The much-anticipated season four conclusion lived up to and even exceeded expectations; definitely the best finale and possibly even the best episode, “The Children” ended this season with a resounding bang. Every major storyline got its due, yet the episode never once felt crammed or diluted, each scene felt important enough to be the episode ending cliffhanger.
We pick up directly where last episode’s cliffhanger left us, with Jon on a suicide mission to kill Mance Rayder. As Jon enters their camp he is surrounded by Wildlings, but is still brought to see Mance as he planned. The King Beyond the Wall has the grace to sit down with Jon and toast to their fallen, specifically Ygritte, Grenn and Mag the Mighty. Mance tells Jon he doesn’t want this fight, that he only wants to see his people safely to the other side of the Wall, and that if granted passage they would spare the men of the watch. As they discuss terms Jon sees his opportunity; a dagger left on the table near him. Mance and his guards see it too and Jon stops himself reaching for the dagger, regardless of their differences, and Jon’s deceptions, Mance shrugs it off, knowing Jon has too much honor to kill a man after sharing his meat and mead. Suddenly we hear horns blowing and men yelling and they exit the tent to find knights on horseback plowing through the Wildling encampment. Mance, seeing his people slaughtered and outmatched, orders the surrender and through smoke and ash we see Stannis Baratheon ride to meet his rival King. Beaten though he may be, Mance refuses to kneel before Stannis, the Free Folk’s contempt for those they term “Kneelers” runs deep in him, although it is Jon in the end that saves his life. Jon vouches for Mance in return for Mance first trusting him, despite being opposed in so many ways they still have a mutual respect. Perhaps Tormund is right in saying that Jon spent too much time with them and will never be a kneeler again, which is further evidenced by Jon taking Ygritte’s body North of the Wall to burn.
In King’s Landing, after commissioning Qyburn with the Mountain’s restoration, Cersei has a reckoning with her father. She refuses to marry Loras, and, while Tywin is fed up with her objections, Cersei has a new card to play. Cersei admits to her father that the rumors about her and Jaime are true, and she will tell the world if he tries to force the wedding. She is now the third of Tywin’s children to disobey and disappoint him. First Tyrion, pretty much just for being born a dwarf and being the death of Lady Joanna, then Jaime for refusing to take Casterly Rock, and now this final betrayal. As Cersei observes, for all Tywin’s talk of the family he truly had no idea what his actual family was doing, and we finally see a shadow of doubt across the Lannister patriarch’s face.
On the other side of the world, in Meereen, Daenerys is holding court…again. First she see’s a former slave who actually enjoyed his life as a slave, he had warm food, a roof over his head and above all that he had respect. Out on the streets he has none of these things and struggles to survive. After some deliberation she finally allows the man to sign a contract with his former owner, setting another precedent. Ser Barristan wisely points out that the Wise Masters will abuse this and there will be slaves again, in all but name. Before Dany can think too much on what Barristan said another of her citizens is brought in. The man appears to be another goat herder with another bundle of burnt bones, but as he approaches Dany’s apprehension grows. Sobbing, the herder unravels the bundle and lays his daughter’s charred remains at Daenerys’ feet. The day she has been dreading, and the truth she has been avoiding are upon her, the dragons are uncontrollable and dangerous and she has no choice but to lock them up. Drogon, however, is nowhere to be found and while he is the guilty one Dany chooses to lock up Viserion and Rhaegal just to be safe. Dany chains two of her children up in the crypts and walks away to the cacophony of their wails. Not a good Dany day.
Back in the North, like super far north, Bran and company are on their last legs trudging through snow. Just as they were ready to give up they finally see the tree from Bran’s vision and head towards it. Before they can reach the tree they are attacked by a bunch of pretty vicious wights and Bran is forced to take control of Hodor to fend them off. The undead are relentless and while Meera, Hodor and Summer are fighting through the horde Jojen is stabbed by the remains of an arm. Suddenly one of the wights explodes and we see a child throwing some sort of fire grenade from the tree, she leads the survivors inside and spares a last fireball for Jojen whose eyes had just turned an icy blue. Under the tree the little girl explains that she is one of the Children of the Forest, a diminutive and reclusive race of people who first populated Westeros. The Children were thought to be long extinct but there are many of them living under this tree. She leads Bran to the roots of the tree and a man who seems to be in the tree, with the roots growing around him, he is the three-eyed raven from Bran’s dreams and promises Bran that while he will never walk again, he will fly. Now, I’m trying to look at this from a non-book reader’s perspective and its ludicrous, nothing makes sense at this point, but we’ll have to wait until next season for answers.
