Before this season started, I thought we were about to see a unique 10 episodes. I thought there would be more finality, epic moments, emotional highs and lows from episode 1 all the way through tonight’s finale which, I figured, would put foot to the gas and not stop until the shocking ending!!!!
But Game of Thrones proved with this finale (and this entire season for that matter) that they have a very clear formula for how they want the show’s seasons to play out. Early episodes will build up using key conversations and interactions with characters as we are introduced to them and make our decisions on whether to love or hate them. There will be key moments that will direct each story arc, some shocking (like the Purple Wedding in episode 2), and some more subtle. But pieces will be put in place for climatic, end of season moments that will reach their climax in Episode 9 (though a few of our moments did reach episode 8 and 10 this season). Then the finale will put characters into new circumstances setting them up for the hijinks of the next season.
While I am disappointed about the lack of the shocking conclusion I wrote about in the season preview, I appreciate the approach the producers of GoT take, hoping that it will continue to stay at the top of its game and not flame out like so many brilliant shows before it have in their final seasons (I’m looking at you Dexter, Lost, and as I’ve heard, True Blood). Too much excitement in one season would increase that chance. But keeping a level balance of important, plot driven milder scenes with plot altering, mouth dropping scenes of shock and awe increase the chances of GoT maintaining solid creativity throughout its entire run.
But the rest of this blog will not focus on the entire season as a whole, but just the season finale and where our beloved (and not so beloved) characters ended up when all this dust had settled and the lights turned off on another season in Westeros and beyond the Narrow Sea.
Beyond the Wall
A man leading an invasion of 100,000 wildlings heading towards the Wall should appear more than just a total of 10 minutes all season (with that not being until the final episode)!!! There, I’ve said it. And I’ve criticized the happenings at the Wall all season, but at least everything we saw last two episodes was solid. Jon meets with Mance Rayder(finally appearing this season) out beyond-the-wall to try and kill him (but under the guise that he wants a truce). But I found it interesting and plot shifting in a subtle way that Mance does not want to fight if Jon and the Night’s Watch will simply open the gate and let them hide behind the Wall. Jon is not willing to give Mance those terms. But before any further escalation can occur, a horn sounds informing the camp of incoming riders. And I did say riders. A large contingent of men on horseback came swooping into the wildling camp getting little resistance from the unprepared wildling army. It only took the entire season, but Stannis, Davos, and company have finally made it to the Wall (more on how they got there later). Stannis meets with Mance and asks him to bend the knee, but the King beyond the Wall refuses. So Stannis seeks Jon’s advice for what he should do with Mance and Jon encourages him to be merciful and keep him as a prisoner. So while the Wildlings are defeated, they are not completely crushed with both Mance and Thormund still alive. I wonder if the Season 5 relationship between the Wildlings and the rest of the Night’s Watch will stay confrontational or if a truce can be worked out to get them beyond the Wall and safe from the White Walkers.
And speaking of Season 5 set-up, the rest of the action on the Wall is Jon coming to grips with the new leadership that will now be taking residence at the Wall. During the funeral for those who died defending the Wall (including one last shot of Grenn and Pyp before their bodies are burned), Jon makes eyes with Stannis, Davos, and Melisandre, unsure what the relationship will be with these new faces taking up residence at the Wall. After the funeral, Jon talks with Thormund Giantsbane, the chained wildling captive from the previous battle, and Jon declares he has no king (Season 5 foreshadowing???) and Thormund suggests he give Ygritte a proper funeral out beyond the Wall. The last we see of Jon is this funeral, burning Ygritte’s body. Once again, like her death last week, these goodbye scenes were given a significant disservice by not including Ygritte in the season more.
Beyond the Wall
Let’s get this over with. Bran’s story has been the most uninteresting the last two seasons and that trend continued in the finale. But at least they’ve finally arrived at the giant weirwood tree where the three-eyed raven lives. But before they can get there, random evil skeletons pop up out of the ground and start attacking. Meera is able to slay a few, but her brother is completely helpless to do anything, eventually being stabbed and killed by one of them. Summer (the direwolf!!!) takes out a few of them, but they keep coming out of the ground. So Bran “wargs” into Hodor and takes out several more. But things still look hopeless until a small child with flower power from Super Mario Brothers starts taking out skeletons with fireballs (sigh…fireballs). Meera sadly leaves her brother as she, Bran, and Hodor run into a cave that has some super force field that the skeleton things can’t penetrate and are safe. The child (one of the legendary children of the forest, which I will talk about later), leads Bran to the three-eyed raven, a wrinkly old man hung up in a tree, who tells Bran that he will “never walk again, but you will fly.” I guess everything with the three-eyed raven and the children of the forest was just so mystical from the book that it was hard to convey it on screen, but the effects here were very cheesy and not impressive.
