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Game of Thrones Review: "The Children"

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<i>Game of Thrones</i> Review: "The Children"

Shane Ryan and Josh Jackson review Game of Thrones each week in a series of letters.

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Josh,

Happy Father’s Day to Tywin Lannister!

I wasn’t sure if this would be the episode where the Lion met his doom, but that was answered very quickly early on, after Cersei spilled the incest beans. As Tywin stood there, contemplating the reality he had always tried to deny, the sinister diegetic violins ceased their high hum and segued into a certain melody. Only for a bar, mind you, but the strain was unmistakable. Tywin, the song you inspired has circled back to swath you in its danse macabre. In other words, my man, you just got CASTAMERE’D!

You know as well as I do, Josh, that getting Castamere’d works pretty much like the VHS film of the terrifying girl in that movie The Ring. You hear it, and you’re dead within a day or two. No exceptions. Sure enough, Tyrion got his revenge, and like Elvis Presley, Tywin Lannister died on the toilet. My thoughts:

1. It’s awesome that we got the revenge scene at the end of season four, in an episode aptly called “The Children.” I was sort of afraid it might get held over until next season, but instead it was the climax of what I thought was a solid closing episode to another excellent season.

2. The official reason Game of Thrones skipped a week on May 25 was because the next day was Memorial Day and it may have cut down on viewership since, I don’t know, people were out jamming on a free Sunday night. Now, though, we see the real reason—they wanted this to air on Father’s Day. That has to be it, right? It’s too good to be an accident.

3. Once I got over how awesome the scene was, it sunk in that we’ve lost Charles Dance, who plays Tywin, for good. That’s some sad permanence right there, because even in a show without any real weak actors, Dance was one of the best. He lit up every scene he entered, commanded the camera and played the sociopathic patriarch to a tee. I’ll miss him.

4. I wish we could have seen the Cersei reaction scene, because man, she is pure evil. I also wish we could see the scene where she’s like, “I wonder what my last conversation with him was?” and then thinks for a second and…YUP, INCEST. That was the last thing you ever said to your dad, crazy lady.

Elsewhere, we had Jon Snow and the Wall getting bailed out by Stannis in a scene that was pretty badass, although I must say that the show has done absolutely nothing to demonstrate that Mance Rayder has an army of 100,000. I know there are budget issues and such, but in every scene we’ve seen, it seems like they have maybe 200 people. I mean, Mance, you’re in six figures and you still have literally four dudes guarding you? There’s no rule that says you have to take all 100,000 men and spread them out in a single straight line.

As I think about the rest of the episode, it’s becoming clear to me how many different plot points they were able to wrap up. This was the narrative opposite of last week, when a single battle raged for an entire hour. In the grand tradition of finales, this one was all over the place. We had Bran reaching the three-eyed raven (and the sad end of Jojen), Daenerys doing the whole How to Chain Your Dragon routine (hate myself for typing that), and, of course, the presumed end of the saga of Arya and the Hound. That scene in particular was a slight departure from the book, and though I guess the Hound-Brienne fight was kind of cool, it didn’t really make sense to me (in the book, he fights Rorge and the Tickler, two seriously bad dudes). And after he gets wounded, Arya dresses his wounds and tries to help him heal. I’m not sure I loved Arya’s coldness in the HBO version, but it was still powerful to see them depart.

So, how about it Josh? Broadly speaking, are you happy with this season and this finale? Still bored by Daenerys? Ready to bow down to Stannis as the one true king?

-Shane

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Shane,

Tywin dies. The Hound dies. Jojen dies at the hand of a reanimated hand. But the saddest moment of the entire episode was still seeing Daenerys put those iron collars around those dragons and roll the stone closed on the catacombs. Maybe that’s just because I’m on vacation this week without my dog.

This was an excellent (if all-over-the-place) finale, though. With so much up in the air elsewhere, I wasn’t expecting to revisit The Wall. But there was no loose thread left hanging with this season. When we return it will be to many new beginnings: Stannis exerting his royal prerogative in the North. King’s Landing without Tywin’s strong hand to guide it. Bran and the Three-Eyed Crow. Arya on her way to Braavos. And the (thankfully!) continued adventures of Tyrion.

