It wouldn't be a Game of Thrones recap without SPOILERS! Don't keep reading if you aren't caught up to Season 4, Episode 9 of the show. Also, keep the book spoilers to yourself please!
I'm just going to go ahead and declare this episode to be the BEST Game of Thrones season finale yet. You may recall that I was a pretty big fan of last week's epic battle at the Wall, but like many of you, I was somewhat underwhelmed considering the show usually saves its biggest moments for episode 9.
This week was a break from formula, and "The Children" proved to be one of the best episodes of the series, let alone Season 4. I'll be ranking the episodes at the end of the recap, so stay tuned.
Also, I know plenty of book readers are upset at the omission of a MAJOR character reveal that happens at the end of A Storm of Swords and "should have" happened here, but please refrain from talking about it in the comments. Give people a chance to buy the books and learn about it themselves!
Let's review "The Children."
North of the Wall
The finale picked up right where "The Watchers on the Wall" left off: with Jon Snow leaving the Wall to confront Mance Rayder (leader of the massive Wildling army).
Last week, many of us were right in assuming that Mance had no clue that Jon Snow betrayed them, but he quickly figured it out when he saw that Jon was dressed as a Crow again. In fact, Jon didn't even try to pretend he was still on their side. Instead, he walked into the camp unarmed and asked to negotiate with Mance (while secretly looking for a chance to assassinate him).
Part of me just wanted Jon to negotiate with the guy and come up with a real solution, but Jon is a Stark by blood, and his honor is black and white. Jon's duty is to protect the Wall, and he'll die to do just that, which Mance points out.
The moments between these characters as they reflected on the past battle were a surprising touch. Mance and Jon toasted to Ygritte and their fallen friends (we truly didn't get enough Mance Rayder this season). But their companionship quickly went sour when Mance figured out that Jon was moments away from assassinating him.
Talk about great timing. Out of nowhere, a massive army encircled the camp and provoked Mance to somewhat of a surrender within minutes. It was Stannis the Mannis Baratheon fresh from his trip to the Iron Bank of Braavos (so that's where you've been for the past few episodes!)
So what is Stannis doing north of the Wall? First order of business was his exchange with Jon Snow, who quickly revealed himself to be the son of Ned Stark, the man who died for Stannis...kind of.
First, how does Jon even know about that? Ned died pledging fealty to Joffrey, and Jon's been sort of busy fighting a war with the Wildlings. It seems strange that he's aware of these politics, but I suppose it's not impossible.
Stannis grants Jon's wish to spare Mance Rayder in return for saving Jon's life back in Season 3. Oddly, Jon claims that his father would have done the same, but I recall the series opening with Ned Stark beheading someone who deserted the Night's Watch. Whatever Snow!
I'm curious as to what Stannis's strategy is here. Why come so far north? My best guess is that instead of just trying to take King's Landing, he wants to fight the real threat of the Whitewalkers. He still has Melisandre on his side, after all, and she is obviously aware of the real threat.
It's a smart play for Stannis because this is his chance to win the hearts and banners of the people by protecting them from a danger even more sinister than Lannisters. Plus, Stannis has the opportunity to grow his army even larger if he works something out with Rayder (which is a big "if").
Later, we caught the funeral of the fallen Crows, which was led by Maester Aemon (who is still alive, of course, but there was no sign of Alliser Thorne from what I could tell). Jon caught up with Tormund who was rotting in the Castle Black dungeon, but rather than hiss and sneer at Jon, Tormund actually assured him that Ygritte loved him because "she always talked about killing him."
I can totally buy that Tormund equates a desire to kill with love. This is the guy who allegedly mates with bears, after all.
So Jon literally toasted to Ygritte with a funeral pyre in a drawn out goodbye sequence. While I was itching for the episode to move on from this, it was a satisfying goodbye to one of the show's most persistent romances.
Across the Narrow Sea
In Meereen, Dany continued to struggle with her new responsibilities as Queen. I was pretty annoyed overall at this season's handling of her since she took the city. She's done nothing but get crap from the people she saved, but the show is letting it sink in that being charge is awful.
