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GAME OF THRONES Season 4 Review & Episode Scores

March 21, 2019

Game of Thrones Season 4 Review

In this series, we are building toward a ranked list of every Game Of Thrones episode by combing through the series one season at a time. The episodes are broken down to a granular level, with each storyline within each episode receiving a 1-5 score in each of the following areas: Story, Worldbuilding, and Entertainment. These component scores are then combined and used as the basis for the Episode Scores. The series will continue all the way through the Season 7 Review, which can be expected around the time of the Season 8 debut. As you rewatch the show in preparation for the final season and re-listen to Binge Mode, you can also follow along here.

Previous Entries:

Introduction & Rationale

Season 1 Review

Season 2 Review

Season 3 Review

Without further ado…


Season Four arguably doesn’t have an episode as singularly formidable as Blackwater or as tragic as The Rains of Castamere, but it’s still the steadiest and possibly best season overall. This season runs the gamut of classic television staples; an opulent wedding, courtroom drama, training montages, a great battle, and of course… a few dashes of murder. Whilst wading through practically every standby in the book, this season is marked by the remaining Starks each leveling up in their own way and the remaining Lannisters continuing to find new ways of paying various debts. Rich character development also continues to unfold on every valence in-between the two rival houses. Consistently exquisite. Very few missteps. That is the Season Four experience.

[4.01] Two Swords

Two Swords Episode

Episode Score: 82

Two Swords is an excellent season premiere, kicking off the fourth batch of episodes with a number of indelible moments. Tywin reforges Ned Stark’s Valyrian steel greatsword, “Ice,” into two smaller-but-equally-handsome swords as gifts for Jaime and King Joffrey. Also in the capital, preparation for Joffrey and Margaery’s wedding is in full swing, and Oberyn Martell of Dorne shows up, on a mission, much to the chagrin of his Lannister hosts. The King’s Landing scenes make for quite the Thrones soufflé. Elsewhere in the realm, Arya and the Hound are so great on screen together that they turn a relatively small scene into an all-timer. In short, the Hound eats a whole mess of chicken, and Arya gets her sword (“Needle”) back. Dany’s march to Meereen takes on a new urgency when she discovers crucified children being used as mile markers. Also, Two Swords marks Michiel Huisman’s debut as Daario Naharis (recast after Season 3). He’s a very different Daario from Ed Skrein’s version, but both interpretations are good. The episode boasts no excess of story progress, but this is a highly entertaining way to pick up more or less immediately where season three left off.

[4.02] The Lion And The Rose

The Lion and the Rose Episode

Episode Score: 82

The Lion And The Rose didn’t register on quite the same seismic level as the conclusions to Baelor or The Rains Of Castamere but Joffrey’s death at his own “Purple Wedding” is one of the most gratifying surprises in a series famous for upending expectations at every turn. The sadistic young monarch (perfectly portrayed by Jack Gleeson), meets his maker in truly grotesque fashion, in front of the hundreds gathered at his wedding reception. On Dragonstone, we are treated to an illuminating religious discussion in which Melisandre plays the wolf to Shireen’s doe. Elsewhere, Ramsay demonstrates to Roose how they might deploy Theon (now known as “Reek”) for political gain, and Bran’s visions coalesce into something that begins to make sense. It’s one of the standout episodes in one of the show’s finest seasons; and judging purely on a set-piece basis, Joffrey’s wedding remains one of Game Of Thrones’ crowning achievements.

[4.03] Breaker Of Chains

Breaker of Chains Episode

Episode Score: 78

Well, Breaker Of Chains is one of a handful of “red flag” episodes the series has on its ledger. The elephant in the room here is what appears to be a non-consensual sexual encounter between Jaime and Cersei, the depiction of which is difficult to rationalize given that it alters the context from the book. It’s a troubling scene, and whether it has any dramatic merit is up for debate. Outside of that scene, this is a strong, middle-class installment with no other objectionable bits. Elsewhere in and around King’s Landing, Littlefinger’s master plan comes into focus when he ferries Sansa away from the capitol, and memorable exchanges abound, including one between Tywin and Oberyn, and a touching scene with Tyrion and Podrick. A bevy of potent moments fill out the rest of the episode including another delightful reading lesson with Davos and Shireen, a lesson in nihilism from the Hound, and Daario pissing on Meereenese hospitality before Dany’s iconic catapulting of broken shackles over the walls of the city.

