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Game of Thrones: The Children

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Game of Thrones The Children

A sprawling Game of Thrones finale leaves us with plenty to think about, and plenty to look forward to.

What this season finale did was essentially destroy everything you knew about Game of Thrones. Whatever characteristic or relationship defined a character for the last four seasons, it changed in this episode. People are traveling far from home, separated from their companions, have lost their most valued possessions, and are completely unmoored from their motivations.

We begin with Jon Snow walking into Mance Rayder’s camp to parley. For a while now, Snow has been defined by his internal conflict, his loyalty to the Night’s Watch and his love for Ygritte. He tells Mance he was always loyal to the Watch, and this is probably true. His relationship with Ygritte always came off as a boy enjoying a fling with a girl who gets really really attached and clingy. But now that she’s dead and a real war between the Wildlings and the Night’s Watch has erupted, Jon Snow has no divided feelings. He does understand that it’s a complicated situation, though, and might consider Rayder’s offer to let the Wildlings come through peacefully. Or he might try to assassinate Rayder in his tent. That situation never plays out because…

Stannis Baratheon comes riding in out of nowhere, unlooked for and unexpected. Last we saw him, he was borrowing a ton of money from the Iron Bank to fund a war against the Lannisters. But Stannis ran an end-around, sailing up the coast of Westeros and coming to shore north of the Wall, bypassing the Wall entirely. Stannis loves going around telling everyone he’s king, but at Castle Black neither the Wildlings nor the Brothers will kneel. What’s changed for Stannis? Ever since the war ended he’s been brooding at Dragonstone. Now he’s taking action, and he isn’t even fighting against any other kings. Stannis is going to defend the Wall now. As the corpses of those whose watch has ended burned (to avoid reanimating), Jon Snow and Melisandre catch a glimpse of each other through the flames and smoke. A lingering, smoky glance.

There’s a lot of family drama between Cersei, Tywin, and Jaime. Cersei refuses to marry into the Tyrell family, openly telling her father she wants to stay at King’s Landing to be with Tommen and Jaime. Then she goes and has sex with Jaime. This whole storyline is still royally screwed up by the rape thing.

Now let’s see how things are going with Daenarys Targaryen. She’s still seeing petitioners as queen of Mereen. One guy is lost and purposeless without being a slave, so Dany allows him to sell himself back into slavery. Why the slaves can’t return to their old jobs with a small salary of some kind (and no long contracts) is beyond me. So the woman who defines herself partly by freeing slaves has allowed people to be enslaved again. Then she finds out one of her dragons killed a child. The black dragon is missing, but she chains up the other two in the catacombs, tears in her eyes. She’s the Mother of Dragons. That’s her thing. But now she has to give that up too.

Back north of the Wall, we find Bran, Hodor, Jojen and Meera trudging through the snow. Now, a lot of people are talking about this being a great episode, but here is where things started going awry for me. First, we have this breathless bouncing around 15 different storylines, the show desperate to deal with plot threads before the season ends. But most of all, this didn’t really live up to how I imagined it when I read the books. The attack by skeletons was neat, as was the rescue by one of the Children of the Forest. For a show that’s only given faint hints of supernatural things, suddenly we’ve got animated skeletons, fireball spells and a ward against undead.

But it all seemed a little lame without Coldhands. And when they finally get underground and meet the Greenseer, he was way more human than I’d pictured him. I’d always envisioned a being so entwined with the trees that he appears to be made from roots, and connected to the tree’s roots. The Children looked more human than I’d imagined them too. It was a nice high fantasy style shot of the tree backlit by the sun when they found it though. Beautiful work, there.

Far more interesting: Brienne, the Hound, and Arya. An epic swordfight, the probable death of the Hound, Arya striking off on her own. So much changed here. One gets the sense that, for all her skill, Brienne has never been in a real, serious, life or death fight before. A lot of her naïve ideas about honor evaporated in that moment when she punched Clegane in the nuts. She won in the end, but lost Arya, who stared balefully at the Hound as he performed his own eulogy, then begged her to finish him off. She did not.

What she did do is head for a nearby dock to try and buy passage north, to the Wall. The captain, however, was heading to Braavos. She remembers Jaqen H’ghar telling her the coin he gave her would buy passage to Braavos. When she says, “Valar Morghulis,” the captain’s demeanor changes and he offers her a cabin on the way to the free city.

For Brienne and Podrick, their gallant, epic quest to rescue the Stark daughters has turned irrevocably sour. The daughter she finds refuses to be rescued. The great sword she was given marks her as a friend of the hated Lannisters. For the Hound, his sad, violent life seems close to its end. And Arya, who has simply spent the last few years surviving, being lead here and there by various captors, is on her own, making her own decisions, and finding her own destiny.

The dramatic linchpin, of course, was Tyrion and Tywin. Jaime refuses to let his brother be executed, even if it’s the insane will of his sister. He frees him, having arranged with Varys to smuggle Tyrion out of the city. But Tyrion uses his knowledge of the keep’s secret passages to sneak into his father’s room. There he finds Shae, the final betrayal: she’s been sleeping with Tywin. Enraged and emotionally destroyed, Tyrion strangles her. Then he grabs a crossbow and tracks down his father, who at the moment is on the toilet.

There was some pretty good interplay between Tywin and Tyrion, as Tywin tried to Tywin his way out of being killed. He just turned the Tywin up to 11, but it didn’t work. Some of the emotional resonance was lost because they didn’t call back to the earlier incident in Tyrion’s backstory, where he married a woman that his father then revealed was a whore, then made Tyrion watch while all the Lannister guards raped her. I feel like that all turns the heat up a bunch of notches. Not that Tyrion’s actions weren’t totally understandable anyway.

Varys loads Tyrion into a wooden crate, which is put on a ship heading for who knows where. Then Varys notices the city about to go bonkers since Tywin’s death has been discovered, realizes he’s a little too close to that situation, and hops on board for the trip as well.

Has any character been demolished as thoroughly as Tyrion? He’s defined himself by his opposition to (and simultaneously working towards the impossible approval of) his father. Now he’s murdered his father. He’s also defined himself by his ability to navigate Westeros politics, but he’s been effectively exiled. Tyrion will never play the Game of the Thrones again. Or at least, not for the foreseeable future. It’s kind of fun that we’re pushing out toward the edge of the published books, so we genuinely don’t know where things are going any more.

It’s interesting to note how the season ended. Not with the death of Tywin, but actually with the scene where Arya gets on the ship for Braavos. A friend of mine observed that it offered up a “new beginning” type of scene to linger on (with a gorgeous choral version of the show’s theme song), rather than a death. But then, readers of the books were looking for Lady Stoneheart, which would have been a different sort of new beginning.

No matter how they ended it, it is going to be a hard wait for next season.

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Posted by on Sunday, June 15th, 2014. Filed under Dark TV, Headline. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.