No lie — I could watch Arya and Brienne talk about their swords with each other all day. Because Game of Thrones compartmentalizes its characters and storylines so much, it’s always electric when two characters who normally don’t share any screen time together are suddenly thrown together in a scene. That goes double when the characters are as well drawn — and well liked — as Arya and Brienne, who bump into each other on the road a few miles outside of the Eyrie. Their meeting starts so hopeful, with the Hound off taking a shit and Arya and Brienne perhaps recognizing a kindred spirit in one another. But soon the Hound butts in, and Brienne susses out Arya’s identity. Things quickly go sour, and the lengthy sword fight that erupts between Brienne and the Hound is just the type of big event you’d expect from a Game of Thrones season finale.
Surprisingly, it takes a while to get to that kind of show-rattling moment. Maybe Stannis’s army showing up north of the Wall to defeat Mance Rayder’s wildlings was meant to serve as one, but it felt a little flat to me. That might be because the battle paled in comparison to last week’s raid on Castle Black. Or perhaps it’s because I find Stannis to be so damn boring. There’s a bit of potential foreshadowing with Melisandre giving Jon Snow a good look-over, but, past that, the entire segment feels like an underwhelming epilogue to last week’s Castle Black-centric episode. Ciarán Hinds shows up as Mance himself this week, in what I’m pretty sure was his first appearance this year not counting the “previously on …” segments. It’s so odd how the show’s version of Mance is kind of a nothing part. Everyone talks about him all the time, but he hardly ever appears on screen. Also, if all the wildlings ever really wanted was to take refuge on the south side of the wall, burning villages and killing woman and children probably wasn’t the best way to go about it.
Bran reaching the end of his quest to find the three-eyed crow was likely meant to be a big moment as well, but, honestly, it might have come across as too weird and too vague to qualify. Yeah, there’s an exciting battle between Bran’s posse and a group of undead skeleton warriors that I’m fairly certain were the most convincing undead skeleton warriors I’ve ever seen. (Mad props to the effects department. We’ve certainly come a long way since Jason and the Argonauts.) But the three-eyed crow turns out to be a bizarre old prophet living in a tree, and he’s accompanied by children who appear to be immortal. Not sure what reaction the reveal was expected to garner, but “huh? ooookay …” was about the best I could muster.
Meanwhile, in the latest installment of “It’s Really Hard Being the Queen, You Guys,” Daenerys learns that not all the slaves she’s freed are better off now, especially the ones whose children have been BBQ’d by her increasingly volatile dragons. Season four has not been the strongest season for Daenerys Stormborn, whose character has been stuck in one place both literally and figuratively for most of the season. I really hope next year she’s off the throne and back on the march toward war.
It’s the Hound/Brienne throwdown that finally throws a charge into the episode. The only downside was you got the sense one of them wasn’t going to make it out alive. Sure enough, the scene ends with the Hound bleeding out at the bottom of a rocky hill, as Arya gets her revenge by not immediately crossing him off of her list and leaving him to die slowly instead. It’s always a bummer when Game of Thrones loses one of its best characters, but if the Hound isn’t miraculously saved next year, at least he got an epic sendoff.
No such luck for Tywin Lannister, who, in what’s sure to be the season’s second most celebrated death, is gun-downed on the toilet by a crossbow-wielding Tyrion. There was no way Jaime was going to let Tywin and Cersei kill his brother, so with help from Varys, he springs him from prison and enacts a plan to smuggle him out of the city. But, as is made clear by another great Peter Dinklage performance, Tyrion is too changed a man to just slink off in the night. He’s too hurt from his father’s complete abandonment of him and has grown too strong to let the old man get away with it. So he goes looking for Tywin in the middle of the night and finds Shea of all people lying in his father’s bed. He strangles her and follows that with the murder of Tywin. And then he’s packed into a crate and shipped off to god knows where.
The Lannisters are the ones who ultimately make “The Children” a successful season finale, thanks not just to Dinklage but also to Lena Headey and Charles Dance, who are both wonderful in their big scenes this week. Not counting Tommen (because who would?), Cersei and Jaime are now the last Lannisters standing in King’s Landing, which should lead to a whole new dynamic next season. The one bit that felt a little out of sync was Shae turning back up. She and Tyrion always seemed genuinely in love to me, so the fact that she ended up not just betraying him but also in Tywin’s bed doesn’t quite track. Maybe it’s a severe oversimplification of events that occur in the books, but no matter how badly she and Tyrion ended, no matter how much gold she was offered to turn on him, her last two appearances on the series felt grossly out of character.
Season four ends with Arya sailing northward on a ship filled with Braavosi sailors as a beautiful chorale version of the theme song plays. It’s a strong final scene, although somewhat low-key compared to the big reveals the series has dropped during the final moments of season finales past. There’s one such reveal from the books, which I have been spoiled on, that I was convinced would be closing out “The Children,” but showrunners David Benioff and D. B. Weiss, who wrote the finale, opted for something a little more lyrical and a little less mind-blowing. The same could likely be said for the season as a whole, which had a couple of really great episodes and featured deaths that will reverberate for years to come, but often lacked the narrative drive of the show’s first three seasons. Benioff and Weiss chose not to end season four with a jolt, but it might be in the show’s best interest to start season five with one.