TV Review: Game of Thrones, ‘The Children’ (Season 4 Finale)

Written by Luke Kalamar & Kimberlee Rossi-Fuchs

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Plot: Jon Snow (Kit Harington) meets with Mance Rayder (Ciaran Hinds) to discuss a deal. Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) discovers who is behind the Three-Eyed Crow. Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) makes a life changing decision regarding the power she wields. Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) runs into unexpected trouble. Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) seizes a golden opportunity for revenge. Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) takes her future into her hands.

Luke Kalamar: Well that was a pretty definitive closer!

Kimberlee Rossi Fuchs: David Benioff and D.B. Weiss were promoting it as the strongest finale they’d ever done and I’d have to agree.

LK: Honestly, Game of Thrones really does not get better than this. Can you imagine if every episode was given an extra fifteen minutes?

Photo Credit: HBO
Photo Credit: HBO

KRF: Even with the extra running time, “The Children” moved at a breathless clip. Aside from Jon Snow’s private burial for Ygritte, every scene here felt essential and, more importantly, monumental. This episode had all of the epicness and import that last week’s was lacking. What’s really striking to me is that most of the better scenes here were completely invented for the show and not pulled from the source material.

LK: I noticed that! I haven’t reached Bran’s story yet in the books, so I can’t comment on his part other than it being completely amazing, but I felt the addition of a Brienne vs. Sandor Clegane fight was perfect. It was beautifully done and the sweeping camera shots really proved just how desolate their location is. No one within reason can possibly find the Hound at this point.

KRF: Having Brienne encounter Arya and The Hound was a great way to tie those two storylines together, sending Clegane to the same ultimate fate in a way that kept true to the spirit of the books.

LK: And it actually gave Brienne’s story a definitive end point on the season. I was worried about that.

KRF: It’s just another example of how Benioff and Weiss are so adept at streamlining the disparate storylines into a cohesive whole. To get back to the Bran storyline for a second, that astonishing battle with the skeleton army never occurs in the books and is a pure invention of the show. As a result, I gasped when those undead hands rose from the ice and was on the edge of my seat throughout the battle, not knowing what to expect. In fact, at the end of Book 5, Jojen is very much alive. Again, these are all changes that really work, though I did feel like the Bran and crew’s fight with the army of the dead, though gorgeously rendered and heart-poundingly staged, was a bit derivative of The Lord of the Rings. Basically, Benioff and Weiss are choosing to speed up some of Bran’s often meandering storyline in the novels – the Children of the Forest and the Three Eyed Crow / Tree Man don’t appear until much later in the books – and as a result, we finally get to see an exciting Bran storyline. I have to say, that was one of my favorite scenes of the season as a whole, for sure.

Photo Credit: Helen Sloan/HBO
Photo Credit: Helen Sloan/HBO

LK: Agreed. I completely welcomed it too because Bran was such a background character all season. He had that conflict at Craster’s for an episode and then went absent for the remainder. So not only did Jojen’s death and Bran meeting The Children keep the show engrossing for the book readers, it actually gave people who only watch the show something to sink their teeth into. Bran has a goal now that is visually being represented. It’s something Season 5 can build on in a way that Season 4 wasn’t able to in the beginning.

KRF: Another bold revision that really worked for me was Cersei’s confession to Tywin about the true nature of her relationship with Jaime and therefore the real parentage of Joffrey, Myrcella, and Tommen, particularly her brutal line that, “Your legacy is a lie.” Though not the most memorable incidence of it in the episode, it’s the first time we ever see Tywin one-upped by one of his children and his feeble insistence that he didn’t believe it was pathetic considering how impervious and in control he’s always been.

LK: Oh man, this episode was basically Tywin’s worst nightmare come true. First, he learns that everything he has done prior for his family was a complete waste. His only daughter and oldest son are in an incestuous relationship and have fathered three children right under his nose. Then he gets shot to death, on the toilet no less, by his third and youngest child! So not only did the rule of Tywin Lannister collapse, it came down HARD.

