I have always been your son
Written by: David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Directed by: Alex Graves
Alas, dear readers. We have reached the very end of season four, and in a way, we have reached the very end of the George R.R. Martin-led Game of Thrones. Not that Martin would distance himself completely from the TV series following season four, but we've reached the point where Game of Thrones would no longer be able to rely on its source material, which is the direction the show would be heading for season five and beyond. Knowing this was their goodbye to the source material, D&D and director Alex Graves go all out, putting together what is easily the best season finale of any Game of Thrones season thus far, delivering closure on several story lines while planting the seeds for some new ones,and doing the seemingly impossible dual task of leaving viewers satisfied heading into the between seasons break and leaving you hungry for more.
The season finales are usually jam-packed, and that's no exception here. "The Children" is a super-sized Game of Thrones episode whose themes all revolve around children and how they relate to their parents. Okay, so we meet a new character who belongs to a group that has the words, 'The Children' in its title, but whether its literally or figuratively, children are at the forefront of this episode, and in typical Game of Thrones fashion, no one gets off easy. It's been tough sledding for the Stark, Lannister, and Targaryen children since the days of "Winter is Coming". Even though Game of Thrones is about to liberate itself from Martin's novels entirely, that tough sledding not going to change anytime soon.
When it comes to the more figurative use of the word 'children', this of course being in reference to the next step in Bran's story line, as his group finally reaches the Heart Tree, home to the Three Eyed Raven. There they meet a Child of the Forest, who helps Bran's group escape from an attacking group of undead (except for Jojen who gets killed). At this point in the series, it should be pretty clear who exactly are the most important characters when it comes to the over-arching story that George R.R. Martin and likewise D&D are trying to tell. Despite the fact that he hasn't had any sort of "epic" moments, outside of discovering he is a warg, Bran is slowly but surely establishing himself as one of the most important characters in all of Game of Thrones, a character who will undoubtedly have one of the biggest roles to play in the eventual Great War against the Army of the Dead. Game of Thrones has a recurring habit of making the most mocked and defenseless characters like Samwell Tarly and Bran Stark be the ones who end up making the most pivotal discoveries. We saw Sam uncover the secret to killing the White Walkers back in season three. Now we have Bran Stark, a cripple who has traveled to seemingly the middle of nowhere far up North, and he has come across a being in the Three Eyed Raven that will give him the power to uncover some of the most shocking secrets in all of Westeros. In almost all fan theories about how Game of Thrones will end, Bran is slated as being the Night King. While I sort of enjoy this theory myself, I am a bit disappointed that I am not seeing more speculation in regards to what Bran's new identity as the Three-Eyed Raven may do exactly in order to save all of Westeros from The Long Night.
For right now anyway, it's still Jon Snow and the Night's Watch who are the only ones concerned with prepping for The Long Night, but things get a lot more interesting as Jon's meeting with Mance Rayder is broken up by the sudden arrival of Stannis and his cavalry. I'll admit: I'm a total sucker for when Game of Thrones finally converges several of its story lines, though Stannis coming into contact with Jon, the Night's Watch, and the wildlings was to be expected because of how Ser Davos gave Stannis the letter earlier warning about the re-emergence of the White Walkers. As I've stated before, I would argue that the story line involving the Night's Watch is the most important one in all of Game of Thrones, and with the presence of a significant character like Stannis at Castle Black, this is when the Night's Watch story line really starts to step things up and, at times, overtake the story lines involving King's Landing and Meereen.
The events in King's Landing though are easily the most essential ones for "The Children", which is why I'm going to save them for last. Since this finale is all about children, then that means we get to see a little more of the growing divide between Daenerys and her dragons. Upon learning that the free as a bird Drogon has killed a man's young daughter, Daenerys is left with no choice but to imprison her other two dragons, Viserion and Rhaegal, in the catacombs. It's a tough scene to watch, but I say that as someone who is an animal lover and also someone who loves watching the dragons fly around and breathe fire. The dragons are not just Daenerys' children; they have been one of her greatest sources of inspiration ever since they were born. Right now, the dragons are like rebellious teenagers going through adolescence, but Daenerys can't discipline her dragons and get them to behave by yelling and telling them no. She fully understands that her children have grown up and are now angry creatures of destruction, and if she wants to continue to uphold her reputation as Queen, she has to do something to contain them. Viserion and Rhaegal have had hardly any screen time, but their shrieks as Daenerys walks out of the catacomb is as crushing as listening to a loving dog or cat, crying for their owner to return.
