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Monday, 16 June 2014

Game of Thrones S4E10: The Children.

Well, it's done for another year, to return again in fifty-two weeks. Fifty-two weeks. I only know what I'm doing for twelve.

Game of Thrones
S4E10: The Children.

Okay, I admit, my first thought was 'they didn't do the sped-up theme tune. With the fastness', but that's not really relevant, especially as this episode is a good fifteen or twenty minutes longer than a normal one anyway.

It's a finale, so as you can expect, lots of viewpoints, scattered all over the world. I think everyone really saw that coming, and while I feel it doesn't make as strong storytelling as the more laser-focused episodes like Blackwater and The Watchers on the Wall, it's fitting for the last episode of a series.

Beyond the Wall, we join Jon immediately as he marches with purpose towards Mance's camp. What are horses? We just don't know, and neither does Jon, presumably. I joke, but I think they may have actually lost all their horses last series. He finds Mance, who I'm genuinely surprised to see again, as I half expected the series to just relegate him to always being just ever-so-slightly to the left of the screen.

He and Jon have a discussion on the battle, and on those who die, and drink to Ygritte, Mag (the giant who died) and Grenn. Kit Harington and Ciaran Hinds do excellent jobs here, combining friendly banter with an underlying edge – they don't hate each other, after all, but they are enemies, and the scene shows that. It's also very tense and beautifully shot.

They're interrupted by an attack, with Jon insists can't be the Watch. As they go out, a truly vast army has headed out from the Wall and is bearing down on the camp. It's a massacre, with the army trapping the camp in a pincer and slaughtering anyone they pass, until Mance gives the order to stand down. From the smoke, the army's leaders emerge – Stannis and Davos.

Stannis and Mance exchange some banter, and Stannis commands that Mance kneel, which Mance refuses to. As Jon reveals that he's Ned Stark's son, though, you can practically see the change in Stannis' and Davos' manner (which makes sense, Stannis has established more than once that he greatly respected Ned). Stannis asks Jon what his father would do with Mance, and Jon says that Mance held him prisoner once and didn't torture or hurt him, and that Ned would do the same, and listen to what he had to say. Stannis does this, and Jon adds – with all his 'I am a haunted puppy' manner – that Ned would also burn the bodies, if he'd seen what Jon had seen. 

I am very fuzzy, Your Grace.

It's – a little less dramatic than the triumphant arrival of Stannis probably could have been, to be honest, and I'm wondering whether it would have worked better to have cut out some or all of the 'Night's Watch traitors' storyline and devote that time to having more days of the Battle of Castle Black, building up to last week's episode, and having had that episode culminate in Jon's meeting with Mance and the arrival of Stannis' army, with it ending on them approaching the camp.

Later, we see a Night's Watch funeral, presided over by Aemon, who we can but presume on some level is like 'yaaaaay, fire.' Through the flames, Jon sees Melisandre, and their eyes meet. After a discussion with Tormund, Jon takes Ygritte's body beyond the wall and burns it beneath the branches of a Heart Tree.

In King's Landing, we see – Qyburn? Qyburn prodding at the Mountain. I don't think anyone in or out of universe actually trusts Qyburn. Pycelle is there with him, but since Pycelle is doing his 'I'm an incompetent old man' ruse, he's worse than useless.

Cersei is eager to have the Mountain healed, and throws Pycelle out of his laboratory for Qyburn to use some experimental and painful looking method. Qyburn warns her that the process may change the Mountain, but Cersei seems uninterested so long as he's as strong as ever. Which seems unwise: Qyburn is practically waving a banner reading 'I'M EVIL, ASK ME HOW' at this point.

Cersei meets with Tywin, who is insisting that she'll marry Loras. She says she won't – it's not because of any particular problem with Loras, though, or even for herself, but because she has to stay in King's Landing and protect Tommen. As the argument escalates, she reminds Tywin that when he came to King's Landing, she was about to poison Tommen to keep him out of the hands of an evil person, and implies strongly that she'd do something similar if Tywin tries to control him. Tywin's unimpressed, so she threatens him with 'telling everyone'. Tywin is utterly confused, and Cersei realises that he's genuinely oblivious about her and Jaime, that he actually believes that everyone is lying about them, making him the only man in the Seven Kingdoms who does.

Cersei has the advantage, and she taunts a still in-denial Tywin with it. It's only when she says it outright, though, that realisation dawns on him that it really is true, and while he tries to claim he doesn't believe it still, Cersei knows he's lying: He knows now that his children committed incest, that his entire legacy is a sham built on crumbling foundations, and that everybody else knows this.

