Programming Note: These reviews are written from the perspective of someone who has not read books. They contain liberal speculation as to future developments, but these are based only on what has aired on the show so far (not even including the Next Week On trailers), and thus are intended to be safe for the spoiler-averse. That means NO MENTIONS OF THE BOOKS WHATSOEVER IN THE COMMENTS. DOESN’T MATTER IF IT IS THINGS THAT HAVE ALREADY OCCURRED OR CAN NO LONGER OCCUR AT THIS POINT IN THE SHOW, OR PREDICTIONS I MAKE THAT ARE DEMONSTRABLY WRONG. IF YOUR COMMENT INCLUDES THE WORDS “IN THE BOOKS”, DON’T POST IT.
Prior recaps can be found in here.
I’ve made a few references in the past to “Blackwater” being the best episode Game Of Thrones was ever likely to produce, but it’s possible that “The Children” may have surpassed it as my favorite. It’s not as focused and cohesive as the big battle episode, but then I maintain that the series’ appeal actually derives in large part from its lack of such attributes. In seasons past, the major fireworks went down in the penultimate episode, with the finale being a rapid reworking of the board that felt more like a traditional premiere. But while “Watchers On The Wall” delivered the major spectacle, it has nothing approaching the far-reaching consequences of the series of climaxes that fill “The Children”. And, it must be said, a lot of my love for the episode flows from the immense sense of relief that Tyrion, Brienne, and all of the other sympathetic characters had made it out alive. I’m sure that Season 5 will contain its share of horrors (not least of which seems to be some sort of FrankenMountain), but it is also poised to offer us Tyrion, Varys, Arya and Jorah in a single scene. Never did I dare to dream of such a treasure.
But let’s focus on things that have actually happened first. At the Wall, Stannis rides in to save the day, as anticipated. Stannis has never been my favorite, but an influx of fresh blood is precisely what the Wall needs to stay at the level it has spent the past season clawing its way up to (which would be “better than Dragonstone or the Dreadfort, not as good as anything else,” if we’re getting technical). And I do like that the Boltons are now sitting between him and the rest of the nation he intends to rule. I mean, he must have ships that could just sail around to King’s Landing, but he’s not exactly known for picking his battles based on expedience.
But the character stuff trumps the plot developments up North, which is surprising since it’s focused on Jon Snow. Jon has developed into one of my favored, if not favorite, characters throughout the year. He has really come into his own, demonstrated by the way he coolly gives orders to “One True King” Stannis, his thoughtful talks with Tormund and Mance about the finer points of mourning and kneeling, and my favorite exchange of the episode, in regards to the fallen giant:
“He was their king. The last of a bloodline that stretches back before the First Men.”
“Gren came from a farm.”
I know Gren didn’t make much of an impression on most people, but I’ve been surprisingly moved by his sacrifice, once again this week when even Mance honored it with a toast. What can I say? I’m very much a second son, and always more drawn to sidekicks and simple men stepping up to huge plates that they didn’t have to, rather than the protagonists with the stink of destiny all over them.
So it would stand to reason that I was also moved by Jojen Reed’s death, but…nope. I don’t know what the deal was there. He wasn’t an unsympathetic character, but I had him marked for redundancy and death from his introduction, and I never got a sense of who he was beyond the guy who knew the basics of warging. Which is a fairly simple concept anyway. But even if I don’t mourn Jojen, I did enjoy the sequence that offed him. It marked Bran officially wandering into a D&D module, complete with giants and wolves battling skeleton warriors (that move with a frightening speed compared to the shambling White Walker zombies, though I assume both get marching orders from the same place), wizened sages spouting cryptic prophecy, and an elf child who apparently studied Prodigal Sorcery under Tim The Enchanter.
This is fun stuff, and all but confirms that Bran is going to warg his way into one of Dany’s dragons in the end. Possibly the big one, as it has gone rogue, roasting kids and prompting the khaleesi to lock up the other two in the catacombs of Mereen. This is not the most dramatic development of the week, but I do wonder if maybe the episode should’ve ended on this note instead of where it did? I’m a much bigger fan of Arya than Dany in general, but her standing on a ship deck is not the most striking image on which to close such an explosive finale. Whereas there is a tradition to be upheld in having seasons end on shots of dragons or White Walkers, and they really outdid themselves with the sound design of the beasts keening after their mother. I dunno, I just felt like something more fantastical than a sailboat was called for.
