Airdate: June 15, 2014
Directed by: Alex Graves
Written by: George R.R. Martin (“A Song of Ice and Fire” by), David Benioff (creator), D.B. Weiss (creator), David Benioff (written for television by), D.B. Weiss (written for television by)
All men must serve.
How soon a season passes. These ten episodes have gone by in the blink of an eye, and now we begin the long nine and half month wait until next April (I’m going to guess Sunday, April 5th as the premiere date). But before we get all mopey anticipating the long hiatus, let’s take a look at tonight’s excellent season finale. It managed to tie up even more loose ends, answer some questions, and began to move the pieces together for what should be a new season full of change. The power shifted tonight – but by how much won’t be seen until Season Five begins. Click through after the break to find out what we learned, and to see where we might be going.
<<Spoiler Alert: This article is a review and partial recap of Game of Thrones S04E10 – “The Children” – it will discuss major plot points and events in detail, and may contain strong language based on dialogue from the episode; read further at your own risk!>>
As far as season finales go, this one had much higher stakes than any that have come in the previous three seasons. It had huge revelations, surprise arrivals, a battle, an epic duel between two fan favorite characters, and the deaths of three recurring characters, one of which will have serious repercussions across all of Westeros next season. And we got to see where Jaime’s loyalty lay, as he chose his brother over their own, conniving father. Let’s examine tonight’s revelations – I’ll begin as the episode does, with the north, move east to Meereen, and finish in the Vale and King’s Landing.
Before I get into the body of the review, I just want to mention that, although I have read the books and am familiar with all of the bigger picture story arcs, Benioff and Weiss took so many departures tonight from the source material, that I honestly don’t know where they’re going with several of their storylines. This is refreshing, although at times very surprising. I won’t give away any spoilers from the books below, and will try to limit my surprise for my internal musings.
There are two main storylines in the North, with an additional one from further south converging tonight. Beginning with Bran, we saw him arrive at the massive weirwood he’s been seeing in his visions and dreams since he broke his back in Season One. The tree is a bastion of autumn surrounded by winter. As they approach the tree, and a cave entrance beneath it, they are attacked by a small horde of animated skeletons. These aren’t the White Walkers we’ve already seen, but a more decrepit, skeletal enemy. Jojen is stabbed, and dies, Meera giving the coup de grace as she cries in agony at losing her brother. The group is called from the cave entrance by a short, green-tinged child – she is one of the Children of the Forest, an ancient race that predates the First Men and the Andals in Westeros. According to legend, they cut the faces into the weirwoods all around the continent, but have now faded into memory and myth. These are the children referred to in the title of tonight’s episode – this meeting with Bran will play a huge role in future seasons.
She takes the remaining three into the cave after taking out a few skeletons with some sort of exploding missile, also doing Jojen the courtesy of destroying his body so that he won’t return as a white walker. Once inside the cave, we see that it is powerfully warded – a few skeletons try to follow them inside, shattering as they hit an invisible barrier. The child then takes them further inside, down into a chamber beneath the weirwood, its roots wending their way from floor to ceiling. The three-eyed raven is here, but we see the source of Bran’s visions, as well as the voice that’s been calling him: entwined within the roots, roots which go around and through his body, is an ancient man, older even than Grand Maester Aemon. He doesn’t yet give his name, but he is a greenseer, a man who has become incorporated into the weirwood above him, who can see through its eyes – and perhaps through other eyes as well, as he tells Bran that he’s been watching the three of them (Bran, Jojen, and Meera) since they were children. He’s going to tell Bran his purpose, and promises to give him what he has lost. Bran mistakes this for meaning he shall walk again, but the greenseer clarifies: “You’ll never walk again, but you will fly.”
This ties up Bran’s journey beyond the Wall, arriving at his destination and meeting the three-eyed raven – and the voice from his dreams. But this meeting leaves many questions still unanswered, questions which will have to wait until next season. Regardless of what happens to Bran, whether he stays to join the greenseer, the question remains: what will happen to Meera, and to that gentlest of giants, Hodor?
