"The Children" is the title of Game of Thrones' 4th season finale. Though we can probably figure out who they were actually talking about (more on that later), the title could also refer to: a) the Lannister children, all of whom end up ... disappointing father Tywin in various ways by epsiode's end, b) the Stark children, who are (Jon Snow included) growing up and heading towards vastly different careers, or c) Daenery's dragons, no longer fully under their Mother's control.
Of course, it's *probably* in reference to the Children of the Forest, the legendary race the First Men made peace with before Aegon the Conqueror arrived on Westeros (another fact not divulged in the show for purposes of time). Looks like they've been keeping busy in the interim by taking fireball lessons from Tim the Enchanter.
Locations (* = new): Kings Landing, Moat Cailin, Winterfell (still burning), The Wall, Braavos, Meereen
Ser(s) Not Appearing In This Episode: Littlefinger, Sansa Stark, Theon "Reek" Greyjoy, Ramsay Bolton, Roose Bolton.
Picking up from last week, we find Jon Snow (Kit Harington) marching out past dead wildlings, giants, and mammoths to treat with so-called "King Beyond the Wall" Mance Rayder. That didn't take long (we've only got 66 minutes left in the season, recall). They drink to Ygritte's memory, and those of Mag the Mighty (the giant in the tunnel) and Grenn (who died fighting the giant in the tunnel). It's a friendly talk, all things considered, and Mance (Ciaran Hinds) lays it out plain: the wildlings are fleeing the White Walkers, and they want refuge. It's a short negotiation, and Jon never even gets to go for a kill shot before Stannis' knights shows up, making short work of the ragtag wildling "army."
Mance surrenders - wisely - and Jon convinces Stannis (Stephen Dillane) to take him prisoner. Oh, and to burn those dead bodies before nightfall. The rangers at Castle Black follow suit, burning the dead of the Watch in front of Stannis, Davos (Liam Cunningham), and a rather intense Melisandre (Carice Van Houten), who apparently turns into Beavis anytime someone lights a pyre.
Tormund (Kristofer Hivju), in chains but patched up thanks to Maester Aemon, convinces Jon to burn Ygritte in the "real" North, and Jon finally allows his stoic facade to crack. Or maybe the acting lessons are finally kicking in after four seasons. Things are about to get a mite interesting up Castle Black way, now that there's a new King in town as well as 100,000 "free folk" looking to change lodgings, as Fagin might say.
Oh hey, here are Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright), Jojen (Thomas Sangster), Meera, and Hodor (and Summer), who have apparently been trudging northward offscreen for the last three episodes. They find a horde of Ray Harryhausen skeletons and a bomb-slinging elf person who describes herself as one of "the Children." They make it into the Elder Weirwood's root cellar (after losing Jojen, RIP you cryptic bastard) and meet the three-eyed crow; an ancient dude shot through with tree roots who tells Bran, "You'll never walk again, but you will fly." Thanks for the sour persimmons, cousin.
Back in Kings Landing, things aren't so rosy for the Mountain, erstwhile victor in the battle to determine Tyrion Lannister's guilt. According to not-maester Qyburn (Anton Lesser), the dearly departed Oberyn poisoned his weapon with venom from the "death's head manticore," causing his limbs to literally rot away. Qyburn convinces Cersei (Lena Headey) -- over Grand Maester Pycelle's (Julian Glover) objections -- to perform some ... special experiments. Woo hoo, looks like more zombies.
Cersei has less luck arguing against her marriage to Loras Tyrell with Tywin (Charles Dance) and finally plays her last hole card: threatening to tell the world that his "whole legacy is a lie" (i.e. she and Jaime really were incestuating). Jaime's (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) response to her revelation would probably have been less enthusiastic is she hadn't subsequently jumped him. That ought to quiet all the "rape in the sept" talk, huh? Yeah, probably not.
In Meereen, Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) learns her new slave-free utopia is not quite all that. Old Fennesz in particular asks to be returned to servitude, instead of living in "fear and squalor." She allows the old dude to do so, against Barristan's advice. That seems pretty insignificant, however, when she meets the next supplicant, who presents the charred bones of his three-year old daughter. Looks like ol' Drogon's palate had "graduated" from sheep. Her response: chaining up Rhaegal, and Viserion in the catacombs. Somewhere, Kraznys mo Nakloz is laughing his ass off.
Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) and Podrick (Daniel Portman) happen upon Arya (Maisie Williams) and the Hound (Rory McCann), and now two more people know Arya Stark is alive and roaming the land. Marvelous. The Hound informs Brienne, "You're the wrong one to watch over her" and the two have a refreshingly entertaining scrap amid all this episode's pontificating. Arya is officially ice cold, allowing a battered Hound to die of his wounds instead of putting him out of his misery. And finally (FINALLY), she gets to use Jaqen H'ghar's coin and hop a slow(?) boat to Braavos and reunite with her old dancing master, Syrio Forel.
Oh shut up. WE NEVER SAW HIM DIE.
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Jaime frees Tyrion (Peter Dinklage). See? He's not such a bad cousin murderer/sister banger after all. But instead of immediately going to meet Varys and a ship heading for the Free Cities, he decides to pay dad a visit. Surprise! The man who hated whores has him a whore, or rather *had*. You know, I think Tyrion might even have forgiven Shae (Sibel Kekilli) if not for her trying to knife him. After that, it's bye bye for Tywin, as dear old dad confirms the fact he's always wanted Tyrion dead, even when he was the only one working to keep the kingdom together. Given that he was willing to send his son to death, even knowing he wasn't guilty of Joffrey's murder, a couple bolts while on the terlet were no less than he deserved.
And with Joffrey's own crossbow, no less. Happy Father's Day!
And so, Tyrion (and Varys, never let it be said the Spider lacked self-preservation instincts) are on a boat to the Free Cities; Arya's on a boat to Braavos; Daenerys may be turning into a politician; Jon is about to be in the middle of a power struggle; and Theon still has no dick (well that's what I heard). That about wraps it up for this season, hope everyone enjoys the next year of idle speculation about whether George R.R. Martin finishes book six before the 2022 World Cup.
Stuff That Will Piss Off Book Purists: One does not simply warg into Hodor; Jojen dies? Eh, it isn't like he did much after they found the three-eyed crow; The Children of the Forest are decidedly more bad ass on TV; Cersei and Jaime's reconciliation? No; Brienne fighting the Hound? No, but I guess Benioff and Weiss didn't want him going out like a bitch; how could you have Tyrion kill Tywin without making the "shitting gold" comment?