[4.04] Oathkeeper

Oathkeeper Episode

Episode Score: 77

Oathkeeper is known among maesters and diehards as a landmark episode for demonstrating how the show diverges from the books. The biggest bit of invention is what happens far north of the Wall, when one of Craster’s sacrificial sons is turned into a fresh White Walker. Back in King’s Landing… one episode after Jaime’s role in a controversial rape scene, he manages to have a series of touching exchanges, one visiting his imprisoned brother Tyrion; and the other gifting his new Valyrian steel sword to Brienne, along with a new suit of armor, and Podrick as her squire. Olenna winks at her own involvement in Joffrey’s murder, and Magaery begins positioning herself as King-in-waiting Tommen’s future love interest. In a small but pivotal scene, Jon accepts a dangerous mission to avenge the Mutiny at Craster’s Keep, and to Alliser Thorne’s chagrin Jon demonstrates why he commands respect from his brothers of the Watch. In Meereen, Dany makes the startling decision to crucify 163 masters from Meereen as punishment for the city’s prior treatment of slave children. Even for a relatively low-key mid-season episode, Oathkeeper is stuffed with juicy tidbits indicative of a show operating at the height of its powers.

[4.05] First Of His Name

First of His Name Episode

Episode Score: 72

Despite an impressive stack of entertaining character interactions and the busy churning of a few key story cogs, First Of His Name is among the lower tier of episodes in the series’ outstanding fourth season. Tommen’s crowning as new ruler of the Seven Kingdoms gets things off on solid footing, and Cersei’s assorted discussions with Maraergy, Tywin, and Oberyn make for a strong batch of scenes from the capitol. The episode’s namesake aside, the real centerpiece of this fifth episode (thirty-fifth overall), is the culmination of Jon’s mission to Craster’s Keep. He ties up the loose ends created by his mutinous brothers in thrilling fashion, and unwittingly helps Bran continue his northward quest. Scattered throughout the rest of the episode are a number of very amusing but ultimately trivial check-in scenes involving the Hound imparting cold wisdom to Arya, Dany trying to find some wisdom of her own, Sansa arriving at the Eyrie with Littlefinger, and a tender scene between Brienne and Podrick. There are plenty of golden moments here, but not enough of the golden combination of story and worldbuilding to make First Of His Name a truly distinguished episode.

[4.06] The Laws Of Gods And Men

The Laws of Gods and Men Episode

Episode Score: 75

The Laws Of Gods And Men is one clunky story thread away from having a reserved seat in any conversation about the Game Of Thrones’ best episodes. Tyrion’s trial for the murder of King Joffrey, of which he was innocent, is an all-time great sequence. It’s a stew of gut-wrenching testimonies, sycophants lying through their teeth, and backdoor dealings that expose the proceedings as the kangaroo court they are, and it’s capped off with an unforgettable and seething diatribe from Tyrion himself. Over in Braavos, Davos gives a rousing fundraising speech at the Iron Bank on Stannis’ behalf; and Dany begins to see some of the dire unexpected consequences of her presence in Meereen. This is all strong material, but the episode ultimately lands in the middle of the pack due to one of the more confounding scenes the show has given us. The time finally comes for Yara’s rescue mission to pay off, only for all of her speeches and heroism to be upended when Theon refuses to leave the Dreadfort with her. Is it chilling to see Theon so roundly reject his old persona? Sure. On the other hand, there’s quite a bit of wasted buildup that leaves a bad taste. It’s one of very few missteps in this season.