The second thread picks up in the aftermath of the Battle of Castle Black, seen in last week’s episode. Jon is entirely the focus: Jon with Mance, Jon with Tormund, Jon with Sam and Ed lighting pyres. The meeting with Mance Rayder, the King Beyond the Wall, is predictably tense. Neither man feels they can trust the other much, and with good reason – after all, Jon intends to try to murder Mance, thus dispersing the accompanying army with any luck. However, they start on a good note, making toasts to their dead – one to Ygritte, and another to Grenn and Mag the Mighty, the giant who killed Grenn (and was killed in turn) under the Wall. Jon, who apparently is a bad actor, even if Kit Harrington is not, makes eyes at a meat knife left nearby, and Mance accuses him of wanting to kill him. Before things can get bloody, horns sound – but it isn’t the Night’s Watch attacking.
Instead, it’s the arrival of Stannis and his cavalry – a bit late to the fight, and entering into battle while, unbeknownst to him, peace negotiations are (sort of) taking place. Mance drops his weapons, and the battle doesn’t last long – apparently, Stannis’s coin from the Iron Bank of Braavos has been able to find him quite the company of men, as about two thousand on horse attack the wildlings in a pincer move. As Stannis and Ser Davos approach Mance and Jon, Mance unsheathes his weapons and drops them. He refuses, however, to kneel before Stannis.
Stannis seems mildly surprised to find Ned Stark’s bastard here, and asks Jon what his father would have done to Mance. Here, Jon departs a little from what Ned would have done – as we saw in the very first episode of the first season, Ned was adamant that there is only one punishment for a deserter from the Night’s Watch – the sword. However, Jon manages to convince Stannis to spare Mance’s life, much to Mance’s surprise. Stannis is concerned about all the extra mouths to feed (he’s taken the better part of fifty or sixty thousand men and women prisoner), but these numbers could prove useful in the future. In fact, Mance tells Jon prior to Stannis’s arrival that he has no interest in battling the Night’s Watch – rather, he wants to move his people beyond the Wall to gain protection from the real threat, that which is coming behind them (white walkers, skeletons, and likely worse yet to come). What kind of power could Stannis wield if he is able to come to an accommodation with Mance? We’ll have to see if this alliance can be forged next season.
In the meantime, the Watch needs to deal with its dead, burning everyone before they turn into more wights. Sam, Jon, and Dolorous Ed all take a turn touching the torch to a funeral pyre in the courtyard of Castle Black, following a eulogy spoken by Maester Aemon. We see Stannis and his family watching, but most importantly, Melisandre is there, and she’s busy staring at Jon Snow. He meets her look through the flames – what’s her interest in Jon? He’d best be careful – you know nothing, Jon Snow.
His meeting with Tormund is almost one between old comrades. There is definitely a mutual respect, despite their current enmity. Tormund asks Jon if he loved Ygritte, and tells him that she loved Jon. He asks Tormund how he knows – “All she talked about was killing you – that’s how I know” he replies. He tells Jon that Ygritte belongs beyond the Wall. We see Jon, on a lone pilgrimage north, taking Ygritte’s body. He builds a pyre and burns her body, fighting back the tears as he’s unable to look upon her. It’s moving – he never says he loves her, either to Tormund or as he’s honoring her corpse, but he says it with his face and the tension in his shoulders.
Jon’s treatment with Mance, combined with Mance’s surrender to Stannis, means that the battle in the north is, for now, done. What will Stannis do with all of the men he’s taken? Will Melisandre’s god, R’hllor, crave the blood of the King Beyond the Wall? And why is she so interested in Jon Snow? Although the main thread has now been tied off – Mance’s army, approaching for the better part of two seasons, has now been defeated while maintaining much of its strength – new threads have been started. It will be interesting to see how Stannis parlays his new position, as what he is really interested in still lies over a thousand miles to the south, in King’s Landing.