Photo Credit: Helen Sloan/HBO
Photo Credit: Helen Sloan/HBO

KRF: Yes, Tyrion literally caught him with his pants down, though they dispensed with the final, shart of death George R. R. Martin so vividly included in “A Storm of Swords.” To be fair, I guess having Tywin fart and empty his golden bowels would have taken away from the gravity of the moment a bit. (I have to say, I loved that Tywin’s inglorious death was scored to “The Rains of Castamere” – what a perfect, musical comeuppance. “And who are you, the proud lord said, that I must bow so low?,” indeed.) All along, I expected Benioff and Weiss would toy with the book’s chronology a bit in order to close the season on this scene, since Tyrion’s ultimate revenge against both the woman who so viciously betrayed him and the father who had always scorned him is perhaps the book’s biggest moment. In one of my previous reviews this season, I hinted that I was afraid that Benioff and Weiss would choose to omit Tyrion’s murder of Shae since they seemed to be making her character a bit more sympathetic by making it appear as if she actually loved Tyrion (in the books, I think it’s pretty clear that she’s little more than the whore Tywin describes her as). I thought that by making her more palatable, they were setting up her death either at the hands of Tywin or Cersei instead. Since Tyrion is really the unquestionable hero of the show (thanks largely to Peter Dinklage’s brilliant work), I was wondering if they’d avoid showing him murder his former beloved to preserve his essential likability. While so many of their deviations are successful and often improvements on the source material, I’m so glad they stuck to the script here because the scene in which Tyrion strangles Shae was incredibly powerful, particularly the close-up, lingering shot on Dinklage’s anguished face. It killed him to do it, but finding her in his father’s bed was a betrayal too far, a final indignity he just couldn’t bear. Since Tyrion’s been languishing in prison cell for the lion’s share of the season, this has been the most Dinklage-light season of Game of Thrones so far, but as to be expected, he made every moment on screen count and outside of perhaps Rory McCann’s stellar turn this week, Dinklage really stole the show once again

LK: Really, this was the second time Shae tried to kill Tyrion. The first was in his trial when she basically gave the key testimony that would sentence him, and the second was right here with the cheese knife. But what I felt really made the whole emotional weight work was how recently Tyrion forced Shae out. That only happened a few weeks ago. The pain of it is still fresh. It’s something that Jon and Ygritte lost because we had a full year to deal with the fact that they were completely over. I personally thought Ygritte’s funeral was perfect for an honorable man like Jon Snow, but it could have felt a lot more painful if the violent split between him and Ygritte happened more recently. Also, side note, I loved how it’s never directly stated if Shae was in Tywin’s pocket the whole time. It’s a question that, after tonight, really doesn’t need an answer anymore.

Photo Credit: HBO
Photo Credit: HBO

KRF: Can you imagine the audience outrage if Tyrion was killed by Ms. Shae in the bedroom with the cheese knife, like the Westerosi version of Clue? You raise a great point with the fact that Shae could easily have been spying for Tywin because it’s a question that undoubtedly occurs to Tyrion when he sees her in his bed and is just a perfect example of just how fucked up that parent-child dynamic was on a severely Freudian level. Tywin has always hated Tyrion – yes, for being a dwarf – but also for taking his wife from him and has not only consistently castrated and shamed Tyrion for his carnal appetites, but has also delighted in taking his meat from him in order to retain his position as the head of the Lannister pride. And yet with just a few well-placed arrows, Tyrion finally brought that Oedipal cycle to a satisfying close. RIP Tywin – not since Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction has anyone had a more inopportunely-timed trip to the toilet.

I know I often come off as being very anti-Jon Snow in these reviews, but my objection to Ygritte’s funeral wasn’t even it’s lack of emotion, but that it just felt unnecessary to the rest of the action this week. Yes, it totally fit with character for the ever-honorable Jon Snow, but we already got a sense of his inherent Ned Starkiness in his scenes with Mance and Stannis. That burial scene was the only thing that slowed down “The Children” for me, because his scenes with Mance and Stannis tonight were so great. The brokered deal with Mance worked particularly well because of the mutual respect between the two and because the reciprocal nature of their agreement reveals just how dire both of their situations are – the Night’s Watch possessing extremely limited manpower and the Wildlings fleeing from the ancient, ghostly horror they have no protection against in the wilds of the true North. The brave Mance’s admission that “We’re not here to conquer, we’re here to hid behind your wall,” is telling of the fact that winter is truly coming, and neither Wildling, Night’s Watchman, or any other mortal is prepared to deal with the horror its arrival entails.

Photo Credit: Helen Sloan/HBO
Photo Credit: Helen Sloan/HBO

LK: Stannis showing up at the wall was some unbelievably jaw-dropping visuals. Sure, the actual fighting was a bit of a confusing mess, but that really fits into the scene. You have hundreds of knights popping in out of nowhere. The only time we realize what is going on is right when the characters do. We see Stannis literally the moment Mance and Jon do and that was just perfect. Talk about a complete reintroduction for several characters. I would’ve been happy with just that, but I can be content with a tacked on funeral.

