nuptials of Joffrey and Margaery, while Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance) also promises that Queen Regent and daughter Cersei (Lena Headey) will marry Margaery’s brother Loras.  Margaery is an ambitious girl and is only too willing to put up with sadistic and misogynistic Joffrey as long as she becomes queen in the process, while Joffrey sees every opportunity to ridicule both Sansa and his Uncle Tyrion and abuses it.  This ridicule boils to a head during his”purple wedding” to Margaery, when Joffrey commissions a troupe of clownish dwarfs to parody the death of Ned Stark, before the appalled eyes of Sansa, Tyrion, Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), and the Tyrells, though Tywin and Cersei seem to take some pleasure from the despicable mockery.

Tyrion, never one to back down from a fight, exchanges words with his big-for-his-britches nephew-king, but Joffrey’s life hangs in the balance, as he is poisoned and dies in his mother’s arms.  Though Grandmother Tyrell later admits in private to her granddaughter Margaery that she poisoned Joffrey’s wine in order to spare her granddaughter a lifetime with the little monster, Cersei immediately blames Tyrion, having always hated him for causing their mother to die in childbirth while having the young dwarf, and in light of Tyrion’s obvious, if justified, rancor toward Joffrey. Tyrion is immediately imprisoned, awaiting trial, while Joffrey is interred at a sept.

It should be noted that Cersei also fights her father’s proposed betrothal to Loras at every opportunity, given Jaime’s return, though she initially rebuffs her lustful brother’s advances, preferring to blame him for abandoning her, despite the fact that he had been captured by Robb Stark’s forces. In fact, Brienne of Tarth escorted Jaime to King’s Landing at Catelyn Stark’s request, and their journey was not without trial, as the third season demonstrated.  In return, Jaime gives Brienne a rare Valerian steel sword, which she named Oathkeeper, and a mail shirt of the same make.  Despite their obvious sexual tension, Brienne resolves to continue looking for the Stark daughters, while Jaime is fitted with a gold hand in replacement of the one he lost.

While Joffrey is interred, Jaime finds Cersei weeping over the corpse.  In this moment, she finally openly admits that Joffrey is their son.  Jaime responds by forcing himself on her near the corpse of their dead incest baby.  Game of Thrones pulls no punches, after all.

In the meantime, Tommen, the next Cersei/Robert progeny (also an incest baby of Jaime and Cersei’s, though with a far nicer temperament) is crowned king.  Tywin reappoints himself King’s Hand and begins advising his far more amenable grandson Tommen, while Margaery begins to flirt with the pre-teen in order to ensure the Lannister/Tyrell alliance will remain firm.  Of course, Tywin later admits to Cersei that the Lannisters need this union more than the Tyrells because all of the Lannisters’ warring and extravagance has left them something shy of broke.

Also noteworthy: the visit of Prince Oberyn of Dorn, who appears for Joffrey’s wedding, though he holds a fierce grudge against the Lannisters for the death of his sister.  He is bisexual, promiscuous, and utterly undeterred by the customs of King’s Landing, which vastly differ from his Dornish philandering.  Tyrion tries to make friends, but Oberyn is interested only in vengeance, if he can obtain it.  Oberyn is appointed to the committee judging Tyrion’s trial, along with Tywin and Lord Tyrell.

Tyrion’s trial is a circus.  Before the Throne, several testify against Tyrion, including Lord Varys, who shares some of Tyrion’s darkest comments against his sister and her son, and Shae (Sibel Kikilli), the whore with whom he fell in love, who lies on the stand, painting a picture of Tyrion’s (false) vocal plot to kill Joffrey. Despite Jaime’s efforts to encourage Tyrion to accept a plea that would land him at the Night’s Watch but allow him to stay alive, given Jaime’s soft spot for his little brother, Tyrion spits out a triumphant speech, lambasting his father and sister for putting him on trial for nothing more than being a dwarf and confessing that though he hated Joffrey, he did not kill him, and neither did his wife, Sansa, who would stand accused if she could be found.  Tyrion demands trial by combat, which involves champions fighting on behalf of the accused and accuser to the death.  The victor and the death of the losing party determines the verdict – if the champion of the accused wins, s/he is found not guilty.

