With the impressive streak that Game of Thrones has been on since Tyrion’s trial, there was a lot of hype behind this season’s final episode, The Children.
Traditionally, Game of Thrones has been structured around the build-up and then aftermath of some ‘big event’ that occurs in the ninth episode of each season. However, Showrunners David Benioff and D. B. Weiss have been saying from the start that they wanted Season 4 to be different – they wanted to spread the action out and bring a close to the season on a high note of its own.
For the most part, I think The Children succeeds at this. Book readers may have their feathers rustled by a number of liberties it takes with the source material but as far as season finales go, I think The Children was the strongest since Fire and Blood.
WARNING – SPOILERS AHEAD
One of the smartest moves for The Children was to start things off by jumping right back into the action at Castle Black with Jon intentionally getting himself captured. It did a great job of playing off the momentum of The Watchers on The Wall and Ciaran Hinds did a great job reprising his role as Mance (“All the same, we do not kneel”). The direction did a solid job of building tension and I loved the dialogue between Jon and Mance about the deaths of Grenn and Mag the Mighty.
As a self-confessed Stannis fanboy, I’ve been awaiting his arrival in the North for a long time coming and this week’s aerial shots of his decisive victory against the wildling army did not disappoint. The Children did a great job when it came to establishing Stannis’ renewed military prowess and integrating the players of Team Dragonstone with the remaining members of the Night’s Watch.
My one gripe here is a minor but, I think, valid one. Given the relative-shortness of last week’s episode, I feel like these opening events with Mance and Stannis could have been included in The Watchers on The Wall. The big arching shots of Stannis’ charge could have been just what last week’s episode needed to attain the same sort of visual and narrative impact of its predecessor.
In a weird departure from what feels like much of this season, Lena Headey did a top-notch job with Cersei this week. Qyburn’s promise that The Mountain will ride once more was a terrifyingly ominous one and her confrontation with Tywin was brilliant to watch.
We’ve seen Tywin and his children argue and fight countless times over seasons past but the Lord of Casterly Rock always gets his way. Cersei’s confrontation with him broke from this pattern and it was exciting to see Cersei reject Tywin (“I don’t want to hear another story about the time you won, this isn’t going to be one of those times”) and steal the scene right out from under him.
While it felt like The Children definitely got Cersei’s scenes right, it seemed a bit all over the place when it came its treatment of the Kingslayer. While Cersei’s renewed commitment to her relationship with Jaime felt like it was handled well on her side, it feels very inconsistent when you consider how all over the place their relationship has been this season. It just felt like to me that there was a scene missing between Jaime recommiting to Cersei and then subverting her by freeing Tyrion.
Given the recent catalysing of events at the Wall, I feels like Dany’s plotline has become the new slow-burn for the series. I’m a big fan of how the show is (slowly) becoming more critical towards Dany’s abolishment of slavery and the socio-cultural impacts it brings with it – that said, I feel like it distracted from the big decision that Dany was faced with this week.
Her arc this season has been all about breaking chains and there’s a definite dramatic irony to her decision to end it by binding her dragons. Emilia Clarke did a great job here of capturing the hard decision Dany has to make. She has to face the reality that she can be Daenerys, The Mother of Dragons or Mysha, The Breaker of Chains – but not both.
In a move that’s roughly two books ahead of the events unfolding in King’s Landing, Bran, Hodor and the Reeds finally reached their destination this week. In some ways, I felt like this sequence was a little bit rushed and almost-generic for Game of Thrones. As much as I dig Meera Reed and her fierceness, it felt almost dishonest to the show’s treatment of violence that she and a Bran-controlled Hodor were able to take down the skeletons without so much as a scratch.
I wasn’t a big fan of the skeletons. They looked a bit unreal and more to the point, they felt out of place in Westeros – especially when paired with the explosive fireball-throwing debut of the mythical Children of the Forest. Given that he survives this encounter in the books, Jojen’s death was an interesting surprise here – albeit one that I welcomed. I felt like it added a genuine cost to Bran’s journey north. I’m definitely excited to see the debut of the Three-Eyed Raven and his promise to Bran (“You will never walk again. But you will fly”) but I felt like squeezing his reveal so close to the death of Jojen lessened the impact of both scenes.
While the show’s deviations from its source text were at their weakest with Jaime this week, they were undoubtedly at their strongest when it came to The Hound and Brienne this week. Brienne’s short interactions with Arya were marvelous and it was a delight to see Arya find a kindred spirit in Brienne before she departs Westeros.
Although the showdown between The Hound and Brienne suffered from uneven editing, it was definitely a scene that had me on the edge of my seat. The show’s done a great job of building both of these characters up and it was hard to know who you were supposed to root for. There was neat parallel here with Oberyn and Ser Gregor’s fight in The Mountain and The Viper with Brienne proving herself the better swordswoman – only to be taken by surprise by how far The Hound is willing to go to win.
Rory McCann’s final monologue with Maisie Williams was perfectly played and arguably surpassed their final scene together in the books. Arya’s silence was perfect and her refusal to grant him a quick death was a perfect way to reiterate just how far she’s come. Arya is no longer a scared girl on the run but a killer choosing her own path – a path she’s decided will take her to Braavos.
Given that the season began with Tywin’s symbolical triumph, it was only fitting to see it end with his very literal defeat. The reveal that Shae’s ‘Lion of Lannister’ was not Tyrion but Tywin was a pretty brutal reveal that pushed Tyrion over the edge here. For a few scenes he became the monster that the people of King’s Landing believe him to be. Dinklage’s tortured expression as he sat by Shae’s corpse was chilling and let his world crumble around him was one of undoubtedly one of his best.
Charles Dance has been an incredible Tywin Lannister and his unwavering confidence in the face of Tyrion’s crossbow was a sight to behold. The final showdown between the pair was tense and in spite of Tywin’s confidence, it was a confrontation that could only ever have ended one way. Like Davos said back in Braavos, Tywin’s death is going to mean a whole lot of trouble for the Lannister’s chances of keeping their grip on the Iron Throne and with a number of fan-favorites now heading to the east, next season will be one to watch.
The Children was undoubtedly one of the series strongest finales yet. While it wasn’t without its flaws, they pale in comparison to its highs. Game-changers like arrival of Stannis and powerful moments like the death of The Hound hint at just how great Game of Thrones can be. This season shook things up massively but if there’s one thing that this show has proven it can do, its reassemble itself.