I’m just going to come right out and say it: I think this was one of the best episodes of Game of Thrones in its four years running, and it was by far the best season finale. It’s usually the ninth episode of each season that delivers the shock value and the finales have typically been somewhat lackluster and serve more as bridges than cliffhangers. However, in this 66-minute episode written by the show creators, we were delivered what Benioff and Weiss were quoted in Entertainment Weekly as saying is “the best finale we’ve ever done, bar none.” And by golly, I think they’re right. I felt like just the right storylines were explored and brought to exciting cliffhangers for viewers and book readers alike.
Though the episode’s name refers to “The Children” in Bran’s storyline, I think this title is all encompassing. George R.R. Martin actually said in an early interview that ultimately Game of Thrones is about the children as characters and how they’re stories are propelled into motion by the decisions made by the adults. These decisions often force young children into mature roles, leaving their childhood behind to pick up the pieces left in the wake of the brutality of the adults in charge. In this episode alone we see Ned’s Starks bastard struggling to find his place in this new world, all of the Lannister children are going mad beneath the crushing pressure of their own family’s legacy, Dany is still chasing a birthright she is so estranged from that she is losing her grasp on her own children, her dragons and Arya leaves her childhood behind as she makes off for a new world. And still the repercussions of Lysa and Littlefinger’s lies ripple through a war torn land.
The Re-Birth of Jon Snow
I was definitely tense as soon as Jon left The Wall, his breath labored and the camera blurry; details that pull us into his perspective. Jon is alone, acting on the behalf of the Night’s Watch that has no discernible leadership. The shot of him from atop the wall, a tiny black speck moving amongst the specks of the dead really speaks to this war at The Wall all coming to rest on the shoulders of Jon Snow. He may be brave, but he’s scared, you can hear it in his breathing, you can read it in his uncertainty as he approaches Mance’s tent. He knows he’s there to either kill Mance or negotiate a peace. A boy would kill Mance and sacrifice himself to cause upheaval in the loose alliances of the free folk. But a man would listen to Mance and consider what he has to say. This is Jon’s big boy moment and he doesn’t fully realize it until Stannis crashes the party and asks Jon Snow what his father would do with a man like Mance Rayder.
But first, Mance and Jon have some chitchat over a spot of tea and biscuits and honor the dead. Which is damn decent considering Grenn just got stepped over in last week’s episode and Ygritte got like three seconds worth of mourning. I thought this was a great way to salvage the connections Jon has established with others in an effort to understand more of what he’s feeling in terms of loss and how this impacts his character. And then Mance says the thing that matters, the thing I prattled on about for paragraphs last week: why it is the free folk are even at The Wall. It’s not like they want to be a part of the bratty seven kingdoms – they want to get behind The Wall for protection from the White Walkers.
Now, you may ask yourself why Jon, the alleged negotiator of the Night’s Watch, would consider granting the free folk passage through The Wall when all they do is pillage the southern villages. I think it’s important to note here that these are Tribes of all different kinds of people united only for one reason: survival. Mance does not have total control. He has a temporary grasp on allegiance because they are all fleeing a common enemy; they know winter is coming. For Jon to grant the free folk passage to save the men left at Castle Black and save them all from more war and more death comes with a lot unpredictability.
Fortunately, that decision is delayed with the arrival of Stannis Baratheon. Now backed by the Iron Bank of Braavos he has a healthy looking army protecting The Wall. And Mance Rayder wasn’t lying when he said he didn’t want his people to bleed anymore than they had already – he gives the order to stand down rather quickly. It was thrilling though to see Stannis’s army ride in and flank the wildling army to save what had become a hopeless situation for all those at The Wall.
And that scene with Stannis, Davos, Mance and Jon could possibly be my favorite in this episode. “It is customary to kneel when surrendering to a King.” Uh, nope, not when you’re free. The wildlings have long called those South of The Wall “kneelers” because that is precisely what they do. But Mance and Jon are two men that do not have to take a knee for Stannis. Mance is a free man and men of the Night’s Watch serve no King. It is so gratifying to see these two worlds collide in this moment. Stannis is expecting gratification and validation as a savior and recognition as the one true King by saving the realm from its true threat – but he looks as if he’s going to need a re-education at The Wall. Winter is coming, and the White Walkers trump all that political squabble.
