Before I delve into the meat of tonight’s season finale of Game of Thrones, I wanted to make it a point to praise them for their ‘previously on’ segments. I’ve read the books several times, but I’ve still found these segments to be spot-on in terms of getting me to anticipate what’s to come in each new episode. They’ve even surprised me a few times – and I’m sure that those who haven’t read the novels find them to be a great reminder of what’s happened before, whether it happened several episodes ago or in seasons past.
Please note that while this review is mostly spoiler-free, there are some descriptions of how book events differ from their portrayal in the show.
The Children opened where The Watchers on the Wall left off – Jon Snow emerged from the tunnel through the Wall and met with the wildlings as planned. Mance proved that he’s no coward by offering Jon meat and mead (though not necessarily in that order), and even offering a deal. So much for ‘lighting the biggest fire the North has ever seen’…we may have seen the literal fire last week, but despite the vastly superior wildling numbers, Mance seems to be far more willing to compromise than we’ve previously seen.
Not that it mattered in tonight’s episode, because just then Stannis finally arrived! While I have a lot of great things to say about The Children (it was one of the best episodes – if not the best episode – of the season), this entire opening sequence left me feeling more than a little bit underwhelmed. Personally I believe that Stannis’ arrival should have occurred at the end of last week’s episode, or possibly that the end of The Watchers on the Wall should have been a bit more drawn out to allow for it to happen first thing tonight. Even placing it further into tonight’s episode would have been preferable, though perhaps some of my chagrin is due to the fact that while the writers seemed to follow the book description of Stannis’ arrival almost to the letter, it simply didn’t translate well to the screen. I almost hate to say it, because generally I’m more of a book purist than anything else, but they really should have upped the ante a bit with this scene.
Namely, Mance’s earlier reference to not killing Jon with poison would have been a great segue into the brief interaction between Cersei, Pycelle, and Qyburn. While I think it would have better served the show to leave a bit of mystery surrounding Gregor’s fate, I understand why they showed him tonight. Additionally, this is one of those things that Martin glosses over in the novel that I’m glad we got to see on screen. When Pycelle insisted that “There’s nothing to be done” and Qyburn argued “Yes there is” – followed by his warning to Cersei that “the process may change [Gregor] somewhat” – it made what otherwise would have been an unnecessary inclusion (in this season, anyway) into an extremely important scene.
Personally I have a love/hate relationship with Cersei – both in the books and the show – but I do love seeing her brought to life on screen. Lena Headey has done a consistently amazing job portraying this character, even when I’ve felt that their writing for her was sub-par, and tonight was no exception. It was great to learn that she wasn’t just blindly trusting Margaery, but despite the fact that Cersei isn’t the most cunning person, it was difficult seeing her admit to Tywin that she’d been with Jaime and her children were his, not Robert’s. And speaking of Jaime, the progression we’ve seen in his relationship with Cersei has been quite different from that in the books – problematically, at times – and while different from the source material, him bowing to Cersei’s manipulation was certainly fitting with the show version of his character.
I was actually surprised that we didn’t see more of Daenerys in this episode, fan favorite that she is, but what they did show was some of the best we’ve seen of her this season. While different from how it’s written in the novels, the writers did a great job choosing the actor and writing the dialogue between Dany and the former slave who wished to return to his master. Followed by the peasant whose daughter Drogon killed, Dany’s inclusion in The Children was already a moving sequence – but then they really hit me where it hurt when she chained up Viserion and Rhaegal. While it would have been perhaps a bit more moving for them to use the boy from the previous episode as the child Drogon killed, this was overshadowed – in a good way, if I can even word it as such – by the great visuals of the remaining two dragons, as well as the moving moment when Danaerys chains them, and their attempt to follow her when she leaves.
The return to the Wall was one of the better portrayals of that place and those characters in season four. While it was certainly a bit of a kick in the gut earlier when Mance and Jon toasted to Grenn and Mag the Mighty, this second reminder of Grenn’s death – because let’s not lie, he’s awesome in the books and the show! – was certainly heart-wrenching. Coupled with Jon’s conversation with Tormund and the ensuing scene where Jon brings Ygritte’s body North of the Wall to burn it, I was more bothered by the idea of her death tonight than I was when it actually happened last week.
