Game of Thrones: Season 4 (5 stars)

‘The Sopranos in Middle Earth’ keeps living up to its name

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Game of Thrones: Season 4

What would make you stop watching Game of Thrones? Some might have thrown in the towel at the end of season one after Ned Stark lost his head in King’s Landing. Others probably waited until the truly horrific (yet beautifully directed and acted) Red Wedding massacre of his wife Catelyn and their son Robb as the third series splattered to a close. Those still willing to hang around for GoT4 were probably fine with King Joffrey’s poisoning at his own Purple Wedding and maybe even OK with the relentlessly depraved torture of Reek aka the ill-fated turncoat Theon Greyjoy.

The fact is that people have clearly issued empty threats about ditching the show as not only has it held firm on viewing figures, it’s now actually overtaken The Sopranos as HBO’s most watched programme. Those who dubbed it early on as ‘The Sopranos in Middle Earth’ or, less tastefully, ‘The Sopranos with tits’ weren’t far wrong.

But what now, with Prince Oberyn’s skull having been pulped by the Mountain and with it, the hopes of Tyrion Lannister’s escape from the executioner’s swing literally dashed? The injustice of it all serves only to make Tyrion’s seemingly imminent demise more cruel. But in George RR Martin’s carefully constructed and endlessly unfair Westeros, we know only too well that the good guys (or even the not-so-good guys who still have an iota of decency within them) are more likely to come a bloody cropper than those who are far more deserving of an agonising death.

The main exception to that rule to date is the twisted monarch Joffrey, whose nastiness somehow increased by the season, reaching its zenith shortly before his poisoning when he hurled coins at his wedding band Sigur Rós.

Perhaps some brutal retribution will eventually arrive at the throats of Tywin Lannister, Walder Frey, Ramsay Snow, Roose Bolton and Queen Cersei at some point. But as we reach the climax of season four, all we have to hold onto is the hope that the likes of Arya Stark, Jon Snow and Stannis Baratheon (sure, not everyone’s a fan of his deadpan, black-magic loving ways) will inflict a gory end upon any or all of the above.

As for the goings-on in the sun-kissed lands where Daenerys Targaryen (aka Mother of Dragons, Queen of the Andals and the First Men, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, Breaker of Chains etc etc) is still coming to terms with real power while trying to work out who she can trust (no one by the looks of it, now that Jorah has been unveiled as a spy), her crossing of the Narrow Sea needs to happen pretty sharpish before interest in her rather repetitive storyline truly wanes.

So, all those who rashly announced they were leaving Game of Thrones behind to focus their TV-watching habits onto Masterchef or Midsomer Murders or Mad Men have scuttled back to see what the imp or Littlefinger or the eunuch are up to next. Whether any of them are left standing into season five remains to be seen.

Game of Thrones is on Sky Atlantic, Mondays, 9pm

Game of Thrones Season 4: Trailer #1 (HBO)

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