Suddenly, all that Jon has been through and where he began converge and it is his word that spares Mance’s life, because Jon knows the real threat and so does Mance. Stannis is married to titles, lands and the seven kingdoms he is hell bent on ruling – he does not know the White Walkers. I’m a sucker for synchronicity and in a book series like this there are always going to be things that begin to connect, such as Jon’s suggestion to burn the bodies of all the dead men by nightfall. This is the practice of the Lord of Light, sacrifices and fires; Melisandre’s pyromancy has finally found its home. These two worlds have just collided in opposition of political ideologies, but her fire and her god have a place at The Wall. And where is the Red Woman? We see her staring at Jon through the flames of the pyre fire. This is foreshadowing ladies and gents, and it makes me very excited. Who will rule The Wall now? How much more will we learn about the connection between the Lord of Light and the White Walkers?
So I titled this section Jon Snow’s re-birth, because after his talk with Tormund, he takes Ygritte beyond The Wall to burn her body. This never happens in the book, but it’s a fantastic departure from the books that takes on even more significance when you parallel this to Dany’s pyre and burning Khal Drogo. Dany was reborn from that fire as the mother of dragons. I think it is no coincidence that the season finale of season one is being echoed here as Jon lets go of the woman he loved. He may not be walking away from the pyre suckling baby dragons, but the symbolism is clear: Jon is a new man. Thank the old gods and the new. We can expect much more from Jon Snow in the next season, and that isn’t a spoiler, that’s bloody context clues.
How to Chain Your Dragons 2
Forgive the pun; it was too pop culture relevant to just let it linger in the recesses of my mind. I will say that while I thought this segment on Dany was really well done, I feel like the loss of Jorah as her friend and advisor was quickly skimmed over two episodes ago. Yes, she was angry, but we all know she must have been hurt, and I think, starting with the loss of Jorah, what is happening to Dany now is a slow fall from power for the breaker of chains. The first man to visit her in court asks to be sold back to his master. He tells her that there are other former slaves that feel the same as he does, that they have no place in this new world she has created. It’s clear that Dany is baffled, that she doesn’t understand the complexities of ruling Meereen as a freed slave city. She puts a band-aid on this one man’s situation, but outside her doors brews a city of rising unrest.
Then the bones of a three-year-old girl that Drogon killed are spilled at her feet. What is she to do? She promised to liberate these people and provide them with protection and her own children are capable of wrecking the very thing she is attempting to establish: peace and order. Her decent into the catacombs followed by Rhaegal and Viserion is some beautiful cinematography. The dragons are lured down into darkness with the scent of fresh meat, following their mother, and as they eat she chains them.
I remember reading this and being absolutely astonished. I thought as I read, and I thought as I watched that Dany is betraying herself. She is chaining a part of herself in those catacombs; she is chaining herself and her potential while insisting on staying and ruling a city that she doesn’t know how to rule. These are the same dragons she spent half of season two driving us crazy about as she demanded to know who had taken them. Now she willingly chains them up like a dirty secret.
Is Dany is lost without Jorah? I know for certain she is lost in Meereen, and the irony of the breaker of chains chaining her own children rests heavy with viewers as we leave her. It’s my opinion that all of this is symbolic of the fact that Dany is not where she needs to be. The score melds with the betrayed screams of her dragons as they realize their imprisonment and betrayal. This all creates a powerful moment as Dany ascends into the light from the catacombs where she has locked away part of her power in a city half a world away from where her fire is really needed. Until Dany realizes that she has strayed from her path, that by chaining her dragons she is chaining herself, she will continue to languish in Meereen. She will continue to suffer as she remains stagnant on her path. Again, these aren’t spoilers, this is all subtext.
Cersei’s Web of Manipulation
I have no idea if what comes out of Cersei’s mouth is genuine or a lie. The two are so closely linked in her mind that I don’t even think she knows. She is a woman desperate to remain powerful, and yet she also plays that she is a mother desperate to stay close to her only remaining son. After she leaves Qyburn to play Doctor Frankenstein with The Mountain, poisoned by Martell’s spear, she seeks out her father. She does not want to marry Loras Tyrell. In fact, she calls Tywin smug and reveals to him all of her paranoia and her incestuous relationship with Jaime. And we get to learn a bit more about Tywin Lannister through this exchange – he lives in denial of what is happening between Cersei and Jaime. If he were to acknowledge it, his legacy would be a lie and Tommen’s claim to the throne illegitimate, and Cersei swings the truth in front of him as a reminder of how weak House Lannister really is now.
