Game of Thrones Review 4.10 - 'The Children'
Posted by Jeremy Thomas on 06.16.2014
Arya makes a fateful decision and Tyrion's execution looms over his head as Jon Snow gets some unexpected aid against the Wildling army! 411's Jeremy Thomas checks in with his full review of "The Children!"
[Warning: spoilers abound for those who have not seen the June 15th episode of Game of Thrones.]
Another season of Game of Thrones has come and gone. And oh, what a season it was. The body count is ever higher, the status quo is thoroughly not quo and everyone is on their merry (or not so merry) way toward their respective destinies. It's been a fun ride, that's for sure, with a fair amount of ups and downs. Last week's "The Watchers on the Wall" was the most expensive episode in the show's history and it showed; the question then arises, how could they possibly top themselves in the finale?
The answer, of course, is simple: they don't. Season finales on Game of Thrones have never been about high spectacle and glorious moments of valor; that is always for the penultimate episode. And yet, "The Children" sees several big shocking moments (at least for those of us who aren't caught up in the books yet) and it certainly turns several plot threads on their head. It's a well-named title, because by the end of the episode the only regular characters left in the big houses are the children of the ruling generation. But there's plenty of time to get to that particular satisfying moment; let's take a minute to journey our way around Westeros first and see what happens to its daughters and sons.
"The Children" is an aptly-named episode; ostensibly it refers to the girl who comes to Bran's rescue, but it has the delicious double-meaning as well because this is an episode in which all the children of the show deliver a reckoning to their parents. It starts off with Jon Snow, right off the events of last week's battle at the Wall. You have to give it to Jon in terms of pure ballsiness; he walks directly into Mance Ryder's camp heedless of the fact that Wildlings pop out of the woods behind him. For Jon, Mance was very much like a father in some ways. Sure, he grew up in Winterfell and Eddard treated him as much like a son as he could, but Jon has never had someone who was there for him exactly like a father would be. Jeor Mormont came close, but Jon wasn't ready for that and they never quite had the bond that they could have had. Despite the fact that Mance was the enemy, there always seemed to be a deeper connection between them and Jon is ready to use that. The scene between Jon and Mance is wonderfully done; credit goes to Ciarán Hinds and Kit Harrington for playing the tension between them as more than that of just enemies on the field. They drink to their fallen comrades and there's a moment where it looks like it's about to go very, very poorly for Jon...which, as Mance has figured out, is exactly what Jon planned. The Lord Snow has no intentions of leaving the tent alive, as long as he saves his brothers of the Night's Watch. The loss of Ygritte has left him with only his duty, and if his duty costs his life than so be it.
But then Stannis comes in to save the day, or at least save Jon and the Night's Watch. It's thrilling to see the connections start to come together, and to have these disparate stories start to collide. If Game of Thrones has a flaw, it's that the stories can often feel disconnected from each other. This is mostly fine because the tales in and of themselves are engrossing and well-told. But it's difficult to care too much about Stannis off in Dragonstone when it boils down to just a couple of characters we're supposed to care about, talking about events far away from them. Jon and the Night's Watch sometimes suffers from the same, and seeing these two stories come together allows them to streamline the stories so that we're not constantly globe-hopping quite so much. Suddenly what happens with Jon and Stannis becomes more interesting and we're more excited to see where it goes from here. Especially with the way that Melisandre was looking at Jon through those flames. Yeah, that can't be good. It's a wonderful shot though and another great choice from Alex Graves, who has excelled as a director this season.
We almost get another streamlining of storylines as Brienne and Podrick collide with Arya and the Hound. This was a great tease because let's face it: how great would that foursome have been as a travelling party? Brienne and the Hound sniping at each other, Arya showing how much she's grown as a survivor in contrast to Pod, and the sheer hilarity of the dialogue that would have gone in between the four of them. It would have made for some great moments but it wasn't mean to be; instead they collide by virtue of their mutual wandering through the Vale and then split apart like atoms. Brienne and Sandor's battle is one of my favorites we've had this season. It's perfect for the two of them, with Brienne outmatched in terms of sheer strength but able to keep up and even best the Hound, before making the grave mistake of calling him "Ser." That leads into a brutal hand-to-hand fight in which they both give as well as they get. It's watching two powerhouses just beat the tar out of each other and one might argue that the result didn't prove the Hound as the loser; he simply ended up too close to the edge.
Arya, meanwhile, steers clear of her would-be rescuers and gets her chance to deliver her own justice to the Hound; she doesn't deal the blow that (may have) killed him, but she is able to get her revenge nonetheless. Remember back to that scene in "Mockingbird" where Sandor killed the dying man by stabbing him through the heart as a mercy? Arya has that opportunity with Sandor and doesn't take it. It's a revelatory moment for her, and the look on her face as she watches the Hound laying there is wonderfully, chillingly detached. She walks away, leaving the Hound's fate in question and hitches a ride to Braavos. Arya's leaving her life behind her and moving on to join the Faceless Men. While I'm sad to see she's going to have a disconnected story from the rest, the show can stand to do this now that they're streamlining the others and it's the most logical path for her character.
