'Game of Thrones' Season Finale Review: "The Children"

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Game of Thrones’ season 4 conjures its tenth and final episode of the season, “The Children,” as Tyrion takes drastic action when the opportunity for freedom arises, Jon finds an unexpected new ally north of the Wall, Bran reaches his destination, and Arya makes a new fate for herself.

Last week's penultimate installment, “The Watchers on the Wall,” saw Jon Snow finally facing the Wildling attack on Castle Black, while Sam discovered surprisingly personal stakes for the battle. So, what does the final installment of season 4 bring?

Read on for your in-depth recap of everything you need to know about the ‘Game of Thrones’ season 4, episode 10, season finale "The Children"!

Jon Snow heads north of the wall and into the forest, brazenly walking into Mance’s camp until he finds the man himself. Mance eagerly receives Jon, and the two drink to the memory of both Ygritte and the others lost during the battle, before Mance deduces that Jon Snow came to assassinate him, not broker a peace treaty as he claims. Before the conflict can escalate, a horn sounds in the distance heralding the arrival of an army, confusing both Jon and Mance.

Riders on horseback swarm the camps, before Jon and Mance find themselves faced with the leaders: none other than Stannis Baratheon and Davos. Jon introduces himself as the son of Ned Stark, and while Mance refuses to kneel to the supposed true king, Jon urges Stannis to spare the man’s life. Elsewhere, Pycelle, Cersei and Qyburn observe the body of the Mountain, which has been badly poisoned by Oberyn’s spear, beyond the point of Pycelle’s ability to heal. Qyburn proposes that he could save Clegane through less savory means, something Pycelle refuses, and Cersei endorses.

Later, Cersei argues with Tywin over the need to marry Loras Tyrell, insisting that both Tywin and Margaery would pull her only son Tommen in opposing directions until there was nothing left. To wit, Cersei threatens to reveal the family’s greatest secret, confessing to her father that she and Jaime are lovers, and that Tywin’s legacy is a lie. Tywin refuses to believe the revelation, after which Cersei visits Jaime in his chambers and tells him what happened before seducing him.

Daenerys answers a request from a former slave, who claims in his advanced age he’d rather return to slavery than have to live in squalor, for which Daenerys allows him to return under a specific contract lasting no more than one year. Afterward, another man approaches the bench and lays out the burned bones of his three year-old daughter, claiming that one of her dragons swooped out of the sky and did the deed. With no means to find Drogon, Daenerys tearfully leads Viserion and Rhaegal to the catacombs, wherein she attaches chains to their necks and is forced to leave them behind.

Maester Aemon presides over the funeral of those lost during the Battle at Castle Black, wherein Jon takes particular note of Melisandre through the flames. Afterward, Jon visits a chained Tormund Giantsbane, asking if he’d like to say anything for the Wildlings' own dead, though Tormund refuses. Pointing out that Ygritte loved him, Tormund asks only that Jon bring her body north of the Wall where it belongs, before Jon takes Ygritte’s body and burns it in a northern pyre.

Hodor, Bran and the Reeds finally arrive to the Godswood tree they’d seen in their dreams, though a number of skeletal Wights burst forth from the snow to attack them. Bran manages to warg into Hodor to assist with the fight, though Jojen sustains multiple stab wounds in the skirmish. Before long, a mysterious young girl appears and lobs fireballs at the Wights, after which Meera is forced to leave Jojen behind, and the girl burns the body. Inside a nearby cave, the girl identifies herself as belonging to the Children of the Forest, a race older than men. The girl leads Bran to a mysterious old man who identifies himself as the three-eyed raven, promising Bran that while he’ll never walk again, he may yet one day fly.

Brienne and Podrick awaken to find that their horses have mysteriously disappeared, before Brienne happens upon Arya practicing her swordwork nearby. The exchange goes pleasantly enough before Podrick recognizes The Hound, and subsequently Brienne identifies Arya. Brienne offers to take her to safety, though the Hound points out that most all of Arya’s known relatives have died, and he and Brienne come to blows. Brienne and the Hound brutally battle one another to the edge of a cliff, before Brienne gets the upper hand and knocks him down a steep ledge, while Arya appears to have disappeared in the fray. With Brienne off looking, Arya finds the Hound with a broken leg on the edge of death and asking for a mercy killing. The Hound attempts to incense Arya into it by invoking Micah and Sansa's names, though Arya wordlessly takes his silver and walks off, in spite of the man’s pleas for death.

Late one night, Jaime enters Tyrion’s cell and spirits him to freedom, saying a tender goodbye before pointing Tyrion in the direction of Varys, who waits to help him. Instead, Tyrion goes up to his father’s chambers and finds Shae waiting in bed, where she grabs a knife at the sight of him. Tyrion and Shae struggle, the outcome of which sees Tyrion forced to strangle her, and dutifully apologizing for it. Taking Joffrey’s crossbow, Tyrion heads down the hall to find Tywin on the toilet, as Tywin insists that he’d never have executed his own son, and even begrudgingly admires him for surviving such insurmountable odds. Tywin repeatedly asks his son to lower the crossbow, though when he dismisses Shae as a whore, Tyrion shoots his father twice, leaving him to die. Afterward, Varys smuggles a crated Tyrion onto a nearby ship, but upon seeing the alarms raised in Kings’ Landing, Varys decides to join Tyrion in exile.

