Happy Father’s Day!
A TV Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
The Children cemented itself as the best season finale of Game of Thrones so far. There were two book scenes that did not make the cut, one of them which would have been nicer to include and one we’re expecting is coming next season. Yet the episode manages to stand fantastically on its own, every minute of its 66-minute running time deserved. Every season finale of Thrones so far has largely been quiet in comparison to its predecessor episode but Season 4 as in so many other ways turned the convention of previous seasons on their heads. The “OH HELL” moment came with Joffrey’s death in episode 2, setting in motion the central storyline of the entire season: Tyrion’s trial for regicide. In the longest episode of the series, that storyline pays off big time as Tyrion delivered a gift ironically placed on Father’s Day: He kills his father, Tywin, sitting unceremoniously upon a chamber pot. But it is not just that shocker that elevates this episode. The strongest Thrones episodes often have a thematic unity to them, a thread tying all of the disparate story lines together into a cohesive form of storytelling. The finale’s theme is set in the title and it does not refer to just the Children of the Forest that Bran encounters nor the actual children themselves or even their own children. In more ways than one, the closing of the fourth season of Thrones represents the death of the old ways and the birth of the new. Towards the beginning of the season Daenerys had said “They can live in my new world or they can die in their old one” in reference to the old priests of Meereen. But more so than the old priests alone, The Children represents the death of those who represented the older generation that had turned Westeros into the war-ridden wasteland it has become and the rise of the children that represent a new future. Whether that future is brighter or not remains to be seen, but it is the children who will be writing it, for better or for worse.
The episode begins with a quiet conversation between Jon and Mance Rayder that frankly would have been better off last week. An entire episode devoted to the Wall wasn’t perhaps the best use of time, but considering how packed this episode was, the opening should have been at the end of The Watchers on the Wall. Anyhow, Ciarán Hinds comes back to reprise his role as Mance, proving in just one scene how great he is as the King Beyond the Wall and why he should have been in at least five more episodes this season (which would have helped build up the Battle of Castle Black a lot more). Jon and Mance have a wonderful chat about the men and women that fell at the battle, toasting to them. He inquires knowingly about Ygritte, an expression of genuine sadness crossing Mance’s face when Jon informs him of her death. Mance argues for a deal that would allow the wildlings to cross under the bridge and he promises that not another drop of blood would spill into the frigid ground. From Mance’s point of view, the wildlings were simply wanting to escape the White Walkers up North. It was a simple request of survival. And Jon understands this, having faced a White Walker himself. The answer here seems simple enough, but what guarantee was there that Mance’s army, his “children” so to speak, were not going to spill any blood? And how would the rest of Westeros react to tens of thousands of wildlings pouring into the countryside? Neither Jon nor Mance can be in the right or in the wrong. And outside of Jon and Ygritte, the Wall truly became interesting for the first real time in a long while. There’s a sort of camaraderie between Jon and Mance, both having been on both sides of the conflict at one point or another and I very much look forward to that dynamic playing out next season.
The Children also accomplished something major. It made Stannis interesting. For three seasons, one of the surviving contenders for the throne has done little besides brood how he deserves to sit on the throne, attack King’s Landing and then lose (a tough assignment to begin with, to be fair) and then brood some more at his stronghold at Dragonstone. Not exactly the most compelling character, and that says something when we still have to sit through scenes of the Boltons. As Jon and Mance are talking away in their tent, a thundering is heard. The camera zooms up to reveal one of my personal favorite shots in the entire show’s history. A thundering army belonging to Stannis, courtesy of then Iron Bank of Braavos’s funds, thunders across the vast icy landscape from both sides. Magnificently shot, the warriors on ice crush the unorganized wildlings in the middle. Stannis is as imperious as ever, but at least here he did something. He laid off the capital and saved the Wall. Mance refuses to kneel before Stannis, which just makes Mance even cooler than he already is, frankly. Eddard comeback into the conversation, as Jon reveals his parentage to the newcomers. “What would Ned do?” Stannis asks in regards to Mance, and most Thrones fans probably immediately cringed, despite our love for Ned. But Jon, as much of a Stark child as Ned himself was, says mercy. Much could be learned if Mance was listened to. Stannis agrees. A mass Night’s Watch funeral continues under Maester Aemon’s eye as the rest of the Watch and Stannis’s forces and family look on. Through the flames Melisandre looks steely towards Jon. No good can come of that, can it? We think not. And by we, I mean every Thrones fan across the globe.