Not everyone's reckonings work out for our heroes, though. Daenerys has to deal with her own children: her dragons and her subjects. Dany has it rough in this episode; she's forced to realize that freedom means allowing people the option to go back to a way she disdains when the old servant beseeches her to allow him to go back to his old master and family. And the servant has some valid points. The Mother of Dragons finds a compromise, although one that (as Ser Barristan notes) the old masters will manipulate to her advantage. But she's learning, at least, that she can't create an ideal society because that ideal society depends on everyone around her being benevolent. And this is Westeros, where benevolence is a rare thing indeed. Meanwhile she has her dragons do deal with, and that cuts the worst. Drogon is out and causing mayhem, which led to the death of a young girl. Dany realizes that what Jorah said earlier in the season is true: the dragons will not be tamed, even by her mother. You have to give it to Emilia Clarke, who makes it a stunningly emotional scene when she has to lock up Rhaegal and Viserion in the catacombs. She's playing off CGI dragons, who themselves come across as tragic (kudos to the visual effects team on that) and she really makes us believe in that. Dany is having to make hard decisions and is learning that as a ruler, you don't just get to do whatever you want.
Amidst all of this tragedy, there's been one storyline that I just haven't been able to get fully invested in, and that's the story of Bran. It's not the fault of the scripting or the performances; it's merely that it seems to be the most disconnected of all the tales. Even if Daenerys is further away, we're more invested there emotionally. Bran, Jojen, Meera and Hodor's quest has only been really interesting when they bump into someone else, like the Craster's Keep moment. Here, they finally reach the three-eyed raven but at the cost of Jojen's life thanks to some pretty awesome wights. That scene played out like something out of the original Clash of the Titans, but with a higher budget and I mean that in a good way. It's sad to see Jojen go, but his purpose had been served and the fancy effects would have been for nothing if no one had been lost. Bran now gets to learn more about being a warg, which should hopefully give us a reason to care more.
And then, finally, we have King's Landing. If anyone gets retribution delivered to them this episode, it's surely Tywin Lannister. Tywin is obsessed with the honor of his house and the concept of his family, and yet as Cersei says he can't see what is actually going on in his family. Cersei defies him and says she will not marry Loras Tyrell, as she is concerned that Tommen will be torn apart by Tywin and Margaery fighting over him. When he tries to shut her down she reveals the hard truth: that she and Jamie are incestuous, that all of her children are, shall way say, pure-blood Lannisters and that she will tell the world if he tries to force her to go through with the marriage. Charles Dance and Lena Headey play this scene out so beautifully; their dynamic has always been great but this is Cersei finally getting one over on her father and Dance plays it both stoic and yet devastated by the news. And then just like that she walks off and pulls Jamie onto a table for some incestuous loving.
Jamie betrays his father as well, though it doesn't turn out the way that he expects it to for sure. He defies Tywin and lets Tyrion free thanks to a deal with Varys. It appears Varys' promise that he will remember what Tyrion did for the city held true. It's the least of the Lannister children's betrayals, but it leads to a much higher--and ultimately final--act against their father.
Ahh, Tyrion. Peter Dinklage has been in a rough spot this season, languishing in a prison and kept away from most of the rest of the cast. He's certainly had quite a few moments to shine, such as his trial speech and his conversations with Bronn and Jamie. But the increasing indignities forced on him throughout the season--by Joffrey, by his imprisonment, by the farce of a trial--they've been building up inside of him, threatening to spill over. He has the chance for freedom without vengeance and he very nearly takes it, but that need is too great and he heads to Tywin's chambers. And there he finds none other than Shae, who is managing to survive by having taken a spot in Tywin's bed. It's an ultimate betrayal of Tyrion by Shae, let's not discount that. But from Shae's perspective, I think she was out of options. Yes, she did terrible things but she did them in order to survive; let's not pretend that she wasn't likely threatened into her testimony behind the scenes, and then what was she to do? I think she probably could have survived if she hadn't been caught calling Tywin her name for Tyrion. That was just too much, and Tyrion burst.
Killing Shae was an act of rage; something boiling over in him until he lost control. That much is clear. But what he did to Tywin? That was pure deliberate, rational choice. Poor Tywin, killed on the toilet. That one of the most dignified (if assholish) characters should die so ignominiously actually seems fitting; it's Tyrion's ultimate act of taking control of himself. Tywin had a fatal flaw, and in some ways it's almost noble: he wanted to protect his children and his family, but in doing so he never gave them credit and tried to control them too much. Was he being honest when he said he never would have let Tyrion be executed? Hard to say, but I'll at least entertain the possibility. It's consistent with things he's always said to Tyrion and I think painting him as a pure villain is too easy for a show with this kind of complex morality. Either way, he makes the wrong choice in believing Tyrion isn't capable of killing him and says "whore" one too many times. And that's it for him. Goodbye Tywin Lannister; many parents may say it in jest, but your children really were the death of you.
Some Final Thoughts:
• Nothing from Sansa and Littlefinger this week, but I think they hit a fitting conclusion for the season when Sansa took control of her destiny in "The Mountain and the Viper." Definitely looking forward to more of that next year.
• Varys is headed off to the Free Cities with Tyrion, which happen to include Braavos. That will lead into some interesting things, especially if Arya and Tyrion ever cross paths. And let's not forget that Arya knows Varys was involved in plots against her father from overhearing a particular conversation in season one.
• Thank you for following me through this season of Game of Thrones. It's been a hell of a ride and I'm looking forward to being back with reviews next season. It's going to be a long ten months.
The 411: It would have been impossible to deliver on the level of intrigue, excitement and high stakes of "The Watchers of the Wall," but "The Children" comes close. Some fantastic performances and Alex Graves' sure-handed direction result in one of the best season finales we've seen yet, with big deaths and new directions for our characters. It's a great finale for a show that's managed to navigate some tricky waters this season without losing a step.