Halftime continues with our Game of Thrones recaps in preparation for the release of season eight on Sunday, April 14. Here is our recap of season four.
Warning: This article contains spoilers for the first four seasons of Game of Thrones.
The fourth season of Game of Thrones picks up after the third season’s tumultuous final episodes. Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley), Robb Stark (Richard Madden), and a large portion of the Stark army have been murdered. Sansa (Sophie Turner) is still stuck in King’s Landing, and Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) is still the worst.
Episode 1: Two Swords
This premiere episode, much like those in seasons two and three, largely serves as set-up for the season to come, re-introducing us to the characters, and their positions in the grand scheme of the series. Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance), the Lannister patriarch, reforges the long gone Ned Stark’s (Sean Bean) signature sword Ice into two, giving one to Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and one to Joffrey. Jaime, whose fighting skills are severely diminished with the loss of his sword hand, continues to pine after his twin sister Cersei (Lena Headey)—who’s giving him the cold shoulder for leaving her (um, newsflash Cersei, he was captured in battle; he didn’t exactly ask to leave his home for nearly three seasons).
We get introduced to Oberyn Martell of Dorne (Pedro Pascal), who arrives on behalf of his brother, the Prince of Dorne. We get a peek at Oberyn’s motives: He’s not just there for the wedding of Joffrey and Margaery (Natalie Dormer), he’s there to avenge the murder of his sister Elia—and he believes the Lannisters are responsible. He says this openly to Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) and with this cements himself as one of the most badass Game of Thrones characters
In the North, Jon Snow (Kit Harington) is back at the wall and trying not to be labeled a betrayer and Arya (Maisie Williams), still with the Hound (Rory McCann) kills a man and reclaims her sword, Needle. Never change, Arya Stark. In Essos, Daenerys’ (Emilia Clarke) dragons are becoming a little unruly. Uh oh.
Episode 2: The Lion and the Rose
This is it, folks. It’s the Purple Wedding. However, unlike the Red Wedding, no one was upset with the outcome. The episode features Roose Bolton (Michael McElhatton), the new warden of the North, criticizing his bastard son Ramsay (Iwan Rheon) for torturing Theon (Alfie Allen) throughout all of season three. In Dragonstone, Melisandre (Carice van Houten) continues burning people in the name of her Lord of the Light, and Stannis (Stephen Dillane) just lets her.
But the real fun is in King’s Landing, where Tyrion ends his relationship with Shae (Sibel Kekilli) to protect her. Joffrey and Margaery are wed, and the after-party begins. Joffrey, who is on cloud 9, becomes even more insufferable than he already is—completely humiliating Tyrion in front of everyone by making him be his cupbearer. But then, he starts to choke. He continues to choke on his own throw-up until he dies in his mother’s arms. And the entire world rejoiced. HE’S DEAD! HALLELUJAH! Finally some good food! But of course, he couldn’t just die and let everyone be happy without doing one final annoying thing: pointing at Tyrion as he choked. Cersei calls upon the guards to seize him, and Tyrion is arrested for the murder of the king.
Episode 3: Breaker of Chains
Picking up where the last episode left off, Tywin wastes no time beginning the process of grooming the next king, Joffrey’s younger, and much kinder, brother, Tommen (Dean-Charles Chapman). I mean, he seriously wastes no time. Joffrey isn’t even buried yet—it’s kind of hilarious. Tywin, never change. Controversially, Jaime rapes Cersei in front of their son’s dead body. I have always hated this scene. After three seasons of trying to get us to like Jaime as this misunderstood, overall okay guy, having him rape Cersei seemed completely unnecessary and just for shock. Do better, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss.
In the last episode, Sansa was whisked away from King’s landing as Joffrey was dying, and we find out that Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen) was the one who got her out. So, Sansa is free (from King’s Landing, anyway). In the North, the Night’s Watch receives word that the jerks that staged a mutiny last season have set up camp in Craster’s Keep. Jon decides they have to go attack them. Oh, and Daenerys lays siege to Meereen, the last of the slave cities.
