THE GAME IS AFOOT!

Sea­son 4 of HBO se­ries doesn’t dis­ap­point, de­liv­er­ing all the sword-swing­ing, fire-breath­ing mayhem fans have come to ex­pect

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - FRONT PAGE - BRAD OSWALD

THERE are dark and dan­ger­ous days ahead for the House Lan­nis­ter. And that’s about as close to a Game of Thrones spoiler as you’re go­ing to get from this col­umn, be­cause I’m well aware that tip­ping off any ac­tual sto­ry­line de­tails prior to Sun­day’s fourth-sea­son pre­mière (HBO Canada; check list­ings for time) would make me about as pop­u­lar as a Wes­teros wed­ding plan­ner. (True story: While I was pre­view­ing a few episodes of the new sea­son on my desk­top com­puter the other day, an­other Free Press staffer in a nearby cu­bi­cle built a sight­line-block­ing bar­rier out of an of­fice chair and a garbage can in or­der to shield his eyes from any sus­pense-steal­ing spoil­ers that might show up on my screen.) When the se­ries re­turned last year for its third sea­son, a fair amount of time was spent set­ting the stage for the car­nage and blood­shed that would ar­rive in the sec­ond half’s episodes. But when things got mov­ing, they re­ally got mov­ing; with­out ques­tion, the now­in­fa­mous Red Wed­ding episode be­came one of the most talked-about on­screen events of the past TV year. As the new sea­son be­gins, Game of Thrones — which, by the way, continues to have the best open­ing-ti­tles se­quence ever — is fully into the aftermath of the slaugh­ter and is be­gin­ning to con­sider the any­thing-but-small is­sue of con­se­quences. The Lan­nis­ters con­tinue to cel­e­brate the end of war (a bit pre­ma­ture, per­haps?), and an un­easy sense of oc­ca­sion is build­ing as teenage King Jof­frey (Jack Glee­son) pre­pares to wed Mar­gaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer) in a union that has mas­sive strate­gic im­pli­ca­tions. Else­where, in ev­ery di­rec­tion, forces are amass­ing and at­ti­tudes are far from joy­ous. If there’s one grim cer­tainty to Game of Thrones, it’s that con­flict and vi­o­lence are com­ing. Soon. The in­ter­nal pol­i­tics of the Lan­nis­ter clan are suf­fi­ciently com­plex and com­pelling to be a TV se­ries on their own, but this tightly wo­ven nar­ra­tive thread is just one of dozens that con­tinue to be ser­viced beau­ti­fully as Game of Thrones moves into what its pro­duc­ers de­scribe as the se­ries’ mid­point sea­son (the plan, ac­cord­ing to cre­ators David Be­nioff and D.B. Weiss, is for a seven-sea­son run). As al­ways, the ac­tion in Game of Thrones moves quickly from place to place to place as mul­ti­ple sto­ry­lines un­fold. What’s amaz­ing, how­ever, is that noth­ing feels rushed; view­ers feel fully im­mersed in ev­ery scene, and the credit for that be­longs to the fact that metic­u­lous at­ten­tion is paid to ev­ery de­tail on ev­ery cre­ative level. The sets, cine­matog­ra­phy and dig­i­tal spe­cial ef­fects are breath­tak­ing, so there’s a feel­ing of im­mense spec­ta­cle to the story. But be­cause the di­a­logue is so sharp and clever and the per­for­mances by the huge cast — from ma­jor char­ac­ters right down to the most fleet­ingly glimpsed back­ground play­ers — are so great, there’s also a great sense of in­ti­macy and per­sonal con­nec­tion within the big-pic­ture ex­plo­rations. One gets the sense that no par­ent in the Game of Thrones uni­verse ever of­fered his or her child that old “sticks and stones...” bit of ad­vice, be­cause the way they’re wielded in this se­ries, words are of­ten just as cut­ting as sword blades or axes. If you haven’t been fol­low­ing Game of Thrones but you’re look­ing to join the fun now, the ad­vice here is that binge-watch­ing the first three sea­sons is pretty much an es­sen­tial crash course if you’re hop­ing to fully ap­pre­ci­ate the in­tri­ca­cies of Sea­son 4. In nar­ra­tive terms, this is a very fast-mov­ing train that car­ries a whole lot of pas­sen­gers in cramped quar­ters, so jump­ing aboard so long af­ter the jour­ney has be­gun might prove to be a con­found­ing dis­ap­point­ment. But if once you’re in, it’s quite a ride. De­spite ev­ery­thing that has hap­pened in its im­mea­sur­ably am­bi­tious first three sea­sons, Game of Thrones feels very much like a drama that is only just be­gin­ning to hit its stride. What will the se­ries’ fourth sea­son bring? You’ll get no fur­ther hints here, be­yond the warn­ing that no one is safe, as ev­i­denced by the four-word slo­gan at­tached to all the new sea­son’s pro­mo­tional ma­te­rial and pre­view episodes: “All Men Must Die.”

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