KRF: Well, for me, the only burned corpse that had any impact was the shepherd’s three year-old daughter, charbroiled by renegade Drogon. Since her stunning takeover of Astapor last season, Dany hasn’t really had much to do other than deal with the actual business of ruling – be it the tedium of dealing with the small complaints of dragon-roasted goats or grappling with the more complicated issues of justice vs. mercy. Power entails a great deal of responsibility and here we see in such a gut-punch of a manner, just how difficult – nigh-on impossible, actually – wielding that power can be. Dany’s dragons are perhaps her greatest asset, but they are also monsters capable of all kinds of horrors and atrocities and monsters she’s clearly ill-equipped to handle at this point. Furthermore, the scene in which she imprisons Viserion and Rhagael (with Drogon still AWOL) is a direct contradiction to her assertion to the slave master at Astapor that a dragon is no slave. We can clearly see her sorrow at imprisoning her children, but it still represents a break from her beliefs and, just like her agreement to allow the former slave to return to the employ of his master, indicates the difficulty in balancing her well-intentioned ideals with the realities of ruling and illustrates that for all her charisma, fairness, and nobility, Dany still has a long way to go before she’s truly capable of being the queen she aims to be.

LK: Dany’s storyline all season has been the definition of not understanding exactly what you’ve wanted all along. Since Season 1 Dany has wanted to rule Westeros. It literally is her birthright to have the Iron Throne. Yet she has never understood until now what it actually takes to rule and she can barely handle that in one city. She cares too much about the people around her and they’re slowly beating her down. On top of that, she has wanted dragons since the moment she received those eggs. Their births were easily the happiest moment of her life. Just like ruling though, she has never properly understood what it meant to have dragons until now and it’s completely destroying her. Locking up Viserion and Rhagael was suitably painful, but unfortunately it was necessary. They’re dangerously wild!

Photo Credit: Helen Sloan/HBO
Photo Credit: Helen Sloan/HBO

Speaking of going AWOL, how about Arya completely abandoning Brienne and finally striking out on her own accord? What a way to cap off her current story.

KRF: I’ve got to say, a part of me wanted Arya to go with her because they’re so perfectly matched. I loved Arya’s instant admiration of Brienne and the almost sisterly rapport they shared so quickly. Much like Bran, Arya’s storyline also wrapped up with a great lead-in to Season 5. Apparently, that Valar Morghulis coin is the ultimate VIP pass.

LK: Yeah, Braavos is basically that ultimate club everyone wants to go to. It took a killer monologue from Davos to get Stannis in. I too was really hoping that Arya would have gone with Brienne, but that wouldn’t have fit considering everything she’s gone through. Plus, where was she going to go? It was high time for Arya to finally say, “This is my life. My journey. I’m going my way.”

KRF: That final scene between her and the Hound was pretty intense. As the mortally wounded Sandor Clegane, Rory McCann turned in one of my favorite performances this week, first baiting Arya with the nasty details of murdering her friend at Joffrey’s behest, then a feigned regret that he didn’t brutalize Sansa when he had the chance. The fact that he didn’t claim to have raped her in order to incite Arya, but only said he wished he had was telling of the twisted sort of nobility the Hound possesses. We know he had a soft spot for Sansa and even while trying to entice her vengeful, feisty sister into mercy killing him, he couldn’t bring himself to say he had done the girl actual harm. Him finally dissolving into pitiful, heartbreaking begging for Arya to put him out of his misery was tough to watch considering how much sympathy we’ve come to have for this character, but what a great moment for McCann, another character I’ll be sad to see go.

Photo Credit: HBO
Photo Credit: HBO

LK: Well if there’s one thing I’ve learned from fiction, unless you see the character actually die like Tywin, Shae, or Jojen, it’s free game. We last saw The Hound dying, so this might not be the end just yet.

KRF: Especially in Game of Thrones – no one’s safe, but you can’t count anyone out either. “The Children” was a fantastic capper to a pretty strong season and I’m already looking forward to season five. 9.5 out of 10 for me

LK: Absolutely. Like I said at the start, Game of Thrones does not get any better than this. I’m totally down for giving it a straight 10/10.

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3 COMMENTS

  1. I really wished they put Stannis’s arrival in last week’s episode. Cut out the scene with the blind guy and Sam BSing before the attack. It took Stannis a whole year from “hey, we should go there” to actually going there.
    I thought Brienne vs Hound was pretty damn epic. But I don’t understand what is going on with the Mountain. I thought he was supposed to have died. Now he’s not?
    I did love the fight scene with Brandor (my name for Bran controlling Hodor). When the first fireball hit, I originally thought it was the missing dragon (he got lost), but then it’s a tree girl throwing “lightning bolts” like its larp. Also RIP to the interesting Reed. No clue what the not as interesting Reed girl will do now.

    • Mike, I couldn’t agree more with condensing Jon Snow’s storyline into last week’s episode – especially considering the fact that last week’s ran so short.

      In regards to your question about the Mountain, Oberyn had poisoned the top of his weapon and Gregor is now slowly and painfully dying from his wounds, but Cersei’s new staff doctor, Qyburn (Westeros’ evil version of Dr. Nick Riviera – “Hi everybody!”) is employing some mysterious, nefarious medicine to save his life.

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