Oliver Davis reviews the tenth episode of Game of Thrones Season Four….The Children. Directed by Alex Graves. Written by David Benioff and D. B. Weiss.
After his episode-length edition last week, Season 4’s climactic installment opened with Jon Snow (Kit Harington), and followed on from where he was last left: venturing beyond the Wall to negotiate with the Wildling ‘King.’ Their tense scene together is amplified by persistent cutaways – a close-up of a knife, a suspicious glare at potentially poisoned wine. But Mance Ryder (Ciarán Hinds) isn’t going to kill Snow, and neither is his 100,000-strong army here to attack the Wall; he just wants to hide behind its towering ice. The King Beyond the Wall echoes what the Starks have been saying since the show’s very first episode: Winter is coming. There’s a season before the chilly(er) period, though – STANNIS SEASON, BABY!
My housemate had recently begun sounding like Season 2-Danaerys, only replacing ‘dragons’ with the steely-jawed rightful King of Westeros. “WHERE DAFUQ IZ MY STANNIS?” he’d ask after each episode, or “why wasn’t Stannis in it more!?” Where has he been? It’s been, like, three episodes or something. Last time we saw them they were chatting to Mycroft somewhere in Braavos’ Costa del Sol. They were discussing funding for a war and – SWEET SEVEN HE’S COME TO FIGHT THE WILDLINGS!?!?!? To see his men ride in so heroically, with such strategy and might (the spectacle of riders in neat formation was glorious) more than made up for the recent Stannis-deficiency. A complicated political scenario awaits in Season 5 – how will Snow manage the leaderless Night’s Watch, the anarchic Wildlings and the headstrong Stannis? And, more importantly, will governance divert his attentions from threat that lies further North and steals babies?
Speaking of governance, despite the Seven Kingdoms being in relative stability, Tywin (Charles Dance) is losing grip on his own house. After four seasons of bubbling suspicion, Cersei (Lena Headey) finally reveals her relationship with Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) to her father. For once, you feel yourself rooting for the evil Queen Regent – a testament to how hateable Tywin is. He appears to be faltering. As she walks away, his previous unshakeable poise wavers, his right hand fidgeting with some invisible stress ball. Subtle, but effective.
Cersi rushes to her brother, uttering “I choose you” (the Pokemon pickup). Jaime’s rape of her only half a season prior, though, has troublingly been forgotten, the only blip on an otherwise near-perfect series. It depends on whether you choose realism, where people don’t always receive their comeuppance (this is certainly the books’ philosophy, that chaos reigns), or if you prefer narrative emotional payoffs, where characters who have sinned are eventually punished; simple solutions to morally ambiguous acts.
Cersei’s choosing of Jaime trickles down to him choosing his brother, Tyrion (Peter Dinklage), by helping him escape his execution. So racked with vengeance, however, he ventures to his father’s quarters. He finds his former prostitute lover, Shae (Sibel Kekilli), there, whom he ironically chokes with a necklace of Lannister gold. Then he shoots Tywin with a crossbow as his father sits on the toilet; again, a level of irony, the ‘King’ sitting on a throne.
The death is somewhat Boba Fett, a rather anti-climactic ending to such a terrific character. But, in its way, the scene is incredibly fitting. Tywin’s two vices were his family and respect (he had despised his own father for a perceived lack of strength). Yet here he is defeated by both, killed by his own son and dying with his breeches around his ankles. It’s a huge act of disrespect to a man who commanded only its antithesis.
However, this storyline’s great feat – one that might potentially be missed – is Lord Varys (Conleth Hill) joining Tyrion on the ship out of King’s Landing. This is a different course of events than those in the book, presumably to streamline yet more new characters (of which there are more in the source material) into Varys’ preexisting one, and of raising the profile of one of season 4’s more criminally underused players. Diversions from the book are almost always in this manner, pairing up characters where they venture solo in the literature. Brienne and Pod, Jaime and Bronn, Arya and Tywin – these duologue scenes are what Game of Thrones’ writing team does best, and the prospect of ‘Varys and Tyrion Up the Narrow Sea’ is almost enough to fill the void left by Season 4’s greatest pairing…
The fight between Sandor Clegane (Rory McCann) and Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) was incredible. There was a story in every punch, Sandor’s heavy blows contrasting Brienne’s careful deflections. The ensuing swordless brawl was brutal, punches to the face and kicks to the groin. And it was all over Arya. The Hound surely meant to be threatening and territorial when he spat that ‘safety’ no longer exists. But he betrayed something deeper in his defence: he cares for the Stark girl. In saying that Winterfell is ash, her parents and brother dead, he is listing all the ways Arya has now become invaluable to him – no land, no compensation. Yet he still fights to keep her. His protection is almost paternal.
The scene after the fight, as the Hound lies dying at the foot of a cliff, a bone protruding through his right thigh, is devastating. Arya barely speaks a word. She listens as the Hound tries to make her kill him, to finally put the dog down. He killed her baker boy friend, he wanted to rape her sister. The longer he talks, the more desperate he becomes. “You want me to beg?” he is speaks only to himself. Arya has long before made her decision. “You want me to beg?” he asks again, a few lines later, only this time his voice breaks slightly, a rare show of fragility from the dreaded Clegane. She takes his money and leaves for a ship on its way to Braavos. There she can join the Faceless Men.After the bleakness of the end of season 3, where our central heroes were slaughtered, there’s an optimism to this conclusion. The closing theme was more upbeat and Arya sails into a cloudy sea pierced by sunlight. Winter might be arriving in the North, and its chill shivers on the back, but for once, there’s a warming hope on that horizon.
Oliver Davis is one of Flickering Myth’s co-editors. You can follow him on Twitter (@OliDavis).