June 17, 2014 - 12:32am
BY CHLOE GILKE
Chloe Gilke: "Game of Thrones" is not famous for its strong finales. Following its characteristic season structure of countless parallel threads and adventures, the action usually peaks at episode nine, leaving the finale for fallout and reestablishment. "The Children" has plenty of this, but there is a certain excitement and urgency not present in past finales. The body count is high, the battles plentiful, and excellent character moments all around (especially for the Lannisters, who are easily this season's MVPs). Of course, book fans may be disappointed that a certain character doesn’t make her glorious reappearance, but in an episode so jam-packed with excellent stuff, it's hard to dwell on small omissions. First, I just have to mention how excited I am that Bran's storyline is finally seeing some forward momentum. (Four seasons in the making).
Alex Intner: For me, I hoped that the Bran story was building to something that wasn't just Hodor carrying him around in the snow. Bran has all of 7 or 8 minutes on the screen, but those minutes are among the most exciting in an episode that is jam-packed with revolutionary moments for the show. We've had hints of Bran's "purpose" through those four seasons (dating back to the dream with the crow early in season 1), but to finally see the human form of the "three-eyed raven" ... it’s thrilling. Now, it's clear that some kind of ancient magic in involved, which can apparently keep White Walkers away, do we know anything more than that right now? We only got the beginning of their conversation. I'm excited to see where they finally start moving this story! Also, I'd like to take a moment to recognize Jojen, a tertiary character whose mysterious powers play a role.
Chloe Gilke: Rest in peace, Jojen. I like to think that Jojen's purpose is more than just to inspire Bran's true potential. He’s a sort of surrogate brother to Bran in the absence of his own siblings and was a great advisor and companion. Meera's distress at leaving him behind is heartbreaking, especially since it’s so reminiscent of all the other times that Westeros kin have been torn apart. Even so, Bran won't have much time to be missing him, since he's found that magical Weirwood tree and a new mentor to guide his Wharg abilities. Elsewhere in the North, Stannis Baratheon guides his army toward one last defeat of the Wildlings. And, of course, a final look at poor Ygritte in her snowy grave.
Alex Intner: Poor Ygritte. I wish the show had given her more to do this season, instead of having her death be her most important moment of the season and with key character development for her happening only after she dies. However, the burning of her body is a chance for us to say goodbye along with Jon Snow. It’s a powerful moment and one that has some of Kit Harington's best work to date. Also, there’s the famous GOT finale fallout that you mentioned earlier. Stannis has largely been on the sidelines this season (with Davos and Shireen taking the spotlight over at Dragonstone). Even here, his arrival is only a small part of the episode. The scene between Jon and Mance (with Ciarán Hinds FINALLY returning!) is a great (although brief) jostling of power between an extremely powerful force and a Stark. Jon has been showing hints of his Stark heritage all season, but the moment where he saves his enemy's life is probably the most Ned-like we've seen him be.
Chloe Gilke: It's also worthy of note that there’s no mention of Jon being "Ned Stark's bastard" - he's proven himself in combat, and his new confidence shows. I definitely see shades of Ned in his demeanor with Stannis, with his stoic and weary pride demonstrating his ability, no matter his position in the Night's Watch. A little more troubling is Melisandre's disgusted glare directed toward Jon. Whether or not you buy into the theories about Jon's questionable Stark lineage, Melisandre's distaste of Jon points toward possible conflict in season 5. Speaking of conflict, Brienne and The Hound meet at last, and stage an impromptu swordfight over loyalty to an indifferent Arya. It ends with another Clegane brother fatally wounded, dying at the hands of a woman and begging another to end his life. In a season with spotty treatment of female characters, Arya has been a consistent bright spot. As she stands over Sandor's body as he begs for a merciful death, she is no longer the naive girl with a hit list. She's grown a lot this season, and Maisie Williams' performance is phenomenal as always.
