Here we are, time to bid farewell to another season of “Game of Thrones,” just as soon as we get through this extra long (66 minute) episode—with slim chances that all of our characters are going to make it out intact. If anyone checked out the news about the Emmy submissions last week, you might have noted that this week’s finale “The Children” was the only episode that HBO submitted for best writing, so we were expecting a lot from this one (though last week’s episode “The Watchers on the Wall” would have made a fine submission too, as though it was rife with action and bloodshed, had some damn fine speeches and story moments. Also giants). But this finale definitely lived up to the hype, with some incredible twists, turns and monologuing along the way as well.
Directed by Alex Graves, who has directed several episodes this season (including the incredible Purple Wedding and the botched Jaime/Cersei rape scene, so, mixed results), this is an episode that has to wrap things up, move things forward and check in with many dispersed characters whom we’ve left for many episodes to focus on other, more pertinent matters (like the massive Wildling army). That’s definitely a tall order, and “The Children” pulls it off.
I was a bit surprised that this episode picked up right where the last one left off, to the minute in fact, with Jon Snow (Kit Harington) making his way out beyond the wall to find and kill Mance Rayder (Ciarán Hinds). He doesn’t make it more than a few feet into the woods when he’s surrounded by guards and in front of Mance Rayder’s tent. Quite the accessible guy, this Mance! He invites Jon inside for a chat, despite his clear disapproval at Jon’s return to the fold at Castle Black. Of course, Mance brings up the issue of Ygritte (Rose Leslie), and the two men drink to her memory with some hideous fermented chunky milky moonshine. They also drink to the departed Grenn and Mag the Mighty (the giant who lost his life in the tunnel).
While one of Mance’s men prepares a snack, Mance lets Jon know that there are already Wildlings climbing the wall at another location. Mance explains they want the wall for protection (from WINTER) and need to get access to the tunnel, so that they aren’t beyond the wall whenever WINTER arrives. Essentially, Mance is just a guy trying to defend his people. All the while Jon eyes the knife left out, though it’s clearly a suicide mission to attempt to kill him.
Before anything can happen between these two enemies, a massive army on horseback descends upon the woods, efficiently hacking and axing the Wildlings to smithereens. Excuse my French, but who the FUCK could this be?
Out of the mist rides Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane) and Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham). Wha-wha-WHAT? Apparently these dudes have spent the last couple of episodes bringing their massive army all the way up to the Wall. Mance quickly surrenders, but he won’t kneel to Stannis (who is way too obsessed with his quasi kingly status and the useless rituals that go along with it—this ain’t King’s Landing, bro). However, Jon Snow manages to save Mance’s tail by offering up his opinion what they should do with Mance (take him prisoner; listen to him), which Stannis respects because he’s Ned Stark’s son. How the tables are turned. Jon also gives them a hot tip: burn the dead before nightfall as a preventative tactic against those icky zombie wights.
At Castle Black, Aemon Targaryen (Peter Vaughan) is presiding over the mass funeral pyre of the fallen Night’s Watch men, along with witnesses Davos, Stannis, and Stannis’ family. Of course, Melisandre (Carice Van Houten) gives Jon Snow the creepy eyes through the fire. Watch out Snow, she’s gonna strip you down and leech you if you aren’t careful. (Speaking of, did Gendry ever make it out of that boat?) Massive Ginger King Kong Tormund Giantsbane (Kristofer Hivju) has recovered from his multiple arrow wounds and he is PISSED about it too. Jon invites him to say some words over the dead bodies before they burn them and Tormund seems to find this ludicrous. Though he doesn’t seem to hold any great sentiment for the dead, he does tell Jon that Ygritte belongs in the North for her final resting place. Jon grants this request, burning her a pyre just beyond the Wall.
The Mountain/Sandor Clegane (Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson) is not dead after squishing the head of Oberyn Martell, but he is in bad shape, his wounds poisoned by Oberyn’s sword. Maester Pycelle (Julian Glover) wants to drug him up and let him die in peace, but Cersei (Lena Headey) wants to keep him alive, something promised by the young quack she lets take over (he’s not a Maester). The doc quickly sets up some horrific blood pumping system and tells Cersei he won’t be the same—not weaker but not the same (so you’re making the Hulk? Is that what’s going on here?).
