TV Review: Game of Thrones – Season 4, Episode 10 “The Children” (USA, 2014)

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So it ends; Game of Thrones’ excellent fourth season has come to it’s 10-episode conclusion, closing the book on George RR Martin’s A Storm of Swords and signalling a huge expansion in Season 5. Two pivotal characters – and consistent fan favourites – are now on journeys to places we never expected them to go; several very significant deaths added to the episode’s weight; and we got to see new character pairings as some of the show’s many chess pieces finally crossed paths.

“The Children” starts where the previous episode ended, with Jon Snow’s ambitious journey to kill Mance Ryder. It’s a sequence which ends with one of the series’ biggest surprises, justifying all the slow Stannis sequences that have dampened previous episodes. The ‘one true King’ shows up with a massive, efficient army and dominates the wildlings, taking Mance captive and taking us all back to Ned Stark days by finding common ground with Snow. These two together brings some very interesting possibilities for the coming seasons and finally gives Stannis some ground to become one of the show’s leading characters.

Character pairings is really what the show has built up very well, fleshing out certain characters so that they are distinctive enough from each other and unpredictable when thrust into new dynamics. There wasn’t any certainty what would happen when Jon met Stannis, and there was that high tension when we just wanted our favourite crow to come out and say who he was. There was that pang of nostalgia when Jon uttered “my father died for you,” reminding us just how far Game of Thrones has come in four 10-episode seasons. Before that there was also a nice moment between Jon and Mance which called back to Grenn’s death; Jon’s words cut like a knife when Mance talked up the bloodline of Mag the Mighty only to be reminded that the giant’s entire legacy was wiped out by an unassuming farmer. Ouch.

It’s interesting that while the two Stark daughters are learning how the world works, how to adapt, and how being honorable isn’t practical, Jon Snow tries to stick to the code his father lived by, referring to Mance – his enemy – and the fact that he wasn’t harmed during his time with the wildlings. Perhaps Snow will eventually go down the same route as every other honourable soul in the realm, but for now, it’s good that some heart still exists in a world that is so corrupting.

Frankenstein-esque creepiness kicks in with Qyburn looking to step into a bigger King’s Landing role, besmirching everything a maester stands for and convincing Cersei that he can save The Mountain, even if he comes back completely different to what he was. It seems unlikely that Game of Thrones would start this storyline only to have it build up to nothing, so it’s looking like we’ll get to see someone even more monstrous than the gigantic knight who popped Prince Oberyn’s head like a balloon two episodes prior. It also never gets boring to see anyone undermine the foolish Grandmaster Pycelle, not even the very hate-able Cersei.

Though, Cersei’s revelation and Tywin’s willful ignorance seemed like it was given more time than it deserved, ending the non-Tyrion King’s Landing storyline on a dull note while the Queen Regent and her brother got back to doing what started this whole mess in the first place.

More politics ended Daenerys’ season four storyline dryly, relying on how much investment we have in her and her dragons by having her chain two of them up due to their recklessness. More interesting was the man who wanted to go back to being a slave, getting at this nice conflict between Dany’s idea of liberation and the actual concept of freedom. With one dragon (most likely the most reckless one) on the loose, I hope Dany’s season 5 arc will be much more exciting rather than just used to throw us political and moral quandaries while everyone else gets to propel their story forward.

After a quick scene back at Castle Black to remind us that the Night’s Watch have Tormund prisoner, that Stannis is now in the frey, and that he has brought along Melisandre to give Jon Snow creepy looks, we say a proper farewell to Ygritte and hello to a more battle-tested Jon Snow, as he walks away from burning the woman who tempted him to think outside of his vows. And with that, the first half of the episode ties up some storylines and gets to the bigger, unexpected twists starting with little Brandon Stark.