Alex Intner: That scene makes an interesting contrast with the moment earlier in the season when Arya meets the old man in the woods. There, she takes action and ends the man's suffering. Here, she doesn't. She lets the Hound (who is on her "list") suffer rather than being merciful. It's amazing how much she has grown over the course of the series. The Arya of season one (or maybe even earlier this season) wouldn't have let the man suffer. She's one of the strongest character on the show because she's willing to do what she thinks will allow her to survive, and in this world that's how you live. The moment with her on the ship as the episode ends ... it's powerful because of all the work the show has done with her character, and Maisie Williams. She's great too. And, the show continues its excellence in fighting with that Brianne and Hound sword fight (if the show isn't nominated alongside Arrow in Outstanding Stunt Coordination, I don't know the Emmys).
Chloe Gilke: Oh, "Game of Thrones" definitely has that Emmy on lock. I mentioned earlier that "Game of Thrones" has some issues with handling its great female characters, and director Alex Graves makes steps toward righting that enormous misstep in the Jaime and Cersei rape scene. Cersei's cathartic confession of her feelings for Jaime to her father are fantastically cringe-worthy, and her steamy scene with Jaime felt like organic passion. Cersei relishes the hell out of that final middle finger to her father's legacy. The star Lannister of this week, though, is Tyrion, who offs Tywin atop the (porcelain) throne. The last straw for Tyrion isn't his father's hand in blaming him for Joffrey's murder or the constant abuse he'd been given for his shorter stature. Tywin has the nerve to sleep with Shae, the love of Tyrion's life. Tyrion's not usually a man ruled by his passions, but it appears his careful, logical demeanor has shattered. Thanks to Jaime and Varys, he's tucked away in a barrel, but certainly freedom won't be so easy.
Alex Intner: I've said in previous recaps, twincest is not my favorite of the story lines on this show. However, the scene with Cersei and Tywin is powerful, and a great character moment for the two of them. For Cersei, it’s finally standing up to the one person who she’s not been able to manipulate to date. Throughout the series, Tywin has been used to getting his way and doing what he had thought was right to preserve his legacy. Now, his legacy is getting killed on the crapper by his son. Tyrion has been pushed into some pretty dark places this season, and here is the moment where he finally breaks under all the pressure. Like Bran, Tyrion isn't on screen for a lot of the episode (maybe 7 minutes...) but those are among the most powerful in the episode. Peter Dinklage, as usual, commands the screen and gives the scenes an added element of heartbreak. I guess Shae and Tywin sleeping together is just one wrong too many. And, he may be on his way to a free city, but with Varys around, he's not free. He may be safer, but he's not free.
Chloe Gilke: It all comes back to freedom vs. safety, a running theme this season. Perhaps the most heartbreaking iteration of this is Dany chaining up her dragons. In earlier seasons, she used them as a main source of power, but as she's taken to more administrative ruling, Drogon and his brothers have become increasingly problematic. A few weeks ago, she was able to to buy out a poor farmer for the damage her dragons caused to his goats, but this week, an emaciated and desperate man arrives with a bundle of bones. Dany's dragons are powerful and majestic, but with great power comes great capability for destruction. Dany can't live with a child's blood at her hands, and as much as she loves her own babies, their captivity is for their own safety. This marks an enormous turning point for Dany, as she realizes that "fire and blood" are the qualities of conquerers, not true leaders.
Alex Intner: I love the way they built the Dany arc this season. Her moments in the finale are as heartbreaking as they were thanks to the lessons she learned earlier in the season. The damage the dragons cause just grows too great, with a human child. She has been dealing with the consequences of her actions all season and they finally grew past the point where they are tolerable. The scene with her dragons is heartbreaking partially because it’s her finally coming to this realization. (It was also partially due to Emilia Clarke, doing some of her best work this season.) Overall, this season of "Game of Thrones" had its bumps and bruises (especially with the rape scene mentioned earlier and Bran's meandering storyline), but it was otherwise a fantastic season for the show. The ensemble continued to do great work while the writers brought some of the best twists yet (Joffrey and The Mountain and Oberyn fight come to mind right away). It will definitely be on my year end top 10 list. The finale sets up a lot of interesting roads for the fifth season to travel. I can't wait to see what's in store!