Game of Thrones Season 4 finale recap & review
As this contains a recap, there are SPOILERS.
HBO’s tent pole program ended its fourth season on a rather appropriate occasion—Father’s Day. By the majority of viewer reactions, the finale confirmed producers’ Benioff and Weiss promise of the best “Game of Thrones” finale to date. The episode, titled “The Children,” fulfilled the seasonal theme/ campaign of “Valar Morghulis—All Men Must Die” to the last oedipal-fueled moment. Anybody else feel like Ned Stark was the only good father the show had to offer? The only working father-child relationship of Ramsay and Roose (however disturbing) is one of two major arcs missing this week alongside Sansa and Littlefinger. Alex Graves helmed the finale, one of four episodes he directed this year (“The Lion and the Rose,” “Breaker of Chains,” and “The Mountain and the Viper”). The episode ended after an hour runtime and several extended sequences, tying up loose ends from both A Storm of Swords (Tyrion, Jon & Sam, Arya & the Hound, Davos & Stannis, Cersei & Jaime, Brienne) and A Dance with Dragons (Bran’s company). It seems like A Feast for Crows’ plotline will feature massively in the next season as HBO has already begun casting Dornish and Iron born characters. There’s still a little Jon, Davos, and Daenerys left from A Dance with Dragons, but Bran’s all caught up as far as A Song of Ice and Fire is concerned, and Brienne, Jaime, and Cersei only have a few scenes left from A Feast for Crows. There’s certainly more Tyrion, Sam, Sansa and Arya to go. Get ready to surpass the books and embrace Houses Martell and Greyjoy. There’s also a new outlaw in the Brotherhood without Banners to be introduced and a certain royal heir once thought dead.
“The Children” opens on a sequence that seemed better fit as an ending for last week’s “The Watchers on the Wall.” We catch up with Jon mid-stride as he exits the Wall in a steady-cam shot. He walks through the Haunted Forest and into Mance Rayder’s (Ciáran Hinds- Munich, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I)camp to make terms with the King beyond the Wall. The Night’s Watch number has been decimated while the wildling army is but scratched. They won’t survive another night and Mance openly to admits to sending hundreds climbers on either side of the Wall. The negotiations turn to mentioning Jon’s mortality after Ygritte’s, but erupts into pandemonium after Mance’s army panics as they are attacked. Rayder exits the tent and the camera pans to an aerial shot of an army arranged in attack formation flanking the forest tree line from left and right. The soldiers bear the sigil of a stag in a burning heart. As if on cue, Stannis Baratheon and Davos Seaworth enter the frame after Mance’s army undergoes a massive dissection. Mance surrenders without bowing. Those wildlings really don’t kneel. Stannis queries as to why a man of the Night’s Watch is in the wildling camp. Jon presents himself as Ned Stark’s son and he convinces Stannis to make a prisoner out of Mance. The scene closes with Jon recommending the mass burning of corpses. If anybody believes in bizarre supernatural doozies, it’s King Stannis Baratheon. Rayder’s seasonal debut is short-lived and his efforts bore no fruit. After all, Mag the Mighty fell to Grenn. Jon was just as quick to remember his brothers as Mance his giant.
Qyburn makes his debut (the first of many first-timers showing up in the episode) as we’re treated to the Mountain slowly dying on Pycelle’s laboratory table. Cersei ousts Pycelle in favor Qyburn’s mad scientist method to save Gregor Clegane. The procedure may change the patient, but it certainly won’t weaken him. Doctor Frankenstein anybody? We then follow Cersei as her confrontation to get out of marrying Loras Tyrell turns into a threat of Cersei dismantling House Lannister with the truth. Tywin gets some harsh news as his daughter definitely confirms her incestuous relationship with Jaime. Cersei then stars in a third and final scene as the camera continues following her after the revelation to her father. She tells Jaime right away, but they momentarily quibble over Tyrion before surrendering to temptation on the Kingsguard round table without caution.
In the next scene, Daenerys sits at court, seeing a former slave. He argues that he would prefer life as a slave because he had a respected role teaching others. The Mother of Dragons decrees that all former slaves may take a one-year contract to work for a master again. The interesting complexity of this scene were the constant cuts to Ser Barristan as an old slave defines what it’s like lose a step or two. After her audience with the slave, a man comes forward with the charred remains of his daughter. The next scene immediately catches up with her locking Rhaegal and Viserion in some catacombs as Drogon is still at large.
The next scene begins with a terrific, encompassing shot of the funeral for the fallen brothers of the Night’s Watch who died defending the Wall from Mance Rayder’s army. Maester Aemon leads the procession as Melisandre and Jon peer at each other in a scene focused mainly on the shot-reverse-shot featuring flames. Jon then meets with Tormund who doesn’t quite understand why Aemon treated his wounds. However, the men agree that Ygritte would be best burned in the true North as opposed to south of the Wall with everybody else. The sequence closes with Jon burning Ygritte on a funeral pyre in the Haunted Forest.
