Sunday brought the fourth season of Game of Thrones to a close with a massive 66-minute finale that seemed to jump around the map, chasing characters down increasingly isolated paths, but even the season's denouement managed to seal the fates of several memorable characters before the final credits.
The characters in Game of Thrones have never felt more separated from one another than by the end of the last episode. With Joffrey dead and The War of the Five Kings all but ended, King’s Landing is in relative calm, but the effects of the war still ravage the lands around the capital. Even with the extended run-time, there were so many subplots to follow and move forward that it’s easy to confuse or forget altogether where all the characters are by the end of the episode, so here’s our rundown of the context and events from the season finale, The Children.
Following last week’s episode, The Watchers on the Wall, Jon and Mance Rayder do some catching up and discuss terms of ending their battle at Castle Black. But just as the situation gets tense, Stannis Baratheon arrives with banners flying and immediately breaks the stalemate.
Back in the finale of season three, the unlikely pair of Davos and Melisandre convinced Stannis to march North to answer the call of the Night’s Watch for aid against the White Walkers. His arrival at The Wall is probably the first time show watchers have looked at Stannis with endearment, but readers have been supporters of the Lord of Dragonstone long before this moment.
In the books Stannis is both mocked and admired for his steadfast belief in justice and duty – in fact, he’s arguably the next most honorable man in Westeros after Eddard Stark. The show has touched on the history between Stannis and his Hand before, but their past might be the perfect illustration of Stannis’s code: Back during Robert’s Rebellion, Stannis was entrenched at Storm’s End defending the castle against a year-long siege. The lengthy battle was starving the population within the city’s walls, until Davos, a smuggler at the time, snuck crates of food (Namely onions, earning him the title of Onion Knight) through the blockade into Storm’s End. Davos’s smuggling of the food kept Storm’s End alive until Ned Stark arrived to break the siege, and for his part in the castle’s rescue Stannis knighted Davos, giving him titles. However, despite his heroics, Stannis could not overlook a crime, no matter how virtuous, and as punishment he cut the last joints of each finger from Davos’s left hand. Ser Davos has loved Stannis for this and other acts of justice ever since, and carries the finger bones he lost in a pouch, as a symbol of Stannis’s goodness, as well as for luck.
A Song of Ice and Fire also treats Stannis with a tad more levity, and while he’s always a bit of a party pooper, book Stannis is a long way off from the lifeless and sour Stannis we tend to see on HBO. Stephen Dillane’s Stannis is stoney and comes across as entirely brainwashed by Melisandre’s Red God, but in truth there is a lot more to Stannis than that. Here we see that Stannis is the only ruler willing to abandon the war for the Iron Throne for the sake of protecting the realms of men, and doesn’t ask for favor or reward. Stannis Baratheon is a man who puts duty and honor before glory, and values action over pomp and circumstance. Viewers suddenly have a glimpse of the true Stannis The Mannis we’ve been rooting for all this time.
The Mother of Dragons
Daenarys is faced with a difficult decision when she learns that a good number of slaves she freed were actually in better shape while chained and collared – Meereen is not a particularly friendly place for the impoverished and weak, and some of the older freed men are worse off for their freedom. Dany continues to learn that her acts of altruism are not as black and white as she first believed: Since freeing Meereen, the trail of freed cities behind her are falling back into the same cycle she believed she’d broken, or worse. Faced with this new perspective, she allows a former slave to enter into a yearly contract with his former master, but even then Ser Barristan warns her that slave-masters will take this opportunity to keep slavery alive in Meereen.
When a villager presents the scorched bones of his child at her feet we learn that Drogon, Daenarys’ largest dragon, has flown off and not returned. We saw Drogon torch a goat earlier this season, and even in the season four premiere Jorah warned her that a dragon can not be tamed, but Dany missed the signs of Drogon’s disobedience. Devastated, Daenarys takes her remaining two dragons, Viserion and Rhaegal, and locks them in the catacombs to prevent another incident.
While the majority of Game of Thrones‘s character arcs are punctuated with violence or epic monologues, Daenarys has had a quiet and yet extensive development over the last two seasons. Dany’s growth this season has been all about her discovery that ruling over a population is a complex and vigilant endeavor. At every turn, Daenarys has acted with empathy, and found that despite her intentions she’s become something of a tyrant.
It is said that every Targaryen has a propensity for mental instability, recklessness or insanity (It’s alluded to that this may come as a result of the Targaryen tradition of incestuous bloodlines). Daenarys’s father Aerys II famously was so touched by this that he became known as The Mad King. Daenarys’s intentions have always been to preserve justice and protect the innocent, but in search of that she’s murdered hundreds, often in macabre and cruel ways. How long does a means justify an end? Walter White in Breaking Bad can attest to the fact that even the worst atrocities can be justified by the perpetrator.
