Game of Thrones Season 4
Game of Thrones season 4 Blu-Ray:
Once again I review this massive TV production without comparing it to the books [which I don’t intend to read], but as a stand-alone media experience.
I wasn’t at all sure when I began this series whether I would like it, let alone my wife who is much more reluctant both with fantasy-type stories and stories of war and violence. However once again, we both watched season 4 all the way through with much interest. As anyone looking at this series must know by now, there are two major story lines (along with many minor ones): first a complex struggle between a number of great families over who can assume and retain the “iron throne” which seats a king at least nominally ruling over all 7 kingdoms comprising the great bulk of the civilized world. The other story line involves the onset of winter—which in this world is an ominous event. This world must have some very complex rotation around a multiple-star system, because both the onset and the duration of winter are difficult to predict in advance. Sometimes it seems to last the equivalent of a year or so; other times it might last a decade. And in addition to the cold and darkness and therefore the difficulty growing crops, there are other problems. Wild peoples from the far north, fleeing the intense cold can threaten to overrun large parts of the civilized world. Lastly, in one of the magical twists in this fantasy world, it also brings out “white walkers”, which seem to be risen dead, or at least raisers of the dead, or both. [So far, the TV series has not explained their meaning in detail, though they’ve been seen on occasions, and are often referred to] To defend against these twin threats the seven civilized kingdoms have established a huge wall of ice blocking off the far north, which is manned by an almost-egalitarian society of castouts from all lands, for every conceivable reason, who take vows to defend the wall, and with it the civilized lands, for the rest of their lives.
The fantasy elements of this series, while they no doubt appeal to some viewers, do not by any means overwhelm more realistic struggles between the kingdoms and their noble families, or the nuanced portrayals of individual characters, keeping this interesting even for those uninterested in fantasy. A couple of the other fantasy elements seen in the first 4 seasons are dragons (one character controls the only 3 known to exist now, which seem to be adolescent-sized in this season) and the shaman-like ability of a few people to project their minds into the minds of animals, or even simpletons among people.
One of the mottos in the story, valar morgholis, translates apparently into “all men must die”, and puts into perspective the loss of some characters in each season. It reminds us in real life, that we should be less concerned that we die, or how we die, than what we have made of our lives, and how we will be remembered afterward.
There are other aspects of this series worthy of respect. Yes, the characters can loosely be sorted into “good” and “evil”. But rarely are they two-dimensional. One can see the character flaws in almost all the “good”, and some admirable aspects in almost all the “bad”. Looked at closely, it reminds us that real life is seldom black and white, but admixtures of grey. And when a character does die, one can usually trace it back to a particular character flaw or a bad decision earlier which contributed to their later demise.
To me the story has obvious resonance with the world of today. While leaders spend much of their time on competitive issues like trade and job balances, how much Iran’s nuclear program can be reined in, Russia vs. Ukraine, competition among China, Vietnam Japan and the Phillipines over control of ocean regions, nobody is doing very much about issues which threaten to overwhelm all of us, like rising temperatures and ocean levels, severe droughts and hurricanes, over-population and resource depletion. We become so caught up in short-term struggles that we fail to confront the much bigger long-term issues [in this story, the oncoming winter] which threaten all of us and require a strong joint response.
The production values in this series are very high and I certainly hope they make a good profit worldwide, which apparently they are. Otherwise it’s hard to sustain such expensive productions. Great costumes, beautiful outdoor scenes, lavish palaces, fine actors and actresses, large casts for battle scenes, all take a toll and all contribute to a rich visual story experience. Even the opening sequence is so beautifully done, with both exquisite graphics and music, that I almost always watch it all the way through, just to savor the experience. As for plot twists of the latest season I don't want to give away anything too important, but will say that Peter Dinklage who plays the dwarf Tyrion of House Lannister, continues to be a scene-stealer, who remained very active this season to my great pleasure. Probably the two most likeable characters that have persisted through all 4 seasons to date are him and Jon Snow, a bastard son of Ned Stark of the northern kingdom, now stationed on the huge defensive north wall. Emilia Clark as Daenarys Targaryen, the woman with the 3 dragons, continues accumulating a slave army in the south, but might have made her first major mistake in dismissing her longest-serving and most loyal supporter, after learning that he started out being paid to spy on her (and in her sense of betrayal overlooking that he subsequently fell in love with her and was perhaps her most loyal and a very experienced advisor). There was a brief firestorm of controversy whether the TV series was disrespectful to women with depictions of rape. I didn't find it so. Yes, there are such depictions, but there is plenty of male-on-male violence, and overall I'd have to say the violence is equal-opportunity. Second, throughout much of human history rape along with child abuse, murder and warfare has been all too common, and in that sense it is "true to life". Third, there certainly are some very strong (physically and mentally) female characters in this series, fully a match of any of the men. In season 4, these women are stronger than ever. At times the degree of violence bothered me, but these were usually brief, bloody male-violence scenes. Lastly, there are plans for a season 5 and six, and just possibly a 7th, so there will be many more episodes yet to enjoy
The specials of season 5 were not too impressive for me. They were mostly concentrated on discs 1 and 4 and included just 2 short deleted parts of scenes, a few bloopers, a review of the new characters and locations introduced this season, and a group interview with actors and actresses who made their exit from the series this year. For me the value of owning the Blu-Ray in this case is not so much the special features but the ability to pause at any point, go back, turn on subtitles, etc. I must say it’s a well-done story. Comparing to other fantasy series, it’s far more adult and serious fare than the Harry Potter series. Compared to the grand-daddies of them all, The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit (each having become a 3-story series), it has less fantasy elements and a closer resemblance to our own world before the industrial revolution. Once again I liked season 5 very much and would rate it A-.