It’s season finale time for HBO’s most watched series. Now ‘The Children’ is being touted as the season’s best episode, so how does it stack up?
Let’s bitch it out…
Like most of Game of Thrones finales, this episode finds our characters transitioning between locations and storylines. And so it is that the majority of the people who appear in ‘The Children’ will end up in completely different places next season as no less than two characters begin a sea voyage, one takes up residence in the North and several others make life-changing decisions that will no doubt dramatically affect their fortunes.
Let’s start up beyond The Wall with Jon Snow (Kit Harington) and his attempts to negotiate a truce with Mance Rayder (Ciarán Hinds), the oft-mentioned, infrequently seen King of North. Last week was dedicated exclusively to these two battling it out (by proxy in the case of Rayder) and it seems like things are about to reach a boiling point just when an unlikely ally turns up in the form of Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane). Before you can say “that’s a lot of kings”, Stannis has taken control and all of the free folk are either killed or captured. This includes Mance, who is disappointingly reintroduced and then disposed of nearly as quickly. Thankfully Jon advocates taking him prisoner, not killing him, so hopefully we’ll see more of the King Beyond The Wall next season.
With Stannis on the scene there’s a new kind of regime afoot: the Night’s Watch has effectively been replenished, but there’s already a suggestion that Stannis’ presence is causing some discomfort. This is apparent not only in Stannis’ heightened position above the men at the funeral, but Jon’s cow-towing to the demand that Stannis be referred to as ‘Your Grace’. Add to this the quick glimpse between Jon and Melisandre (Carice van Houten) through the fire and there are definite hints that something dark is on the horizon.
Less certain is Bran’s (Isaac Hempstead Wright) storyline. On one hand the Stark boy finally makes it to the God’s tree from his vision, but he loses Jojen to the wights on the way (Side Bar: These skeletons are a bit too Pirates of the Caribbean / Harryhausen for my tastes). As usual I find Bran a disappointing character and this pay-off hardly seems worth it. Sure he finds his three-eyed crow (who turns out to be a blind man on a throne of twigs), but his reward is simply the news that he’ll soon be able to fly. Unless it’s a Lysa Arynn kind of flight, I say yawn to that.
The action in King’s Landing is more enjoyable. The scheduling of this episode on Father’s Day is clearly an ironic commentary by series showrunners Weiss and Benioff since so much of what goes on in ‘The Children’ is driven by Charles Dance’s terrible dad, Tywin Lannister. His daughter, Cersei (Lena Headey), refuses to marry outside of the bloodline and when it appears that Tywin will once again put his foot down, she lets slip the one truth he’s never been able to reconcile: her incestuous relationship with Jamie (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau). It’s a delicious scene for both actors because it allows both to sink their teeth into the material, even as it demonstrates that the Lannisters are nothing more than rich white folk with petty family drama. The same can be said of Tywin’s final chat with his disappointing son in the privy. It’s not entirely clear whether Tywin actually believes the compliments he heaps on Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) or if he’s just reacting to the crossbow (Side Note: that thing has gotten a lot of action in this show!). Either way, Tywin plays his “bad daddy” routine to the max, shaming his adult children and telling them to follow his rules or else. In response they threaten blackmail and shoot a few pointy arrows into his chest. See: the Lannisters – they’re just like us!
That leaves us with our fearsome twosome, Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) and The Hound (Rory McCann). After the disappointing conclusion to their journey to the Vale, they happen upon a pair of unlikely travelers in Brienne (Gwendoline Cristie) and Poderick, which means that the fight for Arya is on. If one element of the finale stands out, it will be the resulting WWE-style pummeling that Brienne and The Hound deliver on each other and hot damn is it ever enjoyable. Initially things start a bit slow: the sword fighting isn’t great and both seem off their game. It’s not until Brienne has The Hound on his knees and he grips her sword in bloodied hands that the shit hits the fan. Then the gloves really come off. Kicks to the groin and rocks to the face are on the menu as the two warriors engage in the kind of epic, bloody beat-down-brawl that we haven’t seen in ages. I mean, Brienne bites off his ear! It’s incredibly hard-core and I don’t completely understand how the two actors didn’t actually kill themselves during filming. All I know is that this is a fight for the ages and I was on the edge of my seat, squealing like a child as each blow landed for fear either character would die.
Ultimately Arya’s cruel reaction to the outcome (hiding from Brienne, abandoning The Hound to die) is an accurate reflection of her dark journey over the course of the season. It’s significant that The Hound starts off telling her she won’t last a day and ends up begging her to kill him. It not only shows how cowardly he truly is, but also how much she’s grown. Her emancipation leads her to the salt docks and a ship bound for Braavos. The final image of her exhilarated face as she begins a new journey mirrors our own: who knows what Game of Thrones has in store for us next year, but damn if this journey isn’t memorable!
- I’ve gushed enough about the fight between Brienne and The Hound, but can we talk about the stunning Icelandic scenery? That landscape is as gorgeous as the battle was brutal.
- I haven’t felt much in response to Dany’s (Emilia Clarke) storyline this season because it feels like she’s become embroiled in her emancipation tour. It’s hard not to feel something, though, when she locks up her dragons in the catacombs and they wail as she closes them in. Powerful stuff, made all the more memorable by the seriously overwhelming production design of that underground set – it somehow manages to look both regal and crypt-like despite its massive size.
- Similarly emotional is Tyrion’s murder of Shae (Sibel Kekilli). It is also unexpectedly brutal. At first I thought they would just tussle, but then she pulls a knife and he grabs her necklace and you know one of them will die. The decision to stay in a close-up of his face as he cries before slowly panning over to her dead, vacant gaze is haunting. He truly did love her…and then he killed her.
With that, Game of Thrones wraps up another year. What are your thoughts on S4? Which moment stands out the most this season? What will you take away from ‘The Children’? Whose journey is most compelling: Arya’s or Tyrion’s? Is Stannis going to butt heads with Jon at The Wall? What will happen in King’s Landing now that Tyrion is dead? And will Dany’s dragons stay in the dungeon? Sound off below.
Game of Thrones has finished airing its fourth season. It will return for S5 next spring.