This week on Game of Thrones: Two storylines collide north of the wall, two more intersect in the Vale, Dany grounds her children, Tywin has the worst father’s day ever, and we ask the question, “Is Bran even still on the same show anymore?”
Season 4 of Game of Thrones has been fantastic, with game changing events occuring in nearly every episode. One might wonder where the finale had to go: we’ve already seen the death of Joffrey, Dany taking Mereen and exiling Jorah, Tyrion’s trial, Oberyn taking on the mountain, the (alleged) Night’s King turning a baby into a white walker, Dark Sansa, and Mance Rayder’s attack on the wall. That’s quite a bit of material. Turns out the show had even more for the finale.
The show opens with Jon going to negotiate/assassinate Mance Rayder. Mance kind of likes the kid, so he invites him in for a sit down. I think I mentioned the Wildling motives last week a bit prematurely; it wasn’t until this episode that Mance tells Jon they’re not coming to maraud, they just want to get away from the White Walkers. So if anyone hadn’t caught on to that, I apologize for the minor spoiler. In any case, things are just about to turn south for Jon when Mance’s camp gets attacked by cavalry. Mance and Jon run out of the tent, and both share a “Where the hell did these guys come from” look on their face, until Stannis Baratheon and Davos Seaworth ride out of the fog like a couple of bosses.
Having these two stories come together holds a lot of promise, I think. On their own, the Stannis arc/Nightswatch arc were kind of treading water, but with someone other than Jon and Sam paying attention to the snow zombie problem, perhaps we’ll get some progress on that component of the Big Picture plot.
Speaking of snow zombies, Bran and co. are having a bit of a rough time north of the wall. Well, Jojen Reed is, anyhow. He isn’t looking too good and is on the verge of collapse when Bran sees what they’ve been looking for: The massive weirwood tree he saw in his vision earlier this season.
They make their way toward it and things get out of hand, really quick. Like, just this side of ‘jump the shark’ out of hand, as the show reminds us that this is, indeed, a fantasy story. First, skeletons burst out of the snow and start attacking the group. Bran wargs into Hodor and uses him to fight. While Meera is trying to defend Jojen, one of the skeletons she thought was taken out pulls a dagger and guts him. Hodor begins to be overrun, while two more skeletons bear down on a vulnerable Bran.
Then BOOM! Magic balls of fire come raining out of the sky, taking out the skeletons, and a weird little girl appears at the base of the weirwood. Meera mercy kills her brother, and along with Bran and Hodor, escapes into the cave beneath the tree. Within, they find an ancient man embedded within the roots of tree. He tells them he’s been watching Westeros for centuries, with a thousand eyes, and that he’s brought Bran here to regain what he lost. Bran assumes he means his ability to walk, but the old man says no, “You’ll never walk again. But you will learn to fly.” Oooh, cryptic. You wouldn’t happen to have a prophecy or two in that beard, would you?
I don’t mean to be so hard on this scene: the fight is great and the effects are outstanding. I am curious to know what viewers are thinking about this sharp turn into magic-fireballs-flung-by-squirrel-people story. These are elements that tend to turn mainstream audiences away from high fantasy.
Over in Essos, Dany is once again hearing the grievances of her people. It mirrors the previous scene from a few weeks ago almost perfectly. That last scene involved a grievance about her dragons killing goats, followed by a grievance by the son of a slave master. This scene begins with a former slave who, in his old age, has found freedom difficult to cope with. Once again, Dany must deal with the ramifications of institutionalization…while the young have embraced their freedom, the old, who have known nothing else their entire lives, are lost, and being preyed upon in the sanctuaries Dany has established. She finally agrees to let him return to his former master as an indentured servant with a contract of one year, a solution that Barristan tells her will have its own problems. It seems Dany can’t win.