The next sequence stays north of the Wall as we catch up Hodor pulling Bran as Jojen falls from pure exhaustion. Meera seems to think all hope is lost, but her brother knows that they’re at the destination. Bran recognizes the great weirwood tree on the hill with a small cave underneath it. Fleshless wights seemingly wearing black clothing grab hold of Jojen as several more pop up out of the ground to attack the party. Meera begins cutting up bad guys as Bran wargs into Hodor and Summer runs defense detail. Jojen Reed becomes the first principal character to bite the dust as wights repeatedly stab him. A team player to the end, you know he’d take a pitch. Just when all hope seems lost, fireballs rain down upon the aggressors as the first of the Children of the Forest appears on “Game of Thrones.” Bran, Hodor, and Meera follow the little girl into the cave. Wights follow close behind, but burst into a pile of bones upon trying to enter. The child notes there is magic protecting the cave. When Bran asks who she is, the girl says that the first men called them the titular “children,” however they were around long before the first men arrived. They follow her deeper into the cave where the three-eyed raven is introduced in the form of a man tangled up in the roots of the weirwood as if it was his throne. The man notes that Jojen knew his fate from the start, that he’s been watching them with a thousand eyes and one, and that he won’t promise Bran will walk again but he’ll certainly fly. Ice dragons? The appearance of Lord Bloodraven was a brilliant touch as yet another character made a debut. “The Children” killed many characters, but introduced a few, as well.
The next scene would have been the highlight for sure if Tyrion Lannister hadn’t stolen the show yet again. Be that as it may, Brienne of Tarth and Podrick Payne fall upon Arya Stark as the Hound is off moving his bowels behind a boulder. Brienne and Arya share a heart-to-heart about sword-fighting girls and the fathers who support them. The Hound then appears and Pod correctly identifies him as Sandor Clegane. The Hound recognizes Lannister gold on the hilt of Brienne’s sword and accuses her of having the wrong allegiance. Brienne begs Arya to come with her and promises safety, but the Hound finally admits to what he’s been doing all along: looking after her like a good dog. The Hound and Brienne come to blows as they cross steel. A rather gory, but delightfully epic swordfight ensues between two of the biggest (literally and figuratively) badasses that Westeros has to offer that involves Brienne biting off the Hound’s ear, the Hound nearly breaking her neck, and she hitting him right where the most damage will be done. The fight comes to a compelling conclusion as Gwendolyn Christie gives 150% to her performance as Brienne and lets out a shrill, murderous scream that sends Sandor Clegane down the face of a treacherous cliff. Brienne and Pod scramble to find Arya, but she’s hiding atop the cliff. The youngest Stark girl approaches the Hound as he dies. Faithful readers of A Feast for Crows particularly enjoyed the Hound’s line, “Unless there’s a maester hiding behind that rock…” in response to Arya asking if he would die as author George R. R. Martin subtly hints at the Hound’s survival (to a different albeit less memorable melee altogether) in a Brienne chapter. The Hound reverts to his doglike nature and begs for death which Arya doesn’t grant. After all those death prayers, she leaves Clegane’s fate up to the gods and absconds with his bag o’ silver.
We catch up with a cheerful Jaime Lannister again (wonder why?) as he springs his brother out of his jail cell. Jaime says goodbye to his brother and wishes him to hurry, but Tyrion instead heads directly for the Tower of the Hand where he shockingly confronts an even more surprised Shae in Tywin’s bed. She immediately reaches for a dagger and they fight until Tyrion strangles her to death with her own necklace (a prop which actress Sibel Kekilli kept). After this death, Tyrion reaches for Joffrey’s old crossbow and heads for the Hand’s privy where he meets Tywin moving his bowels. What happened to the last guy we know relieved himself? Precisely. Tyrion tearfully says everything to Tywin he ever intended and takes complete control of the situation for the first time in his relationship with his father. After Tywin said “whore,” a second time, he never stood a chance. Tywin immediately disowns Tyrion, which Tyrion promptly refuses before shooting his father again. This time for good. Tyrion then meets up with a less-frequently-appearing Varys who asks, “What have you done?” The spider then hides the lion in a crate. The crate is lowered on to a ship as Varys looks up at King’s Landing almost fondly before boarding the ship and taking his seat next to Tyrion’s crate.
Season Four ends with Arya. She rides her horse alongside a waterfall in the Saltpans before she falls upon a ship in a harbor. She tries to barter passage north, but the captain insists he’s headed home to Braavos. A light bulb metaphorically glows above Arya’s head as she hands the captain her coin gifted from Jaqen H’ghar at the end of the Season Two. “Valar Morghulis,” she tells the flabbergasted man, a fitting line for the end of this season. He responds with, “Valar Dohaeris,” and assures her passage and a cabin. Arya rushes aboard as the episode ends with Arya headed for Braavos.
So there it is. All men must die (Polliver, King Joffrey, Dontos Hollard, Locke, Rast, Karl Tanner, Oberyn Martell, The Mountain, Pyp, Grenn, Jojen, The Hound, Tywin Lannister). Even a few women (Lysa Arryn, Ygritte, and Shae). Season Five certainly looks to ambitiously expanding the setting for “Game of Thrones” as the death of Tywin Lannister is sure to send Westeros in upheaval. It seems as if Davos’ pitch to the Iron Bank of Braavos was truer than expected. Certainly expect characters to die, but at not quite the brisk pace as they have been this year. Weiss and Benioff took extensive creative liberties with the source material that went over well with audiences, we’ll have to see just how creative they get as “Game of Thrones” will certainly have to change the pace with all the pivotal character deaths and upcoming surpass of printed work. Just how crucial will House Martell and House Greyjoy figure? Will Lady Stoneheart ever show up or will she take the Coldhands and the Ghost High Heart route? Will Bran take a break entirely or will The Winds of Winter’s structure take televised form?