Daenerys gets only a short amount of screen time tonight. To be fair, she had most of her drama last week, with the discovery that Ser Jorah had been a paid spy for King Robert Baratheon, and his consequent exile from Meereen. But that doesn’t mean that tonight wasn’t just as dramatic in it’s own way. After dealing with a disgruntled former slave – he wishes to be able to sell himself back into bondage, which Dany makes a concession for in the form of a one year renewable contract (Ser Barristan is very prescient here, pointing out correctly that the Masters will take advantage of this new position) – she receives another petitioner. He’s carrying a bundle in his arms, very reminiscent of the bundle carried by the shepherd earlier this season, when he brought sheep bones to Dany after Drogon, the black and largest dragon, took out an entire herd. This time, the contents are more sinister – the man’s three-year old daughter, her scorched skeleton all that is left.
As a result, a tearful yet resolute Dany chains her other two dragons in the catacombs beneath Meereen. Unfortunately for her, and for her subjects, Drogon is unaccounted for. In the “as previously seen” section at the beginning of the episode, we had a flashback to Ser Jorah’s warning – the dragons are wild, and cannot be tamed. Dany’s problems heading into Season Five are multiplying. What a change from last year’s season finale, “Mhysa,” when the season ended on Dany as she was being called mother by the multitudes of newly freed slaves. Her moment of glory is quickly becoming tarnished, and this should harden her. The lessons are hard, but they are lessons she needs to learn in order to be capable of controlling Westeros, should that opportunity present itself in future seasons.
Podrick is back in Brienne’s bad books again – he failed to hobble the horses properly, and they’ve left in the night. But just as this appeared to be the beginning of another humorous aside as we have had from the two of them before, Brienne espies Arya on a nearby ridge, practicing her forms. The two groups meet, Brienne realizing who Arya is once she realizes who The Hound is (thanks to Podrick). She tells Arya to come with her, but The Hound will none of it, and the two duel. It’s an epic battle, less exciting in the sense of the pure artistry we saw from Prince Oberyn two weeks ago, but as a drag it out, knock ’em down, it was one of the best fights of the season – number two after the Mountain and the Viper in my books. They battle back and forth across the ridge-line, Brienne disarming The Hound, only to have him grip her sword in his hands, bloodying himself, before he disarms her in turn. They go dirty, going for crotches, pulling hair, smashing each other with anything at hand, and Brienne even going all Mike Tyson on The Hound, biting off one of his ears. Ultimately, she gets the better of him, and she sends him tumbling down a steep slope. Battle done, neither she nor Podrick can find Arya, so they continue on their way to the Eyrie.
Arya’s hiding, and she soon climbs down to check on The Hound. He’s done – compound fracture of his leg, probable brain damage from getting hit in the head so much – and he asks Arya to finish him. She won’t – she just stares at him with cold, cold eyes. He tries to goad her on, bringing up the butcher’s boy he killed at Joffrey’s behest, and talking about regretting not raping Sansa. Still, Arya won’t bite, just observing him much as she might an insect. He even gives her some good advice, telling her to follow after Brienne, but she isn’t interested in that either. Instead, she takes his coin purse, and walks away, his pleading voice echoing behind her, “Kill me!”
Arya also gets the very last scene of the season. She approaches a ship getting ready to sail from a small village, and asks for passage to the north. The captain refuses, telling her they’re going home, to Braavos. She pulls out the coin Jaqen gave her back at Harrenhal. He takes it, and looks shocked, looking at Arya with a bit of respect, and not a bit of fear. She says to the captain, “Valar morghulis,” all men must die. He looks shocked, and bows to her, replying, “Valar dohaeris,” all men must serve. We cut to Arya in the prow of the boat, as the music swells and she leaves Westeros behind.
Last year’s season finale focused in on Daenerys in its final scene, and her character had a huge amount of development this season, even as she became stalled in Slaver’s Bay. By focusing on Arya in the last moment of this season, Benioff and Weiss are indicating that next season we will see a much greater focus on the youngest Stark daughter. She’s becoming something deadly, something as cold as ice, something that will be able to fend for itself. Perhaps she will even be able to work a bit further through her list. It will be interesting to see what kind of treatment Jaqen’s coin earns her – it certainly got the attention of the captain. Braavos looks like a very interesting city as well, and it will be refreshing to get a new, regular location in the fifth season.