Jaime and Cersei – well, this is nothing like what happened in the books and that’s okay except, I’m really confused. When Jaime is interrupted by his twin while obsessing over his lack of noble achievements in that blasted book of Kingsguard Legacy, he calls her mad for believing that Tyrion is a beast to be blamed for killing their mother. Every move Cersei makes is justified by her own paranoia and sense of self preservation, and she thinks she needs Jaime after what she’s just revealed to their father. Jaime must know this another one of her manipulations, his actions later in the episode would suggest as much, but when he shoves the book across the table and takes his sister – I wonder if perhaps Jaime is as confused as the viewers. Cersei is a master at manipulation and he is a maimed man who believes he is cursed for loving her. But I really feel like the rape earlier in the season has wrecked Jaime’s character arc and this confusing scene is an example of that. After sex with his sister he goes on to commit an act that he knows she will never forgive. What does he think will happen when Cersei pieces it all together? Does he think she will still be so willing to have him? She will hate him. Or at least, I think she will. It’s the only way I can justify this confusing back-and-forth business between the two of them where sex is used as a tool of power.
Bran and the Children of the Forest
I realize that many viewers find Bran’s storyline to be underwhelming and perhaps even disjointed in comparison to the overall story of what’s happening in Game of Thrones. He’s one of my favorite characters in the books because his power is so interesting, but I realize that’s a difficult thing to translate to television consider most of it is psychic. Well, we got one step closer to understanding his purpose tonight. As Bran, Hodor, Jojen and Meera come upon the magical Weirwood they’ve been seeking, they find that the entrance beneath the tree requires traversing through a graveyard of the dead who come to life and attack them. I went back and forth on whether this was a defense mechanism of the Weirwood and all that lay within or if it was meant as a trap for those who attempted to come and go.
And here we finally meet the Children of the Forest. Long fabled to be dead and gone, memorialized like the White Walkers in stories told to children, remembered only by the North, we get to meet one of them. These small fairy-like creatures live beneath the mystical Weirwood that rules them all, and what I think is home to the gods of the North. This comes at the expense of Jojen’s life, but according to the man in the tree, Jojen knew his fate all along. Jojen sacrificed himself so that Bran would “recover what he has lost.” Bran asks, still clinging to his childlike naivety, if that means he will walk again. A part of me wanted to smack him on the back of the head, for real Bran? You think all of this has been about you getting your legs back? But then the man who seems as much a part of the tree as he is a man tells Bran that he will never walk again, but he will fly.
The impression we are left with here is that this man, whoever he is, is a Warg who can enter into the Weirwood trees that are now only in the Northern part of the seven kingdoms. The trees used to be everywhere but they were cut down when the First Men arrived. So the gods of the North really are limited to only the North because their power exists in the trees, and they can see through the faces carved in those trees. Is this Bran’s fate? What exactly is this man? Is he even a man, and what is the extent of his powers? This is all to be discovered in the coming season I’m sure, but this is one of those storylines that is completely caught up with the book, so I am super stoked to see where this goes. And one more thing about Bran being promised the ability to “fly”… did anyone else happen to think of the fact that there is a dragon on the loose, that dragon fire could help in defeating the White Walkers and that Bran is a powerful Warg about to become even more powerful? Well, if not, I did, so the thought now exists for your brain to tug at as mine does. The possibilities here are endless.
Bon Voyage Arya
In an unprecedented meeting between characters, Brienne and Podrick come across Arya and The Hound. This doesn’t happen in the books, but I really like the addition of this meeting for several reasons. One of the reasons being that Arya witnesses a woman warrior, Brienne, and is reminded of what she once hoped to be when she was a Lady and her future was being plotted out for her. This is a powerful moment for Arya not only to witness the possibilities of her own sex as a trained warrior, but also to hear that Brienne was sent by her mother. Brienne, the most righteous of all the characters, tries to get Arya to come with her once she realizes who she is, but The Hound doesn’t think Brienne is up to the task.
The Hound’s points are valid, there is nowhere safe for Arya anymore, everyone who could help her is dead and Brienne’s naivety could get the girl killed. And then, like parents sparring over their own child’s well-being, the two engage in a nasty and well choreographed fight scene that lands The Hound at the bottom of a hill with a broken femur and no chance of survival. Arya doesn’t choose either of the parent figures and instead chooses to hide from Brienne and Podrick and leave The Hound to die a painful death from his wounds. I thought the choice to not give The Hound the mercy kill he begged her for by dredging up painful memories of the butcher’s boy slaughter and his wishing he’d raped Sansa as a kind of motivation reveals Arya’s depth of hate. The Hound was on her list, and even though they traveled together and she needed him for a time, once she had the upper hand she left him to suffer for those very things he said aloud in an effort to get her to kill him.
She stole his coin purse and booked it for the shore, only it isn’t this type of coin that gains Arya passage. She initially thinks to head to The Wall to find Jon, but when the captain tells her the ship is headed for Braavo, Arya remembers a different coin. It’s the coin she was given by Jaqen, and upon the utterance of “Valar Morghulis” she is given a cabin and passage to Braavos. I thought the scene of Arya sailing away was so powerful in the symbolism of her staring back at the land she once called home, land connected to a name and an identity that no longer matters in this new world, and so she makes her way to bow of the ship to look towards her future. Arya is headed to Braavos, a city just introduced this season, and who knows what will happen when she gets there.