Arya rides toward a Braavosi trade ship and asks to speak with the captain, intending to barter passage. The Captain dismisses her requests, but upon seeing the coin given by Jaqen H’gar and hearing Arya’s “Valar Morghulis,” the Captain responds in kind and gracefully offers her a place on the ship. The boat finally sets sail, as Arya looks off to a new horizon.

OUR REVIEW:

The fourth season of ‘Game of Thrones’ has been the oddest yet to chart, particularly for fans of the book, as this year has seen multiple climaxes spread throughout different episodes, while the usual ninth installment’s bloodbath proved notably weaker than in recent years. The showrunners have also pulled from multiple books to complement dividing George R.R. Martin’s third novel into two seasons, while reaching even beyond the written word for a peek into future storylines, though on the whole season 4 had been nicely structured to set us up for a strong finale.

And in that regard “The Children” completely delivered, as we got some major tectonic shifts for Jon Snow and Stannis as well as Arya, while Tyrion got his expected (if ultimately tragic) reprieve, and Daenerys was forced to confront some hard truths about the limits of her power. Best of all, the stories that have largely focused on wandering this season (cough, Arya and Bran) finally reached major turning points, and opened themselves up for entirely different directions come season 5.

Naturally, the highlight of the hour proves to be Tyrion’s bitter confrontation with both Shae and Tywin, as Peter Dinklage got to display a number of colors in between saying goodbyes to Jaime, saying a far more bitter goodbye to the woman he loved, and still taking a lifetime of anger out on his father for cursing her name after the fact. Surprisingly, most every Lannister got some strong moments of sympathy during the hour, as we saw Cersei lifting the burden of secrecy off her relationship with Jaime, while even Tywin garnered a bit of pity for his inability to confront the truth about his incestuous children. Pity we couldn’t check in with Margaery or Tommen, and while Kings’ Landing scenes will surely prove very different next season without Tywin looming over them, we’re doubly excited to see what becomes of Tyrion and Varys out on the lam.

The Hound’s confrontation with Brienne proved yet another instance of diverging from canon in a way that distinctly benefits the series, not only for the thrill of seeing such larger-than-life characters interact for the first time, but also for the plethora of strong character moments brought with it. The battle itself was particularly brutal, though it’s fascinating to see how far gone Arya has become to resist Brienne’s proposed offer of safety, even from someone who shares her insight into the difficulties posed for strong, fighting women. Instead, we see Arya accepting the hard truths that she shouldn’t rely on anyone for help, and should instead forge her own path, while the cruelty forged in her leaves the Hound to a worse fate than merciful death.

Keeping with the focus on “The Children,” we’re hard pressed to imagine what will become of Bran now that his tale has finally reached the mysterious “three-eyed raven,” though the Harryhausen-esque Wight fight provided a strong, and wholly unexpected action sequence to spice things up. By the same token, we were impressed to see Stannis finally showing up at the Wall (a full season after learning of its dire threat), yet another jolt of excitement for the most historically meandering threads of the series, and a strong promise of what’s to come next year.

Likely the weakest story of the hour owes to Daenerys, particularly now that her most dynamic companions Jorah and Daario have taken their leave, though it was good to see the Breaker of Chains recognizing the limits of her own power and being forced to implement some chains on her dragons, which have long acted as a symbol of her righteous strength. It was a bit odd to see nothing coming of the season’s brief focus on Grey Worm and Missandei, though for a finale we suppose -- and 66 minutes at that -- the narrative only had so much attention to spare.

All in all, “The Children” made for an exceptionally developmental and competent finale, even if its general strength felt somewhat hollow against more emotionally charged closers of seasons past. Naturally, talk will turn to a few aspects curiously left out (we won’t spoil for casual viewers, should the character end up in season 5, but expectant book readers know what we mean), though we couldn’t necessarily hold that against the series for forging its own path. It might at least contribute to a sort of restless feeling we had with tonight’s finale overall, though “The Children” proved at least satisfying enough in its own right.

AND ANOTHER THING…

  • Great to see Ciaran Hinds as Mance Rayder again, however briefly, and bittersweet to have to say goodbye to Rose Leslie’s Ygritte one last time as well.
  • Excellent visuals in highlighting the organization of Stannis’ army from above, while still obscuring the banners to keep a few moments of suspense for what was happening. Not to mention, it’ll be interesting to see an authority figure Jon Snow actually respects, for once.
  • Very curious to see what becomes of The Mountain now, considering how little time we’ve spent with the character in his original form.
  • We expect that the love scene between Jaime and Cersei intended to wash away some of the bad taste from the rape earlier on in the season, but no dice, folks.
  • So, without that character we referenced above, what do we suppose Brienne and Pod will get up to next season?
  • Because it needed to be said, Tyrion and Varys for #TrueDetectiveSeason2.

Well, what say you? Did you get your fill of sword-swinging ‘Game of Thrones’ action?  What did you think about tonight’s finale, “The Children”? Check out all our other ‘Game of Thrones’ season 4 coverage, stay tuned for more coverage on the fourth season in the coming days, and join us next year for more all-new episode recaps of ‘Game of Thrones’ season 5 on HBO!

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