[4.07] Mockingbird

Mockingbird Episode

Episode Score: 72

Mockingbird is an intriguing mixed bag, spanning the mundane and the indelible. Among the former are fun but downright bureaucratic scenes in Meereen and at Castle Black. The middle of the spectrum is occupied by a foreboding scene between Melisandre and Selyse, and Brienne and Pod stumbling into key intel from our old pal Hot Pie. While they don’t quite tip the scales, a trio of story lines in Mockingbird save the episode from total obscurity. Littlefinger reveals some of his true motivation when he pushes Sansa’s Aunt Lysa through the Moon Door. Arya gets savage payback against an old nemesis and puts in some quality time with the Hound. Finally, in King’s Landing, Tyrion interviews several potential champions to fight his trial-by-combat against the Mountain (elder brother of the Hound). Jaime and Bronn are out, but just when Tyrion seems resigned to his fate, the vengeful Oberyn Martell rises to the occasion, seeing it as an opportunity to settle an old score with the Mountain.

[4.08] The Mountain And The Viper

The Mountain and the Viper Episode

Episode Score: 84

The Mountain And The Viper is a fantastic episode for any number of reasons. It sets the stage for the forthcoming Battle of Castle Black. Sansa levels up in her strategic abilities when she protects Littlefinger from being prosecuted for Lysa’s death. Ramsay pulls a fast one on the Ironborn stragglers attempting to hold Moat Cailin. An improbable romance bubbles up in Meereen between Missandei and Grey Worm. But, ultimately, this installment is all about the showdown between the two characters referenced in the title. Ser Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane and Prince Oberyn Martell, the Red Viper of Dorne fight to the death to determine the outcome of Tyrion’s trial. It’s a battle further sweetened by approximately two decades of simmering Dornish vengeance. A matchup between two legendary fighters with drastically different styles. This is a spectacular fight, no matter how many times you experience it, and its conclusion never gets any less shocking. Quietly, one of the best parts is actually tracking Tywin’s expression throughout the fight. As Oberyn immediately proves he is a worthy opponent for the Mountain, viewers can make out the faintest hint of acknowledgement on Tywin’s face that he will be in for a very public embarrassment if Oberyn wins. This is especially juicy, given Tywin’s extreme low-tolerance for allowing any margin for error in his plans. But Tywin remains stoic, and when the Mountain does a Gallagher impression sans hammer, Tywin betrays the tiniest bit of relief before deadpanning that Tyrion shall be sentenced to death. Game Of Thrones does not get significantly better than this.

[4.09] The Watchers On The Wall

The Watchers on the Wall Episode

Episode Score: 89

The Watchers On The Wall joins season two’s Blackwater as a rare episode confined to a single setting. This penultimate installment of the fourth season depicts the Battle of Castle Black, as we find Jon Snow and his Night’s Watch brethren beset on all sides by wildling forces. Mance Rayder leads the bulk of the army in an assault on the wall, while a splinter force led by Tormund, Ygritte, and a company of cannibalistic Thenns, flank and infiltrate Castle Black from the south. With Thorne injured in combat, and Janos Slynt cowering behind a locked door, Jon quickly takes command of the castle and helps to fend off the spirited attackers… at least for one night. This Lord Of The Rings-esque battle features giants and woolly mammoths, delivering fantasy spectacle on par with anything Thrones has shown to this point. Thorne, Jon’s longtime nemesis, shows his humanity, and acquits himself heroically. Jon and Ygritte have a bittersweet reunion, and Sam gets to be a hero once more, emboldened by his desire to protect Gilly and baby Sam. The next day, Jon makes the decision to treat with the wildling army alone, in hopes of killing Mance face-to-face and thereby ending the conflict. The Watchers On The Wall has the distinct advantage of devoting its entire run-time to a signature set-piece battle, free of any small check-in scenes that threaten to water most episodes down. Based on the rubric, the episode lands a little higher than it would on most lists that are based solely on personal preference, but it’s hard to argue with the quality on display here.

