In a year punctuated by creative highs and gaudy ratings milestones, “Game of Thrones” capped off its fourth season in first-rate fashion, based on the show’s own metric of just how many “Holy crap” moments it delivered.
After a penultimate episode that again seemed to break the piggy bank in terms of sweeping action sequences, the finale (and SPOILER ALERT if you haven’t watched) opened with another.
Nevertheless, the real show-stopping exchanges occurred later in the hour. Those included the brutal yet wholly satisfying fight between Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) and the Hound (Rory McCann), as well as the latter’s closing scene with Arya (Maisie Williams), with virtually every scene between those two having consistently yielded some of the season’s finest (and disarmingly, funniest) moments.
Ditto for the relationship between the Lannister brothers, Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) and Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), a beacon of warmth in a series so often awash in darkness and cruelty. Of course, that led to Tyrion’s encounter with their father Tywin (Charles Dance), which punctuated the notion of Father’s Day — and perhaps feeling relatively good about one’s own dad — in unexpected ways.
Perhaps most notably, “Thrones” has managed to maintain these kind of juicy, brilliantly acted character beats while descending further into the realm of fantasy, what with murderous skeletons straight out of “Jason and the Argonauts,” marauding dragons (not as easy to control, alas, as some might hope) and the mystical travels of Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) and his posse, complete with eye-rolling trances.
To that extent, the accomplishment by showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss is truly extraordinary – having to tame, as they must, the unlimited vistas available to author George R.R. Martin on the printed page, where money is no object and mythology can run amok.
As this season made clear, the series has also continued to feather its nest with marquee actors, such as Ciaran Hinds and Diana Rigg, which has certainly helped soften the blow as major players fall by the wayside.
The most interesting question now will be whether the well-spring of popularity and support for the show – with some going so far as to call it the best TV series ever – will spill over into Emmy voting, where there has historically been a general resistance to genre pieces, and some voters cast at a disapproving eye at the show because of its levels of explicit content. (It’s a leap, for example, “The Walking Dead” appears hard-pressed to achieve, no matter how many billboards AMC scatters across Los Angeles.)
Not that “Thrones” necessarily requires such validation to burnish its place as the most valuable franchise in pay cable right now – meaning millions of people won’t cancel subscriptions so long as it’s on – but HBO’s appetite for such recognition is hardly a secret. And while the series has already been renewed for two more seasons, it’s hard to imagine it getting much hotter, frankly, than it is right now.
Whatever the future holds in regard to awards, in one key respect the outcome runs counter to the program’s “You win or you die” mantra. Because in terms of bringing prestige, commercial success and “It’s not TV” scope (to borrow HBO’s old promotional slogan) together in one epic package, there’s not much on TV that could possibly knock “Game of Thrones” off its perch.