Game of Thrones: Season 4, Episode 10
The Children
Adam O'Brien

I have mixed feelings about tonight’s episode. I’m just going to lay it out on the table: To me, the show isn’t just the best show on television; it’s the best show on television that also happens to be based on a book series that’s very dear to me. Sometimes the show runners, David Benioff and D. B. Weiss, make decisions that really irritate me, when they take a wonderfully woven story and chop it up and make changes wherever they feel like it might make a cool scene. Still and all, I will try to be as objective as possible about tonight’s finale and try to consider it a standalone series.

First, what I liked, which was mostly toward the beginning anyway. All of Jon’s storyline was very well handled tonight. There’s so little interaction between the Wall and the rest of Westeros that it’s bizarre to see Stannis and Davos walk up to Mance Rayder’s camp. I’m not ashamed to admit I’m a sucker for any time someone talks about Eddard, and the way telling Stannis he’s the son of Ned Stark is all the introduction Jon needs was manna from heaven.

I thought we had just seen the last of Ygritte, but that scene with her tonight really was beautiful. I don’t know about you, but because much time watching Kit Harington mope around all the time, I lost sight of the fact that he’s a teenage boy who was in love for the first time. Jon just finished telling Stannis what his father would have done in regard to Mance. I think this, too, is what Ned would have done.

Daenerys, as always, can’t enjoy a victory for five G.D. minutes before people start complaining that “we’re starving in the desert,” or “you should probably get an army if you’re going to invade a nation,” or “um, your dragons are eating children.” Seriously, though, this is an episode about giving things up, and you can see how it kills Dany to shackle her dragons. The episode’s title, “The Children,” isn’t only referring to the people Bran’s with.

Big developments with Bran, speaking of. I know his story has progressed far ahead of the other characters, in terms of how much George R.R. Martin has written for him, but to be fair, he spent one episode climbing and then four seasons being dragged around, going through puberty at an alarming rate. It was about time for him to get somewhere. I did not see the whole skeleton attack thing coming. Dead bodies coming to life is one thing, but how to skeletons move without the aid of muscles or tendons? So much of this White Walker business feels like it’s made up as they go along. The old dude living in tree roots was a good cliffhanger for his storyline, though.

Sandor and Brienne meet and engage in what may have been the most awkward, brutal, prolonged fight yet on a show full of awkward, brutal fights. Afterward, Sandor is in pretty bad shape (and that’s describing a guy who was already missing half his face). He asks Arya to kill him—begs, even. It’s hard to say why she doesn’t. Maybe she wanted him to suffer before he died. Maybe the kill would have been empty if she made an end to a man already dying. Or maybe something’s changed in Arya. Maybe, in her quest for revenge, she’s spent so much time with rabid dogs that will bite anyone and anything that she sees that that way madness lies. Of all of the possible explanations, that’s the one I hope for her. I saw a Jesse/Walt dynamic in that last scene between Arya and the Hound more than anything. Arya’s been subject to so many horrors for so long that I wish her whatever small peace she can get.

I don’t often enjoy Cersei, but I was loving her standing up for herself to the one person she really should, and the only one she hadn’t yet. How potentially disastrous it is to tell Tywin Lannister his legacy is a lie aside, Lena Heady did an amazing job of showing what a weight it was for Cersei to finally be rid of it. And the following scene between her and Jaime… Jaime returned at the end of last season, but they really haven’t been together since the first season, until tonight. Somewhere between this show and these books, the fact of their incest stopped being so appalling to me. That’s a testament to how well this story is told, that I just accept it as fact now.

Tyrion’s scene was the most difficult for me. I’ve been riveted every step of the way, and I was expecting tonight two of my very favorite exchanges in the entire series involving him, but it turned out somewhat differently than I expected. It would have given his storyline so much more depth and poignancy, not to mention they’re what drive him from this point on. Being as it was, though, it was pretty amazing. You could see the pain in Tyrion’s eyes as he said goodbye to his brother, probably forever, the betrayal as he strangled Shae, and the detached, almost insane resolve as he killed his father. I’ve seen a lot of really great acting on television this year, but if you asked me to pick one single role that was the most profoundly, beautifully, tragically human, it would be Peter Dinklage by a wide margin.

There were episodes I really loved this season, and there were episodes I really hated. At the beginning of this episode, it was on its way to becoming one of the best episodes of the show, maybe the best, but as it went on it became one of the worst episodes, for a variety of reasons. I haven’t ever been disappointed by the finale before. I want to be blown away, to carry fond memories over the next nine months while I distract myself with whatever else passes for quality programming. If there’s a lesson there, I guess it’s that life is not a song.

Grade: C

Season Grade: B- . It was good, but it could have been so much more.

Other Thoughts:

-Why, oh WHY, would you take something as spectacular as Tywin’s death at the hands of his son, and not end the season with that scene?

-All of Tyrion’s palling around with Jaime this season seems pretty anticlimactic now.

-Finally, dialogue from Tormund that’s neither yelled nor threateningly growled.

-So, I guess Mycroft Holmes gave Stannis the money/men he wanted? That was never really made clear.

-Thinking about it in my head, I would never have pictured Brienne taking Sandor in a fight.

-For real, though, skeletons? And what were those fireballs? I don’t even… whatever.

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