The theme all season for Daenarys has been all talk with very little action and that theme continued this evening. But at least it was short and the dialogue was very significant. An old, former slave presents himself to Dany and asks to be returned to his master. As an old man, he says he doesn’t have skills to do anything else. So Dany agrees he can return to his former master under a year-long contract, which Ser Barriston points out opens up a significant loophole for former slave owners. But the next visitor brings far graver tidings. He brings the burnt bones of his daughter, killed by one of Dany’s dragons. And one of the dragons, Drogon, the largest one, is said to be missing. So Daenarys moves the other two dragons underground and puts chains around their necks. One of the best scenes in Dany’s story this year, as she is forced to use the chains (an item she despises) to lock up her children, who’ve now become too large and dangerous to control.
The Mountain’s body lays on a table with Pycelle, Cersei, and Qyburn looking over it. We haven’t seen Qyburn since the first episode, but as I said then, he’s an important character in the future. Pycelle has determined that it is too late to save the Mountain, who is laying on the table dying from poisonous wounds suffered from the spear of the Red Viper. I don’t know if the show meant to downplay it personally, but Oberyn Martel’s spear puts poison in the skin of those it pricks, which is why the Mountain is laying here dying a slow death on this table, I assume. Once again, this was not explained very well at all. Another important moment here, however, is the apparent removal of Pycelle from his duties. These are his chambers, but Cersei commands he get out while Qyburn does the work to try and save the Mountain. Cersei is firmly in the Qyburn camp, and he is ready to perform some strange practice with blood that Pycelle and his maesters have condemned and for which they took his maesters’s chain.
Cersei’s interactions continue as she meets with her father, saying she will not marry Loras Tyrell and be removed from her son, Tommen (remember he is the king right now). The last thing she wants to do is leave him entirely under the influence of Margaery. But her father will have none of it. So Cersei decides to further convince him by confirming her incestuous relationship with her twin brother. Not sure how that will convince him to change his mind, but OK. Cersei then rekindles her flame with her twin brother to try and convince him that their brother needs to die. I am not sure if Cersei is truly having feelings for her brother again or if she just wants to convince him that Tyrion must die.
Well, if the second option was her motivation, Cersei failed. Later that night, Jamie heads down to Tyrion’s cell and breaks him out. I am not sure how the one handed swordsman took out the guards (if he was the one that actually did), but Jamie frees his brother and the two share a warm embrace, a likely goodbye for them both.
But Tyrion does not just quietly make his way out of King’s Landing. He decides to pay one last visit to his father in the tower of the hand. But to his surprise, it is not his father sleeping in the Hand’s bed, but his former lover, Shae!!! And to think, all the grief Tywin gave Tyrion over bedding a prostitute. When Shae sees Tyrion, she immediately grabs a dagger. So Tyrion wastes little time charging her, as the two wrestle, Tyrion holding off the arm the dagger was in. After knocking the dagger out of her hand, Tyrion grabs a hold of the gold chain around Shae’s neck and pulls down on it, hanging off the bed, chocking her with it and killing her. Raise your hand if this was the ending you saw for this happy couple when they met at the end of season 1. Anybody?
After killing Shae, Tyrion sees Joffrey’s former crossbow on the wall and finds his father on the toilet. The final politicking of the man who’s been running Westeros for two seasons now occurs, as Tywin tries to convince his son that he would never have let him die. But the Imp is not convinced and proceeds to fire two arrows into the heart, killing his father and fleeing.
Tyrion arrives at Varys’s door and the eunuch puts the small man inside a crate that is placed on a boat. But right before the boat is ready to depart, Varys hops on the boat as well. I am not sure what evidence there will be against him, but the Master of Whisperers has a pretty good idea he will be a prime suspect once word is out about Tyrion’s escape.
Near the Vale
Brienne and Pod are walking through the mountains when she comes upon Arya Stark practicing with her sword. The two share a pleasant conversation as they both can relate to each other, but Brienne does not know who she is speaking to at first. But once she knows she’s talking to Arya Stark, the Hound arrives from relieving himself (that’s two people this episode interrupted while dropping a number 2). Brienne tries to convince Arya that she would be safe with her, but the Hound will have none of it, insisting correctly that nowhere is safe in Westeros and that Brienne has been sent here by Lannisters because of the gold on her sword. The two exchange heated words, remove the swords from their sheaths and it’s on!!!
The fight that follows did not appear in the book, but makes me wish that it had!!! The two swap steel before the Hound forces Brienne down a small hill. He has the early edge, knocking her down several times before Brienne recovers, forcing the Hound to his knees and putting her sword a few inches from his throat. The Hound sacrifices pain to his hands to get up, wrapping them around the sword, cutting them, but pushing his way up as he does.
