'Game of Thrones' Season 4 Finale: A series on the brink of change


After ten nerve-wracking weeks of TV viewing, the dust is settling in Westeros. Game of Thrones finished up its fourth season two days ago, and the countdown to Season 5 has begun (only about 290 days to go!). So now is a fine time to look at how far we’ve come with the show, and to talk about how it may be about to dive off into unknown territory.

That may not make much sense to fans of the source text – after all, there’s still two published books in the Song of Ice and Fire series left to adapt, along with two more (promised) installments that author George R.R. Martin has left to write. The season four finale, however, brought the show up to an important milestone: the end of the third book in the series, A Storm of Swords. And because of the way Martin wrote the books that followed, the creators of Game of Thrones are now presented with an opportunity to make a major split from the plot of the books and go in its own direction.

I’m going to get this out of the way right now: I’m one of the many Game of Thrones viewers who has never read the books, and I’m pretty sure I won’t be going back to catch up. But after a bit of careful research (avoiding show-spoiling plot descriptions, and focusing on the release and reception of the books), I’ve learned more about how the books and the show link up, and the narrative precipice the show’s writers now find themselves upon.

The consensus among reviewers and readers appears to be that the fourth and fifth books are not as good as the first three.  There have been comments about messy story structure and unresolved plot threads, and that’s not ideal if you’re a TV writing team trying to plan out 10 episodes of the most expensive show on the air. So it’s not surprising that starting in Season 5, the show will likely depart from the books even more than it already has.

Liam Cunningham as Davos Seaworth (center left) and Stephen Dillane as Stannis Baratheon (center right)

Granted, we know that the writers are keen to follow the outline of the books where they can. Back in March 2014, when HBO confirmed the show for a total of seven to eight seasons, showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss described how they meet with Martin to discuss what he’s planning for the yet-to-be-released books. When it comes down to the actual production process, though, it’s not Martin writing the scripts, and big deviations are bound to happen.

The question is, what kind of deviations will they be? It’s not wise to speculate too heavily on the direction of TV episodes that haven’t even been shot yet, but there is one big story aspect we can wonder about: will characters who died in the books survive on the show? And what about the opposite outcome – what if the show kills off some people who the writers deem not important or inconvenient?

Here's a hypothetical scenario for you: imagine you’re a writer on Game of Thrones. You’re planning out a rough sketch for a few episodes from the upcoming season, and you’re wondering what to do about one of the “secondary” storylines, like that of Stannis Baratheon or Ramsay Bolton. Along with the other writers, you’d prefer to tie off the thread and focus more on Daenerys or Tyrion. So Stannis or Ramsay meets a gruesome end, and boom – you now have more runtime (and more money) to spend on other parts of the story.

Issac Hempstead Wright as Bran Stark

Naturally, this scenario is simply pulled out of thin air, but it helps illustrate where the Thrones production team finds itself. They now have more control over where the stories go, and this will either mean that the show continues to grip its viewers with bold (if occasionally gratuitous) storytelling, or it could lead to narrative stagnation, as well.

How would that stagnation play out? Consider an opposite scenario to the one I floated above – where the writers decide to save a character that Martin actually killed off in the source novel.  Usually, if a character on TV survives against all odds, it’s because the producers know that particular character or actor is attracting viewers to a series, and the producers are worried that killing the person off will drive away viewers. From a purely financial perspective, it often makes sense to preserve a formula on a TV show, just to play it safe and give audiences what they think they want.

Once again, it’s unclear whether this might begin to happen when the series returns next year. But the possibility of major changes has never been greater. Ultimately, it will come down to how much you trust the TV wizards who have gotten us this far – can they be left to take the show where it should go, or (like many of their characters) will the power go to their heads?


What did you think of the Game of Thrones Season 4 finale? Does it truly represent a turning point for the series? Do we have nothing to worry about? Or is George R. R. Martin the only man for the job? Join the discussion in the comments section, and if you liked this article, share it with your friends and followers!