You’d almost think it was deliberate that HBO took a week break, just so that the Game of Thrones Season 4 finale could be shown on Father’s Day. Because father’s are important in Westeros. In Tywin’s case, important in screwing up the lives of his somewhat screwed up children. But now, his children are going to screw with him.
In defiance of her arranged marriage to Loras Tyrell, Cersei (Lena Headey) is attempting to blackmail Tywin (Charles Dance), by revealing that Tommen has no right to the Iron Throne because he’s the product of incest between her and Jaime (Nikowrlaj Coster-Waldau). Tywin is shocked, but it is not clear whether he previously believed the rumours, or has just been wallowing in delusions.
Events on the Wall pick up from the end of last week’s battle. Jon Snow (Kit Harington) heads out to treat with King-beyond-the-Wall Mance Rayder, or die trying. The intimidating Ciaran Hind reprises his role and admits that the attack wasn’t aimed at the Night’s Watch at all – their 100,000 men want to hide behind the Wall from the White Walkers. It seems the weird magics of the North are getting restless. The meeting is interrupted by Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane) and his army, newly hired from Braavos, plus the always loyal Davos (Liam Cunningham) and the enigmatic Red Priestess, Melisandre (Carice van Houten). Why are they here? What do they want with Jon or the Watch?
Things continue to fall apart in Meereen, meanwhile, asDaenerys (Emilia Clarke) is faced with the fall out of ending the city’s slave trade and the activities of her most brutal dragon, Drogon. This leaves her with a hard choice: she chooses to secure the two dragons she still has to earn the love of her newly unchained people. Drogon is still nowhere to be found: she and it both seem lost.
In a sequence that bears little relation to the books, Brienne (Gwendolene Christie) and Podric (Daniel Portman) stumble upon The Hound (Rory McCann) and Arya (Maisie Williams). When she finally recognises Arya, she declares she will protect her and take her somewhere safe. The Hound scoffs at this – they haven’t had a whole lot of luck finding anywhere safe for her so far. Arya, too, is unwilling to follow Brienne, even though there is an instant when they first meet where they click, Brienne in armour and Arya practicing with her sword.
Brienne and The Hound therefore fight, but neither really has the heart for it – there is almost a mutual respect between them. McCann’s Sandor Clegane is a remarkably complex character, oddly loyal to Joffrey in his service to the Lannisters, yet strangely protective of Sansa and almost kind to Arya. But The Hound is left for dead, even though he pleads with Arya to finish him. Williams sits with steel in her eyes while he tries to sway her. Then, she runs off and finds a ship bound for Braavos – and after failing to negotiate a trip to the Wall, she uses the iron coin left to her by the assassin Jaqen H’ghar to get passage to Braavos. “Valar Morghulis,” she says, as Jaqen told her to tell any man from Braavos should she ever need help.
Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright) is also running out of book as he finally reaches the Children of the Forest and the mysterious Three-Eyed Crow. In the process, Jojen (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) dies, and Bran does his crazy warg thing to Hodor (Kristian Nairn) to fight off the weird skeletal warriors at the entrance to the Three-Eyed Crow’s lair. Did someone say Ray Harryhausen tribute army? It’s probably no bad thing, because Jojen gets pretty whiny in the book.
The show-stealer, though, is the final act of this final episode. Jaime is pretty upset over his brother’s upcoming execution, while neither Cersei nor Tywin see fit to treat Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) as a human. Tywin persists in treating him like a simple child and Cersei treats him like a monster. As it turns out, though, Tyrion isn’t entirely friendless – Varys (Conleth Hill) has secured an escape for him with Jaime’s help.
Told to leave by the stairs, Tyrion opts to take the trap door to Tywin’s chambers. Clearly out for revenge, he’s been abandoned, disposed of by Tywin. In the process, he strangles Shae, feeling very much betrayed and angry at finding her in Tywin’s bed. He shows remorse and regret; this is a death that will haunt him. Unlike shooting Tywin with his pants down – Tyrion’s second murder of the episode. Not since Joffrey was poisoned has a Game of Thrones crowd cheered so. Tywin suggests that he intended to get Tyrion out of the execution, but Tyrion is understandably dubious. In his final scene, the imperial Charles Dance does the impossible: he manages to bring some dignity to being shot on the privy.
Season 4 of Game of Thrones has seen the deaths of characters both loved and hated. Showrunners David Benioff and D. B. Weiss’ adaptation is rapidly catching up with the books, in some places overtaking it. They have spread events across the whole season instead of slotting them into Episode 9, as has happened in previous runs. This has made Season 4 the most consistently good season yet, even with Baelish’s wandering accent.
For readers of the book, the omission of Lady Stoneheart is glaring. It is possible that she will join Coldhands in being edited out in the transition from book to screen, but unlikely. With the number of events cranked into this season by Benioff and Weiss, it feels like there’s still room for the character to make an appearance next time.
Nonetheless, the finale itself is superb, its swift, gripping plot progression mixed with an array of interesting, complex and oh-so-human characters. Setting a high benchmark for all future finales, The Children is among the best TV you will see this year. We can only hope that later seasons can maintain this quality. And maybe Aiden Gillen will sort out his accent.
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