As another strong season of Game of Thrones draws to a close, I wanted to say thanks to all of you who participated in our discussions every week. It was a pleasure to talk about this show with all of you. Also, just as a warning, it’s hard to talk about this finale without brining up spoilers for the later books in the series. There will be spoilers, and they will be in both this review and its comments, so proceed with caution.
Title The Children
Written By David Benioff & D. B. Weiss
What Happens? In the North, Jon meets with Mance Rayder before discovering that a new force has come to the Wall to bolster the ranks of the Night’s Watch: Stannis Baratheon, who forces Mance to surrender. Bran is also introduced to new, powerful friends (after losing one when Jojen Reed dies) as he reaches the Three-Eyed Raven, who tells him that he will never be able to walk, but he will be able to fly. Daenerys, on the other hand, needs to keep her “children” grounded after her dragons prove to be responsible for the death of a child, so she puts two of them in chains while Drogon is nowhere to be found.
In King’s Landing, Cersei enlists the help of Qyburn and his unnatural means to keep the Mountain from dying of poisoning after his fight with the Red Viper. She then tells her father that she refuses to marry Loras Tyrell, revealing her relationship with Jaime to Tywin in the process. But despite Cersei’s show of affection towards Jaime, he ultimately sides with Tyrion, breaking his little brother out of his prison cell and helping him escape.
Near the Eyrie, Arya is given a reason to escape from the Hound when she crosses paths with Brienne. While their swords initially provide a moment of bonding for the two women, Oathkeeper proves to be Brienne’s downfall, as the Hound names her as a Lannister sympathizer and fights to his (near) death to keep her from Arya. Afterwards, he’s left begging for death, but Arya does not kill him. Instead, she robs him and heads out into the world on her own once again.
With Jaime’s escape route set before him (planned by Varys), Tyrion also appears ready to head out into the world on his own. However, he first stops in his father’s quarters, where he finds Shae in Tywin’s bed. The sight is too much for Tyrion, who strangles the woman who once was his lover. He then sets his sights on his father, whom he confronts in the bathroom before fatally shooting him with a crossbow.
As Tyrion is put into a crate to travel across the sea, Varys realizes that Tywin’s death means he must also escape in order to avoid the sentence of aiding in patricide. The episode concludes on another ship, where Arya finds herself embracing the possibility of a new life in Braavos.
Game-Changing Moment There were simply too many game-changing moments in this finale for me to choose just one. So I’m turning this one around on you, friends. Tell me: Which moment do you feel was the most impactful? Tywin’s death had huge implications for not just Tyrion’s story but also for Cersei and Jaime, as well as all of the characters in King’s Landing. Shae’s death was a game-changer for Tyrion’s character because it forever altered the way we look at him. (Yes, she betrayed him, but he brutally strangled a woman he once claimed to love.) Arya’s escape to Braavos physically and emotionally put her in a new place. And Stannis’s appearance will have huge ramifications for all the storylines at the Wall (and in the fight for the Seven Kingdoms) going forward. So which did you find the most important?
Finale M.V.P. This is another category that could go in so many different directions—from rewarding Charles Dance in his final episode to acknowledging Maisie Williams for the depth she brings to Arya’s character at such a young age. However, I can’t talk about “The Children” without talking about Lena Headey. While Cersei’s story might not have been as central to the plot of the episode as the stories of other characters, she made every single moment she was onscreen feel like an important moment. The range of emotions she displayed throughout the hour was incredible, but what I loved the most was that every emotion was grounded by the same thing: a fierce desire for control. That desire was played with perfect subtlety by Headey, and it gave her performance a cohesiveness that was brilliant. It was there in her hint of a smile upon learning that the Mountain would be changed but not weakened by Qyburn’s actions. It was there in her impassioned explanation that she would kill Tommen to keep him from people who would harm him. It was there in the soft, almost sadistic way she drew out her confession of incest in front of the father who denied it for decades. And it was there in the way she interacted with Jaime—believing she could take some control back in a relationship that had seemed to be slipping out of her grasp.