Happy Patricide Day
We all knew they couldn’t kill the show’s most popular character, but who the hell was expecting that? This show aired on Father’s Day making the Patricide even more harrowing to an audience that spent the day celebrating their dads. Jaime’s decision to free Tyrion comes after his love/hate sex with Cersei, so I guess he just frees Tyrion because he loves him and he is doing what he thinks is right. And this is another place where Jaime’s character arc is just crumbling in the show. I can’t help but think that if the rape scene next to Joffrey’s body hadn’t happened that I would like Jaime more. In the books he has more motivation to commit honorable acts, but in the show it just seems like the power of brotherly love and sticking it to the old man and the sister who he probably knows is using him is his sole motivation for freeing Tyrion. And that’s fine, but it feels kinda messy in terms of his character’s arc.
Tyrion is supposed to meet Varys, but when he is left alone in the secret passages that run through the Red Keep he instead chooses to seek out his father. When he enters his father’s chambers he finds Shae in his father’s bed waiting for her “lion” to return. Tyrion snaps. There is no justification other than a man who has been pushed too far over the edge of what he is capable handling emotionally. He loved her and I thought she loved him, and then she was scorned and she betrayed him and then she ends up in Tywin’s bed. I’m surprised Tywin would lower himself to take the same woman who once belonged to his most hated progeny. But he did, and Shae pays the price for that betrayal when in a crime of passion Tyrion strangles her with the Lannister gold draped around her neck. We get a shot here that is just great, Tyrion is hanging all of his weight on this chain that is choking Shae, but he isn’t looking at her. He can’t face what he is doing. When the last bit of life is squeezed from her body he simply says, “I’m sorry.” And her lifeless face is shown hanging upside down and almost unrecognizable as human.
Tyrion isn’t finished. He grabs a crossbow and tracks his father to the privy. I can’t recall if it’s been mentioned in the show, but in the books a common saying is that Tywin Lannister shits gold. So there is even more irony to him being killed in the privy. Tywin tries to weasel his way out of the hot seat, but Tyrion is like a man possessed. That’s what it felt like, didn’t it? He was less emotionally erratic and more numb and robotic. This is a man who has been driven into darkness by his own family and the woman he loved. Despite Tywin’s best efforts to get Tyrion to move their discussion to another location, gods forbid a Lannister dies in the privy, Tyrion doesn’t let him move. Their exchange doesn’t change anything between them, Tywin waxes lies and Tyrion hears the word whore and loses all control. He commits the heinous crime of patricide.
Once he meets up with Varys, Tyrion is packed into a crate. We see the eunuch start to head up to the castle again when the bells toll. Tywin has been found. Varys connects the dots and chooses to travel with Tyrion away from King’s Landing. This doesn’t bode well for Jaime once everything is revealed. And who knows the toll everything will take on Tyrion as he sits in darkness, alone with his sins. I’m wondering what viewers feel about Tyrion’s actions … was he justified? Should he have just run away? When everyone’s favorite character and the voice of reason succumbs to the brutality of his environment and the pressure of emotional betrayal, what light do we cast him in now? He now resides in a morally ambiguous area that his brother has been wandering in ever since he shoved his sword into the Mad King’s back. Tyrion’s journey, like Arya’s, Bran’s and Jon’s is just beginning.
If you’re caught up in your reading (and don’t worry, no spoilers here) you are probably entering into a new phase of watching Game of Thrones. It’s been trending ever since word leaked about the magnitude of the finale that the showrunners have caught up to the book in some storylines. And if they haven’t caught up, they’re getting very close with some others. I believe season five of Game of Thrones has the potential to be the most intriguing for viewers and readers alike. The show creators will have to begin pulling from unpublished material, notes and arc from the mastermind of Westeros: George R.R. Martin.
For Book Readers (Spoilers):
- Where was Coldhands?
- What about Lady Stoneheart?
- What about the Horn of Winter?
- What about Mance Rayder’s bride and baby?
- What about the truth of Tyrion’s first marriage, wouldn’t that have served as such a better motivation for everything that happened and Tywin’s last words from the book?
Amanda Lowery lives, writes and studies in Baltimore where she is held hostage by potholes, stray cats and rats that make her watch way too much TV and rhyme unnecessarily. You can find her book reviews and pop culture thoughts at amandasthinkingoutloud.blogspot.com.