As usual, Dany had to address the concerns of a troubled citizen (after her 14 nicknames were announced obviously). This time, an older man was complaining that he preferred being a slave because the youth of the city take advantage of him more than his master did. In his defense, he at least points out that Dany's new order is "great" for the young people in the city, but he's too old to change.
Dany inevitably caves and lets the guy become a slave again, which Ser Barristan rightly points out as a move that the other slave masters are going to take advantage of. If that wasn't enough, we had another citizen come in with the charred remains of his three-year-old daughter (glad Dany wasn't announced as the Mother of Dragons when he walked in).
Turns out that Drogon (Dany's biggest, baddest dragon) has gotten loose thanks to Dany's permissive mothering. As a reference to Ser Jorah's comments at the beginning of the season, Dany realizes that she truly can't tame these dragons, at least not with her current strategy. In a scene that made me cringe with uncomfortable sadness, Dany has to lock up her other two dragons in chains (you know, because she's the Breaker of Chains).
Season 4 was full of setbacks for the Mother of Dragons. Granted, she managed to secure Meereen and liberate thousands of people, but she also lost Yunkai and Astapor. She even lost her most trusted advisor, Ser Jorah, who has been with her since the beginning. Now, Dany has to cope with the fact that a lot of people are disliking her way of doing things AND she's losing control of her dragons.
But if there's one thing we've learned about Daenerys Targaryen, it's that she thrives on these hopeless situations (and always gets a cool nickname out of it).
The Tree of the Children of the Forest
It's been a long time coming, but we finally got to see Bran reach the three-eyed raven (what a long, odd journey it's been). But before the gang could do...whatever it is they're supposed to do, they were attacked by a horde of vicious skeletons.
At first, I thought these creatures were Whitewalkers, but they appear to be some other kind of undead warrior race. Who knew? They descended upon our heroes in force, though, and it was one of the best action scenes of the series, because MAGIC.
Jojen (who has been sick lately) was the first to fall prey to these things, leaving Meera to protect him with some intense swordplay. Bran's direwolf got in the action, and (thankfully) Bran warged into Hodor for some intense fun.
Sadly, Jojen was taken down, marking the first of many deaths in this episode.
Things escalated quickly as the undead creatures started overwhelming Meera and Hodor. But they were saved in the knick of time by MAGIC.
Yup, this show now has magic creatures who can lob fire grenades. We were introduced to the Children of the Forest, a race that predates the First Men and is likely related to the origins of the Whitewalkers.
After getting stabbed, Jojen also got his throat cut by his sister and then blown apart by the Children. Seriously, how many ways did he have to die? Everyone rushed inside the tree, where Bran finally met the three-eyed raven.
Their conversation was brief and vague, so this scene will have to hold us over until Season 5:
Outside the Bloody Gate
Here's an intersection of characters that was bound to happen. Not far from the Eyrie, Arya and the Hound crossed paths with Brienne and Podrick, who are on a mission to save Sansa (and Arya by default).
As many of you predicted, Arya and the Hound did not meet up with Sansa at the Vale after learning Lysa had died (therefore giving them no reason to enter and find out that Sansa is hanging out with Lord Baelish). Instead, Brienne comes across Arya and attempts to take her away from the Hound.
But Sandor points out that Arya has nowhere left to go, especially not with Brienne, the woman who let Catelyn Stark die and is now serving a Lannister. So this happened:
Brienne and the Hound's fight scene was tough to watch, mostly because I had no idea who to root for. Sure, Brienne is honorable and a good companion for Arya, but I also wanted the Hound to survive so that he could be the one to take down THE MOUNTAIN.
The fight was brutal, as you can see, with both fighters resorting to fisticuffs. In the end, Brienne proved victorious after thrusting the Hound off of a small cliff. In the end, the guy was taken down by a girl, which he laughs at.
Arya snuck away from Brienne and Podrick to confront her fallen companion. Interestingly, she chose not to kill him, despite his begging her to AND the fact that he's on her list. Instead, Arya just walked away to set off on her own.
Does the Hound die? That's not for me to say, though it's important to remember that unless we see a character die on this show, their fate is totally up in the air.
Toward the end of the episode, Arya meets up with some Braavosi sailors in an attempt to travel north with them. They're on their way to Braavos, however, and the captain turns Arya away.
That is until...