Cersei secures the services of the Mountain, a half-giant with the strength of many men.  Tyrion, though initially at a loss of the friends he thought he had, finds a champion in Oberyn, who recalls a story in which, while on a visit to King’s Landing, child Cersei ridiculed infant Tyrion in Oberyn’s presence, openly proclaiming hope for Tyrion’s death in light of the fact that he “killed” their mother.  Because Oberyn also sought revenge against the Lannisters and the Mountain, who killed his sister, he vows to fight for Tyrion.

Side note: Bronn, Tyrion’s friend, attempts to train Jaime to sword fight with his left hand but refuses to be Tyrion’s champion after becoming betrothed to marry a noblewoman.  Tyrion does not begrudge the loss of this friend.

The bout between Mountain and Oberyn is intense and impressive as well as gory.  Though it looks as though Oberyn is about to best the Mountain, the latter achieves a second wind and crushes Oberyn’s skull with his bare hands.  Gross.

Cersei is triumphant, finally achieving the sought for execution of her younger brother.  She is so high on this victory that she tells her father she refuses to marry Loras.  She also confesses the unthinkable, about which Tywin has always lived in denial: the children Baratheon are really Lannisters, the product of the forbidden love between her and Jaime.  Tywin revolts reflexively in denial and disgust; Cersei declares that she wants nothing more than to remain by Tommen’s side and to stay with Jaime, though Tywin seeks for Jaime to preside over the Lannisters’ holdings at Casterly Rock.  While Jaime makes out with his sister in agreement (ew), his conscience and love of his brother get the better of him.  He arranges for Tyrion’s escape and personally escorts him from his cell, urging his little brother to flee for the docks, where Lord Varys awaits his arrival.

Yet, Tyrion does not choose to leave so easily.  He wants instead to confront his father.  First, he sneaks to Tywin’s bedchambers, where he finds Shae curled up in Tywin’s bed, purring, “Is that you, my Lion?” the same nickname she used for Tyrion when they were having sex.  Beyond hurt and betrayed, Tyrion pounces, professing that he loved her, but it seems her feelings for him were an act concocted by his scheming father. He responds by strangling her.

Next, he finds father Tywin, in the privy.  Tywin assures Tyrion that he would never have allowed Tyrion to die, proclaiming him a “Lannister.”  Tyrion confesses that he loved Shae, and that he killed her.  Tywin asks if Jaime let Tyrion out his cell, given his soft spot for Tyrion, and wonders aloud what Tyrion means to do. Tywin repeatedly asks that they speak in less baseless circumstances, but Tyrion means business.  He recounts the history between him and his father, the irony being that of all the Lannisters, Tyrion and his own scheming was more like his father than the temperaments and actions of his older siblings, including golden brother Jaime.  When Tyrion renounces his father, and Tywin, in turn, replies, “You’re no Lannister!” Tyrion, a crossbow poised toward Tywin’s gullet, lets loose the arrow, killing his father on the toilet.  “No, father.  I’ve always been your son,” he says, before pulling the trigger in a haze of rage.

Tyrion then finds Lord Varys at the nearby docks, who stows him away in a crate, which is loaded onto a seagoing ship.  As the bells in King’s Landing ring, signifying the new deaths, Lord Varys resolves to commit to his state of being an accessory and boards the ship, remaining protectively close to Tyrion’s crate.

And so the season ends.  Wow.  Since I haven’t read the books: wow.

In The End

This was the best season of Game of Thrones to date.  Between the battles, including the awesome arrival of wights, the Return of the King like staging of the Wildling assault of the Wall, and the high body count (GOOD RIDDANCE, JOFFREY!), this was an action-packed season that was as well performed as it was well written.  This viewer cannot wait a whole other year until season five premieres – because, of course, GoT has been renewed.  While some of the lesser battles were clunky and possibly superfluous, not a moment of this season felt out of place or like filler, as each of the major characters evolved in major strides toward unknown fates.

