Looking Ahead to Game of Thrones Season 4

s4-premiere-300x300 It's almost that time of year again. Game of Thrones Season 4 starts airing in a month.

I've written about Game of Thrones every year since this blog started, and every year has been the same. I've been gleefully excited over some moments. I've been disgusted and horrified over others. I've talked about character assassination and the disturbing levels of misogyny, I've squeed and praised the show's good elements, and overall I've questioned why a show that's capable of getting things so right decides to mar its episodes each week with almost off-hand, completely unnecessary misogyny and racism.

I should probably quit the show, for the sake of my blood pressure. But I come back every year, because I love the books, and I love many of the actors (Lena Headey as Cersei! Sophie Turner as Sansa!), and I'm excited about many of the scenes to come. Every year, I summon up some desperate optimism, and every year I'm disappointed.

So here we go again. Season Four covers the second half of A Storm of Swords and some of the early parts of A Feast For Crows/A Dance with Dragons. And that means there are a lot of exciting things to look forward to. And a fair few things to worry about.

MAJOR SPOILERS for the books. Major. Don't read if you don't know how A Storm of Swords ends. Seriously.

Things To Look Forward To:

An increased role for Sansa

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It might be naive to hope that more Sansa will be a good thing, considering the way the show has treated other similar female characters in the past. But Sansa has a great plot arc coming this season, and I hope that increased screentime for her will allow us to explore her character and emotions in more depth (she even got a line in the "vengeance" trailer!). Plus the scene where she builds Winterfell in the snow is one of my favorite moments in the book, and I can't imagine a way they could mess it up.

Blind hopes, right?

The Tyrells plotting their way to the throne

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Natalie Dormer is a revelation as Margaery Tyrell, and the Queen of Thorns is endlessly entertaining. Watching them plot and scheme and vie against Cersei is going to be wonderful.

The introduction of Dorne

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The Sandsnakes! The red viper! The presence of more non-white characters who aren't slaves! And possibly even a discussion of Elia Targaryen? Please!

The Oathkeeper plotline

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I'm going to guess (although I can't know, obviously) that the Oathkeeper plotline is going to be moved ahead of Book 3 this season, just as the Jaime and Brienne plotline ran ahead of itself last season. And although I've been disappointed by the show's portrayal of Brienne at times, the fundamentals of this story can't be changed. It's a woman who can never truly be accepted as a knight, on a quest to rescue the young girl who kept hoping that a handsome knight would rescue her. It's an amazing subversion of traditional tropes of chivalry and romance, and that can't be changed by whatever the show's writers decide to do. Add in the fact that she goes on this impossible quest in order to upheld a vow she made to a dead woman, and you've got (to me) one of the most interesting and feminist plotlines in the series.

Potentially more Jaime and Brienne scenes

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Since Jaime has arrived at King's Landing ahead of schedule, there's a lot of potential here. It's possible that Jaime will send Brienne after Sansa as soon as she disappear, in (assumedly) the first half of the season. But it's also possible that she'll stick around. Either way, there's a lot of potential for new and compelling scenes. What happens when they reach King's Landing, and Sansa is not immediately returned? Do they talk about events at the wedding and about Tyrion?

Yes, I know this isn't a "feminist fiction" issue, but my little shipper heart is hopeful. The bearpit scene is in the past, and their reunion is a good two seasons away. I need my hopes!

Lady Stoneheart

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It's depressing that I have hopes that Lady Stoneheart will be a better character on the show than Catelyn Stark. After all, Catelyn Stark was a mother character, which the writers seemed to decide was too boring to properly portray. But Lady Stoneheart is a vengeance-obsessed zombie. A really creepy, heartbreaking, vengeance-obsessed zombie. I'm sure the writers will revel in that, and as long as we forget that show!Catelyn never expressed the same anti-war, anti-vengeance sentiments that drive her in the book, it could finally make for a satisfying Catelyn plotline.

Things that make me wary:

Shae

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Just... Shae. Shae, Shae, Shae. Shae is one of the few characters that I think the show has improved on from the book. She's an independent, resilient and caring character. She's one of the few women of color in the main cast, and she's been shown, again and again, as an intelligent and fierce friend to Sansa, as well as Tyrion's love. Additional interactions between female characters? A person Sansa can actually rely on? It feels too good to be true in a show that practices female character assassination on a weekly basis.

And it probably is too good to be true. Because this season, Shae is going to die. And if the show sticks to book canon, Tyrion is going to murder her. Tyrion's murder of Shae is a pretty controversial moment in book canon, and I'll probably write a full post about it before the episode airs, but the most disturbing element of it is people saying that Shae deserved to be strangled to death because she betrayed Tyrion. Because, when the man paying her to pretend to love him found himself in a deadly situation, she caved under the terrifying pressure of Tywin and Cersei and invented evidence against him. And, considering what we've seen of the show so far, I am very concerned that the show will present the same conclusion. Just as fan perceptions of Catelyn as cruel and interfering and a bad mother were given validation in the show's interpretation of her, so I fear fan's perceptions of Tyrion as a hero and Shae as a woman who deserved what she got will also be presented as the true nature of things. After all, the show has taken Tyrion's delusion in the books and turned it into true, mutual love. If Shae betrays him now, we're almost obligated to hate her.

The only hope, I think, is that they might make Tywin kill Shae, and make that action the thing that drives Tyrion to kill his father. But after seeing the latest trailer for Season Four, I'm not very optimistic.

Jaime's role in the "Oathkeeper" plotline

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Another issue that isn't really feminist, but is weighing on my mind. In the books, Jaime arrives at King's Landing after Sansa has disappeared, and sends Brienne to find her in order to fulfil his oath. Sansa Stark, he says, is his last chance for honor. But he's arrived too soon, before the wedding, before Sansa leaves... and if he doesn't at least make an effort to care for Sansa in some way, the rest of his story arc could be destabilised. If he decides there's nothing he can do, incurs Brienne's anger and then expresses regret, that's one thing. If the issue is ignored entirely, though, we might have some problems on our hands.

Theon's scenes with Ramsey Bolton

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Oh god. Stop. Please. We get the picture. It's torture porn at this point, and it's too horrific for words.

The rampant misogyny, long brothel scenes, and character assassination of female characters

Let's have Sophie Turner on the iron throne instead of a pic to illustrate this one...

I have little hope that this is going to go away. I can't think of a single reason why these scenes would appear in Season Four, as Littlefinger is leaving King's Landing, Tyrion is locked up, and the plot absolutely doesn't call for it. Surely we're too busy worrying about Tyrion's trial, Sansa's escape, and the wildlings at the Wall to spend five long minutes in a brothel. But last season, the show seemed determined to up the level of misogyny, shoving it in places that were completely unnecessary, as though in mocking response to the way it's been criticized. It revels in the image of "it's not porn, it's Game of Thrones!" If I wasn't a massive book fan eager to see my favorite scenes on screen (and, it seems, a glutton for punishment), I would have quit the show a long time ago in disgust.

But those things to look forward to are too good to ignore. Here's (madly?) hoping for a good season four.