Over the past week, the producers of ‘Game of Thrones’ have made the PR rounds promising that, contrary to previous seasons, the show’s finale episode this year would be big – the biggest season finale yet. Could the series really try to top last week’s epic action extravaganza?
Indeed, episode ‘The Children’ has some pretty momentous events in it, including a couple of significant character deaths. However, this is not another budget-busting action showcase. Last week’s assault on Castle Black remains the climax of the season, and (like prior seasons) the finale feels like a lot of falling action and set-up for next year.
At the Wall
We last left Jon Snow crossing the gate to the north on a suicide mission to kill Mance Rayder. I expected that this would form the basis of a significant storyline next season. Instead, it gets wrapped up in surprisingly short order.
Snow walks into the Wildling camp unarmed and is brought before Rayder. He says that he’s come to negotiate terms. Rayder informs him that he sent a troop of 400 men to scale the Wall five miles down from the Castle Black. Once they get over, they’ll swing around and mop up the remaining Night’s Watch. Rayder also claims that all the Wildlings want is to cross into the south so that they’ll be protected from the White Walkers by the Wall. He proposes an exchange: If the Night’s Watch will let them pass, the Wildlings will leave them be in peace.
Snow is skeptical and still looks for an opportunity to grab a weapon and kill Rayder. Before he can do anything, a giant army on horseback charges the camp, slaying Wildlings left and right. It’s Stannis and Davos. Heeding Melisandre’s prophecy that the true war is north of the Wall, Stannis has brought his newly-funded army to save the Night’s Watch.
Jon Snow identifies himself and convinces Stannis to take Rayder as a prisoner rather than kill him. He also advises Stannis to burn the dead – all of them. Later, after a conversation with Tormund, Snow brings Ygritte’s corpse across the Wall to burn it in the north.
And that would basically seem to be that. I assume that Stannis will (if he hasn’t already) clean up the extra troop of 400 Wildlings. They of course still have the White Walkers to worry about, but the Wildling threat appears to be over. Just like that.
This kind of makes last week’s huge battle seem needless and irrelevant to the overall story. Why did we dedicate an entire hour to that?
At King’s Landing
The Mountain is still alive, though we learn that Oberyn’s blade was poisoned and he’s as good as dead. Grand Maester Pycelle says that there’s nothing to be done for him, but Cersei won’t listen and orders him out of the room. She instructs Qyburn (the former maester who was disgraced for unethical experiments) to do whatever is necessary to save the Mountain. With what she has planned, she’ll need his strength to protect her. Qyburn warns her that, “The process may change him, somewhat,” but will not weaken him. Will Qyburn turn him into a zombie?
Cersei meets with her father and defiantly tells him that she will not marry Loras, nor will she leave King’s Landing. She does not want her son Tommen, the new king, to be raised by Tywin the way she was. She threatens to expose the truth of his parentage, if that’s what it takes. Tywin seems confused. He has refused to ever give any credence to the rumors about his children. It never occurred to him that they could be true. Cersei throws it in his face that, “Your legacy is a lie.”
Cersei then finds Jaime, tells him what she’s done, and throws herself at him, professing her love. I guess she’s gotten over that time just recently when Jaime raped her.
Daenerys receives yet more lessons that being a queen isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. A former slave begs her to let him sell himself back to his old master. He was better cared for and held in better stature as a slave, and life is pretty miserable in the city for an old man on his own. He claims that a long line of others also wish to return to slavery. As much as Daenerys prides herself on being a liberator, it turns out that liberation is not necessarily in every slave’s best interest.
After this, another supplicant presents himself at the throne carrying the charred corpse of his young daughter. Dany’s dragons are proving untamable and have terrorized her new kingdom. The biggest one, Drogon, has gone A.W.O.L. Daenerys is forced to chain the other two dragons in a pen, essentially enslaving them. She feels like a terrible mother, and realizes that ruling is nowhere near as much fun as conquering.
At the Tree of Life
In what is by far the episode’s worst scene, if not a low point for the series as a whole, Bran Stark and his friends arrive at the magic tree that he’d dreamed about. As they approach it, a bony hand bursts through the ground and grabs Jojen.
Before anyone can react, a bunch of walking skeletons rise up through the ice and attack. Bran wargs Hodor to fight them off, but the humans are overwhelmed and outnumbered until a little girl appears from out of nowhere calling Bran Stark by name. She tosses magic fireballs at the skeletons. Jojen gets the shit stabbed out of him and dies while the others flee to a cave beneath the tree. Skeletons that try to run into the cave explode when they cross the threshold.