Questions, Impressions, and Future Considerations

1) How is it that Bran has these powers?  Who is that dead looking guy on that throne?  What are these beings in this macabre cave?  And how will their story intersect with the rest?

2) Where is Arya going?

3) When is Dany going to sail for King’s Landing?  How long is she going to remain in Slaver’s Bay?  And will she be able to find Drogon and control him?

4) Why do we care about Ramsay Snow/Bolton, other than the fact that he completely screwed up Theon?

5) What is Littlefinger going to do with Sansa?  Is he expecting to make her the new Catelyn?

6) Where will Tyrion end up, and how will he survive?  Will there be a manhunt commissioned by Cersei? How will King’s Landing be affected by the loss of Tywin Lannister?

7) Will Tyrion ever find Sansa again?

8) Why did Stannis march toward the Night’s Watch first?

9) Is Jon Snow going to fight for Stannis?  What will he do in light of this new development?

10) Is the Night’s Watch something that still exists at this point?

11) Where are those pesky White Walkers?

12) Where did Ser Jorah go?

13) Can Melisandre die?  For that matter, can Cersei?

14) Where did Rickon go?!  I know he’s but a babe, but he’s lost or something.

15) Will Brienne ever find Arya again?  Or, will she make for the Vale and Sansa?  Or, will she finally acknowledge her love of Jaime and turn back toward King’s Landing?

PARTING SHOTS:

Game of Thrones is simply one of the most exciting programs on television right now, and the fact that the show is keeping pace with the books is admirable in and of itself.  Though each episode metes out a fraction of story for most of the major point-of-view characters, a majority of the episodes are fraught with tension and grand spectacle, with excellent visual effects, stellar writing and pacing, and some of the most superb acting currently on the small screen.  If Peter Dinklage does not win an Emmy for his performance this year, alone, this viewer will cry shenanigans.  Honestly, this is probably my favorite show right now, other than Doctor Who.

LOOKING AHEAD:

Game of Thrones was renewed for a fifth season slated to premiere in spring 2015.  Until then, Game of Thrones fans, remember: you play, or you die.

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Around the Water Cooler: “The Crazy Ones” – Officially Canceled + Series Summary (SPOILERS)

THE SPECS:

Who:  “The Crazy Ones.” aired on network TV this past season, specifically on CBS, Thursdays at 9:00 PM.

What: “The Crazy Ones,” a situation comedy created by David E. Kelley (The Practice, Boston Legal) centered on a woman and her father who work for the same advertising agency and attempt to stay fresh and afloat in today’s corporate environment.

SYNOPSIS

Robin Williams plays Simon Roberts, the owner and president of an advertising agency, who is facing the unique challenges of being further along in his career and wondering if he’s still got the creative spark and no-holds-barred ambition of his younger days.  Working alongside him as the agency’s creative director is his daughter Sydney (Sarah Michelle Gellar), who must reign in her crazy dad while attempting to prove to him that she’s got what it takes to work in the business.

When: The series finale aired on CBS, Thursday, April 17, 2014, at 9:30 PM.

Where: The show is set in Chicago, Illinois, at the main characters’ fictional advertising agency, Roberts & Roberts.

Why: Robin Williams has returned to TV for the first time since his days as Mork from Ork!  I still find that man beyond funny; he’s a comedic genius, with a mind quicker than most and a comedic courage that surpasses many of his peers.  I would love to meet this man; that’s how much of a fan of his that I am. What’s more – who’s playing his daughter?  None other than BUFFY HERSELF – Sarah Michelle Gellar, trying her hand at a sitcom after her previous series, The CW’s Ringer, was canceled due to poor ratings.  We know she can be funny because she delivered Joss Whedon’s and the other Buffy writers’ witty dialogue with panache. The real question is how these two consummate professionals mix together.

