Game Of Thrones Revisited: 4.10 The Children
Game of Thrones, the critically acclaimed TV series by David Benioff and DB Weiss and developed from the best-selling series of novels by George RR Martin, has become a cultural icon. The tentpole of HBO's programming with a stellar cast and mix of medieval-style political drama and war with a healthy dash of fantasy, Game of Thrones has enthralled audiences worldwide. And this year the show will come to a dramatic end in its final run of feature length episodes. In the lead up to season eight, I explore every episode leading up to the final battle for Westeros and the rest of the world, continuing with the dramatic season four finale...
Warning: There may be spoilers for seasons one to seven...
The Children is not only one of the best season finales in Game of Thrones, but it is also one of the best season finales in television history. It is not a season ending that leaves the audience on a shocking cliff-hanger, but one that deftly brings a huge amount of storylines to a close while setting up a change in tone for the years to come.
I mentioned in my previous Game of Thrones Revisited, that The Watchers on the Wall lacked the emotional climax that the battle with the wildlings deserved. As amazing as that battle was, the story comes to a head in the opening of The Children, which sees Jon treat with Mance Rayder (Ciarán Hinds making a rare appearance for such a significant character). The mutual respect and understanding as they toast to those that fell in battle - the noble giant Magg, Jon's friend Grenn, and of course Ygritte - elevates the scene. What's really interesting is that Mance isn't a villain in the traditional sense, he just wants to get the wildling people to safety beyond the Wall before the dead come marching and will go to whatever measures to achieve that.
Still, Mance's defeat is a surprise and thrilling moment as their meeting is cut short by the sight of hundreds of horsemen marching along the wall and through the woods to silence the wildling invaders. Stannis and Davos have had limited screen time this season, but their arrival here to save the Nights Watch and turn the tide is another huge turning point in the series, changing the course of their storylines next season. And through the flames of the bodies of the burning dead, Melisandre sets her sights on Jon; that relationship will have huge consequences following the events of the season five finale. We also said goodbye to Ygritte as Jon mournfully took her body beyond the wall to burn her in a pyre. Her loss is keenly felt.
Further north, comes the culmination of Bran's journey to the Three-Eyed Raven The undead attack as they traverse the frozen lake towards the tree is nail biting stuff even on rewatch, the skeletons pure Ray Harryhausen and the death of pure Jorgen was tragic indeed. The appearance of the Child of the Forest and the race to the tree as more skeletons burst through the ice was a brilliant mix of horror, action and tension, with Bran warging into Hodor once more, a tragic foreshadowing for the season six revelations to come. With Bran reaching the Three-Eyed Raven, his story is done for a while (he sits out the fifth season), but that absence allows for the passage of time from his old journey to the next.
Talking of action, the battle between the Hound and Brienne was brutal stuff too. After finally locating Arya, Sandor is quick to point out that Brienne's sword and armour have been bought with Lannister gold, leading to a thrilling sword battle turned dirty fight as these two warriors faced off against each other. While the swordplay was impressive, it was the punching, biting, groinal hitting and barbaric desperation that really made the scene so traumatic. The Hound also exits the show for some time, this episode suggesting that death is close by. I was reminded of the scene with the dying man earlier in the season; the surprise here is that Arya doesn't put the Hound out of his misery but steals his gold and leaves him in agony, suggesting no matter how much of a bond they have forged this season, he was still on her list and didn't gain her mercy.
In Mereen, Daenerys also finds her journey from slave to queen tested as cracks appear in her quest to be the freer of slaves, mother of dragons and a conqueror. She has had such a mesmerising rise to power over the course of the last two seasons, it is somewhat depressing to see how quickly it starts to crumble. The old man coming to her asking to be returned to his role as slaver teacher to a noble family reveals that life is not that much better for the vulnerable slaves freed not just from their chains but their homes too. And the man brining the ashen bones of his dead daughter killed by Drogon also proves that she can't keep such wild creatures and rule a city of thousands.
Even so, locking up her two remaining dragons after Drogon's disappearance was incredibly heart-breaking. Next season will explore further the sacrifices she is forced to make as ruler as her quest to retake Westeros gets ever further away. It was a frustrating experience as a reader of the books and an audience member previously, but perhaps the perspective will be different as we head into season five now, knowing the journey she will take into the seventh season.
King's Landing also faces a great period of change and the downfall of Tywin Lannister. Cersei's confidence in revealing the truth about her and Jamie sees his reserve crumble but it is other child Tyrion that is his real undoing - and justifyingly so. After a final touching scene between Tyrion and Jamie as the dwarf's escape is hatched. the discovery of Shae in Tywin's bed reveals the hypocrisy and cruelty of the elder Lannister. The tragic romance between Tyrion and Shae was doomed from the start, like many relationships on the show, but the discovery of her in his father's bed is what truly pushes him to breaking point. While his murder of her was shocking, you felt for Tyrion even in his act of murder.
It seemed fitting then that the mighty Tywin Lannister should die not in battle or holding court but on the privy. That final encounter between Tywin and Tyrion was electric, Charles Dance and Peter Dinklage delivering powerhouse performances as their love, lies and trauma were laid bare. Tyrion killing Tywin was a fitting end for the character who had been such a huge presence on the show. At the same time, the lack of Dance in the series after this point is one of the things that made season five feel weaker in comparison. Tywin Lannister was never going to survive to the end, but his departure at the end of season four, means he is missed for far too long.
The Children is equally hopeful and bleak as it brings closure to many characters and storylines and sets everyone up on new paths. Tyrion is now on the run, no longer imbued by the power of the Lannister name, while Daenerys will face new challenges as she settles in as ruler of Mereen. Jon will see his rise to Commander of the Night's Watch next season build on his heroics here while Bran is now set on his path to becoming the Three Eyed Raven. And the final shot of Arya, booking passage on a boat to Bravos, also sets up the next leg in her journey as she moves from victim and warrior to a trained killer, under the tutelage of Jaqen H'ghar.
And it's also, for a time, perhaps the end of Game of Thrones' glory days. Season four is certainly the most consistent, delivering high drama and raising the stakes every episode. There are still plenty of great moments to come, but no season yet, has matched the highs of the fourth. Of course, season eight might change all that.