Taking “Hot Seat” to a whole new level

Courtesy of HBO.

Courtesy of HBO.

“Game of Thrones” is back. Based on the series premiere, this season is going to be as thrilling and tightly choreographed as doing the ballet on the girders of a half-finished skyscraper. Established fans of the show and new viewers alike should not be disappointed.

            The opening to season four of the hit series features a wide array of returning characters, which, considering the show’s tendency to kill off characters, is helpful for reminding the audience who is still alive. The ascending Lannister family is still sniping at each other, Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) is still snarky and imperturbable and Sansa (Sophie Turner) still looks like she needs more sleep. The sex and the violence also make a quick return, but these seem slightly less gratuitous than in previous seasons.

            There are two key differences this season. First, Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) has three much larger dragons at her side. Hopefully, these will become more interesting as they transform from portable pyrotechnic props to giant intimidating fire-breathers. Second, there is a clever character introduction: Oberyn Martell (Pedro Pascal). Without giving too much away, the way he is introduced hints at both a naughty and righteous side to this sassy character.

            After the loss of major characters at the aptly named “Red Wedding” last season, viewers may be wondering “now what?” Rather than resolving a pressing climax carried over from the last season, this season premiere was forced to rebuild momentum. The first scene is an allegorical suggestion that the once-powerful Stark family is truly defeated, and symbols abound throughout the episode, such as when the “wildlings” hint at metaphorically eating the “crows” of the Night’s Watch by sticking a human limb from one of the border guards on a spit. With the exception of tracing a few sentimental favorites, the first episode was about palace intrigue more than anything else.

            Although minor, a few flaws have worked their way into the show. “Game of Thrones” typically tells its story by showing scenes oriented around a central character. However, the handling of the “wildling” barbarian invasion suggests mild confusion over how to recount that subplot. Moreover, the show was uneconomical with its time in a few scenes.

            On balance though, “Game of Thrones” stays sharp in a highly amusing fashion. Although it is unlikely that the show will ever be known for its depth of philosophical insight, it is a worthy way to decompress. It is a shame that a deeper meaning is difficult to grasp. If it were available, “Game of Thrones” might pass as a credible candidate for a modern version of Shakespeare meets Tolkien.

Contact Caleb Smith at caleb17 “at” stanford.edu