I didn’t even think about the Father’s Day connection, but that’s a beautiful confluence. “Children” referred literally to the grenade-toting Little Children who were in Westeros long before the First Men, but it could have easily meant Tywin’s children—and Ned’s. The only one missing last night was Sansa at the Eyrie.

The Little Child who saved Bran didn’t really explain what was going on, but did refer to “the power that moves them,” as if the skeletons are just puppets of something more sinister. The caves among the roots didn’t disappoint, but the Three-Eyed Crow looked less ancient and rooted than in the book.

And though you’re right—it was a big departure from the novels—I still loved watching the Brienne vs. The Hound battle with Brienne trying to show mercy and Gregor playing dirty. And as the Hound sat there wounded, goading Arya into ending his misery, his cruel reminders backfired. That’s pretty consistent with the Arya of the books and show, though. It didn’t seem out-of-character at all for her to grab the coin purse and go. That actually felt like a more perfect ending to their unique relationship. And for Arya to hide from Brienne and find her own way, even after connecting with her as a girl learning to fight, made me just love her character more. I can’t wait to see her in Bravos.

And Tyrion killing his father on the shitter is one of the greatest deaths in a show that revels in creatively dispatching key characters. It followed one of the saddest deaths as he strangled Shae, who he’d just heard calling out “My lion” to Tywin.

But you’re right. It’s a loss for the show not have Charles Dance’s smug superiority next season. But even more of a loss will be the dynamic between Arya and The Hound. This season may go down as the greatest the show will air. The novels continue to be very good after this point, but they’re also even more diffuse, and I can’t think of a pairing to look forward to that’s better than many of the ones we got to watch in Season 4.

Am I wrong? Was there a better season before this one? Do you think the show has a chance to match it in the future? Is George R.R. Martin going to be able wrap it up in such a way that blows us all away?

—Josh

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Josh,

I think I’m comfortable agreeing with you that Season 4 was the best yet, and what really interests me is how quickly they’re catching up to our boy GRRM. This season jumped ahead quite a bit to some of the action in A Dance With Dragons, and if Martin’s glacial pace continues, we’re going to be seeing NEW material next year in the TV show, which is pretty mind-blowing. I guess, if nothing else, our patented Reader Smugness will be over for good as we discover new twists and turns along with the rest of the world. It’ll be particularly interesting for me, because that’s how I experienced season one before I went and read every book, so it’ll be a kind of homecoming.

One quick issue with your email: Any time we don’t actually see a character die, there’s reason to believe he or she isn’t dead, and I think the Hound still has a fighting chance. That aside, I agree that it was a poignant “death” scene. The great moment, I thought, came after Rory McCann tried to goad her into mercy-killing him by spitting out the venom about how he should have raped Sansa. Immediately after it comes out of his mouth, the cruelty leaves his voice, and the reality of his sad life and the panic of death fill the void. “At least I’d have one happy memory.” I thought that was a terrific, affecting line. If the Hound really did die, it’s crazy to think we lost both McCann and Charles Dance in one episode. You could make a great argument that they’re the two best actors in the whole show.

So, looking ahead to next season, I’m thrilled that we’ll be getting more Varys. He was largely absent in season four, but that didn’t stop from playing a huge, dramatic role in the finale, and I’m glad that we’re going to start to learn the full extent of his motivations. He started off as a vaguely creepy sycophant fluttering around King’s Landing, but now we’re beginning to see the purpose behind the act, and I can’t wait to get deeper into that story.

Elsewhere, the pieces are in place for the final showdown. Stannis has re-asserted himself by wisely choosing to come to the aid of the seven kingdoms rather than just brooding at home with Melisandre and her dark arts, Bran is about to go full three-eyed raven (my theory has always been that one day he’ll warg into one of Daenery’s dragons, and the whole “you’ll never walk again, but you will fly” reinforces that for me), and Arya is on her way to Braavos to learn the dark arts of death. Daenerys seems a bit unstable, and we can’t guess what will happen with Tyrion, but after much deliberating, I’m pleased to announce that I will watch Season 5.

It was a pleasure as always, Josh. Signing off for another season, we beseech the old gods and new: Please don’t die, George R.R. Martin.

—Shane