As Cersei leaves, we can hear the first few strains of the Rains of Castamere playing, but – as is often the case in Tywin and Tyrion scenes – it's not playing for him, but for her. She has beaten Tywin and stolen his soundtrack.

And whooooo, are yoooooou, the prooooud looooord saaaaaiid.

I know some people desperately, desperately hate Cersei. I've never been one of them, and I've never been entirely sure how much of it is 'she's a genuinely awful person' and 'she's a woman, boo, hiss' considering that male characters who do far worse things are often still adored. But you have to love her in this scene, where she's standing up to Tywin, showing just how fierce she can be, and manages to break him without having to lie a single time.

Cersei meets Jaime next, who's displeased with her. Cersei denies that Tyrion is her family, and Jaime is – eye-rolly, to be honest. The scene culminates in Cersei telling Jaime what happened with Tyrion, and them having a dalliance. To be honest, my only thought during it was 'Well, this is definitely the scene that should have happened numerous episodes ago that they instead replaced with Jaime viciously assaulting Cersei while she screamed for him to stop and he yelled about how hateful she was.' That scene still makes me nauseous. That scene is still unnecessary and bizarre. That scene is still a black mark on this entire series.

When we return to King's Landing, towards the end of the episode, Jaime is breaking Tyrion out of prison. With Varys' help, Tyrion is to be bundled onto a galley and sent to the Free Cities.

Things don't pan out. Tyrion goes to Tywin's chambers instead, and encounters Shae in Tywin's bed. He seems surprised by this: It's almost as if her job is to have sex with people for money. What a strange turn of events. They struggle and he kills her, strangling her to death with her necklace.

There's much talk – including from me – of how Arya is becoming somewhat villainous, but to me, this is a more villainous thing than anything Arya has done. 

Tyrion: Will murder defenceless women.

Armed with a crossbow, Tyrion finds his father in the privy, sat on a chamberpot. Tywin seems both unsurprised and unembarrassed, and just says they can talk when he's done. Tywin says that he'd never have let them execute Tyrion, that Tyrion is his son and he respects his drive to survive, and it's genuinely unclear how much of it is a lie to try to placate Tyrion and how much is true.

Tywin insults Shae, which is rather a wrong move. When he insults her again, a few moments later, Tyrion shoots him in the stomach. Tyrion reloads the crossbow, and Tywin angrily remarks that Tyrion isn't his son. He's shot again for his troubles, and dies on the chamberpot while Tyrion leaves.

This episode really has been a humiliation conga for Tywin. Broken emotionally by his daughter, failed to get his first son to become his heir, killed by his second son while on a chamberpot. Littlefinger smirks knowingly somewhere.

Anyway, Varys smuggles Tyrion away, and sits and listens to the King's Landing bells while the sailors make preparations to leave.

In Meereen, Daenerys is visited by a former slave, Fennesz. I do like how Daenerys is genuinely warm and pleasant to everyone who sees her, even though as we've seen in previous episodes that this is all exhausting for her. Fennesz claims that he's too old for the changes she's brought, that he can't live in the new world, and that the shelters and mess halls that Daenerys has created for former slaves have become unsafe. While Daenerys says that she will make them safe in short order, Fennesz does not see any purpose for himself as a free man, and asks to be allowed to sell himself back to his master.

Daenerys compromises, saying that she will allow him to sign a contract with his former master that may not cover a period longer than a year. Barristan warns her that the masters will take advantage of this new law. 

Yeah, I think she gets that, Barry.

Another man arrives, and in a short but heartbreaking part of the scene, explains through Missandei while weeping that one of Daenerys' dragons killed his daughter.

Daenerys is deeply affected, and goes to the catacombs beneath the city, taking two of her dragons with her, who she then chains. This is actually a scene where I had to pause and collect myself for a few moments. I'd be heartbroken and unable to live with myself if I had to chain up my dog, and these dragons are Daenerys' children, and they're screaming at her as she leaves.

Further North, we find Bran, Jojen, Meera and Hodur. Woo, Bran. Woo. Woo. 


Luckily, their journey is over, according to Jojen. They've reached the place from his visions, the vast Heart Tree with the sun shining through its branches. It's a very impressive, even stunning visual, but Game of Thrones has always excelled at those. Things go awry as dead people burst up from beneath the ground, but it's all a bit – Dungeons and Dragons, to be honest. I love Dungeons and Dragons, but there's a tonal gap between it and GoT, and this feels strange. Maybe it's because they're so typically 'skeleton warrior' looking, rather than the eerie, blue-eyed corpses we've seen before. 