Episode 4: Oathkeeper
Daenerys captures Meereen and nails 163 masters to posts as justice for what they did to slave children. Littlefinger reveals to Sansa that he helped plan Joffrey’s death (because of course he had something to do with it) and it is implied that Lady Olenna (Diana Rigg) was involved as well (yes, queen!). Margaery is all like, “We didn’t consummate the marriage, so am I queen? I want to be queen!” and Olenna tells her that she better start seducing young Tommen now before Cersei turns him against her!
Jaime doesn’t believe Tyrion killed Joffrey, but Cersei refuses to see reason and is convinced he did it. How annoying. She tells Jaime to find and kill Sansa, who she thinks conspired with Tyrion to kill Joffrey, but Jaime instead tells Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) to find and protect her. He gives Brienne his sword, which is named Oathkeeper, in honor of her keeping her oath to Catelyn Stark to protect her daughters.
In the North—the deep, deep north—we see a White Walker take Craster’s last newborn son and transform him into a Walker through some kind of ritual. At this point of the show, seeing the White Walkers was still somewhat rare, so this moment was such a cool and haunting way to end this episode.
Episode 5: First of His Name
All hail King Tommen! Tommen is officially crowned king, and long live the king, right? Right? Sansa is taken to the Eyrie, where she poses as Littlefinger’s niece. There, Littlefinger marries Lysa Arryn (Catelyn’s sister, and Sansa’s aunt) and we find out that he convinced her to murder her husband Jon Arryn and frame the Lannisters for it—you know, the event that kicked off the entire series! Littlefinger plays the game, and he plays it long. This is huge.
Arya and the Hound continue their buddy cop adventures, and so do Brienne and Podrick (Daniel Portman). Beyond the wall, Jon leads the attack on Craster’s Keep, not knowing that his little brother, Bran (who he has not seen since the first episode of the series), is there as well. Bran (Isaac Hempstead Wright) continues North without reaching out to Jon because he has powers and has to deal with that or whatever. Jon almost loses in an epic fight scene, but he pulls through, and the attack is successful.
In Mereen, Daenerys decides to take even longer to go to Westeros just to piss off the viewers—I mean, to bring order to Slaver’s Bay and be queen there or something.
Episode 6: The Laws of Gods and Men
Ser Davos (Liam Cunningham) convinces the Iron Bank to fund Stannis in the war that is STILL going on because Stannis just won’t give up. Daenerys has a hard time being queen in Meereen (obviously she has NO experience in the matter). Yara (Gemma Whelan) attempts to rescue Theon from Ramsay, but she finds that Theon is completely and utterly broken. Right now, he can’t be rescued. This scene is kind of poorly done, but that doesn’t matter because of the TRIAL.
The trial of Tyrion Lannister is what makes this episode. Countless people, including Tyrion’s former love Shae, come forward with lies or exaggerated truths that make Tyrion look guilty. It’s not a trial, it’s an execution, and Shae is the last straw. In a superb performance from Dinklage, Tyrion delivers a chilling, biting monologue. “I did not kill Joffrey, but I wish that I had. Watching your vicious bastard die gave me more relief than a thousand lying whores.” It’s so GOOD! It’s just peak television; everyone in the room was giving it their all. Emmys for everyone!
Fangirling aside, Tyrion, in an epic callback to the first season, demands a trial by combat. Tywin is shook. Cersei is shook. Jaime is shook. Oberyn is intrigued. Everyone watching is floored.
Episode 7: Mockingbird
This episode is pretty slow until the end, most notable events include: Brienne learns more about what Arya’s been up to these past few seasons. Daenerys gets cozy with Daario (Michiel Huisman). Cersei appoints the Mountain (Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson) as her champion for the battle and Oberyn steps up as Tyrion’s champion, ready to avenge the death of his sister at the hands of the Mountain.
But the end is what makes this episode wild. In the Vale, Lysa gets pissed when she sees Littlefinger kiss Sansa (which is nasty, by the way). She threatens to push Sansa out the moon door to her death, Littlefinger steps in and pushes her instead! This man is ruthless! Lysa was annoying, but she was also manipulated and played by Littlefinger. Rest in peace, lady.