Near the Eyrie Brienne and Pod happen upon Arya practicing her water dancing. Understandably suspicious, Arya doesn’t give Brienne much information. When the Hound arrives he is easily recognizable and Brienne makes the connection. Brienne offers to take Arya to safety but the Hound doesn’t trust her Lannister squire and Lannister sword. With both of the giants refusing to budge Brienne is forced to use that sword and the ensuing fight is ruthlessly awesome. The two are evenly matched for the most part, Brienne isn’t afraid to get dirty if she has to, and throughout the duel I had no idea who I was rooting for. This is yet another example of added content to the show and it’s about as perfect as it gets. Brienne gets the better of the Hound by knocking him off a cliff, but Arya eludes her. Later when Arya finds the Hound he’s slowly dying and asks her to end it. Arya has no memory of mercy and just stares blankly at her former protector, Clegane even reaches the point of begging her to kill him, instead Arya takes his coin purse and leaves him there to rot. We all know the Hound was a bad guy, but as with most of this shows characters he had some redeeming qualities and it sucks to see him go out this way… it’s his own damn fault for becoming so popular.
Back in King’s Landing the children of Tywin Lannister are rebelling even further. Jaime wakes Tyrion in his cell and frees him; he leads Tyrion to a set of stairs and instructs him to meet Varys on the other side. Tyrion is compelled, however, to confront his father before leaving and makes his way into his old room in the Tower of the Hand. Cautiously opening the door, Tyrion finds a woman sprawled on the bed and hears an all too familiar mumble: “My Lion”. Without a word Tyrion climbs on top of Shae and starts beating her, eventually choking her with his old chain. Tyrion is rattled; after the deed is done he can only mutter sorry to her lifeless body. Regaining his senses to a degree Tyrion remembers his purpose and goes to meet his father (stopping to pick up a crossbow along the way). Dragging the winch ominously Tyrion finds his father on the toilet. Ever the lord, Tywin shows no fear and tries to talk Tyrion down. Tywin’s fatal mistake was overuse of the term whore, which has been a huge part of Tyrion’s life and misery. Tyrion shoots his father in the stomach first, then as Tywin lies dying and hateful Tyrion reminds him that he is in fact Tywin’s son, and sends another arrow into his chest before wishing King’s Landing goodbye. Varys notes Tyrion’s tardiness but still helps the dwarf escape, however, upon hearing the bells toll Varys knows that someone important has died and that he would be implicated. The only option is to board the ship carrying Tyrion away from the capital and presumably Westeros entirely. These two have always been two of the most entertaining characters on the show, seeing more of them together next season would be fantastic.
After wishing the Hound goodbye, Arya finds herself coming up to a small fishing town. As far as Arya knows Jon is her only remaining family, she tries to buy passage on a trader going north to The Wall but the captain refuses her. North is too dangerous and his ship is bound east. As a last resort Arya shows him the coin Jaqen H’Ghar gave her back in season 2. The Braavosi’s disposition immediately switches and after Arya speaks the words she’s been practicing all this time the captain offers her a cabin on his ship. The final image of this season is of Arya’s ship sailing off to parts unknown as the sun rises.
So season four ends with possibly the shows strongest episode and my personal favorite. Each storyline ended satisfyingly enough, although it sucks for the Hound. Tywin’s death is monumental, in that he was arguably the most powerful man in Westeros, he will leave a huge role to fill. As much as Tywin is an evil character I’m sad to see Charles Dance leave, he played that role beautifully and pretty much owned every scene he was in. A couple characters are in some very weird situations, Bran and Arya particularly, which should breathe some new life into those arcs. There are now three pivotal characters heading away from Westeros, which will make next season difficult as the show already has difficulties juggling the geography and balancing storylines. That being said, I have full faith in the show runners and this last episode a great example of them getting it right…. Now if only book six could be released..