How – as in How’s It Going? (Thoughts)

As the primary TV viewing season rounds to a close and as new season schedules are announced by the networks, they have been making sweeping and swift final decisions regarding what stays and what goes, i.e. what is renewed for another season and what is canceled.  Because the purpose of this blog is to be more editorial about particular shows this viewer watches rather than a major entertainment news outlet to report scoops, spoilers, and other television-related sound bytes (for now), this blogger will report the cancellations and reviews as I have time to write about them.

CBS, approximately three weeks ago, canceled The Crazy Ones, among others. This viewer awarded this program’s pilot the only 5 star rating of the new pilots watched this season, meaning I loved the show from the start.  The review of the pilot can be read here.

To be honest, I’m not sure what happened.  Most entertainment watchdog rags are suggesting that The Crazy Ones suffered from softer ratings and mixed critic reception, which is really too bad.  While this viewer would argue that the show failed to take any of the sorts of risks that the main character Simon, played by Williams, frequently advocated for his daughter, friends, and staff, the show was, at least, solidly amusing on a weekly basis, with a tight ensemble of players that enjoyed an easy and increasingly effortless chemistry. Why this show did not catch on with viewers or critics, this blogger would never be able to say.  I enjoyed the program and felt that it provided an intelligent commentary on many subjects: staying creative in today’s watered down corporate turnip squeeze for every dollar, balancing personal life and career, defining and redefining family, the potential joy and pitfalls of office romances (and/or sexual flings), and so on.  The Crazy Ones struck this viewer as a hip, satiric look at American capitalistic and corporate culture while ultimately rooting the comedy in family and friendships.  The addition of Brad Garrett as recurring character Gordon, the chief financial officer and resident (gay) stiff, was equally surprising and hilarious; his rapid fire banter with Robin Williams frequently stole the show, as did the off-putting one-liners habitually offered by Amanda Setton’s Lauren, the office administrative assistant.

As to those not-taken risks, the largest critique this viewer will offer is that, by the end of the show’s only season, the characters had not really evolved or changed their situations much.  Simon was still a wildly creative, trailblazer with the softest spot for his daughter; Sydney was still a late-life wallflower, courting a neighbor she did not realize was gay and pining after Andrew (Hamish Linklater); Zach (James Wolk) was still a womanizer, beloved by Simon for his resemblance to the latter, with only the hint of appreciating women at a more mature level; Lauren was still making off-putting observations; and Andrew was still willing to be the voice of reason and, sometimes, doomsayer of the equation, though he was enjoying a romantic relationship with Sydney’s new assistant. Sydney also took a big risk and kissed Andrew but finished the finale by running away, begging her mom to take her to Morocco.

Speak of, we met Sydney’s mom, Paige, played by Marilu Henner, in the series finale.  She is a fun-loving, heavy-spending free-wheeler like Sydney’s dad, qualities which rendered them such a charismatic and, eventually, explosive couple.  We learned that Sydney’s issues stemmed from being raised by a set of a parents who loved her but who, ultimately, did not place her first for most of her life.  We further learned that Simon’s creative spark justified the existing operation of their ad business, even though Gordon advocated strongly for a buyout that would have made them both millionaires (Paige, a voting member of the board, sided with her ex-husband after some reunion “hate sex”).

At the last, the show was tied up in a (mostly) neat little bow, but what was inside the gift was safe, like a set of ties or a tool set, rather than something exciting, like a big screen TV.  The only “crazy” of The Crazy Ones was Robin Williams – and as this viewer noted when reviewing the pilot, if one doesn’t like him, one probably wouldn’t like this show, as the whole premise was set up to display Williams’ big TV comeback and particular brand of comedy, governed by nothing more than a loose leash allowing him to riff his manic, improvisational jokes, voices, and impressions.  The show additionally enjoyed a series of high profile guest stars, including a recurring appearance by Josh Groban as a jingle writer a bit obsessed with Sydney, and a one-off guest stint by none other than Mork’s Mindy herself, Pam Dawber, in a reunion thirty years in the making, as a short-lived paramour of Simon’s.