Arya gave the captain the coin that Jaqen gave her so many episodes ago, uttering "Valar Morghulis," which means "all men must die." The captain responded "Valar Dohaeris," which means "all men must serve," granting Arya passage to Essos. The episode then ended with a chorus of the main theme, which I'm currently hunting down all over the Internet for.
We end with King's Landing because no moment trumped the episode more than the final showdown between the Lannisters. We started with Cersei (hot off of her victory over Tyrion) demanding that her father call off her wedding with Loras Tyrell.
Her argument is pretty valid in that her removal from King's Landing to Highgarden would result in a power shift between the Tyrells and Lannisters, with Tommen caught in the middle. But Tywin refuses to listen to Cersei.
She then resorts to telling Tywin the truth about her twin brother being her lover in a brazen attempt to unhinge her father. Naturally, Tywin responds:
Let's be serious. If you were Tywin Lannister, wouldn't you be in fierce denial as well? But Cersei threatened Tywin that she would burn their house down with the truth of her and Jaime's affair if he made her marry Loras.
She then confronted Jaime with the news and proposed they become more open about their deal. Ew?
But Jaime is all for it because he worships Cersei. In a last attempt to save his brother, however, Jaime pleads with Cersei to convince her that Tyrion isn't the monster she makes him out to be, but she doesn't even pretend to care.
So Jaime takes matters into his own hands and decides to free his brother himself.
I think we all saw this coming. Jaime breaks Tyrion out and tells him to get to Varys, who has prepared a safe passage for Tyrion to the Free Cities. The brothers say goodbye (for now) and Tyrion departs.
But instead of just peacing out, Tyrion decided to pay a visit to his dear father. Instead, he found Shae in Tywin's bed, calling out for her "lion." I love how Tyrion doesn't even hesitate to attack her with murderous intent. They had a bit of a fight (which looked like nothing compared to Brienne and the Hound's, but was still full of poetic emotion), which ended with Tyrion choking her to death with the same gold chains he gave to her when they were lovers.
Like every other sensible Game of Thrones fan, I was stoked to see Shae's downfall, but I couldn't help but empathize with poor Tyrion. I mean this guy just can't catch a break.
After murdering the traitorous woman he once loved, Tyrion grabbed Tywin's crossbow (which I'm assuming is Joffrey's maybe?) and caught him in the bathroom with his pants down. If Tyrion wasn't prepared to threaten his father before seeing his former lover in his bed, then he sure was now.
Tywin admittedly kept his cool in an attempt to calm Tyrion down, but there was no chance for him.
In the books, there is a perfect line about this moment that makes sense if you catch how people claim that Tywin Lannister "shits gold." Here is an excerpt:
"For once, his father did what Tyrion asked him. The proof was the sudden stench, as his bowels loosened in the moment of death. Well, he was in the right place for it, Tyrion thought. But the stink that filled the privy gave ample evidence that the oft-repeated jape about his father was just another lie. Lord Tywin Lannister did not, in the end, shit gold.” (A Storm of Swords, Chapter 78; Tyrion XI.
Also, this moment was foreshadowed by none other than Lord Baelish, who told Robin in "Mockingbird": People die at their dinner tables (Robb and Joffrey). They die in their beds (Shae). They die squatting over their chamber pots (Tywin).
Tyrion finally made it out on time for his escape, just as the bells rang for Tywin's death. Varys, figuring out what just went down, has decided to just go with him to Essos on what could be the best road trip of the series (Varys and Tyrion take Pentos! The Movie)
It was a satisfying finale, even if it was missing that unbelievable reveal that book readers were expecting. If you've never read the books and you still refuse to just start with A Game of Thrones, then I suggest getting into A Storm of Swords and catching the incredible reveal in the epilogue. You won't be disappointed.
Like I said earlier, this was my favorite finale of the series. "The Children" wasn't just about the Children of the Forest, of course. It was a wrap up of the "children of the show." Jon Snow acknowledging his father, Ned Stark. Arya setting off on her own without a mentor. Cersei defying her father for the first time. And of course, Tyrion celebrating Father's Day the worst way possible.
I have no idea how I'm going to be able to wait patiently for Season 5, but here are my rankings for the best episodes of Season 4: