“All men must die.”
What is the point of fantasy fiction? It’s the oldest form of story-telling there is, going right back to the epic of Gilgamesh. It has fascinated Homer (The Iliad and The Odyssey), the Beowulf poet, Shakespeare (A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Tempest) and Milton (Paradise Lost) and continues to inspire authors today.
In the case of George R.R. Martin, fantasy fiction cannot be considered a form of wish fulfillment. Nobody in their right mind would choose to live in Westeros and Essos, the setting of Game of Thrones.
Sansa Stark: Source IMDb
The vast majority of people are unfree vassals, who must fight at their lord’s command in pointless military engagements. Many thousands are slaves, who may be tortured to death for the slightest transgression. In the wild places of the world, far worse dangers lurk than bears and wolves: the night is haunted by the undead white walkers, who hunt infants for dark purposes of their own.
Most sad of all is the treachery that tears whole families apart. In this series, the characters are forced to take painful decisions to protect those they love. Paradoxically, for powerless lords like Tyrion Lannister, often the only way to be loyal is to be disloyal.
Series four of Games of Thrones is the best yet. It continues to channel the unspoken fears that we have, and to evoke primal emotions that we suppress for much of our everyday lives. The violence, when it comes, is sudden and brutal. Characters in Game of Thrones do not crow about their joy of war. Even the most hardy champions, such as The Hound or Jaime Lannister, ‘the Kingslayer’, look back on their deeds with a sense of disgust.
Thankfully, series four is very much the time of the ladies, mostly because many of the men have already been gored by wild animals, stabbed in the back, poisoned or beheaded.
The strong female cast is one reason why Game of Thrones stands apart from other classics of the genre. Even Sansa Stark, who has spent the last three seasons doing little more than looking miserable and sniffing a lot, starts to see opportunities opening up for her. She has learned a great deal during her years of de facto imprisonment at King’s Landing.
Considering how long the series has been going on, it is astonishing that new plot lines are opening up all the time. Here we learn that events reaching right back to the death of Jon Arryn at the start of series one have been manipulated by a most unexpected éminence grise, whose Machiavellian plans are awe-inspiringly ambitious.
It is truly epic. I am starting to believe that Game of Thrones may be the finest television series ever.
Series four unusual guest star: Chilean actor Pedro Pascal strides into King’s Landing as Oberyn Martell, a major noble with vengeance in mind. What follows is the best sword fight in the series so far: dramatic, beautiful and horrifying.