All told, it’s been kind of an uneven fourth season for Game of Thrones, though it had its incredible moments (Joffrey’s death, Tyrion’s trial, the unlikely camaraderie of the Hound and Arya), but the season finale more than made up for all the earlier meandering, packing so much action into its extra-long running time that poor Fluffy felt as if she’d been through the wringer. Of COURSE there are major spoilers ahead, so don’t keep reading if you don’t wanna know, but let’s break it down, shall we?
The episode starts out tediously enough, with Jon Snow north of the Wall trying to negotiate with Mance Rayder. Jon is adorable and all, but all things not Sam-and-Gilly related (Silly? Gam? I ship them so hard, but they don’t have a cute-couple portmanteau) at the Wall have been dull as ditchwater lately, and I’m including a LOT of last week’s battle in that count too. It was an impressive set piece, but I had a hard time keeping awake through most of it– it didn’t have the kind of crazy kickass and emotional moments of Season Two’s Battle of the Blackwater, save for the death of Ygritte (oh, the feels). But things get real when Stannis shows up, army and Melisandre and all, to beat the ever-loving crap out of the wildlings. Then we see the funeral for the fallen members of the Night’s Watch and a solitary Jon lighting Ygritte’s pyre (oh, the more feels).
The Mountain isn’t looking too healthy after getting speared by Oberyn Martell, and Maester Pycelle tells Cersei he can’t be saved, but when Qyburn says he can rebuild him (he has the technology, lol) Cersei dismisses Pycelle and tells Qyburn to have a go. Squicky transfusion-y stuff happens. (Didn’t he die in the book? It’s been a while since I read that part.) Then Cersei confronts Daddy Tywin, refusing to marry Loras Tyrell and totally spilling the beans on her sexing it up with Jaime and the kids being his and everything. Tywin acts like he didn’t know and like he’ll conveniently forget about it later– the guy who’s running the country is SO the King of Denial. Then she tells Jaime that they’re free to be together and they get their twincest freak on. Major creepy. I still hold out hope for Jaime as a character, because at some point in the story I really want Jienne to happen, but right now that prospect is looking pretty grim.
Meanwhile in Mereen, Daenerys is getting schooled in what being the Mother of Dragons actually entails– she is confronted with the dead body of a three-year-old child that Drogon killed. While Drogon is still missing, Dany, wracked with guilt, decides to chain her other two dragons in the catacombs, with the implication that Drogon will get the same when he returns. Apparently, being Queen isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, awesome dresses notwithstanding.
Next up is the Bran Stark Sled Tour 2014, which has been pretty boring for most of this season as well, except for now, when it suddenly isn’t. Bran, Hodor, and the Reeds finally make it to the magical weirwood tree they’ve been seeking, only to be attacked by skeleton warriors that pop up out of the snow like… like… dead things that pop out of snow. It’s a pretty scary moment, and they stab Jojen, and it looks like all is lost even when Bran wargs into Hodor to try to defend them, until this lethal pixie shows up and starts shooting fireballs all over the place and has a Terminator-esque “Come-with-me-if-you-want-to-live” bit. Meera tearfully mercy-kills her mortally wounded brother and we see him almost turn into a wight before the elf/pixie/tree fairy girl helpfully chars his body. They follow her inside the tree to safety, she introduces herself as one of the Children, as they were named by the so-called First Men, even though they had been around for longer. At the heart of the tree is an ancient man who looks like he’s part of the tree himself. He reveals he’s the three-eyed crow Bran has been seeing in his dreams, and tells Bran while he will never walk again– bummer– he WILL fly.
Now we join Brienne and Podrick, in the middle of Bumfuk Egypt, and their horses have disappeared during the night. As they trudge along uphill both ways, they happen upon Arya practicing with her sword. Arya and Brienne have a nice little girl-power bonding moment until the Hound shows up and Brienne realizes who Arya is. Brienne and the Hound argue– she was Arya’s mother’s sworn protector and she is sworn as well to finding and protecting her daughters. “So why didn’t you (protect her)?” Arya asks bluntly, the Hound refuses to hand her over, and an epic swordfight ensues. Brienne pulls a Mike Tyson and bites off the Hound’s ear, then she pushes him off a cliff. Arya has fled, but she later rejoins the Hound, who is slowly dying of his wounds and asks Arya to finish the job. Instead, she calmly empties his pockets and leaves him to die in agony. It’s brilliant in its badassery.
In King’s Landing, Jaime shows more of that spark of good character by springing his condemned brother, Tyrion, scheduled to lose his head the next morning. They have a brotherly love moment for presumably the last time (which is thankfully nothing like Jaime’s brotherly love moments with Cersei). Instead of waiting for Varys to spirit him out of the castle, Tyrion takes a secret passage to Daddy Tywin’s quarters. Whatever original purpose he may have had in going there is instantly withered when he finds Shae in Tywin’s bed. That’s sad enough on its own, but she immediately attacks him with a knife, so he has to choke her to death in self-defense. He tearfully apologizes to her corpse (Emmy alert!), grabs a crossbow from the wall, and sets off in search of his treacherous father, whom he finds taking a leisurely dump. Tywin tries to reason with Tyrion, even taking the tack that conversing in the privy isn’t remotely dignified, but he makes the mistake of calling Shae a whore one too many times and Tyrion shoots him. Tywin manages to tell Tyrion, “You’re no son of mine,” and Tyrion counters with “I have always been your son” before delivering the second, fatal arrow to Tywin’s heart. Tyrion makes the meetup with Varys and is smuggled onboard a ship. Varys quite prudently decides to take the ship out of Westeros, as well.
We rejoin Arya, who has made her way to the sea, where she tries to book passage to the North– her last relative she knows is alive, Jon Snow, is on the Wall and it seems as good a place as any to seek safety. However, when she learns the ship is instead headed to Braavos, home of both the water dancers and the Faceless Men, she coughs up the coin left to her by Jaquen H’Gar at the end of Season Two and presents it to the captain with the words “Valar Morghulis” (“All men must die” in High Valyrian) as Jaquen had instructed. Thunderstruck, the captain replies “Valar Doeharis” (“All men must serve”), and Arya is on her way to Braavos, savoring the sensation of freedom at the ship’s prow as the episode ends and the credits roll and Game of Thrones goes away for another year.
Overall, this was one of the best episodes of the season. There was some deviation from the source material, but it worked for the better (I loved Brienne and the Hound’s swordfight, which never happened in the books, and, as I mentioned earlier, didn’t the Mountain die? Correct me if I’m wrong). In a season rife with mere talking heads and repetitive battle sequences, it was nice to see some more up-close-and-personal action. I hope it’s a sign of things to come for next season. My only minor quibbles were not catching up with New and Improved Dark Sansa at the Eyrie with Petyr Baelish, and (for you book readers out there) not seeing Lady Stoneheart show up. (Possible season-opener shocker?) Anyway, it was a ripping good installment which, as always, has left me with a very needy sense of longing for next season, which is SO far away.