Cersei’s paranoid and obsessive quest to gain power over those around her (especially through her sexuality) becomes such an important part of her character arc, but it wasn’t until I watched Headey’s work this season that I finally understood how much of that quest for power comes from her feelings of powerlessness as a mother. Headey makes Cersei’s love for her children so visceral, and her scene with Tywin in this episode proved that—although father and daughter are both flawed in huge ways—Cersei actually cares about her children instead of just their place in the family legacy in a way Tywin never cared about his own children.
Most Memorable Lines
Tyrion: All my life you’ve wanted me dead.
Tywin: Yes, but you refused to die. I respect that—even admire it. You fight for what’s yours.
What Didn’t Work I know it’s still a very sensitive subject, but every Jaime/Cersei interaction is going to be problematic for me in the face of what the show did to their relationship earlier this season. In this episode’s case, I understood the point of their scene from the point of view of the writers: It was a way to try to clean up the mess they made by showing that Cersei does still have power in her relationship with Jaime, there’s still some twisted tenderness on both sides, and their coupling was completely consensual. However, it felt like a misplaced moment in terms of the timeline of their relationship. I won’t deny that it was well-acted (I feel so wrong for saying this, but I can never deny how much chemistry Headey has with Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), but in both the books and the show, both characters don’t seem to want anything to do with the other at this point. Therefore, it ultimately made sense for the show to try to repair the damage done to the core of their characters and relationship by the “Was it rape?” debacle, but this scene felt like a case of “too little, too late” in a way that made it ring false.
While I think I probably care a little too much about Jaime and Cersei’s interactions, I wish I cared more about the things that are happening with Bran. This isn’t just a fault of the show; I’m not captivated in the slightest by his chapters in the book, either. I think the problem I have with Bran is that he’s so isolated from any other action in the series that his scenes, especially the ones in the episode, feel like major digressions from the rest of the show. Also, so much of Bran’s story line is cerebral, symbolic, and philosophical. While I enjoy a good symbol as much as anyone, the mental stimulation of Bran’s story just doesn’t match up to the emotional stimulation I feel when I see things happening with Arya, Daenerys, Jon, or basically any other character. Even in “The Children,” I was left unmoved by Jojen’s death. I have a feeling Bran is going to be a hugely important character before this series is over, but I just wish I could find it in me to care about him now.
One final nitpick: In an episode called “The Children” that featured major moments for Arya, Jon, and Bran, couldn’t the show have spared two minutes to show us how Sansa is doing as she continues to live life as Alayne Stone or how Rickon Stark is doing without his brother?
What Worked “The Children” was such a thematically strong episode. Each scene was connected by the theme of children and their relationship to their parents. That theme allowed for some of the show’s best actors to bring their A-games to the table in combinations that were both wonderfully familiar and pleasantly unexpected.
Building off of what was perhaps his strongest performance in “The Watchers on the Wall,” Kit Harington continued to bring a new sense of maturity and gravitas to Jon Snow. What we’re watching is Jon moving from childhood to adulthood after Ygritte’s death, and it’s even more moving onscreen than it was on the page. The scene where he walked away from Ygritte’s burning body and his face crumpled was a stunning display of emotion from an actor previously not known for stunning displays of emotion. And I got chills when he identified himself in front of Stannis as “Ned Stark’s son” and not “Ned Stark’s bastard.” That’s such a huge but important distinction in this world, and it reinforced what we all know to be true: Jon is truly Ned’s son. (Whether or not he biologically is his son is still questioned by many, but there’s no denying he is everything a son of the honorable Ned Stark would grow up to be.)
The other Stark child whose story captivated me in this episode was Arya, and I think so much of that came from the surprises this episode had in store for even those of us who’ve read the books. I’m not sure I’ve ever loved a divergence from the text the way I loved Arya meeting Brienne. It did so many important things for both characters, but even on just a surface level, it was fun to watch these two sword-wielding women bond over being girls who can fight. They were like two children discovering a new friend until it all fell apart. Arya’s hesitant interest in another woman like her was met with Brienne’s unabashed enthusiasm and warmth. Gwendoline Christie does such a remarkable job of bringing depth to Brienne, and she does so in the shades she paints for this complex character that most people judge so incorrectly at first glance. Arya and Brienne aren’t the same at all (despite what people might want to believe because they’re both female fighters); Arya is already far more jaded and cold than Brienne, and both Christie and Willians showed that dichotomy really well.