Jon and Tormund have a quiet, but nice conversation. Jon asks him if Ygritte had truly loved him and Tormund said she had. He knew because she would always talk about killing him. He requests that he bury her beyond the Wall, in the “Real North”, and Jon agrees silently. With a beautiful, mournful piece by Ramin Djawadi (listed as “The Real North” on the Season 4 soundtrack) playing in the background, Jon gives Ygritte one last glance before lighting her funeral pyre. He walks away as the burning embers kiss the frigid sky, tears pouring down his face. It’s a beautifully tragic scene and to this day I curse George R. R. Martin for destroying this pair. Farewell truly, Ygritte. You shall be missed.
The Mountain, it turns out, is not dead. Even though he is pretty darn close. Cersei is overviewing human experimenter Qyburn on his medically unethical experiments while Grand Maester Pycelle protests. Cersei, as always, doesn’t give a damn about Pycelle and frankly I don’t think anyone else does either. He leaves in a huff. Qyburn notes Oberyn’s spear (excuse my tears) had a plethora of poison on it and the Mountain is barely living (no tears shed here). Cersei asks if his experiments will weaken him, ignoring the severe amount of pain Gregor is about to undergo (he deserves it). Qyburn says no and Cersei gives her permission to perform his experiments. The scene ends with Qyburn holding what is in my humble opinion a ridiculously large syringe. At least the scene wasn’t with Ramsay and Reek. Small mercies, small mercies.
Cersei approaches Tywin, refusing to perform her duty as an obedient child and marry Loras. Tywin begins another anecdote about how he won but Cersei didn’t have any of it. Joffrey was dead and regardless of who he was, Cersei loved him very much. He was her firstborn child, after all. Myrcella’s in Dorne and Cersei has to be smart enough to understand what that potentially meant after Oberyn’s death (more tears). The one child she had any say over, the only child that gave her any more power was Tommen. Cersei, in all of her vindictiveness, recognizes quite accurately that if she left to Highgarden, Margaery and Tywin would battle over her son and destroy Tommen in the process. As much as Jon up in the North is working to embrace the legacy of his father, Cersei is trying to eschew it. She has no interest in allowing her father’s hand (pun intended) to control her life anymore. She lost two children to the world her father had helped build and she was not going to lose the third. She reveals her truth about Jamie to Tywin, notably rattling Tywin even though he refuses to believe it. Cersei got under his skin by pointing out the sheer irony of his position. Tywin’s entire life was motivated by a desire to not become his father. As a child, he wanted to grow and create a more powerful role for his family in the new world he would usher in. His family, his children, and the Lannister name became his obsession. And that very legacy was undone by his very children. The one who was capable of preserving it, he himself cast aside because he was a dwarf. And he was no sentenced to death. As much as the Starks are gone, the Lannisters are hardly standing upon a firm foundation. A child grew to create a legacy to protect his family, his future children. That very legacy blinded him so much that it became undone by his own future children and the one child of his own that could have salvaged he himself threw out the proverbial window. Cersei walks off, leaving a broken father in her wake. She goes to Jamie and declares that they’re going to be together. He pushes the Book of Great Kingsguard Deeds away in a moment of great symbolism, buying perfectly into Cersei’s spirit of defiance.
Back in Meereen, this week is further proof that despite her best intentions, Daenerys’s decision to stay and rule is backfiring, and badly so. I understand her thought process that she can’t conquer and leave chaos behind like the Iraq War, for example. But staying in Meereen out of all places wasn’t the best decision, and that for now at least, is the unfortunate truth. Perhaps ruling in a city much closer to Westeros would have been better off, like Lys or Pentos? (Yes, they’re called the Free Cities, but that’s beside the point). Meereen is unraveling Daenerys during a season where her momentum should be at an all time high. The great moment of her standing regally atop the Great Pyramid with the Targaryen banner behind her in episode 4, Oathkeeper is in a way completely undone in triumph with the shot of her teary face as the door to the catacombs was closed. A man first comes to her, saying he was better off as a slave and Daenerys grudgingly allows him to work under a single-year contract. And I’m sure the former slavers of Meereen are not going to use that loophole. The next man is a shepherd, who unveils the charred skeleton of this three-year-old daughter, a victim of the now AWOL Drogon. Daenerys’s children had killed another child and as a measure of safety the Breaker of Chains chains her own children, her own dragons who cry out in pain. This season, outside of the conquest of Meereen, has been absolutely disastrous for Daenerys. She lost Jorah and now she has chained two of her King’s Landing tickets for a crime they didn’t commit. And from what it seems, Season 5 will not be kinder to her.