Although King’s Landing is not the final focus of the episode, the biggest events of the night take place here. Several interesting developments happen, not the least being the deaths of two series regulars, one of which is just huge. Tywin Lannister’s death, at the hands of his son Tyrion, will have repercussions that outstrip those caused by the death of King Joffrey, and perhaps even King Robert – and that death led directly to the War of the Five Kings. Yes, it will be that big, at the very least weakening the Lannisters so much that it will invite the other Great Houses to begin their machinations anew, even if they appeared to be defeated previously.
But before discussing this at length, let’s take a quick look at the other stories going on, most of which involve Cersei.
First, we see her with Grand Maester Pycelle and Qyburn, the failed maester, as they work on The Mountain. He’s still alive, but is dying, poisoned by what appears to be manticore venom (and if manticores exist, I want to see one in the show!). She dismisses Pycelle as Qyburn begins some of his unholy experimentation on the dying warrior. It’s unclear what he’s doing, but if it’s enough to make the pretty creepy Pycelle uncomfortable, you just know it’s wrong. Something tells me we haven’t seen the end of The Mountain.
Cersei next goes to Tywin, telling him she won’t marry Ser Loras Tyrell. He’s not interested, so she threatens to reveal the truth to everyone. Still he’s uninterested – he has no clue what this truth is she’s alluding to. The look of subtle horror in his eyes as she tells him that all of the rumors about her and Jaime are true is a fine turn – Charles Dance is an accomplished actor, and his deft touch will be missed.
Having won two battles already, she turns her attentions to Jaime. She seduces him, and they have sex on the Small Council’s table. This is an interesting mirror of the rape scene from episode three this season, when Jaime forced himself on Cersei in the Great Sept of Baelor. In that instance, it was presented as a rape that, according to director Alex Graves, became consensual by the end. You can read my take on that scene here. Here, the same director takes a similar situation, where one partner is initially uninterested, and then leads them into a sexual encounter. This time around, it is clearly consensual before the sex begins, and Cersei is the clear aggressor. Is this an attempt by Graves, Benioff, and Weiss to mitigate the uncomfortable choices they made in episode three? It’s hard to say, but the echoing of the two scenes is hard to ignore, although this time around it is clearly not rape. There’s even a mirroring in the dialogue, this time Jaime being worried about being discovered. He says, “Someone will walk in,” to which Cersei replies, “I don’t care.” I suspect that, on some level, they’re saying, “See? This isn’t rape, so therefore neither was the other time.” If so, it doesn’t quite work. As a power move by Cersei, it is clearly more about politics for her at this moment than it is about her purported love for her brother. She wants to ensure that he is on her side, and will support her against their father. Not that he’s going to be much of a problem for either of them for very much longer.
Despite believing she has everything in hand, Jaime proves that his loyalty to family goes in a different direction than Cersei’s, showing up to release Tyrion from his cell the night before his execution. He sends him off with a hug and a brotherly kiss, telling him that Varys has arranged passage to Essos. As he tells Tyrion, “You have more friends than you realize.” But here, once Jaime has left him, Tyrion makes a fateful decision: he wants to confront his father one last time before leaving.
He enters the chambers of the Hand, and sees someone on the bed. In a devastating moment of realization, he sees that it’s Shae. She uses the same line she used to use with Tyrion, saying, “My lion…” before she realizes that it is not Tywin returning to bed. They don’t speak further. She reaches for a knife, and he holds her hands away, twisting his body and grabbing a thick gold chain around her neck. He holds it tight, choking her to death as he shows intense pain on his face. “I’m sorry,” he whispers twice – and he truly is. He murdered her in part due to her betrayal, and in part due to her attempt to murder him first with the fruit knife. The thing is, her betrayal at his trial wouldn’t have been enough – that, he could write off to Lannister gold and threats on her life. But the fact that he finds her in his father’s bed? His father’s hypocrisy – he’s always accused Tyrion of unseemly whore mongering – matters much, much more. Shae is almost secondary, and he is truly sorry that he has killed her.