Either way: Oh, those White Walkers. What pranksters. 

It has 15STR, but only 3DEX, and -10VIT against white magic.

Jojen gets stabbed repeatedly, and Bran is about to be killed, when two fireballs incinerate the skeletons. Again, it's all feeling very Dungeons and Dragons, and I don't like that much in this context.

The source of the fireballs, a kind of creepy child, appears and urges Bran to follow her. As more skeletons appear, Meera finishes Jojen off, and they all flee into the caves. As the skeletons enter the cave behind them, they immediately shatter. The White Walkers have no power in the caves, the child explains.

She's – okay. I try not to talk about the books here. I've done it three times before, but in the main, I attempt not to, because an adaptation should not be judged purely or mainly on its fidelity to the source material: It should be judged first and foremost by the same criteria by which you would judge it if it weren't an adaptation, and by its merits as an adaptation after all of those. Game of Thrones fans can be some of the most irritating people ever in this regard, not only treating every minor deviation from the books as a crime worthy of drawing and quartering, that ruins everything, but also being obnoxiously prone to either deliberately spoiling people or, perhaps even more vexingly, titteringly hinting at the spoilers they could be telling you.

The last few times I did it were mostly to do with the aforementioned Jaime and Cersei scene, which I found vile, and was vile even without it being a massive deviation from the books.

Here, I'd just like to say that the Children are not what I expected. Not bad, by any means, but – not what I envisioned. I was joking to a friend just a few days ago that when the Children appeared there'd be a storm of people going 'They ain't the Children!' and I am apparently one of those people. At the moment, as I type this, being 37 minutes and 47 seconds through the episode, it's difficult to see them as the same creatures from the books. 

Still kinda creepy, though.

Still, it's not the first time I've envisioned something differently to how an adaptation has done it, and it doesn't really speak to the quality of the adaptation, so let's move on.

At the roots of the tree, they meet, at last, the Three-Eyed Raven. He is a man, wrapped in the vines and roots of the tree. He tells them that Jojen knew he would die, and that he's been watching all of their lives. The Raven says that Jojen died so that Bran could regain what he's lost: Bran thinks this means that he'll be able to walk again, but the Raven tells him he never will. He will fly, though. Everyone is pleased.

Over in a very foggy Vale, Brienne and … Brienne and … Brienne and the shape find their horses are gone. Brienne encounters Arya, and they immediately start getting on like a house on fire. When Clegane appears, Pod recognises him, and Brienne makes the link, recognising Arya for who she is. Things go sour fast, as Clegane accuses Brienne of being paid by the Lannisters, and the two end up fighting, with Brienne winning. Unfortunately, her mercy lets him recover, and a fist fight begins. Brienne wins that too, forcing Clegane off a cliff. 

Nothing of value was lost. 

Oh my god, Brienne is fighting a cloud! Or something!
I - can't ... who is that ... ?

In the confusion, Arya hid, and as Brienne and Pod go to search for her, she heads down to Clegane. He's still alive. Clegane urges her to go with Brienne, but she refuses. He urges her to kill him, taunting her. Eventually, he ends up begging her. Instead, she takes his money and leaves.

Which is good, otherwise something of value may have actually ended up lost.

Arya finds a harbour, and asks the captain of a ship to take her North. He refuses, saying that he's heading to Braavos. She produces the coin she was given at the end of Series 2, and tells him 'Valar Morghulis' – 'All Men Must Die', as we know. His demeanour immediately changes, and he touches his forehead and replies with 'Valar Dohaeris' – 'All Men Must Serve'. He says that she will have a cabin.

Arya leaves Westeros, headed to Braavos as the ending theme plays.

Well, that was without a doubt the best episode of the series, and it's been a good series. Not the strongest Game of Thrones series, that particular medal still goes to the second series, I think. A lot has happened, even if there was also a lot of fluff and busywork thrown into the mix, and we're in good stead for Series 5: Stannis and Melisandre are at the Wall preparing to make their fabulous comeback, Bran has discovered the Three-Eyed Raven and an entirely new species, Jon is fluffy, Arya and Tyrion are both on their way to the Free Cities, Roose is Warden of the North, Tommen is king, Tywin is dead, Sansa and Littlefinger are ruling the Vale together, and winter is still coming. 

Extremely pretty visual.

There's been one big thing this series that the show has never done before, too: Showing highly plot relevant information that has never been in the books. It'll be interesting to see if they develop on that, or even take the series in an entirely new direction.

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