Don’t get me wrong. I really liked the fourth season of Game of Thrones. While there was some slower, filler episodes between the death of Joffrey and the Trial by Combat, the fourth season also featured some of the biggest episodes of the series run. There were some great surprising deaths, a huge spectacle episode in the Battle of the Wall, and the coolest deaths in the entire series. The only problem with much of the season, however, is that it failed to live up to the book-reader hype.
I have not read the Game of Thrones books, obviously, but by virtue of having many friends on the Internet and IRL who have, I get an earful about the books, and a common refrain in comment sections, on Facebook, on Reddit, and over beers with drinking buddies is this: “Wait until you see what happens next,” or “it’s about to get so good” or “the next episode will blow your mind.” Unfortunately, having seen the final product on the screen, those book readers may have oversold the season.
The problem, really, began with the Red Wedding. That was an episode the book readers had been hyping for months, if not years. And the thing about the Red Wedding episode is that it LIVED UP TO THE HYPE. It was every bit as shocking and gruesome and FANTASTIC as the book readers had promised.
But the book reader hype after the Red Wedding didn’t relent. “Oh, just wait until the Purple Wedding,” or “what happens next is even BETTER than the Red Wedding,” or “this episode will put the Red Wedding to shame.” And the thing is, none of that has been true. The Red Wedding was a singular, amazing moment in television history: It was unexpected and yet beyond our expectations. That was an incredible, devastating episode of television.
But after the Red Wedding, even more than Ned Stark’s death, we’ve come to expect huge twists and shocking deaths. The unexpected has become the expected. That’s perhaps not the fault of the book readers so much as it is the series for raising our level of expectation so high.
I don’t think the Red Wedding can ever be topped. The Purple Wedding was cool, but a little bit of a letdown (although, finding out from book readers exactly how it happened and who was behind it was very cool). The Red Viper/Mountain fight, I will say, almost lived up to the hype, thanks to some great special effects and a masterful fight sequence, although I was a little bummed that it didn’t come back around to Tyrion for another full episode. The Battle of The Wall fell well short of expectations, but that’s in part because things that were supposed to happen in that episode didn’t happen until the finale. Ygritte’s death, too, was underwhelming.
To me, I think, the finale episode failed more than any other to live up to the book-reader hype. It was a good finale — and the Brienne/Hound fight was great — but I have to admit I was a little disappointed in the way that Tywin was killed. The actual scene itself (and Shae’s murder beforehand) was effective, but the way it happened was disappointing. Why? Because after the devastation of Oberyn’s death, book readers would commiserate, but then say, “But it’s necessary to set up what happens next, which will make it totally worth it.”
Based on that, I got the idea in my head that there was a grand plan in play. That Varys and Jamie had set into motion this great act of deceit and trickery that would end in Tywin’s death and Tyrion’s life being spared. I was expecting some Littlefinger-like sh*t to go down. In the end, however, it was too simple: Jamie and Varys had planned to sneak him out the night and put him on a boat. There was no trickery there. There was no grand conspiracy or political manipulation. Likewise, Tywin’s death didn’t come about from meticulous planning and the execution of a brilliant plan, it happened because Tyrion made a last second decision to sneak up before he escaped.
That was it? I mean, the bow-and-arrow on the chamberpot death was cool, and the exchange between Tyrion and Tywin was great, but how they got to that point left a little something to be desired.
Look: I also understand that, in the finale, the book readers were also disappointed that a certain thing they expected to happen and BLOW OUR MINDS didn’t end up happening this season. So, in a way, book readers were also a victim of their own hype. And I also understand that, having read thousands and thousands of pages, book readers feel perhaps more invested, so of course they’re going to overhype certain things that connected with them while reading the novels. Book readers have done nothing wrong, obviously: They expressed a lot of enthusiasm for material they love.
On the flip side, I will say this: My favorite thing to do after each episode now is to seek out those book reader posts, talk to book readers, and read the book reader comments because, while they may oversell future episodes, they also shed a lot of light and fill in a lot of the holes of already aired episodes. Book readers have really enriched the post-episode discussion, and almost as fascinating as the episodes themselves is finding out the big and small differences between the series and the books. I mean, even something as small as finding out that Tyrion had no nose puts a lot of things into perspective: He’s uglier and perhaps not as endearing in the books, which helps better to explain why some (especially Cersei) think of him as a “monster.” That little fact adds so much to the story.
All of which is to say as diplomatically as possible: Book readers are TV Watchers’ friends! They may smugly lord knowledge over our heads and they may oversell future episodes, but they really do shed a lot of light on the series, on certain motivations, and on context. They help to better connect the dots, and some day, hopefully they will explain to us why the hell Melisandre’s face was weirdly staring back at Jon Snow in the fire that burned Ygritte’s body.