In the end, I guess the Eye Network did not want to take a chance on something that was solidly funny but only modestly rated, despite the plethora of easy product placements, what with the central setting being an advertising agency.  That’s too bad, from where this viewer sits.  The chemistry of this cast, their crazy ad campaigns, and their chaotic personal lives consistently made me laugh, a tall order for sitcoms in this day and age as a general rule but also in terms of this viewer’s willingness to watch them.  I wish more people watched and/or enjoyed The Crazy Ones as much as me.  Sadly, the show’s only season will, no doubt, be relegated to a limited, streaming afterlife.

PARTING SHOTS

The Crazy Ones provided solid, if ultimately safe and routine, comedy and resultant laughter, only insofar as this viewer highly enjoys Robin Williams (and, to that end, Sarah Michelle Gellar), on a weekly basis. Perhaps, the nation’s viewers, on the whole, didn’t feel the same way.  RIP The Crazy Ones.  I hope your talented team of ensemble actors find other projects, even though I will miss you being all together in this program.

THE FUTURE OF THE SHOW:

Canceled!  The entire series, produced to the tune of 22 episodes, aired fully and ended in April 2014. Because this sitcom did not follow a larger serial format and explored its situations (and character relationships) on an episodic basis, this show can be watched and enjoyed on the strength of its one and only season, should it crop up on streaming services like Netflix or Amazon Prime.  If you love Robin Williams or good satire, it’s worth the watch.

Pilots and Premieres & Recommended By Viewers Like You: “Fargo” – Series Premiere

Who:  “Fargo,” currently airs on cable TV, specifically on FX, Tuesdays at 10:00 PM.

What: “Fargo,” a black comedy/dramedy drawing inspiration from the film of the same name, which was penned and directed by the Coen brothers (Ethan and Joel). The television show follows the down-on-his-luck Lester (Martin Freeman, The Hobbit; Sherlock) and the undue influence of hit-man-for-hire Lorne (Billy Bob Thornton, Sling Blade; Bad Santa), when he may not actually be on the job, on a small Minnesotan town.

When: The series premiered on FX, Tuesday, April 15, 2014, at 10:00 PM.

Where: The action is set in and around northern Minnesota.  No one’s been to Fargo anything as of the pilot, for the record.

Why: This was recommended by a friend and theatrical colleague, who appreciates good large and small screen fare (he was/is a professional actor himself).  He thought I might like it; little did he know (at first) that I also enjoy the film.  Of the Coen brothers films I’ve seen, Fargo and Barton Fink are my favorites…also, I was very curious to see how a big screen, quirky, somewhat violent tale of carnage in small town northern Minnesota might fare in the extended storytelling arena of television.

How – as in How Was It?

The pilot/premiere rating scale:

***** – I HAVE TO WATCH EVERYTHING.  HOLY SMOKES!

**** – Well, it certainly seems intriguing.  I’m going to keep watching, but I see possible pitfalls in the premise.

*** – I will give it six episodes and see what happens.  There are things I like, and things I don’t.  We’ll see which “things” are allowed to flourish.

** – I will give it three episodes.  Chances are, I’m mainly bored, but there is some intrigue or fascination that could hold it together.  No matter how unlikely.

* – Pass on this one, guys.  It’s a snoozer/not funny/not interesting/not my cup of tea… there are too many options to waste time on this one.

