Last night, after calling my dad to wish him a happy Fathers Day, I settled into my couch to watch the season four finale of Game of Thrones and was surprised by a very special holiday episode. The show's characters were also celebrating their dads. The only difference is that they were celebrating Father's Day in the tradition of the Seven Kingdoms. And what do you get the Westerosi dad who has everything? (Answer: an arrow to the chest while he's taking a shit.)
Before we get started with our recap, a fun fact! Last night's episode is the only one that GoT producers submitted "for your consideration" to this year's Emmys in the category for Best Writing. It's a highly unusual move (most shows submit several episodes), but showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss are so proud of the season four finale that they didn't feel like they need anything else. Good move? Bad move? All in the thumbed-out eye pit of the beholder, I guess.
Titled "The Children," the season four finale was about just that — both in a mythical sense and in a more literal one. First, Bran Stark finally reaches his mysterious destination beyond the wall, but once he and his band of protectors arrive, they're attacked by by a skeleton army and it's all very Pirates of the Caribbean/Jason of the Argonauts. Unfortunately, Jojen Reed dies in the fight, which is...sad? Maybe? I don't know — at this point in the show, I am very stingy when it comes to who I get invested in and Jojen was never really merited that much consideration from me. RIP, li'l buddy. #AllMenMustDie
Around the same time that they lose Love Actually, they're quasi rescued by a little cave lady who looks like the monster from Splice.. She comes from an ancient species known as "the Children" and protects them from the zombie skeletons with an arsenal of fire balls. She then leads the group into a cave where Bran will finally meet the three-eyed raven that he's been seeing in visions since becoming paralyzed. Of course, it's not an actual raven, but an old wizard who lives in a tree on a pile of bones. Coooooool.
Also north of the Wall, Stannis' army comes to the aid of the Night's Watch right in the middle of Jon Snow's sulk-off/parlay with Mance Rayder (played by the always great Ciaran Hinds). Congratulations, everybody! We've finally had a collision of the show's two most boring story lines. So great that all these austere dullards can finally team up and ZZZZZZZZZ us to death.
I'm sure there's lots we could go into (the look Jon shares with Melisandre through the flames, the way Jon Snow evokes the name of his father Ned Stark to win over Stannis), buuuuuut we have a better Stark to talk about and that Stark is Arya, who continues to be the most exciting character in this whole damn fantasy world.
Throwing fans a major bone, the GoT writers gave us the Brienne of Tarth/Arya encounter that we've long been dreaming of. The pair have a wonderful talk about growing up as women who prefer fighting over more typically girl-ish things, but the moment of bonding is disrupted by the return of the Hound and his observation that Brienne is all decked out in Lannister gold. Of course, WE KNOW that she's as honorable and valiant as they come, but for Arya, an association with the Lannisters is more than enough to earn distrust.
During the exchange, Brienne realizes that she's not just talking to a scrubby little girl with a love of swordplay, but Arya Stark, the child she's been charged with bringing to safety, although, as the Hound points out, "safety" in Westeros is a rather false concept. The argument between Brienne and the Hound is almost like that of two parents arguing over what's best for their daughter and, in a twisted way, that's exactly what's happening. The Hound, for better or worse has become Arya's father figure, teaching her some invaluable life skills (like how to kill a man) and actually growing fond of her — or at least as fond as the Hound can get.
Sadly, this parental argument ends with a nail-biting duel.
"Killed by a woman. I bet you like that," the Hound tells Arya after she finds him dying at the bottom of a ravine. He begs her to put him out of his misery, first appealing to wish fulfillment (he's been on her kill list for awhile now) and then to mercy. Neither works on her, though. After all that she's been through, the kid has become hard as a muhfucker. With a small smile, he leaves him to die — slowly and painfully — in the middle of nowhere.
Like Arya, Tyrion also closes the door on a father/child relationship with a certain...fatal finality, but while Arya's actions confirmed her as the series' best free agent, Tyrion's proved him to be more of a Lannister than any of us thought possible.
Having been sprung from the clink by Jaime, Tyrion makes a detour in his escape, stopping by the room of his father, only to find Shae — his girlfriend-turned-betrayer — in Tywin's bed. In a seemingly un-Tyrion move, he murders her — sort of in self defense, sort of in anger — before finding his father on the toilet (where he's probably having a good think about his daughter's earlier confession of incest) and killing him, too.
There's no real sense of victory in Tyrion taking out his enemies, though. Both deaths are angry, sad and without relief because, to quote Alyssa Rosenberg at the Washington Post, "Tywin may be dead and humiliated, but by murdering Shae, Tyrion has acted like the sort of twisted person his family long believed him to be."
But while Tyrion's story ends on a note of resolved disappointment, the season finishes on a note of, well, not hope exactly, but upward and forward momentum. Arya gets her way onto a Braavosi ship thanks to the token given to her by Jaqen H'ghar all the way back in season three and, as she sails into the distance, it seems like we're — however momentarily — in a place of comfort and good possibility.
Don't get used to it.
Hardly anything in the last episode! We got a brief look of Shae's upper leg and Ygritte's exposed shoulder (thanks, Game of Thrones, for showing off the bodies of these dead/soon-to-be dead ladies) and that was it. Remember back in season one when there was that extended scene of two prostitutes fingering each other? Those sure were the days...
And that's it for season four! Thanks for hanging out and putting up with my uneducated ramblings. It's been fun!