Bran’s storyline got to an interesting place, albeit in an odd fashion. The company was traveling and suddenly they’re attacked by skeletons from Jason and the Argonauts and in the scuffle, Jojen dies in a ball of fire, which he foreshadowed a few episodes ago. He almost becomes a wight, but he is saved from that fate by a fireball thrown by a small elvish-looking girl. Yep, you read that right. The girl is a part of a species known as the Children of the Forest, who have existed even before the First Men. She takes Meera, Hodor, and Bran into the cave with the three-eyed raven, who looks like Aberforth Dumbledore (Ciaraan Hinds crossover!). He tells Bran that he cannot ever walk again, but he can certainly fly. But what does this mean? Can the Stark child thrown for dead at the beginning of the series be a key to the dragons? Or is there some other type of flying the raven is referencing? Either way, the child Brandon Stark has just become one of the most important links in the entire series.
For so long, Game of Thrones has teased us with near meet-ups, nearly all of them involving the scattered Stark children. In the finale we saw the meeting of Arya and Brienne, something that never occurs in the books but is one of the more brilliant adaptation choices. There’s a wonderful bonding moment here between the two, with Brienne representing the very future Arya always wanted: a female warrior. They bond as children, children who were told they were bending society’s rules but both of their fathers had helped them become who they were. Even more so, we see Arya smile, something that hasn’t happened in what seems like forever. But then the Hound makes a point of Brienne’s Lannister gear and Arya’s faith dissipates. The Hound snarls that there is no such thing as safety and ensues one of the greatest fights in the series’ history. Brienne and the Hound are absolutely brutal, their incredible swordsmanship matched only by their sheer ruthlessness. For your benefit, the clip is above. Brienne wins, but only just and after learning like so many in Westeros that mercy comes at a price. Arya finds the Hound on his deathbed. He begs her to kill him, even mentioning Mycah and Sansa to enrage her. It’s a phenomenal performance from Rory McCann, his voice breaking apart bit by bit as his desperation to end his suffering continues. He cares for Arya, he really does and he confessed as much to Brienne, claiming rightfully so that he was protecting her. And he believes, so ardently, that she would grant him the mercy of a quick death. But Arya just stares back with no emotion, Maisie Williams’s eyes saying more than any piece of dialogue ever could. EMMYS OVER HERE!!!!!!!!!! She steals his silver, looks at him and then just leaves. “Kill me!” he shouts over and over and over again, but she walks on. She was his child and now she had left him. Arya didn’t leave him out of cruelty in my opinion, even though many doubtlessly will see it that way. Every time a man or a woman had been a parent figure to Arya, she had lost them all, each and every single one of them in one way or another. There is deep depression in Arya as the Hound is lying dying in front of her. She leaves him there not so much out of cruelty but a profound disconnect from any emotion. What a beautiful, harrowing, haunting sequence.
Back in King’s Landing, Jamie frees Tyrion, informing him that Varys has his escape route ready. The brothers embrace and depart in a wonderful moment. But Tyrion, as he is walking towards Varys, Tyrion stops. He needs closure. Tyrion walks towards the Tower of the Hand quietly, opening Tywin’s door and finding Shae in his bead. “Tywin? My lion.” she whispers, turning around in shock to find Tyrion standing in the doorframe. Tyrion goes forward and Shae grabs a knife in self-defense. They struggle and Tyrion strangles Shae to death with the chain he had gifted her so far back. “I’m sorry,” he whispers as he sinks down the bed, his completely torn apart being slumped next to an eerily smiling Shae. Tywin had taken the last thing he had loved from him. Tyrion in his darkest moment didn’t just kill Shae, he killed himself. And in another Martin Moment of Irony, it is worth noting that Shae always pushed for them to leave the capital for Pentos. And the one day Tyrion did sail away, Props to Sibel Kikelli and Peter Dinklage here for their wonderful performances (a romantic spin-off, please!). I wish they had gotten to talk to each other one last time, but alas. Rest in peace, Shae. You were always a survivor.