And no, she really can’t, because the second grievance involves her dragons yet again. Only this time, the bones brought before her aren’t those of a goat, but a three year old child. Realizing that she has no way of controlling three rapidly growing dragons, Dany lures Rhaegal and Viserion down into the catacombs of Mereen and chains them up. She leaves them, and they turn to follow, only to discover they are restrained. They cry out for her as the doors close, leaving them alone in the dark. Drogon (the dragon responsible) cannot be found.
As per usual, the dragon effects here are well done. You get to see them in several close ups and with full body animations as they crawl along the floor to the food Dany has left for bait, and they look fantastic. Hopefully we get to see these guys in action before the story is over.
Back in Westoros, Brienne and Podrick awaken to find that their horses have gotten free in the night and run off. After chiding Pod about improperly tying them, they resolve to walk the rest of the way to the Eyrie. Along the way, Brienne comes across a young girl. It’s Arya, practicing her sword play.
The sequence that follows is a pretty big departure from the source, but its one I’m glad we get to see, because there’s a lot of cool thematic stuff at play here. Arya is kind of like a young Brienne, after all, so hearing the two of them interact on this level is nice. It isn’t long before before The Hound appears, and Podrick identifies him, which leads to Brienne to realize she’s found Arya. Brienne tries to convince Arya to come with her, but Arya refuses, and its easy to understand why. She doesn’t know Brienne, and Brienne’s story of how she swore an oath to protect Lady Catelyn, and failed, isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement. Even worse, the hilt of Brienne’s sword is made of Lannister gold, as the Hound points out. Assuming she’s come to collect the bounty on his head, he draws his sword, which leads to a great, sort of fan-baitey but I don’t care because it’s so awesome duel between the two. The fight is brutal, with Brienne biting off Clegane’s ear before going to town on his face with her fists and kicking him over a cliff. After the fight, she realizes that Arya has slipped away.
After Brienne and Podrick are gone, Arya comes out of hiding and finds the Hound, still alive but in bad shape. He tries to goad her into killing him, but Arya is cold as ice. She takes his coin pouch and leaves him to his wounds and the elements, crying after her to kill him. It’s a dark end to one of the show’s greatest pairings, and a big moment for Arya as a character.
Down in King’s Landing, Tyrion’s execution is to be carried out in the morning. He’s waiting in his cell when Jaime enters and tells Tyrion he’s come to get him out. Tyrion follows him to a stair case, at the top of which Jaime says Varys is waiting to help with the escape. They say goodbye to each other with a touching farewell, but after Jaime leaves him, Tyrion doesn’t go up the stairs. He returns to the Tower of the Hand.
Once there, he is shocked to find Shae in his father’s bed. She reaches for a knife. Tyrion attacks her, wrenches the knife away, and in his anger and grief ends up strangling Shae to death with her necklace. When Tyrion relents and lets go of the necklace, you can visibly see that a transformation has taken place. Tyrion is a shell now, irrevocably changed. Only on thing left for him to do.
He grabs a cross bow from the wall and walks down the hall, where he finds his father on the privy. Tywin, the silver tongued devil, tries to convince Tyrion that he’d never let him be executed. The argument might have worked, until Tywin calls Shae ‘a dead whore’, which earns him a bolt in the stomach. Tyrion reloads, and Tywin is done with niceties. Tyrion looses another bolt, killing his father. He then returns to the stair case. Varys knows something has happened, but Tyrion offers no explanation.
The episode ends with both Tyrion and Arya getting on ships to Essos. In Arya’s case, she buys passage to Braavos with the iron coin given to her by Jaqen H’qar. In Tyrion’s case, he’s smuggled aboard a ship on its way to Pentos in a crate. Joining him is Varys, who realizes he can’t stay once the bells in the Red Keep start ringing. Moving these two characters across the narrow sea is a huge sea change for the show, one that could finally start to see the coming together of Daenerys’ story with the rest of the cast. The prospect of more of these disparate stories we’ve been following for years potentially coming together is an exciting one. It’s going to be a long wait for next year.