Cersei, emboldened, goes to her father, Tywin (Charles Dance), to contest her impending marriage to Loras Tyrell. She refuses to leave King’s Landing, to leave Tommen, her son, the new king. Now that Joffrey is dead and Myrcella is off in Dorne, she refuses to leave her last child. Cersei plays the only trump card she has left, and wow, it’s a doozy. She threatens to tell the truth, which is, of course, that she and Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) are lovers and parents to her children, which appears to be a fact that Tywin is in denial about. It’s the first time we’ve seen Tywin actually look bewildered, upset, off-put. You’re losing it man! The kids are revolting!
Cersei then goes to find Jaime obsessing over his page in the book of knights (very cool hobby). They argue about Tyrion (Peter Dinklage), who is slated to die tomorrow. Cersei kisses him and tells him that she told Tywin about their relationship. She declares that she chooses him, kisses his golden hand, and then the two get busy on top of the table. Okay, but isn’t it a LITTLE weird that Cersei would aggressively seduce her rapist so quickly after the attack? Come on now, ‘GoT’ writers/directors. I’m gonna keep calling out your incredibly poor execution of this whole Jaime/Cersei situation this season. It’s a mess! Please get your heads out of your asses next season.
Over in Meereen, Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) is up to the very difficult task of ruling a city she has just overtaken and completely changed overnight. An elderly teacher asks her to let him be sold back into slavery to his master, as the shelters that Daenerys has set up are inviting chaos and predatory behavior amongst the freed slaves (question: why doesn’t the guy just move back in to the master’s house as a freed man?). She allows him to set up a one-year contract (and thus, employment was born, thank you great Khaleesi), though Ser Barristan Selmy (Ian McElhinney) warns her this loophole is going to reintroduce slavery into Meereen.
Khaleesi has got MUCH bigger problems though, as the next complainant is a man whose toddler has been burned to a crisp by the biggest dragon, whom they’ve lost track of at this point. She realizes the only right thing to do is to chain up the two smaller dragons in the catacombs, which she does tearfully. Breaker of Chains? Better scratch that title from the list, Miss Daenerys!
Beyond the Wall
Finally, we return to our merry band of psychic teens, Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead-Wright), Jojen (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) and Meera Reed (Ellie Kendrick) (and Hodor, obvs). They fight their way through a blizzard and find themselves at the magical psychic tree! Oh happy, happy day. Happy until a dang skeleton zombie shoots its hand out of the snow and grabs Jojen. More and more skeleton zombies pop out of the snow, and attack them, and while Meera ably fights them off, Bran has to warg into Hodor (Kristian Nairn) in order to effectively utilize his Hulk strength and fight them off. Unfortunately, one of the skeletons stabs Jojen to near death, before suddenly a small, dirty child saves them with flaming fireballs (this show, man…).
Meera has to finish off her brother before they make a break for the cave where the creepy child has beckoned them. Once in the cave, the skeletons explode when they try to pass its threshold, which would have been useful information like five minutes ago. The child tells them that her group is “The Children,” and that “he” waits for Bran. “He” is an old, wizened man ensconced in the underground roots of the tree. He also knows who Bran is, and Bran knows that he is the three-eyed raven. The man claims to have been watching them all, and promises that soon Bran will be able to fly (crows? DRAGONS?!).
Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) wakes up with a start and realizes that the horses are gone. Darn it Podrick! (Cue laugh track, best sitcom ever.) She and Pod (Daniel Porter) are on the road, looking for the Eyrie to find Arya or whatever other Stark they can. Their terrible timing is actually perfect timing, because they come upon Arya (Maisie Williams) practicing her water dance on a hill. They chat amiably, Arya impressed with Brienne’s sword and her knighthood, and Brienne impressed with Arya’s plucky demeanor. She doesn’t realize who she is though, until the Hound (Rory McCann) emerges from his business behind a rock and Pod recognizes him.
The situation escalates quickly, as Brienne starts in on her her speech about sacred vows and protection, sort of manically insisting that Arya has to come with her. Hey crazy lady, take it down a notch or two. The Hound is not buying it at all, especially since she’s got a sword of Lannister gold and Valyrian steel. Arya’s sticking by the Hound’s side, though Brienne claims to want to bring her to safety (the Hound counters with the rough, “there’s no safety, you dumb bitch,” ain’t that the truth in Westeros?).
