Last night’s season four finale of HBO’s Game of Thrones, titled “The Children,” is very character-heavy. Each of the many players in the cast get to show depth and growth from time to time, but the latest installment seems to be all about that, crystallizing characteristics we’ve seen within their personalities before and taking them to the next level. There is still action, of course, but the pathos are very strong, making for an excellent end, and leaving us to ponder the direction some of the people are heading in.
To many Game of Thrones viewers, the most important face in the series is Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage). Sentenced to die, things look dire for the imp until Tyrion’s brother, Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), sets him free. These two siblings have a loving bond, evident in their brief goodbye hug that transcends blood. They come from a very messed up family, with a sister, Cersei (Lena Headey), who hates one of them, and sleeps with the other to manipulate him. Yet, the boys’ connection is pure and loyal. Jaime cannot sit by and watch Tyrion executed, and so he intervenes.
From here, many expect Tyrion to take the easy path, knocking on Varys’ (Conleth Hill) door and sailing away. But this Tyrion has been betrayed and has turned cold. Before the trial, in which he watches his love, Shae (Sibel Kekilli), betray him and his father, Tywin (Charles Dance), let his innocent son be sentenced to death, Tyrion could have walked away. But at this point, he is just too far wronged, frustrated with injustice, and cannot stop himself from a final showdown with daddy.
What follows is tragic. I don’t think Tyrion means to kill Shae, even after her words at court, but he has to in self-defense, she being convinced Tyrion is evil enough to hurt her. And who can blame her, after the way Tyrion speaks to her when last together, Shae not realizing Tyrion acts like he doesn’t love her for her own good? Tywin’s death at Tyrion’s hands is much more deserved, Tyrion finally proving to his father that he’s a man, standing up for himself against the cruel tyrant that raised him.
It’s interesting to observe Tywin in his final days on Game of Thrones. Not only does he underestimate Tyrion, not expecting his son will kill him no matter what he’s done, but he also is shown to be living in denial about Jaime and Cersei’s incestuous relationship and its products. This is a man that has a single-minded vision for his family. He is cunning and savvy in battle, but lacks warmth with his offspring, which leads to him not understanding them. This is Tywin’s downfall, his hubris and ignorance of his children. He reaps what he has sewn.
As one leader falls, another rises. Jon Snow (Kit Harington) meets with Mance Raydar (Ciarán Hinds), intending to kill the Wildling leader, until they are interrupted by Stannis (Stephen Dillane) and his army, who essentially save The Wall. Before and after this interruption, though, we see just how seasoned Jon has become. He has the wisdom that men will follow, and shows mercy when it is warranted. He understands loyalty, and exhibits such on his own. He’s willing to sacrifice himself for the greater good. He has grown into a man to respect and obey.
He also still has his heart. Jon’s conversation with Tormund (Kristofer Hivju) about Ygritte (Rose Leslie) is moving, as is Jon’s subsequent burning of Ygritte north of the wall. Jon has to put aside romantic notions because of his vow so closing this chapter is a necessary step for him. Yet, seeing how he handles said closing tells us a lot about Jon, too, making him worthy of the admiration being cast his way.
Is Jon now in charge of the Night’s Watch? We don’t see the acting lord commander, last seen injured and being pulled away from the battle, this week. Whether the men have fallen in line behind Jon or not, Mance and Stannis are dealing with Jon as if he speaks for the group, and his behavior and presence support that role. Will Jon’s brothers take this as a sign to fall in line behind him, or will Jon find assuming the mantle of command a lot harder than it’s been for him so far?
Daenerys (Emilia Clarke), who usually seems a natural queen in this Game of Thrones, is having much trouble ruling a city. Her dragons are killing children, forcing her to lock up the two she can find in a dark dungeon. The former slaves want to go back to being slaves, their lives worse as freed men. She has cast out her top adviser. This leaves the poor girl crying and lost. This is not the powerful woman the past few seasons have ended with, triumphant in victory. Tasked with day-to-day management, Daenerys is coming up short, presumably an element to explore more in depth next year.
What about Bran (Isaac Hempstead Wright)? Will he be a leader, too? He fulfills his vision quest and finds the three-eyed crow, deep underground, beneath the giant Weirdwood tree. There is a looming sense of destiny here, and after seeing how Bran can warg into Hodor (Kristian Nairn) and use him in a fight, there’s also a sense of power behind Bran now. It’s uncertain what Bran will be doing at this strange place, but he certainly seems poised to be someone important, and is finally ready to assume that mantle.
In a scene that never happens in the Game of Thrones books, Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) finds Arya (Maisie Williams) and two swordswomen bond over their weapons. It’s a touching scene for the girls, so much alike, and one I’m glad they include here. Arya is given a glimpse that will reinforce her belief that she doesn’t have to adhere to traditional gender roles, and Brienne sees a kindred spirit that should make her feel less of a freak.
Of course, The Hound (Rory McCann) interferes. Seeing Lannister gold on Brienne’s hilt, he justly assumes, even if he’s wrong, that Brienne means Arya harm. Whether The Hound is a protector or not has always been up for debate, many believing he sticks with Arya just for the reward money. But “The Children” shows us something different, a side of The Hound that leans toward nobility. The Hound hates himself, as we’ve seen before. Perhaps he thinks that taking care of Arya will buy him a bit of redemption?
Arya repays this loyalty with dispassion. Seeing The Hound injured and slowly, painfully dying, she takes his money and walks away from him. She has good reason to, always remembering the monster he was. However, this is ignoring what he has done for her in the meantime. It means Arya is stone cold, which will serve her well on her own and in Braavos, which she is last seen sailing towards, but it doesn’t bode well for her heart. This Arya has become someone who will have trouble caring for anyone, and that is troubling, even if it makes her more likely to survive.
I do feel sorry for Brienne, coming so close to (half) her goal, who then eludes her after delivering some biting semi-truths about Brienne’s short-comings. This will be a major setback for the female knight, and she will definitely be wracked with guilt and regret over it. Brienne deserves better. She is true and strives to keep her promises, a good person. Arya just isn’t ready to trust anyone else, especially not someone connected to the Lannisters, and so Brienne must continue to search out Arya again, as well as her sister.
It’s impressive that Game of Thrones finds the time for so many compelling character stories in its final hour of the season. This is a show that is big on action, epic battles and tragic deaths, but it’s also very much about the people that populate its world. Without such rich personalities, I can’t imagine that the show would be half as successful and popular as it is, transcending its genre. “The Children” illustrates beautifully some of the best features of the show, and certainly leaves one excited for next season, this one passing by far too quickly.
It’s also worth mentioning, at least in passing, that this season has really departed from the books in a lot of ways, not just the scene mentioned above. A major character that many readers expected in the finale is totally absent, and a death occurs on screen this week that did not happen in the pages. While major arcs are continuing to follow the book, I doubt the TV series wants to add the many new characters that crop up at this point, with sidelines in different parts of the world, and so it seems like we do need to finally let the books go once and for all and just embrace the show, seeing them as two separate bodies of work.
Game of Thrones has been renewed for two more seasons and will return to HBO in 2015.
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