[4.10] The Children

The Children Episode

Episode Score: 86

The Children pretty easily claims the title of best finale from the first four seasons. Even its weakest link, the continued disillusionment of Dany about the emptiness of her victory in Meereen, offers plenty to chew on. Here is a rundown of the best of the rest: Jon drinks toasts to the fallen with Mance, before Stannis Baratheon rides in to put down the wildling uprising once and for all. Tyrion avoids his demise, freed by Jaime and Varys and escaping on a boat to Essos, but not before handling unfinished business with Shae and Tywin. Bran and company arrive at the dwelling of the Three-Eyed Raven, losing Jojen to a wight attack in the process. This conclusion of the journey Bran has been on for several seasons now is immensely satisfying and exciting, ending with the Three-Eyed Raven telling him he will never walk again, but he will fly. It’s a potent distillation of the appeal that great fantasy stories hold. And finally, the Hound duels Brienne when he suspects that she is employed by the Lannisters. Brienne knocks him off a cliff, and Arya leaves him to his apparently mortal wounds. This fight isn’t quite on the level of The Moutain And The Viper, but it’s still a down-and-dirty duel between two fan-favorite characters,. Naturally, Arya forges her own path, finding a boat bound for Braavos, intent on reuniting with Jaqen H’ghar.

Analysis

Season 4 registers the highest season score to date, surpassing the previous mark by a few tenths of a point. Though it never quite breaches the 90-mark, every installment manages to stay north of 70. Both of those conditions are also true of Season 1, which had an even tighter range of scores. This consistency is a credit to the season as a whole, taking steady-handed storytelling to a new level. Making it all the more impressive is that the story continues to expand; Dany has conquered yet another city in Essos, Jon has leveled up as a man of the Night’s Watch, Littlefinger has begun to show his ambition, Bran has completed his epic quest, Arya has set off on a new one, and King’s Landing is as thorny a briar patch as ever. The Watchers on the Wall is the big winner from Season 4, and while it was a thrilling achievement, the thirty-ninth episode seems to benefit from the same single-setting parameters that Blackwater enjoyed in Season 2. A few game-changing episodes recorded more tempered scores that may register as surprising. The Lion and the Rose and The Mountain and the Viper both felt like all-timers in the moment, and yet through four seasons, both episodes are merely on the fringes of the top ten. These are still great episodes, but their scores serve as a reminder that one indelible story thread will not elevate an entire episode to an top-tier score on its own. Their standing also reminds us that Game of Thrones has had no shortage of awesome episodes, including a few that maintain excellence even in the absence of a series-defining moment and tend to ride under cover of darkness in these conversations. This stretch of the series arguably reaches “all killer, no filler” territory.

Minutiae

Episode Averages for Season 4:

– Episode Score= 79.3

– Story= 77.8

– Worldbuilding= 72.8

– Entertainment= 87.4

The Watchers on the Wall notched the highest episode score of Season 4, with an 89.

The Mountain and the Viper tied with The Children for the highest Story score, with 88 apiece.

The Watchers on the Wall also nabbed the highest total for Worldbuilding and Entertainment scores, with 87 and 100 respectively.

Five Season 4 episodes scored in the 70s and the other five landed in the 80s.

Season Four Episodes Ranked By Episode Score:

  1. [4.09] The Watchers on the Wall (88.89)
  2. [4.10] The Children (85.33)
  3. [4.08] The Mountain and the Viper (84)
  4. [4.02] The Lion and the Rose (81.67)
  5. [4.01] Two Swords (81.33)
  6. [4.03] Breaker of Chains (77.33)
  7. [4.04] Oathkeeper (76.67)
  8. [4.06] The Laws of Gods and Men (75)
  9. [4.07] Mockingbird (71.67)
  10. [4.05] First of His Name (71.11)

Season Scores Ranked (1-4)

  1. Season 4 (79.30)
  2. Season 3 (78.56)
  3. Season 1 (78.29)
  4. Season 2 (76.11)

Stay tuned for our review of Season 5, more episode rankings, and more Game Of Thrones stuff in general as we wait out the long winter that must pass before Season 8.

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