Episode 8: The Mountain and the Viper
Oh boy. Okay, so the Wildlings attack a town not too far from the Wall, which is worrisome. They’re getting closer. Ramsay continues to be a sick, demented bastard and is rewarded by being legitimized by his father—he’s officially a Bolton. Sansa starts to learn how to play the game, convincing everyone that Littlefinger is innocent of killing Lysa using some wicked acting skills. Nice. Arya arrives at the Vale and is informed her aunt Lysa is dead. She laughs in frustration. How many times is she going to come close to being brought back to her family only to have them murdered once she arrives?
King’s Landing. It’s trial by combat time. Oberyn is flashy and quick while the Mountain is pure brute force. They fight: Oberyn gets the upper hand, slashing the Mountain in his legs all while repeating, “You raped her! You murdered her! You killed her children!” The Mountain is on the ground, all Oberyn needs to do is finish the job, just finish the job. He pauses to ask, “Who gave you the order?” (The one to kill his sister, you know?). Tywin gave the order, we all know this, but Oberyn needs the Mountain to say it out loud in front of everyone. He looks away. The Mountain sneak grabs Oberyn, pins him down, everyone screams. He begins crushing his skull all while admitting to raping and murdering Oberyn’s sister. He crushes Oberyn’s skull in. Everyone screams again. Tywin stands up and says, “Tyrion Lannister, in the name of King Tommen in the house Baratheon first of his name, you are hereby sentenced to death.” All is hopeless.
Episode 9: The Watchers on the Wall
This episode is a rare gem because it takes place entirely in one location: the Wall. The Night Watch is preparing for the Wildling invasion. They are lacking men, they’re lacking time, they’re lacking unity. They’re honestly a mess. The Wildlings attack and the battle begins.
The most notable event is when Ygritte (Rose Leslie), Jon’s Wilding love, is shot with an arrow by the young kid Olly (Brenock O’Connor), whose entire family was murdered by Wildlings. Ygritte dies in Jon’s arms. The Wildings retreat, and Jon goes beyond the Wall to find and kill their leader, Mance Rayder (Ciarán Hinds). The Wall was never the most interesting GoT plot for me, so this episode isn’t my favorite, but it’s wonderfully filmed.
Episode 10: The Children
We have reached the season finale, folks! Stannis’ army pulls up to the Wilding camp and takes over, taking Mance as prisoner. Bran’s gang runs into some trouble at the large tree they’ve been trying to find, one of them dying in the process but they make it to the three-eyed raven, an old man (Max von Sydow). Daenerys chains up her dragons, who have been burning innocent people alive.
Brienne comes across Arya and the Hound, and Brienne begins to fight him over Arya. This is one of the best fight scenes in the entire series. It’s gritty, brutal and absolutely horrifying to watch. These are two characters who you absolutely don’t want fighting because you don’t want to see either of them die. Brienne critically wounds him, but Arya is gone. She’s not far though, as she shows up near the dying Hound who begs her to take him out of his misery and kill him. She takes the money and leaves him for dead. Arya is ruthless.
In King’s Landing, Cersei begins to work on getting the Mountain, critically wounded after the trial by combat, saved. Jaime sneaks Tyrion out of prison before his death. Tyrion decides to circle back to Tywin’s chamber, finding his former love, Shae, in Tywin’s bed. Tywin, who always chastised Tyrion for having whores. Tyrion, in a fit of rage, strangles her to death. He then finds Tywin in the bathroom. Tywin attempts to talk with him, but Tyrion fires an arrow at him and murders him. Right in the bathroom. “The Rains of Castamere,” the same song made to signal Tywin’s wrath, plays as he dies. Tyrion escapes the city, and everything is up in the air.
This is, in my opinion, the best season of Game of Thrones. It’s intense. It’s full of plot twists, betrayal, and murder—the things we’ve come to expect from this behemoth of a show. But it also maintains its superb writing and some truly exquisite acting from its ensemble cast. This is the season that solidifies Game of Thrones’ standing as one of the great television shows of this century.
Unfortunately, this season is the best and also the last truly great season because what follows never quite maintains this level of excellence again.
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