But I don’t want to begrudge Arya or Maisie Williams their big moments. While I was disappointed that she did not take up Brienne as her new mentor, having her ship off to Braavos (the most badass, underexplored corner of the map) is a fine alternative, and the brawl between the Hound and Brienne was somehow even more brutal and awesome than the Mountain vs. the Viper or any other action the show has ever done. This is exactly the sort of showdown that I’ve talked about in prior weeks, where we have 2 evenly matched opponents who both feel like they could plausibly get the upper hand on the other at any point, and despite audience loyalty to both, and it most definitely did not end in a draw. And so I was a nervous wreck throughout, waiting for Pod to interfere and get himself killed giving Brienne the opening she needed to prevail. Which made it all the sweeter when that didn’t happen, of course. I mean, I liked the Hound as a character, but guy was an unrepentant murderer of children. It would’ve been a much bigger bummer to see Brienne take the loss. And that last scene between Rory McCann and Maisie Williams was worth just about anything. Arya has become a truly cold customer, as she decides to ignore the dog’s lesson about where the heart is, while honoring the one about the dead not needing silver. I suppose the TV dictum is that if we don’t watch him actually expire, we should assume the Hound will be back, but I hope they don’t cheapen that scene in that way. Not that I’m overly worried about it.
But Tyrion will be back! I know the circumstances of his fleeing Westeros were sad, but I was so convinced that offing him would be Martin’s piece de resistance of misery that I was in cold sweats throughout the back half of the episode. Needless to say, I am very, very relieved that this was not the case. And I never expected him to take out the old man on his way (whereas killing Shae, while I did not see it coming specifically, feels more like the type of awfulness that would accompany a last minute escape in Martin’s world). But her character had run its course, and I’d be lying if I said any sadness I felt about her death wasn’t more than offset by the giddiness of realizing that Varys was going to accompany the Imp across the Narrow Sea.
But the main event is of course the toilet-murder of Lord Tywin. We all know that Lannisters pay their debts, and in hindsight much of this season can be seen as being about just how deep Tywin in particular had sunk them to keep the Iron Throne in the family. The season opened with a sequence showing him in total triumph, but it was immediately followed by a scene were he was defied by his eldest son, and by the finale, his daughter had also rebelled, disabusing him of his convenient, strategic ignorance as to their incestuous practices. And of course it closes with his being shot to death on the crapper by the son he has spent years abusing and trying with decreasing subtlety to get killed.
This is obviously both traumatic and cathartic for Tyrion. But Tywin was similar to the Hound in that I recognize them as bad guys in the abstract, but enjoyed the performances and dynamics they brought to the table so much that I wasn’t eager to see them go. So it comes down to the manner they are taken out, and for those of us who have endured Red Weddings and Greyjoy geldings and Viper manglings over the years, it feels good to see someone we like strike back at their tormentor. Is it justice? Not exactly, but it’s a lot closer than what would’ve happened if the old man had his way. In hindsight, I probably shouldn’t have been so worried; I think Martin is savvier than he is generally given credit for when it comes to what degree of tragedy the audience can take before needed a little respite, and while I can see the complaint that Oberyn was introduced solely to raise our hopes for the crushing, following that directly with killing the most beloved character would be too much for a book that also contained last season’s massacre in its second half. And the MO of the show has consistently been to bump off the wiser, steadier hands at any particular wheel while the rejects and marginal figures find ways to keep swimming. But I wasn’t thinking that clearly, because this show has fucked with me so consistently and effectively for so many years that I never know what to think in the moment, no matter how many words I write about it after the fact.
Anyway, with Tywin gone, the consequences for Westeros as a whole will probably be dire. Cersei and Jaime are poised to be the primary movers in King’s Landing, but how long will House Lannister stand with their credit cards maxed out, their king and Hand murdered in quick succession in their very seats of power, and lacking the brainpower of Tywin, Tyrion or Varys to smooth things over? With the Tyrells, Martells, Littlefingers, and eventually Baratheons scheming to depose them?
Is it 2015 yet? Oh, come on!