The Three-Eyed Raven
After what feels like years of travel, Meera, Jojen, Hodor and Bran reach a Heart Tree far in the North which serves as the home for The Three-Eyed Raven. And while Bran’s long journey finally reaches its end, it comes at the cost of Jojen’s life. Bran’s arrival also introduces a peculiar young girl who calls herself one of ‘The Children’, and implies that her people have lived in Westeros since before the continent was colonized by the First Men (The First Men, as the name implies, were the first major culture to arrive in Westeros and claim the land. The Starks are some of their last remaining descendants, and along with their bloodline, it’s said they share, at least to some degree, a similar connection to the land that the other families to colonize Westeros do not possess). The girl leads Bran to a man almost encased within the roots of the weirwood tree, who claims to be The Three-Eyed Raven, and he tells Bran that while he’ll never walk again, he will teach Bran to fly.
Bran’s storyline has been dramatically changed from the way it plays out in the books, and some of the choices have been practical and others are just plain improvements (Giving Bran the opportunity to abandon his journey to be with Jon is a welcome difference, for example, as the two don’t cross paths in the books. Having him choose to go on makes him a much stronger character), but some are just puzzling. Jojen’s death in the books is a much calmer affair – rather than having to watch horrifically as he’s being stabbed to death, Jojen dies inside the Heart Tree after slowly weakening from the journey. The circumstances of Jojen’s death are somewhat unexplained, but as maddeningly cryptic as the character is to begin with, that isn’t particularly disappointing. The show version, while disturbing to watch, at least provides some closure.
Awaiting his death sentence for a crime he did not commit, Tyrion Lannister is surprised to see his brother Jaime enter his cell. Jaime, along with help from Varys, springs Tyrion from the dungeons and leads him to freedom. However, the imp stops at the exit and doubles back, making his way to the Hand’s chambers.
Tyrion enters the room intending to speak with his father, but when he approaches the Hand’s bed he finds his lover Shae under the covers. “My lion,” she says rolling over, before realizing it’s Tyrion at her side. Stunned, Tyrion grabs her neck and strangles her with her new golden chain.
When Shae is dead, Tyrion takes Joffrey’s gilded crossbow and finds his father in the privy. Tywin claims that he never would have allowed Tyrion to be killed, but Tyrion doesn’t seem to hear him. With a bolt pointed at his heart, Tywin, for the first time in the series (and in truth, Tyrion’s life), calls Tyrion his son. The word falls on deaf ears. ”I loved her,” Tyrion whispers. When Tywin calls Shae a whore, Tyrion threatens to shoot him if he says the word again. Tywin refuses to believe that he’s in danger, but when he repeats the word again Tyrion shoots him in the chest twice, after slowly reloading the crossbow.
This entire sequence is a massive change from the books, and while it’s handled deftly and eventually moves the pieces to the same places on the board, the fallout and emotional context of Shae and Tywin’s deaths is completely different.
In season one of the show, Tyrion explains to Bronn and Shae the story of his first love, Tysha. When he was a boy he and Jaime stumbled onto a beautiful girl, a crofter’s daughter, being attacked by hoodlums. Jaime fought off the men and Tyrion went to the girl’s aid, and as soon as their eyes met Tyrion fell in love. In fact, the two were so enamored with each other that they almost immediately decided to marry. When Tywin learned of the marriage he was furious, and had Jaime admit that the whole scene where Tysha met Tyrion was orchestrated by him in order for Tyrion to finally bed a woman. He explained that Tysha was a whore, being payed to pretend to love him. Tyrion’s heart was broken, but Tywin was not finished yet. He passed Tysha around to his guards, paying a silver for each man, and forced Tyrion be the last in line. For Tyrion he paid gold, because a Lannister is worth more.
In A Storm of Swords when Jaime arrives at Tyrion’s cell he confesses to Tyrion that Tysha had, in fact, been a crofter’s daughter all along, and never a whore. She was really being attacked, and she had really fallen in love with Tyrion. Tywin fabricated the lie because as a Lannister, Tyrion could never marry someone lowborn. We also have to believe that Tywin’s general disgust for Tyrion played a part as well. When Tyrion realizes that Jaime allowed Tysha to be raped and sent away and kept it a secret all these years, he becomes enraged. Already incensed by the farce of his trial, the revelation rocks Tyrion into a fury. All of the love he bore for Jaime is immediately snuffed out and replaced by an uncharacteristic hate; he tells Jaime of all the unfaithful acts Cersei had performed while Jaime was captured by the Starks: “She’s been fucking Lancel and Osmund Kettleblack and probably Moon Boy for all I know.” The line sticks with Jaime from this point forward, but Tyrion isn’t finished. When Jaime asks if he really did murder Joffrey, Tyrion lies and ‘admits’ to the murder.