Although Game of Thrones has been a bit hit-or-miss in terms of switching subjects this season, it was good to see them moving so smoothly from the scenes at the Wall to Bran North of it. I wasn’t too keen on the first shot of the giant Weirwood, fake as it appeared, but the action that followed was pleasantly surprising. For a while I was concerned that the show had spent too much time on those extra parts of Bran’s story line that aren’t in the novels and would therefore cut this scene short, but I was actually on the edge of my seat as the wights burst up from the snow to attack Bran & Co. If I set aside my issues regarding Bran taking over Hodor as if it’s no big deal, this was still a seriously shocking incident – namely because, in the words of one of my friends, apparently “SHOW SPOILS BOOKS”! What am I referring to? Why, Jojen, of course! While there is a theory (with a couple different versions) that claim he is dead in the novels, as well, the fact that they summarily removed him from the show is about as telling as their previous slip involving the Night’s King. I was happy to have been correct in my predictions that we would see the Children of the Forest – or at least one of them – in this episode, but the fact that we were also introduced to Bloodraven and his “thousand eyes and one” was certainly a great addition as well.
Speaking of the show spoiling the books, another questionable interaction followed Jojen’s death – that being Brienne and Podrick encountering Arya and Sandor, and the ensuing fight. It was a great fight to be sure, but a lot of this didn’t ring true. Yes, Arya has been quite a bit nicer to Sandor lately, but she clearly understood that Brienne wasn’t after her for the wrong reasons. Additionally, with her recent warming to Sandor – which seemed much more pronounced than it was in the books – their final conversation was more than a little bit awkward. It certainly didn’t help that the writers gave Sandor an almost-exact replica of his speech in A Storm of Swords, when a lot of it was nonsensical compared to the show version of his character (particularly the bit about Sansa, based on the way they portrayed his visit to her chambers during the Battle of the Blackwater). And don’t even get me started on the Podrick situation – book or show, since when does he just stand back and wait to see if someone needs help?
It was fairly predictable for anyone who has read the novels that the main end scene of the season four finale would be Jaime releasing Tyrion from prison and the events that transpire because of this. I was surprised that Varys wasn’t present at that time, especially as it seemed a bit random for Tyrion to simply know where to go to find the Tower of the Hand. I also expected a bit more out of the Tyrion and Shae interaction – it still seems more than a little bit forced that they would have her do such a one-eighty compared to the way she was previously portrayed. The inclusion of the Hand of the King pin seemed pointless as well, especially considering he still strangled her. It would have been nice for them to make this a small shoutout to book readers, with the prop/costume people making the gold chain one of linked hands (or even something lion related!), but I suppose that’s just asking for too much, even though they made a point of showing the lion detail on the crossbow when Tyrion killed Tywin.
There were certainly more than a few things missing from Tyrion’s conversation with his father, and considering the emphasis put on Tyrion’s first marriage back in season one, and the fact that it was brought up again in one of the ‘previously on’ segments earlier this season, I was surprised that they didn’t delve into it at all. Thankfully Varys did show up, though, so viewers at least know that Tyrion was still able to escape despite his little side trip.
I was again shocked when Tyrion killing Tywin wasn’t the final scene for this season; rather, we got to see Arya arriving in Saltpans and – for lack of a better term – booking passage to Braavos. While this was a great way to wrap up her current story line, I don’t believe it was the best way to end the entire season. And despite the fact that the show writers have delved into Dance with Dragons territory, in some respects, there are still a few very important things that they’ve left out from A Storm of Swords – so will we see them first thing next season, or are they destined to be left out entirely?
The great thing about this show is that it can wrap up a season without a lot of cliffhangers, yet still leave us viewers wanting more. I know I’m not alone in wishing that we didn’t have to wait nearly a year for season five!
Author: Tara Lynne
Tara Lynne is an author, fandom and geek culture expert, and public speaker. She founded Ice & Fire Con, the first ever Game of Thrones convention in the US, and now runs its parent company Saga Event Planning.
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