Inside the cave are more kids and an old Gandalf-looking dude who tells Bran that he’s the three-eyed raven from Bran’s dreams. The girl explains that they’re called “The Children” and predate even the First Men. Raven-Man says that Jojen foresaw his own death but came anyway so that Bran could regain what he has lost. Bran asks if this means that he’ll walk again. Raven-Guy says no, but he’ll learn to fly.
I cannot emphasize to you how intensely cheesy everything about this scene is. The skeletons look like something out of an old Ray Harryhausen movie (or ‘Army of Darkness’). The magic kids and the fireballs and the Gandalf wannabe are all unbelievably lame.
Fortunately, the scene is a relatively small portion of the episode. However, it suggests that this storyline could play a prominent part of the following seasons, which makes me worry that this could be a jump-the-shark moment for the show.
Near the Vale
Brienne and Podrick have lost their horses. In searching for them, Brienne stumbles upon Arya Stark (which tells us that Arya did not meet with Sansa at the Vale). Brienne doesn’t recognize the girl at first, but Podrick immediately recognizes the Hound, so Brienne puts two and two together. She identifies herself and tells Arya about her promise to Catelyn.
This leads to an incredibly tense confrontation and brutal fight between Brienne and the Hound. Naturally, the Hound fights dirty and gives Brienne a good ass-kicking, but Brienne eventually overcomes him by punching him in the balls, biting off his ear, and tossing him over a cliff.
Brienne calls out for Arya, but the girl hides. She doesn’t know Brienne and isn’t about to entrust her life or her safety to a stranger.
When Brienne and Podrick leave, Arya finds the Hound. He’s still alive but just barely. He’s a mess and admits that he’s done for. He tells her to go find Brienne, because she won’t last a day on her own. Arya retorts that she’ll last longer than he will.
The Hound taunts Arya to kill him and check a name off her list. When she merely sits there staring at him, he begs her to put him out of his misery. Instead, she steals his satchel of gold and coldly walks away, leaving him to die in pain. This is the death he deserves.
Later, Arya comes to a small harbor where a ship is loading cargo. The captain is a Braavosi. Arya shows him the coin that her friend Jaqen gave her and says the phrase “Valar morghulis.” The captain gives her a cabin on the ship, and the episode ends with Arya sailing to Braavos. This is the first good thing that has happened to her in a very long time.
Once More at King’s Landing
Late at night, Jaime breaks Tyrion out of the dungeon and tells him that Varys is waiting to smuggle him out of the city. Before he leaves, Tyrion take a detour. He skulks through the castle and sneaks into his father’s quarters, only to find his former lover Shae in Tywin’s bed. Shae sees Tyrion and grabs a knife. He rushes forward and they struggle. Tyrion strangles Shae to death with her necklace (the necklace he gave her). After the love of his life dies, Tyrion weeps, “I’m sorry.” He means it.
Tyrion takes a crossbow from Tywin’s room (if I’m not mistaken, it was Joffrey’s crossbow – the one he killed Ros with) and walks down the hallway to find his father sitting on a toilet. Tywin does not seem all that surprised that Tyrion has found a way out of his predicament. He tells Tyrion that he was never really going to let him be executed, and calls him his son several times (which should be sign enough that he’s bluffing and trying to manipulate Tyrion).
Tywin asks that they return to his quarters to discuss what happens next. Tyrion tells him that he just killed Shae. Unperturbed even by this, Tywin makes the mistake of dismissing her as a mere whore. Tyrion shoots him in the stomach. Tywin angrily lashes out, “You’re no son of mine!” Tyrion shoots him in the chest.
Tywin Lannister may have wanted to die on the throne, but I doubt this is what he had in mind.
Tyrion makes his way to Varys, who asks what he’s done. Varys stows Tyrion in a crate that is loaded onto a ship. As he turns back toward the city, bells ring out. Varys realizes that the jig is up and there’s no going back now. He sighs and gets onto the ship, sitting next to Tyrion’s crate.
Where Do We Go From Here?
Aside from the Bran storyline (which is horrible), this is a pretty good finale that leaves open a lot of interesting possibilities for next season. Although it couldn’t quite live up to the hype (I suppose that it really is the show’s biggest finale ever, but only by virtue of the fact that this show’s finales are usually so small), the episode delivers some unexpected plot twists.
That scene at the tree really leaves a bad taste in my mouth, though. I can only foresee that storyline growing in importance and getting even lamer and lamer as the threat of the White Walkers grows. Honestly, I’ve always been a little uneasy about the White Walkers, which tread a fine line between threatening and cheesy. They function best as something happening in the background of the story, out of sight. If Season 7 or 8 turns out to be an entire year of skeletons and zombies versus magic children, I don’t know if I could bear it.