Tyrion takes a crossbow, finding his father in the privy. Their conversation is telling. Tywin tries his smoothest tactics, offering to talk things over in his chamber, telling Tyrion he never had any intention of having him executed. Tyrion won’t buy it – if he wasn’t fully playing the Game of Thrones before, he is now, and their is no wool pulled over this man’s eyes. He makes a serious accusation: “All my life, you’ve wanted me dead.” Tywin admits as much, but tries to put a positive spin on it, telling Tyrion that he’s always admired his son’s willingness to fight back. Tyrion is full of pain – he tells his father that he loved Shae, but Tywin dismisses her as a whore. Tyrion dares him to use that word again, and when he does, Tyrion shoots him in the breast. Tywin is shocked more than he’s in pain, and dies with a look of wonderment on his face as Tyrion shoots him a second time.
He goes to meet Varys, who immediately knows he’s done something – the blood and sweat on his brow are a sure giveaway. He encloses Tyrion in a crate and, when he hears the alarm bells being rung in the Red Keep, joins the crate aboard the boat heading away from Westeros. Varys is casting his lot, apparently deciding to go all-in with Tyrion. He’s always been about maintaining the strength of Westeros through the Iron Throne and King’s Landing, all about stability over individual Houses and petty politicking. Making this choice is a huge move – it will be fascinating to see how much of the focus of the show shifts away from King’s Landing with both him and Tyrion, not to mention Arya, moving across the Narrow Sea.
Tywin’s death is as big as any we’ve had in the four seasons of Game of Thrones. Robert Baratheon and Ned Stark going in Season One led to the War of the Five Kings; Renly’s death in Season Two set the Tyrells up for their alliance with the Lannisters, and gave Stannis momentum not lost until the Battle of the Blackwater; and Rob Stark’s death last season brought the war nearly to an end. At this point, there’s no telling how large the repercussions will be with Tywin’s death, but the Lannisters will no longer be the center of power that they have been through the first four seasons. Cersei is almost universally hated, Jaime has little interested in politics, and the best hope for the family, Tyrion, is a fugitive being shipped out of King’s Landing in a crate. The question is, who will fill the vacuum left behind by Tywin’s passing? There will be many powers vying for control of young King Tommen, not the least of which will be the Tyrells through Margaery. One thing appears certain: King’s Landing will be at its most vulnerable come the start of Season Five, with the entire Small Council either dead or away, save for Pycelle and Mace Tyrell, meaning that Tommen will be entirely without wise counsel.
The focus that shifted decidedly north last week was maintained this week to a certain degree, what with the arrival of Stannis and his army at the Wall. It will be interesting to see what kind of interactions happen between Stannis’s large force, and his desire to be treated as king, when dealing with the Night’s Watch and Jon Snow, an organization apolitical by design, and a man whose loyalties are already torn.
However, it looks as though Season Five will largely be about Essos. Dany is still in Meereen, but will need to make moves early next year. Tyrion, the smartest character in Westeros, is a fugitive running to the east, and he’s accompanied by the master spy, the Spider, Varys. I still feel that the real Game of Thrones is between Varys and Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish, so I am really looking forward to seeing what trouble Varys can foment from across the sea.
The ending that I expected to see didn’t happen tonight (you can, if you’d like, read about it in my spoiler-intensive article here, which discusses events in the books), but that doesn’t mean that there weren’t plenty of surprises, and drama galore. It was an excellent episode to end the season on, and was as dramatic in it’s own way as Episode 0408, “The Mountain and the Viper.” A large battle, an undead attack, an epic duel between knights, ancient magics and foul sciences exposed, and the deaths of three recurring characters, makes this the highest stakes Benioff and Weiss have played with in any of their season finales. Season Four was a marked improvement over the, at times, unevenly paced Season Three, and it gives me a great deal of hope that things will continue to roll along well in Season Five. It’s just a shame that we have to hunker down for another nine and a half month hiatus before we can find out.
Steve’s Grade: A
The best of the four seasons ends on the strongest season finale we’ve seen yet from Benioff and Weiss. Game-changing events have traditionally been given to us in the penultimate episode of each season, but Tywin Lannister’s death at the hands of Tyrion is as big a game-changer as any we’ve yet seen. Bring on the long, cold wait until Season Five next year.