Fargo = ***1/2

SYNOPSIS

Lester Nygaard (Freeman) is a mild-mannered insurance salesman, living in small town Minnesota, who can’t seem to catch a break.  He’s beleaguered by his critical wife, who tells him what to do and how to do everything, and is still bullied by those who roughed him up in high school.  When Sam Hess, the biggest of those bullies, and his two sons encounter Lester in the street, his meekness actually causes him to break his nose by running into a window.  While in the hospital, waiting for the nurses, he meets Lorne (Thornton), who, in the opening sequence of the pilot, drives into the Minnesotan winter wilderness, runs off the road, and gets into an accident; from Lorne’s battered trunk leaps a man without clothes (except his boxers), who runs into the night, only to freeze to death by morning.  Lorne tries to convince Lester in the hospital that Mr. Hess deserves to die for his many bullying behaviors, and Lorne offers his help in providing the service of murder at Lester’s word, which causes Lester to stutter away into the recesses of the hospital, freaked out by the thought that Lorne might be serious.  Lorne takes the lack of a “no” from Lester as more of a “yes” and does the deed, an action that both frightens and empowers Lester, who takes matters of his life and home into his own hands.  Meanwhile, female police officer Molly Solverson impresses her chief by investigating the abandoned vehicle left by Lorne and the corpse of the man found frozen in the wilderness, reasoning that the man was not killed by the accident itself.  Her search also, eventually, causes her to cross paths with Lester, as she attempts to suss out the circumstances behind what appears to be an escalation of murders in her small town.

THOUGHTS

Fargo borrows the opening titles, tone, mood, pacing, and funny regional accents of its source film to create a mystery that feels like the film without actually being the film.   The TV titles continue to claim that the story of the show is based on true events with only names changed, but that assertion is merely a tongue-in-cheek nod to the tongue-in-cheek statement opening the film.  None of the story is based in reality, or maybe it’s loosely based on pieces and parts of true events, but if both TV and film titles were true, Minnesota would be a violent and snowy state in which to reside.

The most pleasant part about this television adaptation is the presence of British actor Martin Freeman, who has made a name for himself playing British characters, such as Bilbo Baggins, Dr. Watson, and Arthur Dent (of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy).  In this program, he’s donning his northern Midwest American accent with the best of them and in a more than convincing execution, and his ability to play bumbling and meek, qualities he’s perfected in several of his roles, serves him particularly well in this role.  Equally intriguing is Thornton’s very thin Lorne, whose motivations seem dark and depraved and entirely unclear as of the first episode of the series.  What is his purpose?  To fulfill a role?  To cause trouble?  To share in misery that he is experiencing because misery loves company, and he’s a typically lonely hit-man, cut off from society by his profession of being a gun for hire?  The questions about his character abound.

While the mood and elements of the show hearken significantly back to the film from whence the creators have drawn their inspiration, there are downsides to this new format.  Fargo the movie was slower in pace, but the film pacing set the stage for some of the more surprising twists and more horrific scenes (such as the famous wood chipper scene) and made them all the more surprising and/or horrific.  The show and its writers clearly yearn to do the same thing, but this plodding effect may not be able to sustain over the long haul of several episodes in one season, as it undercuts keeping the viewer engaged – after all, the overall story will be meted out over something shy of ten hours versus the approximately two of the film.  This viewer felt my attention wandering as the initial hour pressed on, though the payoff was more or less worth it, when Lester’s darker impulses emerged to the forefront in the end.

The other potential pitfall attached to the televised version of this story, or the story like the story that could be based on something true, is where the focus truly rests. The viewer has been offered some reason to care about Lester, the equivalent of William H. Macy’s character in the film, an innocent “loser” type who is convinced to bite off more than he can chew even as he keeps trying to eat the whole meal anyway, but where do the other characters come in?  Molly is clearly the Margie equivalent, Frances McDormand’s character in the movie, but this actress lacks the earthy charms of McDormand’s Margie; she’s smarter than her boss but does not have the quick witted balance and direct delivery that made Margie so lovable.  The pilot failed to offer up a character, other than Lester, to cheer for and/or follow with engaged interest because Lorne’s motivations are currently steeply cloaked in mystery and lack an element to which to relate (so far), and Molly is not as basically endearing as the pregnant cop in the film.  The body count is still high in this version, thankfully, or there would be no where to go in this wacky wilderness, but this viewer felt that the pilot played it oddly conservative, trying to be separate from the film that inspired it while using similar character archetypes and less interesting story scenarios, to less than stellar effect.  I feel like bigger risks should have been taken, at least to engage viewers in this first episode – then again, the character of Lorne or some other story telling device may be just down that northern road, ready to produce twists or horrors beyond measure – maybe something is in the offing that will help the show to stand apart from the film that shares its name.