The rest of the fight takes place without swords as the two exchange crotch shots. The Hound gets Brienne on the ground and alternates headbutts and punches. He tries to take a blade and stab her, but Brienne avoids the blow and uses the Hound’s momentum against him to get on top, going all Mike Tyson on the hound biting off his ear and spitting it out. The two stand up and the action gets brutal to a point where you just know someone has to die as Brienne gets the hold of a rock and pounds the Hounds face while he tries to stab her with a blade, eventually knocking the Hound off a cliff. The Hound takes a hard fall, rolling all the way to the bottom of the mountain.
To Brienne’s dismay, Arya Stark has disappeared during the fight. She asks Pod why he didn’t keep an eye on her. “I thought you might need help,” says the Squire (fantastic answer Pod, just fantastic!!!). But Arya is hiding on a cliff right behind them and she sneaks off to say her final goodbyes to the Hound, who begs her to please kill him. He even starts recalling events from her past where he wronged her, like the butcher’s boy he killed in Season 1. But Arya doesn’t budge. Instead, she just walks away and leaves the Hound to die at the bottom of the mountain. So ends one of the best pairings the series has produced so far.
The final scene of the show is Arya riding on her horse and finding a boat. She wants to sail North, presumably to see Jon Snow. But the captain she meets is not heading that way. He is heading across the Narrow Sea to his homeland of Braavos. At the end of season 2, Jaqen H’ghar, the man who killed two men at Arya’s request and aided in her and her friend’s escape from Harrenhall, gave her a coin and a phrase, “Valar Morghulis,” which, translated in Valyrian, means “All men must die.” She hands this coin to the ship captain and says the phrase, which suddenly changes his demeanor and he gladly takes her on the boat with him. Our last scene of the season is Arya on a boat on its way across the Narrow Sea to the free city of Braavos.
Notes about the Finale
-The children of the forest have only been mentioned in the show before in passing, but they are very significant to the history of Westeros. The Children of the Forest were the earliest inhabitants of Westeros. Though they appear as children, they are actually thousands of years old. They did not record their history, but were believed to be very close with nature and possessed unique mystical powers. When the first men came over on a land bridge, they fought with the children for supremacy for about 2,000 years. Eventually, a truce was agreed to and the first men and children coexisted for many years after that. The first men even took to the gods the children worshipped (known today as the old gods). Following a fight with the White Walkers, the children took heavy losses and slowly begin to vanish from the sight of men. The Andal Invasion, another race of men who came later that worshipped the seven, hunted down or ran off the last remaining children (they believed the children to be abominations), who have been residing in far reaches of the North ever since.
-I think the entire effects budget was blown on last week’s wall battle, because the effects with the Children and three-eyed raven were subpar. Fireballs? Is there a mystic portal into Super Mario Brothers world we haven’t seen yet? Will the Children of the Forest be riding Yoshi next season?
-Jojen’s death is yet another character who is still alive in the book series that the TV series has killed. But Jojen was horribly sick when last mentioned in the books, so his death seems inevitable anyway. Much like Grenn and Pyp last week, I like that his death served a purpose instead of him just dying in a cave.
-I don’t know if you noticed, but when asked why he was with the wildlings, Jon said he “had been sent.” Jon sent himself, if that is what he meant. But no one else from the Wall did. Do not be surprised if Stannis or Allister Thorne do not take kindly to this lie in the future.
-The camera also briefly showed Stannis’s wife and stone faced daughter at the Wall for any of you who ask next season, “When did they get there?”
-If you are unsure how Stannis’s men made it North of the Wall in the large numbers they did, it’s because they did not go through the wall. Eastwatch-by-the-Sea is a port for the Night’s Watch and anyone who wants to venture beyond the Wall. Stannis borrowed the money from the Iron Bank to get ships from Saladaar San that were able to transport men and horses to the port. From there, rode into the North to march on the wildling army.
-It’s all well and good to get the biggest man you can to play the mountain for the physical intimidation. But to know the pain the man was in after the battle with Oberyn, the books emphasize the screams and moans heard from the Mountain as he was experiencing a slow and painful death. Because the man currently playing the Mountain can’t act, we missed out on this important part of the story.
-And as I said earlier, the man working on the Mountain was Qyburn, a character whose importance will increase in the coming seasons.
-The question for book readers now is will the final twist in Storm of Swords be included at some point in later narrative of the televised version? It was excluded from the season four finale, but there will be plenty of opportunities to bring it into the narrative next season if the show chose to do so. And, according to the director of the finale, Alex Graves, the show has not decided if they will.
(Editor’s Note: This article was written by Jeff Merrick)