Enraged and dead inside, Tyrion grabs Joffrey’s crossbow in another moment of excellent symbolism. He quietly makes his way towards the privy, where Tywin Lannister is residing upon a much humbler sort of throne. Tywin shows no surprise at seeing the child he had condemned to die standing in front of him with an automatic crossbow. “Why?” Tyrion asks simply, a profound sense of regret and despair behind his voice. Every minute of his life had been punctuated so severely by the cruelty of the man sitting before him, he was now nothing. “I killed her. With my bare hands,” he mourned, but Tywin could care less about Shae. She was just a whore, the civilized man claimed while sitting proudly atop his chamber pot. Tormund and Mance had cared deeply about Ygritte and they were the wildlings imbued to their bone with barbarism. She was just a soldier but they cared. For Tywin, Shae was just a whore and nothing more. She was a mere plaything in Tywin’s eyes and throughout his life his children had also become thus. “Don’t say that word again,” Tyrion warns his father but Tywin gutsily says “whore”. And Tyrion shoots the crossbow. “You’re no son of mine,” Tywin gasps as he collapses against the wall. “I am your son,” Tyrion replies mournfully. Then he shoots again. Tywin Lannister, in the end, did not shit gold. Varys is aghast as he asks “What have you done?” Tyrion doesn’t answer but Varys leads him to the docks anyhow. The bells begin to toll and Varys knows without Tyrion verbalizing it what had just occurred. King’s Landing was too dangerous for him now. He sits on the boat next to Tyrion, not knowing where the future lies.
Arya rides her horse across the magnificent Irish Westerosi coast towards a docked ship lying in the water, getting ready to leave. She asks the captain if the ship went North. At least Jon was still alive as far as she knew. He vehemently shakes his head, declaring proudly that he only set sail for the Free City of Braavos. Quickly Arya takes out her Braavosi coin given to her by Jaqen H’gar, muttering “Valar Morghulis”. The captain is taken aback but responds with a “Valar Dohaeris” and promises Arya a cabin. There was an expression of enchantment and fear on the captain’s expression and we’ll see what that portends for our favorite killer’s future. Arya races across the ship to stare out into the beautiful waters of the Narrow Sea. The camera pans out to a flowing warrior woman at the head of the ship cast entirely in what looks to be gold. Arya looks out from the ship’s side, the wind whipping through her face as she looks on in hope. It’s a happy Arya shot as Alex Graves’s camera pans out to show the lone ship sailing onto new horizons in absolute beauty with Ramin Djawadi’s hauntingly gorgeous music swelling throughout. Where she goes from here remains to be seen, but for now we have the sight of hope sailing across the waters to tide us over. Arya has left Westeros behind and is journeying towards a new world that the children will now build, destroy, or both. I cannot wait.
And that’s where we are. Arguably Game of Thrones’s best yet, Season 4 has fundamentally altered A Song of Ice and Fire itself. The parents are dead and the story has fundamentally shifted towards the children. And the story, more so than ever before, is coming closer and closer together. Tyrion, and Varys are headed to the continent of Essos (new spin-off, called it!) and so is Arya. Daenerys and Jorah are already in Essos and I cannot wait to see if, and how, their story lines begin to intersect. This season’s tagline of “Valar Morghulis” held true. Many men did die, as did many women. Death reigned supreme this season, its grim forces rearing their heads in the most shocking and more often than not, tragic of ways. But Season 4 served to remind us that it is not only the forces of good who suffer at the hands of evil. Justice was served to Joffrey and Tywin in the most brutal and humiliating of ways, their hubris snuffing out their lives and destroying their family in the process. Martin in many ways thrives on narrative toss-ups and the reality of consequences. This season his tale moved to tear down injustice along with justice itself, championing reality as the ultimate victor. Much like the waterfall that Arya rode past on her way to the Braavosi ship, Game of Thrones has cleared the path to an unknown future more unpredictable and unforetold than ever before and that’s the most exciting thing that could happen to an epic such as this one. Until next spring, my friends. Valar Morghulis.
Title: The Children
Written By: David Benioff & D. B. Weiss
Director: Alex Graves
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