To that end, there is some interest, mostly in the mystery, to keep this viewer watching.  I like Lester a lot, and it is his character that I want to know about the most.  Where will he go, and what will he do, after what he’s done?  On the other hand, will there be enough story potential to sustain a full season – even beyond, depending on how the “limited series” format is fleshed out?  I’m behind, so only loyal viewers with all aired episodes under their belts can answer that question from this vantage point.  I will keep watching for now, as curiosity, more than anything else, urges me to do so.

RECOMMENDATION

Fargo is recommended to anyone who enjoyed the film of the same name and/or the Coen brothers’ general body of work.  They are clever writers, who tend to explore dark themes with a sneaky levity that makes you question whether or not you should really be laughing and/or enjoying what you’re seeing.  People who enjoy black comedies in general, such as Death Becomes Her, will also likely enjoy Fargo.  The funny in this show is more ironic than “haha.”

THE FUTURE OF THE SHOW:

Fargo enjoys generally soft ratings, which is not unusual for a niche show on a cable network.  The program is being billed as a “limited series,” meaning there could be an option to renew, but even if it was renewed, season one would stand on its own (for example, each season of American Horror Story is a new limited series).  No word on renewal or any other decision has been reported, so let’s see how it fares.  Seven of ten episodes have aired as of the writing of this entry.

Progress Report: End of Primary Season Scorecard

Based on reliable sources, including TVLine, the A.V. Club, and TV Guide, here are the current statuses of shows covered by this blog.  This list does not include up and coming shows to be reviewed or shows not listed on the “What I’m Currently Watching” page (such as The Simpsons).

This particular list comprises the End of Season Scorecard for shows covered by this blog.  At the end of the entry are some stats.  Keep in mind that, as a one-woman operation, I’m still finishing up shows I’m watching, and there are reviews coming, but for now, I offer you the skinny on favorites from the past season.

*True Blood (HBO, Summer Sundays at 9:00 PM)

Season 7, Summer 2014, will be the final season, and it premieres on June 22, 2014.

*Bones (FOX, Fall 2014 Thursdays at 8:00 PM)

Renewed for Season 10; Season 9 Fully Aired

*Sleepy Hollow (FOX, Fall 2014 Mondays at 9:00 PM)

Renewed for Season 2; Season 1 Fully Aired

*New Girl (FOX, Fall 2014 Tuesdays at 9:00 PM)

Renewed for Season 4; Season 3 Fully Aired

*The Mindy Project (FOX, Fall 2014 Tuesdays at 9:30 PM)

Renewed for Season 3; Season 2 Fully Aired

*Marvel: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D (ABC, Fall 2014 Tuesdays at 9:00 PM)

Renewed for Season 2; Season 1 Fully Aired

*Person of Interest (CBS, Fall 2014 Tuesdays at 10:00 PM)

Renewed for Season 4; Season 3 Fully Aired

*Revolution (NBC)

Canceled.  Watching full season (fully aired).  Review to come.

*Glee (FOX, Winter 2015)

Season 6 (2014-2015) will be its last.  Season 5 Fully Aired

*Grey’s Anatomy (ABC, Fall 2014 Thursdays at 8:00 PM)

Renewed for Season 11 – however, this viewer is jumping the shark.  Season 10 Fully Aired

*The Crazy Ones (CBS)

Canceled.  Watching full season (fully aired).  Review to come.