Bran’s journey has been a long and largely ignored one, with episodes only occasionally checking in on him, Hodor, The Reeds, and Summer, to remind us of the mythical leaning Bran’s story has been working towards. Wights and fireball-shooting children of the forest pop up with a lot of very well-handled CGI. The fluid movements of the skeleton warriors made them all the more terrifying, as they kept rising out of the snow and attacking Bran, Hodor, Jojen and Meera. Jojen’s death here would have had much more weight had we spent more time with him, but it was tragic nonetheless, and made the whole journey a bit more believable seeing as three kids and a half-wit north of the wall staying in tact the entire way seems like a stretch. Now that Bran’s story has gone all the way and brought in all types of fantastical elements it’s likely that we’ll be much more excited to see what happens with him come next season.

It seems more likely that Tyrion and his awesome revenge path be the highlight of “The Children,” but then comes along the first time we have seen two fan-favourites in a deadly battle and it completely blows everything else away with the best, most picturesque fight scene the show has done to date; with some of the highest emotional stakes. Brienne finding Arya was a breathtaking sequence in it’s own, and her little talk with the young Stark before finding out it is actually Arya was beautiful. This is someone who represents what Arya is trying to be, and yet she refuses to go with Brienne. On the other hand, The Hound and his cold lessons with Arya has been one of the most enjoyable parts of Season 4; his assertion that he is looking out for her is a great moment which satisfies the strange father-daughter relationship they have shared during the course of the last 1.5 seasons.

Watching The Hound not only lose that battle, but begging Arya for deliverance, is heartbreaking, given how he has slowly become a more sympathetic character despite his cold approach. Harking back to when he stole the silver from the dying man a few episodes ago, Arya leaves her sort-of father figure to die alone, leaving him with nothing but a cold stare after he tries to get under her skin by bringing up the butcher’s boy and what he could have done to Sansa back in season 2. It could be interpreted as Arya refusing to kill The Hound and, in a way, telling him that he has redeemed himself and is no longer on her list; or it could be Arya wanting The Hound to suffer a slow death – a feared situation in Game of Thrones. Whatever does happen to do The Hound, this unlikely duo made an incredible dynamic.

Our investment in Tyrion cannot be understated, as viewers, he is unanimously considered the show’s heart and to kill Peter Dinklage off would be too much, even given the proclivity to break narrative convention on this show. Who helped him escape wasn’t too surprising, given that the last we saw of Varys was a blunt betrayal of Tyrion – and we have always seen Varys redeem himself in one way or another.

Tyrion finding Shae in Tywin’s bed was done well, even if her actual death lacked the impact it could have had if the episode was a bit longer. Dinklage disconnecting straight after he strangles Shae to death, uttering a mild ‘sorry’ and jumping straight up to find his father is a fair portrayal of a man who has already released most of his anger in that stunning courtroom scene a few episodes ago. By the time he found Tywin in the privy, Tyrion’s rage had become almost myopic and there wasn’t anything his father could say to make the grim situation turn out any differently. It’s sad to see such an amazing actor go; Charles Dance has given a consistently brilliant performance as Tywin. His death also wasn’t handled with the gratuitous gore which I would have expected; another appropriate send off to a cruel yet graceful and pragmatic powerhouse.

Our last two sequences come back to two pivotal characters driving the change in landscape that we will undoubtedly be seeing in season 5, letting us know that we should look forward to a bigger and more extravagant Game of Thrones (yes, even more so than it is now), a prospect served with the beautiful scene of Arya looking ahead to her destination rather than back at her origin.

Review Score: FIVE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Positives

Brienne of Tarth VS Sandor “The Hound” Clegane
Tyrion kills Shae and Tywin, then escapes with Varys
Arya setting off to Braavos
Stannis meets Jon Snow
Qyburn playing the mad scientist
Skeleton warriors/Hodor smash

Negatives

Open-ended death of The Hound (please be alive)
Cersei, Tywin, and Jamie sequences felt unnecessary
Dany’s season four arc should have concluded in episode 9

Episode M.V.Ps: Brienne; The Hound; Arya; Tyrion.

Game of Thrones airs Mondays at 3:30pm on Showcase