The two warriors quickly square off against each other, battling on the dramatic landscape. It’s an evenly matched fight, and truly breathtaking to behold against the stark and sweeping vistas. Though Brienne gets the upper hand, the Hound takes the fight into brutal, dirty territory, Brienne doing some serious damage to him as well, as the two engage in a ferocious fisticuffs. She knocks him over a short, but decisive cliff. She screams for Arya, who is hiding, and has no luck in finding her.
Arya approaches the battered, bloody, and bruised body of the Hound, who’s holding onto life for the time being. She asks him if he’s going to die and he’s up front about the fact he will, ruefully noting he’s been killed by a woman. He asks Arya to kill him, to end the misery, and when she doesn’t make a move, the Hound launches into a litany of the horrible things he’s done or could have done (killed her friend, could have raped her sister), trying to rile her into finishing him off, but she doesn’t move.
McCann gives a stunning final performance as the Hound, a terrifying character whom we’ve come to love and root for, a complicated, violent, but ultimately human character, full of both darkness and … some less dark parts. He begs her to kill him, but she simply takes the bag of silver off of his body and gets on her way, leaving him shouting uselessly into the canyon. Arya’s cold-blooded transformation is complete.
King’s Landing (again)
Finally, FINALLY we get to see what’s going to happen to Tyrion. Of course, Jaime comes to his cell to break him out, courtesy of Varys (Conleth Hall). While he sends Tyrion on his way with a hug and a kiss, Tyrion takes a detour to dad Tywin’s room. And whom does he find in Tywin’s bed but … a sleepy, sexy Shae (Sebil Kekilli). She even calls out “Tywin, my lion” when she hears a man approaching. When she sees Tyrion, she quickly grabs a knife and the two fight and struggle in the bed. She knocks him off the bed, and he uses her necklace to strangle her to death, the camera resting not on the act itself but on his anguished face as he does the deed. He ends it with a small “I’m sorry.” Add that to the Emmy reel! Tyrion grabs a crossbow and heads down the hall. He finds his father, Tywin sitting on the toilet. What a sad, but fitting place for a political schemer like Tywin to go, atop a throne, of sorts. Though Tywin claims he’d never let Tyrion be executed, that’s not the score that Tyrion’s come to settle. His issue is with Shae. And yet, he’s clearly still smarting from the fact that his father sentenced him to death. But as soon as Tywin refers to Shae as a whore (for the second time), Tyrion unleashes an arrow into him. Declaring “I have always been your son,” Tyrion looses another arrow into his dad, and leaves the body in the shitter.
Varys scoops him up from the hall, and promptly deposits him into a shipping crate, which he shepherds onto a ship, the bells of King’s Landing clanging in crisis as they ready themselves to depart.
The last scene returns us to the Eyrie, where Arya is astride her white steed, alone. She spots a boat and asks the captain to take her to the north, to the Wall. He refuses, because they’re going to Braavos, and Arya pulls her last power move—the iron coin bequeathed to her by Jaqen H’ghar, exclaiming “Valar Morghulis”—and the captain, shocked, pays his respects and promises her a cabin.
That’s a wrap on season four, y’all. Set the cannons off for the following tributes this episode: Jojen Reed, The Hound, Shae, Tywin. Who are you most upset or shocked about losing? Honestly, he was an evil, evil character, but I’m going to miss Tywin Lannister and the distinct brand of shade Charles Dance brought to those line readings. And of course, the Hound, from one of the most reviled characters to one the most beloved (considering what we have to choose from), it’s a shame we won’t be seeing more of Rory McCann’s performance. I’m quite irked that HBO didn’t submit him for Emmy consideration, as he’s done some fine, nuanced work with his character this season, more than say, someone like Emilia Clarke, who, while charming, has pretty much stayed in the same tone all season long. Overall, it’s been a dramatic, but uneven season, and who knows where they can go from here, having upped all the antes that could have possibly been upped.
Final thoughts on the finale episode? The season in general? Thanks for sticking with the recaps and here’s hoping you all find something to fill that “Game of Thrones” void until next year.