With “The Children,” Game of Thrones delivered one of its most cinematic and epic hours yet (and also spent a mint on their CGI budget for this episode, surely). Unlike other premieres and finales, the show didn’t touch on every story line, and that was a very good thing. When Game of Thrones restricts itself to just telling a few narratives well, it’s a much, much better show. “The Children” also ran for a slightly extended length of time, which the series (and this episode in particular) desperately needed. And for once, Game of Thrones chose to end its season in a place of contemplation, rather than shock and awe. Hit the jump for more.
First of all, a very Happy Father’s Day to everyone from Tyrion Lannister. A Storm of Swords is full of many surprises, but Tyrion’s murderous rampage ranks among the best. “The Children” had a lot happening, and because of last week’s disjointed battle-only entry, the horror of Tyrion’s imminent death after the slaying of Oberyn Martel, the Viper, lost some of its punch. It was a huge frigging deal, let us all note, that Jaime came to rescue Tyrion. Not only that, but that of course Varys was in on it. Remember that Varys publicly denounced Tyrion and helped send him to his death? But of course, the Spider can never be trusted. In this case, it worked to Tyrion’s advantage.
Then there was Tyrion exacting revenge on Shae. The revelation for him that she was sleeping with his father struck him at his core. She’s a whore, yes, but she also looks out for herself. She had been burned by Tyrion, and then got jewels and security through her alliance with Tywin. It’s not surprise that Tyrion would be set off by this, to the point of killing her. Nor was it surprising that he didn’t this time fall for his father’s hollow “you are my son” proclamations, as became clear in the next instance, when Tywin denounced him as never having been his son after Tyrion shot him. Being killed on the toilet is an undignified way to go, to be sure, but it was the perfect shocking twist to Tywin’s long reign of terror.
“The Children” ended with each character facing a turning point. Tyrion stood up for himself and stood up to his father, just like Jaime chose to free Tyrion instead of allowing Cersei to get her way. Varys chose to accompany Tyrion on his journey rather than return to King’s Landing. And elsewhere, Dany made the heartbreaking decision to chain up her remaining dragons after Drogon killed yet another child. It was an almost unbearable choice: these are her children, and elsewhere, she is striving to free slaves. And yet, she puts chains on those she mothers?
Across the Narrow Sea at the Wall, Jon’s meeting with Mance is minimized after the advent of Stannis and Davos commanding an army to destroy the Wildlings. (Finally, someone answered one of those GD ravens for help!) So many of Game of Thrones‘ premiere and finales have revolved around the Wall, and the threat from beyond. It was a nice change of pace to just treat those events as a cursory part of life now: Winter is Coming, help is here, now it’s time to deal with it in a real way.
In one of the series’ most spectacular scenes, Bran, Hodor, Meera and Jojen finally reached their mysterious and mystical destination at a weirwood in the far, far north of the Wall. Naturally, they had to fight an army of skeletons to get in there, and that truly was perhaps the best small battle scene Game of Thrones has yet had. Reaching the weirwoods, meeting the Child of the Forest, and interacting with tree-roots man in what looked like Carcosa was a great way to restore the sense of Game of Thrones as a supernatural fantasy epic. This is more than an alternative history middle ages — this is something extremely strange.
When it comes to turning points, though, no one had more of a personal change than Arya. To have Brienne finally find her after all of that time was a great moment (especially because — until Pod recognized and called The Hound by name — it felt like it could easily be another near-miss). The fight between Brienne and The Hound was extremely personal and brutal, but it was the only way for The Hound to go out. Did he die? It’s ambiguous (they went off-book here so I genuinely have no idea). There was no maester hiding behind that rock, true, but Westeros is full of strange and unexpected things.
The more interesting thing was Arya’s response to all of this. She refused to be won by Brienne, but then gave The Hound her ultimate poker face as he goaded her to mercy-kill him. Why did she leave him? Was it merciful, or was it so that he would suffer excruciating pain until his death? Or was she just fucking done? She can’t be blamed for that, for the love of R’hllor. She got the heck outta Westeros at the first opportunity: instead of going North (which would give us all way too much satisfaction, to see Arya reunited with Jon), she took off to Braavos, thanks to the coin Jaqen had given her for just that scenario.
The final shot of Arya sailing away portends an opening up of this world beyond Westeros — other than Dany’s story — now. It also set an interesting tone to end the season. Despite everything that had come before that moment, the final seconds of “The Children” didn’t at first seem to reflect the epic struggles that went on for most of the hour. But it was actually perfect by being moody and contemplative. Characters made difficult decisions, and almost all are leading to things that look very different than anything we’ve seen before (Stannis at the Wall? Another power vacuum with Tywin dead? Varys and Tyrion on the lam? No more Hound, no more Jojen, no more Arya in Westeros?) That’s what’s exciting, and that’s what keeps viewers so engaged with the show. Anything could happen, and everything is at stake. Valar morghulis … valar dohaeris.
Episode Rating: A+
Musings and Miscellanea:
— I’m going to start off by saying that no, the show didn’t address the book’s Epilogue (yet), and I’m not surprised. I will probably write an entire article about it on Monday though. For now, if you want to discuss that choice in the comments, please be cryptic and still mark it with spoiler warnings, thanks!
— Lots of gorgeous and interesting scenes in “The Children:” from the view of Jon from the Wall amongst the dead, looking like ants, to the great skeleton battle and the glory of the weirwoods, to Arya riding along the shore. Just gorgeous.
— I’m glad Ygritte got one more moment, when Jon built a funeral pyre just for her by the weirwood.
— “We’re not in the Seven Kingdoms, and you’re not dressed for this weather” – Mance. I love Ciran Hinds, but the show’s conception of Mance is continuously underwhelming.
— “I’ve been watching you all your whole lives, through thousands of eyes.” – Tree man.
— Children of the Forest can apparently throw fire bombs out of their hands.
— So, indeed, the Mountain was poisoned by the Viper’s spears. Good riddance (I hope).
— “I’m not interested in hearing another of your smug stories about when you won” – Cersei. Well, that was her last one!
— Happy Father’s Day, Tywin (Part 1): your kids are having sex and producing illegitimate heirs for you!
— Tywin should know that “whore” is a trigger word for Tyrion. Literally.
— “Fuck water. Killed by a woman! I bet you like that” – The Hound to Arya. I don’t think she sufficiently explained by the Hound and Arya would just turn around and leave the Eyrie without even bothering to go inside or ask any more questions. I mean, Westeros is not a good place to be out and about and unprotected, regardless.
— The dragons screaming after Dany was such a difficult moment.
— “You’ll never walk again, but you will fly” – Tree man.