*Once Upon a Time (ABC, Fall 2014 Sundays at 8:00 PM) –> MUST SEE FAVORITE

Renewed for Season 4.  Season 3 Fully Aired

*Revenge (ABC, Fall 2014 Sundays at 10:00 PM)

Renewed for Season 4.  Season 3 Fully Aired

*The Vampire Diaries (CW, Fall 2014 Thursdays at 8:00 PM) –> MUST SEE FAVORITE

Renewed for Season 6.  Season 5 Fully Aired

*The Originals (CW, Fall 2014 Mondays at 8:00 PM)

Renewed for Season 2.  Season 1 Fully Aired

*Witches of East End (Lifetime, Summer 2014 Sundays at 9:00 PM)

Renewed for Season 2. Premieres on July 6, 2014, at 9:00 PM.

*Supernatural (CW, Fall 2014 Tuesdays at 9:00 PM) –> MUST SEE FAVORITE

Renewed for Season 10.  Season 9 Fully Aired

*The Tomorrow People (CW)

Canceled.  Watching full season (fully aired).  Review to come.

*American Horror Story (FX, Fall 2014)

Renewed for Season 4; premieres in October 2014.

*Once Upon a Time in Wonderland (ABC) 

Canceled.  Review posted and off the list.

*Reign (CW, Fall 2014 Thursdays at 9:00 PM)

Renewed for Season 2. Season 1 Fully Aired

*Grimm (NBC, Fall 2014 Fridays at 9:00 PM)

Renewed for Season 4. Season 3 Fully Aired

*Dracula (NBC)

Canceled.  Review posted and off the list.

*Doctor Who (BBC America, Currently on Hiatus)

Full Series 8 & 9 Ordered; Premieres August 2014

*Downton Abbey (PBS, Winter Sundays at 9:00 PM) –> ON HIATUS

Full Series 4 Aired; Renewed for Series 5

*Intelligence (CBS)

Canceled.  Review posted and off the list.

*Resurrection (ABC, Fall 2014 Sundays at 9:00 PM)

Renewed for Season 2. Season 1 Fully Aired

*Star-Crossed (CW)

Canceled.  Review posted and off the list.

*About a Boy (NBC, Fall 2014 Tuesdays at 9:30 PM) –> 4 episode trial

Renewed for Season 2.  Season 1 Fully Aired

*Believe (NBC)

Canceled.  Watching full season (still airing; 10 episodes aired).  Review to come.

*Crisis (NBC)

Canceled.  Review posted and off the list. (Still airing; 10 episodes aired).

*The 100 (CW, Fall 2014 Wednesdays at 9:00 PM)

Renewed for Season 2.  Still airing; 11 episodes aired.

ON DECK: Game of Thrones, Fargo, 24: Live Another Day, Crossbones

2013-2014 Stats

Long Running Series Ending (5+ Seasons): 0

Short Life Series Ending (2-4 Seasons): Revolution

Long Running Series Stopped Watching (Jumped the Shark): Grey’s Anatomy (Reason: Sandra Oh’s departure)

Pilots Watched:

Sean Saves the World (Canceled)
The Michael J. Fox Show (Canceled)
Sleepy Hollow (Renewed) *
Marvel: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (Renewed) *
The Crazy Ones (Canceled)
The Originals (Renewed) *
Witches of East End (Renewed) *
The Tomorrow People (Canceled)
Once Upon a Time in Wonderland (Canceled)
Reign (Renewed) *
Dracula (Canceled)
Almost Human (Canceled)
Intelligence (Canceled)
Resurrection (Renewed) *
Star-Crossed (Canceled)
Ab0ut a Boy (Renewed) *
Believe (Canceled)
Crisis (Canceled)
The 100 (Renewed) *

= 8 Renewed, 11 Canceled.  * shows will remain on the Fall Watch list.

Stay Tuned for the Fall TV Preview, when upcoming new shows will be examined by this viewer to determine whether they will be watched/reviewed in the new season or simply given “the pass” on premise/trailer/idea alone.  It’s like shopping for TV, you know…

Couch Potatoes…UNITE!