I loved that the Hound named Brienne a Lannister loyalist because of Oathkeeper; it was such a nice piece of foreshadowing for a time in the future when Brienne’s loyalty to Jaime will become even more dangerous to her and those around her. And I loved that Brienne’s inherent warmth with Arya and her smile when talking about Oathkeeper were contrasted with the absolutely brutal way she fought the Hound. Brienne is a woman of many layers, and the contrast between her soft heart and her warrior’s skill is such a defining part of who she is. I’m so happy that didn’t get lost in this episode and was perhaps made clearer than ever before.
I know an adapted storyline is handled well when I know the outcome but still find myself wishing it would end differently; I so badly wanted Arya to go with Brienne and learn that she can be a warrior woman and not lose her sense of self in the process. But she was already too far gone for that. I was also surprised by how emotional I got when Arya left the Hound. They’ve become such a dynamic duo on the show, and I’ve never liked Arya as much as I did when she was with him. He became a sort of twisted father figure to her, so it was chilling to see her leave him behind. The lack of emotion on her face when she picked his pocket before leaving him was a testament to just how good Williams has grown to be in this role.
Williams is so good at giving us subtle looks into who Arya is, and Emilia Clarke is the same way with Daenerys. Her controlled but devastated reaction to what her dragon “children” did to a human child was stunning. Watching her chain up her dragons devastated me in a way I wasn’t expecting, and it was the first time in a long time that I was moved by this character—this mother who has to find a way to control her children that have become too dangerous to be free.
Dangerous children are a hallmark of the Lannister family, as this episode made abundantly clear. I loved the juxtaposition of Cersei killing Tywin’s illusions about the Lannister legacy (with her admission of incest) and Tyrion actually killing Tywin. While Tywin might try to claim that Jaime is his most important child, there is no denying that Cersei and Tyrion are much more like their father than Jaime is. Jaime, instead, has a bit of a bleeding heart. I loved the scene when he and Tyrion say goodbye because you could feel the affection Jaime has for his little brother. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau is so good at saying everything without saying too much, and his hand placement on Peter Dinklage’s head said everything about the love between these two Lannister boys who could never be what their father wanted them to be.
Tyrion’s horrible relationship with his father drove him to become a murderer. Shae’s death is very difficult and disturbing to talk about (I’m still haunted by the image of her head hanging next to Tyrion’s after she was killed), so I’m just going to talk about Tywin. I loved the tension in that scene, and I loved that Tywin was almost goading Tyrion with his talk about “admiring” his son for fighting for what’s his. The idea of fighting for what’s yours is something Cersei so fervently defended earlier in the episode when it came to her children. But here, Tywin is admitting that he never fought for his son—he wanted him dead. He treats Tyrion as if he isn’t his son, and Dance played that coldness perfectly. By the time Tyrion shot that crossbow, I didn’t know whether to be horrified or happy—and that’s the whole point of that moment.
Tyrion ended this episode on a ship, headed for a new life, and Arya ended the episode in the same way. But the tone of their scenes couldn’t have been more different. Tyrion was stuffed in a box, sent to sea amid the mourning bells of King’s Landing. Arya, on the other hand, faced a new future with her eyes on the horizon and a gorgeous musical score to send her off towards that horizon. They’re two children who defied what they’re supposed to be—a dwarf and a woman. Two children who became killers. Two children who have seen the worst in the world around them and have closed their hearts in response to it. It was a beautiful bit of symbolic resonance that connected themes and characters in a way this show does like none other.
Questions to Discuss for a Long Time What will happen to Arya in Braavos? Where will Tyrion and Varys hide? What will become of Cersei and Jaime’s relationship? And (SPOILER) when will we see Lady Stoneheart?
Finale Grade A -. Besides my disinterest in Bran and my feelings about the Jaime/Cersei dynamic, I thought this was an incredibly strong episode. It was the best finale this show has ever had, and it was one of the best episodes of the season. And now our watch begins as we wait for Season Five!