Grading the Season Finales 2014: Game of Thrones

GOT finale S4

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!

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10 thoughts on “Grading the Season Finales 2014: Game of Thrones

  1. I will admit, this whole season I was looking forward to one moment, and that moment didnt even happen in the finale. But I didnt even miss it, because this finale had so many other great moments. And I would rather my favorite book moment be given the attention it deserves rather than being rushed, so I can wait.

    All these scenes were great, but the scene that hit me the most was the scene with Dany in the throne room. It caught me off guard just how much I was affected by that scene because I wasnt expecting it to hit me like it did. But I was crying. There was just something about the desperation of the man who felt lost without a purpose and the man grieving over his dead child that was really painful to watch. And the pain of watching the dragons be locked up. And then that scene followed by the scene at the wall saying goodbye to the fallen brothers and Ygritte just packed a huge emotional punch.

    Other highlights for me included Cercei telling off Tywin, and the Brianne and Arya meeting. I also loved the closing shot of Arya on the boat headed to Braavos. I thought it was the perfect ending for the finale. A new beginning for Arya, leaving behind all the crap that had come before.

    The weakest moments for me were Tyrion’s escape and Tywin’s death. I thought this would be more dramatic and fulfilling of a moment, but i thought it lacked the impact I felt in the books. Also, Bran. I really wish I cared about him, but I am convinced that when he is told he will fly it means he will warg a dragon at some point, so that at least keeps me semi interested.

    All in all the character depth in this 1 hour was truly astonishing. These are all people who have done questionable things, but they all have good in them and you could really see that in the finale. I could blab on about this forever, but I am cutting myself off. So I will just say, its gonna be a long wait until Season 5.

    • oh and my favorite quotation is the conversation between Tormund and Jon about Ygritte, “Did you love her? She loved you.” “She told you?” “No, All she ever talked about was killing you. That’s how I know.”

    • When the episode ended and the moment I knew you were waiting for didn’t happen, you were the first person I thought of. 😉 But, like you, I’m glad it will probably get the full attention it deserves next season instead of being just one of a bunch of huge moments in this finale.

      I have to agree that I never expected it to be Dany who made me cry the most, but that’s exactly how my viewing went down. There was something so realistically, genuinely heartbroken in Emilia Clarke’s performance, and it resonated so strongly with me.

      I also have to agree about the lack of intensity in Tywin’s death scene. As you could probably tell from how little I wrote about it, it just didn’t leave a huge impact on me. But I’m also one of the few people on Earth who don’t adore Tyrion and never did, so that might have something to do with it.

      Finally, I just wanted to say I have the same prediction about Bran, and I will be so upset if that never comes true.

  2. As you rightly point out, it was a “Game changing” episode. The characters are headed off into all new storylines:

    Tyrion lives, but has to live with what he’s done. Jamie and Cersei will do what they want and not give a damn what they think (though they should because, ew, gross). Arya heads to a new life in Bravos. Brienne survives a battle but has to decide if she’ll accept not finding Arya or continue to chase after her. Stannis wins major leadership points, proving he has the skills to be king as he was the only one to protect the realm from the wildlings while everyone else was too busy fighting. The Khaleesi may have to give up the three main weapons in her arsenal, her dragons, because they are becoming too difficult to control.

    Anyway, I love to talk about GoT on my book blog, feel free to check and out and chat about the comings and goings of our favorite fantasy world created by an old man that dresses like a sea captain at:

    http://www.bookshelfbattle.com

    • Thank you so much for taking the time to comment over here! I loved reading your thoughts on all of the major storylines set in motion by the events of this finale.

      Also, thanks for sharing the link to your blog. I am—and I’m sure many of my readers are —always looking for places to talk about Game of Thrones and the whole ASOIAF series. 🙂

  3. That was a great finale, even though I was a bit disappointed about the whole Tyrion/Tywin thing.
    I was surprised that nobody seemed to address the fact that The Mountain confessed to the crimes Oberyn Martell accused him of. I mean, he screamed it before a lot of people, you’d think that would put Tywin Lannister in a somewhat uncomfortable position.
    I would have liked if they’d kept the ‘Jamie telling Tyrion the truth about Tysha’ thing like in the book, it gives a lot more sense to what Tyrion does to Shae and Tywin (even though it’s still wrong, mind). I’m not 100% sure right now, but I believe they introduced the Tysha story in previous seasons, so it would have made sense; instead they changed it for Shae’s, which in fact was just the last straw to a life of abuse.
    I always found fitting that someone as proud as Tywin found his demise in a most embarrassing manner, so I was happy they kept the ‘privy’ death.
    I didn’t understand why they made Varys’s involvement in Tyrion’s escape (and quite probably Tywin’s murder) seem less important than in the book. That he seemed surprised at the bells for Tywin’s death and he decided to ship with Tyrion was a bit odd considering what is supposed to go on with Grand Maester Pycelle and Kevan Lannister but I guess we’ll have to see what happens. I imagine he could always go back to King’s Landing at some point. Still, I like him better in the books, he’s a lot more manipulative, or at least it seems that he has a hand in everything.

    Cersei was fantastic, but I have the same issues as you with the Jamie/Cersei thing now. I’m sure next season is going to bring us some amazing acting from Lena Heady, though.

    I enjoyed Jon’s conversations with Tormund and with Mance Rayder a lot, probably my favourite parts of the episode. The scene of Stannis’s arrival was quite ‘epic’ but I got the feeling that they won a bit too fast. And the look Melisandre gave Jon over the fire gave me the creeps.

    Arya was great. I was a bit sad about The Hound, but their final scene was great. I’m not sure I understand the introduction of Brienne, though. I like the scene per se, because they are two of my favourite female characters and it was a nice bonding moment but it didn’t make much sense to me for the plot, so I’m undecided. I can’t wait to ‘meet’ Lady Stoneheart though!

    Bran… meh. I would have loved to see more of the Children, I guess. That my favourite character of that lot is Hodor says a lot. 😉

    As for Daenerys, this season I’ve felt her story get more and more disconnected from the rest of the ‘tale’, and this episode was no different. I also keep waiting for the dragons to feature more prominently but that scene was heart wrenching. I liked very much that, keeping with the ‘children’ theme of the episode, they included her and her babies because she really fells like her mother so it was very nice to see it ackowledged.

    All in all, a very good season if, as always, very short! The wait for next season is going to be almost as bad as the wait for the next book. Ok, not that bad, but I’m not a patient person. ;-P

    • First of all, I completely agree with you about the wait for each season of the show being almost as painful as the wait for the next book. Nothing tests my patience like this series. 😉

      I also agree about the lack of any kind of mention of Tysha in the finale. It was such a huge part of this section (and later sections) of the books, and it was certainly mentioned on the show before. I don’t know why it wasn’t a part of the finale, especially because I think Nikolaj-Coster Waldau and Peter Dinklage would have been incredible in the moment where Jaime tells Tyrion the truth about what happened.

      I’m wondering if Brienne knowing Arya is alive will become more important to the storyline next season (because Brienne’s story until the Lady Stoneheart stuff needed a little spicing up for the show, to be honest). I’ll withhold my judgment until we learn how that’s all going to play out now that someone—and someone specifically tasked with protecting the Stark women—knows about Arya.

      Finally, I’m so happy you pointed out the look between Jon and Melisandre through the flames because I totally forgot to mention how much I loved it. Oh foreshadowing, how I love you.

  4. Pingback: The Best Thing I Saw on TV This Week (6/15 – 6/22) | Nerdy Girl Notes

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