Spoilers through Season 4 of ‘Game of Thrones’ and the corresponding novels follow.
In some ways, the Season 4 finale of Game of Thrones is remarkable for the things we don’t see, the bits left out that everyone thought would make the cut.
Earlier today, in my preview post for this episode, I remarked that I wasn’t sure if Lady Stoneheart would be in the season finale. But others pointed out a subtle clue on actress Lena Headey’s Instagram page, which seemed to indicate that character’s presence.
Oddly enough, no Lady Stoneheart—book readers will understand the reference, viewers will not—reared her ugly head.
I’m okay with that, actually. I never much cared for the character. Her introduction was cool, but not as cool as many of the other things that happen near the end of A Storm of Swords, like the murders of Tywin and Lady Lysa Arryn.
The Season 4 finale, “The Children,” did what it was supposed to do: Turn the page on some of the stories we’ve been following, and push us forward toward something new.
Jon and Bran
Beyond the Wall, Bran and his compatriots reach a giant Weirwood tree when they’re ambushed by skeletons who come popping out of the frozen ground. Jojen is killed, but the rest escape with the aid of one of the titular “Children” of the forest. They’re taken into a cave where an old man lives, apparently attached to a network of roots.
This is the Three-Eyed Raven Bran has been following. He tells Bran that while he’ll never be able to walk again, he will learn how to fly. The entire sequence works quite well, though it’s a very pared down version. I suspect we’ll learn some very important details about this man and the backstory of characters like Ned Stark and Jon Snow next season.
The entire segment is interesting because of the magic. This is a fantasy with very little explicit magic, but here we have skeletons popping out of the earth and fairy-folk shooting fireballs at them. Magic force-fields.
Speaking of Jon Snow, he traipses north as well to parley with the wildlings and perhaps even kill the Mance Rayder, the King Beyond the Wall. The negotiations are ended prematurely by the arrival of Stannis Baratheon and his army, though we see enough of Mance to know that although he’s the enemy, at least he has honor.
Stannis asks Jon Snow what his father would do with Mance, and Jon tells him that Mance showed mercy, and that Ned Stark would have taken him prisoner and listen to what he has to say. Stannis agrees.
This whole bit was pretty cool, actually. I know we’ve had plenty of battles lately, but I’m always happy with the occasional grand bit of total warfare: horses charging, the ground thundering. The fight is quick and Mance relents.
Back at Castle Black, Jon Snow and Melisandre see one another over the flames of the dead rangers’ bier. It’s either wicked chemistry or there’s something else going on. We won’t know until nine or so months from now, when Season 5 airs.
Arya and the Hound
Not far from the Eyrie, Arya Stark and Sandor Clegane run into Brienne of Tarth and Podrick Payne. In another major departure from the books, it’s Brienne and the Hound who battle to the death, with Brienne barely getting the best of him. It’s a great fight scene, quickly devolving from traditional sword play to crotch kicking and the old bashing-the-head-in-with-rocks technique.
Brienne wins, but Arya escapes. The Stark girl is wrong about Brienne, of course, but her trust issues are well warranted. Instead, she boards a ship headed to the free city of Braavos.
Before she leaves, Clegane begs her to kill him, to finish what Brienne started. Arya takes his silver and walks away without so much as a word.
I admit to having a soft spot for the Hound, and this scene has always been a painful one to me, and is in the show, too. I’ll miss their banter.
In King’s Landing we have at least one more departure from the books. Rather than squabble or have weird rapey sex, Jaime and Cersei seem to at least temporarily bury their hatchets after Cersei admits to Tywin that she had an incestuous relationship with her brother.
That confession won’t matter much because Jaime frees Tyrion who finds his once-whore Shae in Tywin’s bed, calling him—just as she did Tyrion—her “lion.” A fight ensues, and Tyrion—lovable, much-maligned Tyrion—strangles her to death with the chain of the Hand.
Then he walks intossssss the privy where Tywin Lannister sits reading while attempting a bowel movement. Tywin tries to persuade Tyrion to calm down, but he says the word “whore” one too many times and Tyrion shoots him dead. This skips a lot of the back story stuff with Tyrion from the books—the tragedy he relayed to Bronn and Shae when they were still on the road a couple seasons back.
But it works. It works in the television format to cut and economize.
Varys, the Spider, smuggles Tyrion away to the free cities. He and Arya, on different ships, sailing away from Westeros—when will they return? And how will they have changed? Will they meet one another across the sea somehow? So many questions.
We also get a glimpse of an ex-Maester working on the poisoned hulking form of Gregor “the Mountain” Clegane after his duel with the late Oberynn Martell. Cersei is turning to rogue doctors to get her fighting machine back.
Dany and her Dragons
Dany and her dragons hit a snag during tonight’s episode when a farer brings the charred remains of his daughter to Dany, the first human casualty we’ve heard of from a dragon.
While the big black creature is still loose, terrorizing the countryside no doubt, Dany tricks the others into a chamber where she chains them up. You can’t have dragons burning up three year ol
That’s about it for Dany’s story in the finale. The big dramatic event for her this season—the betrayal and exile of Jorah Mormont—already happened weeks ago.
What we didn’t see
The big item here is Lady Stoneheart, but we addressed that earlier.
New details about Ramsay Bolton, Theon Greyjoy, Sansa Stark or Littlefinger were also not forthcoming.
We didn’t see what the fallout of Stannis’ arrival at the Wall will be, how he will command his men and the Crows. How the Night’s Watch will react.
But we saw enough to get excited for next season which, if I’m correct, will bring back many of the missing scenes from the end of A Storm with Swords.
This was largely an episode about breaking chains: Arya is freed from the Hound; Tyrion escapes his execution; Jon Snow and the Wall are rescued by Stannis. Many still remain in danger or trapped by family obligations or hostile armies, and some—like the dragons—have found new chains altogether. But at least Arya and Tyrion are on ships, bound for the open sea.
Along those same lines, the episode was about moving the story forward. Jon is now in an entirely new situation with Stannis at the Wall. Arya is free, headed to a new land entirely, as is Tyrion. Dany no longer trusts her dragons. Tywin is dead and King’s Landing has no strong leader. Bran has reached his destination. Winter may not be coming yet, but change is here already.
What did you think of the episode? It had some big, dramatic moments—especially during the Tyrion scenes—-but it seemed almost a bit tame compared to the last two weeks.