The murders of Shae and Tywin that follow are also fueled by Tyrion’s newly kindled fury. His confrontation with Tywin isn’t predicated as much on Tywin’s general injustices toward him, rather Tyrion is more interested in finding out where Tysha was sent after being raped by Tywin’s men. “Where ever whores go,” is all Tywin can tell him, and so Tyrion looses the crossbow on him.
Regardless of the varying truths to Tysha’s identity, Shae’s appearance in Tywin’s bed is almost poetic. Once again, Tyrion’s father has used the impetus of a whore to sabotage Tyrion’s lover for his own use. Finding Shae in his Tywin’s chambers wasn’t just a betrayal by Shae, it unraveled an entirely new thread of anger against his father.
While a bell tolls at King’s Landing signifying Tywin’s death, Varys looks on from the docks as Tyrion is hoisted onto a ship inside a crate. With a look of resignation, the Spider boards the ship and the two leave the city.
Brienne and Pod continue their search for Sansa Stark, which brings them East to The Vale. They stumble onto Arya and The Hound, who recently discovered Lysa Arryn, Arya’s last living relative (as far as they know), was killed just days prior.
With Pod’s help, Brienne puts two and two together and realizes who Arya is, and tries to convince her to come with her to safety. Arya spurns the idea immediately, and either out of protection, possession, or general dickishness, the Hound threatens Brienne for trying to take her. Without choice, Brienne is forced to fight, and she and the Hound exchange blows in a surprisingly even-matched duel (remember, the Hound is suffering from a festering bite on his neck which he earned fighting Rorge and Biter, the criminals Arya released back in season two along with Jaqen H’ghar). Brienne eventually gains the upper hand and the Hound tumbles, battered, down a rocky ledge.
Arya avoids capture from Brienne and Pod, and doubles back to find Sandor Clegane bloody and defeated in a heap. Clegane tries to convince Arya to kill him and end his suffering, first with friendship, then cruelty, and finally begging for death, but Arya, stone-faced, watches silently before snatching his coin-purse and leaving him for dead.
While it’s sad to see Arya treat the Hound with so little regard considering how fun it has been to watch the two travel Westeros together, Arya has never forgotten that the Hound is an important part of her ‘prayer’. The Hound killing Micah the butcher’s boy was Arya’s first taste of Westeros’ cruelty. It marked the first instance of her obsession with revenge.
With the Hound’s cries for a quick death behind her, Arya rides on, and finds a small port in the Saltpans, where a Braavosi sailor is about to set sail. Arya tries to purchase a trip to the Wall, where she believes she’d be safe with Jon Snow, but the Braavosi declines, stating he’s going back to Braavos. Arya gives the captain her Braavosi coin, which was handed to her by Jaqen, and speaks the words “Valar Morghulis”. Astonished, the captain takes her on board and the ship departs across the Narrow Sea to Essos.
Book readers have been up in arms since the finale ended for the omission of a highly anticipated scene that takes place with Brienne in the epilogue of A Storm of Swords. With season four loosely structured around the second half of the book, readers have been waiting with anticipation for the moment to arrive, but with Brienne supplanted into the storyline with Arya and the Hound, the event was skipped over. If you’ve heard anything about a key event missing from Sunday’s finale, this is what they’re talking about. Don’t let curiosity get the better of you like it did some of our editorial staff: Hype only lessens an experience, and reckless Google searches can ruin future seasons. Do yourself a favor and either read/listen to the books or try to avoid discussions with the talkative book readers in your social circle. If they’re anything like me they don’t want to ruin it for you either.
With each season Game of Thrones sets the bar one rung higher, and so far it keeps meeting those expectations, pulling in more viewers and raising the stakes (and the budget) at the same time. Due to chronology and pacing, the HBO series is quickly approaching the latest book in A Song of Ice and Fire and shows no signs of stopping. However there have been many changes to the show so far, both substantial and minor, that show HBO has a very good handle on the source material.
Whether you’re reading the books or strictly following on television, season five of Game of Thrones will be taking the story to new realms and bring more twists, shocking moments and violent deaths in 2015.