This episode isn't all doom and gloom, evident by the brawl that takes place between Brienne and the Hound. Nothing stylish or gimmicky here: this is just a good ol' fashioned slug fest between two steely individuals who couldn't figure out how to get along in the first few minutes they meet. The clanging of swords eventually turns to an exchanging of fists, and it's one of the bloodiest, most savage, and hard-hitting acts of violence that has ever been done in all of Game of Thrones. My gosh, you can feel the hits as Brienne and the Hound go back and forth, taking shots at one another, and that's saying something when we've already seen a ton of sword fights and several fighters get cut to bits. I think it's the explosion that the Arya and the Hound story line has really needed, as at least 85 percent of what the two have done throughout season four has boiled down to travelling on the road and killing people. The Hound is left for dead, and Arya is able to finally head off and take care of herself.
Finally, after having to wait an extra episode after "The Mountain and the Viper", we get to see what Tyrion goes through in his final hours. Cersei has a tense conversation with Tywin, in which she flat out admits to him that the rumors about her incestuous relationship with Jaime are true. Even during her hours of triumph, something always seems to come along to spoil Cersei's mood. Lena Headey and Charles Dance are so good at creating tension out of dialogue that seems like it's incapable of creating tension. This conversation perfectly summarizes the relationship that Cersei and her father have had since the end of "Blackwater": while they get along and have similar goals, they always find something to disagree on.
What Cersei doesn't realize is that it would be the last meaningful conversation she would ever have with her father. In an interesting twist, Jaime appears and releases Tyrion from his cell, informing him that Varys is waiting to take him out of the Capital. The two share a bittersweet farewell, and it's very tough that one of the most trustworthy relationships remaining in Westeros is about to end. With what's about to come next, this will be (perhaps) the last time that Tyrion and Jaime will ever be able to act like true friends. Instead of going to meet Varys right away, Tyrion sneaks up to the Tower of the Hand, where he finds Shae sleeping in his father's bed. A heartbroken Tyrion strangles her to death. Oh, but it doesn't stop there. Tyrion grabs the crossbow previously used by Joffrey and finds his father tending to himself in the privy. Although Tywin tries to negotiate, he twice calls Shae a dead whore, and that is the final straw for Tyrion: he shoots his father twice and kills him. Tyrion goes to meet with Varys, and the two board a ship bound for Essos.
Wow. That is a double whopper in such a short time span. While the magnitude of Tywin's death far outweighs that of Shae's, Tyrion's killing of both fuels the meaning of this sequence for Tyrion's character: he is letting go of what he loved, and letting go of the life he has always known. He loved Shae, and he wanted to spend his life with her, but his family tore them apart. Seeing how his father took Shae as his own, and knowing he would never be able to rekindle his relationship with Shae, Tyrion had to permanently wipe the misery of it from his mind. I love the way Tyrion breathes out and says, "I'm sorry" after he knows Shae has died: he is finally liberated from the pain brought on to him by his separation from Shae.
Seeing how his father took the woman he once loved, Tyrion knew he couldn't leave without killing his father. Of all the characters who would kill the most powerful man in Westeros, it would be the Imp: the dwarf that was sentenced to death, prejudiced by others his whole life, and hated by almost his entire family. Tyrion and Tywin have never enjoyed a true father and son relationship, as Tywin had grown more concerned with preserving the Lannister legacy as opposed to doing what was best for his own children. He gave Tyrion gold and titles all his life, but only because his last name was Lannister. When the opportunity finally came for Tywin to sentence his dwarf son to death, he did it without a second thought. Tywin calls Tyrion a Lannister and his son, but seeing how he was sentenced to death and that Tywin took Shae into his bed without any care for what she meant to Tyrion, Tyrion understands what his father truly thinks of him as: a monster unworthy of the Lannister name and a creature unworthy of living in the world. Tywin's attitude towards Tyrion has basically been how almost the entire Lannister family (save for Jaime) has treated Tyrion, and now Tyrion is putting that all behind him. Although he will always bear the last name of Lannister, Tyrion sets off to a new life, one where he hopes to finally be free of the prejudice and pain that his family had always brought him.
It's impossible to put it differently: "The Children" is a masterpiece episode of television. D&D and director Alex Graves save the best episode of the best season for last, bidding adieu to Game of Thrones' ties to George R.R. Martin's source material by putting several story lines at a terrific stopping point, while also leaving the promise that there would be more fantastic television to come. It's is truly remarkable that Game of Thrones can keep up this level of quality, even with now four full seasons under the belt. That's not to say the quality would begin a steep downhill tumble after this; now Game of Thrones is, to a certain extent, free to explore more of its expansive world and to experiment with brand new story lines. For die-hard book fans who watch the show, that might be a bit of a disappointment. But seeing the way D&D were so masterfully able to adapt the material they started with, I think we should be confident that they will know how to keep the story going and get it to where it needs to go. I know that's a bit weird of me to say considering seasons five, six, and seven have aired already, but if I were someone watching this show for the first time ever and knowing the series was about to move past all the books, I don't see how they wouldn't be optimistic.
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