Showrunners Weiss and Debioff have billed tonight’s season finale, “The Children” as the show’s finest hour. Does it live up to the hype? The twists – and deaths – keep coming there’s no doubt. Still, it is definitely the season’s act IV, a denouement and soft conclusion rather than an adrenaline filled time for the heroes. Despite all the characters who got axed, the show did not have the dark ending like Game of Thrones‘ ninth episodes — essentially an act III — have had traditionally.
The morning after the Battle of Castle Black Jon Snow embarked on a suicide mission to negotiate with — or kill — Mance Rayder, the Wildling leader. The men at Castle Black can’t hold out much longer against Mance’s depleted yet still humongous army. The Crows are lucky they made it through the night.
Jon charges through the devastation, the smoldering fires, and the carnage into the woods. After the Wildling soldiers escort Jon into the camp, Mance brings Jon into his tent – and rues his bad judgment for ever trusting the crow.
Mance asks after Ygritte, and we see a brief flicker of remorse when he learns she’s dead. The men drink to her. We also learn that Mag the Mighty, the giant who fell in the tunnel, was the final king in a bloodline that stretched back before the First Men. Mance cares about his people.
The negotiations start. Winter is coming: Mance and his people want to be south of the Wall when it arrives. Mance wants Jon to open the gates and let them through. This is a tough spot for Jon because if they open the gates, the Wildling army could kill the remaining men of the Night’s Watch and anyone south of the Wall.
Mance figures out Jon is there to kill him, but before Jon can face any consequences, an enormous cavalry bears down on the Wildling camp. Horses speckle the landscape as far as the eye can see. The lightning attack charges in from all directions and slices down much of the camp.
Mance commands his men to stand down – no more bloodshed. Then Stannis and Davos arrive in their pristine armor.
As Stannis approaches, Mance knows he’s beaten and throws his weapons on the ground. Stannis tries to make Mance kneel before he surrenders. Mance refuses to bend the knee – regardless of his people’s fate.
Davos admonishes Jon to kneel and address Stannis as your grace.
Jon replies his father died for Stannis. But, note: Jon does not kneel. He then saves Mance from Stannis’ iron justice.
When Stannis asks him how asked how his father would treat Mance, Jon calmly states Mance treated him well and did not torture him, so he would respond in kind – and warns Stannis to burn the dead before nightfall.
Later, back at the camp, the Night’s Watch burn their dead and honor their fallen: now their watch has ended.
Afterward, Jon goes to see Tormund, and it comes out that Jon’s time with the Wildlings changed him.
Tormund is now healed. Maester Aemon, who is sworn to heal friend or foe, treated him. Tormund wants to know his fate – torture, beheading? Jon can’t tell him but assumes Stannis will decide.
Is Stannis your king now? Tormund asks.
Jon replies, “I don’t have a king.”
“You spent too much time with us, Jon Snow. You can never be a kneeler again.”
Jon changes the subject and asks how the Free Folk honor their dead. They don’t: “The dead can’t hear us.”
Like Mance, Tormund asks if Jon ever really loved Ygritte. Ygritte loved Jon: all she ever spoke of was killing him, according to Tormund.
Jon doesn’t answer Tormund, but later on Jon incinerates Ygritte’s body in the “real north” like Tormund requested. The funeral pyre burns under the crimson leaves of a weirwood tree and Jon squeezes back tears as he walks away.
Daenerys: The Baby Birds Find a New Nest
As the season ends, trouble is brewing in Meereen for Daenerys and her rule. Can the young queen truly be a good mother to her people and her dragons?
An old man named Fennesz gains an audience with Daenerys. He says he is now homeless and wants to sell himself back to his old master – he says he is too old to adapt to freedom and the young former slaves prey on the old in the shelters. Dany consents that Fennesz may sign a contract with his former master. Barristan Selmy, however, warns Dany this creates a precedent and will lead to abuses.
Next a peasant enters the throne room carrying a bundle. He begins to weep and tells Daenerys that a “black one” came from the sky, a winged shadow. When the man uncovers the bundle, he reveals the charred corpse of his three-year old daughter, Zala.
Nobody has seen Drogon, the black dragon.
With the deepest sadness, Daenerys imprisons her other two dragons in the catacombs. Weeping, she clamps them to the floor.
This is a real problem for the queen in Meereen. Daenerys can’t invade Westeros without her dragons. They can’t fly while they’re chained to the floor of the catacombs. Until she can control her dragons, she’s stuck in Meereen – a city she may not be able to rule.
Bran: A child’s destiny
Beyond the Wall, Bran, the Reeds, and Hodor continue to search for the Three-eyed Crow and find something equally mysterious and ancient: the Children of the Forest.
Finally, amidst a snow storm – almost when they can go no further — they see the heart tree glowing crimson on the horizon and bathing the grey sky in a golden light.
Before the party reach the heart tree, the armed dead erupt from beneath the snow and attack. These are not White Walkers as we know them but rag-covered skeletons. One skeleton nearly kills Bran until Summer charges out of nowhere and destroys it. Bran wargs into Hodor.
There are too many skeletons attacking though – and it is too late to save Jojen. A skeleton repeatedly stabs Jojen. Meera rushes to save her brother at the same time as two skeletons charge Bran.
A small child-like creature appears and she zaps the charging skeletons before they reach Bran. She commands Bran to come with her into a nearby cave. She also tells Meera it is too late to save Jojen – Meera must go with her or die with her brother.
Jojen tells Meera to go with Bran and the creature. While he says this, two more skeletons pop through the snow. Not wanting to see her brother fall into their hands, Meera slits his throat – and then races into the cave, narrowly escaping more skeleton soldiers.
The cave is a tangle of weirwood roots and bones. There, nestled in a throne amidst the roots, Bran meets the three-eyed raven, who has assumed the form of an ancient man with a flowing white beard.
The three-eyed raven/man tells them he has been watching them all of their lives with a thousand eyes in one. To console them over Jojen’s death, he tells them Jojen undertook the journey anyway despite knowing the outcome. He died so you could find what you lost, he tells Bran. He tells Bran that he will never walk again, but he will fly.
A small measure of revenge for Prince Oberyn — maybe
This is the first time we’ve seen King’s Landing since the duel between The Mountain and Prince Oberyn. The Mountain is dying from Death’s Head manticore venom, which we learn coated Oberyn’s spear. Cersei, Grand Maester Pycelle, and Qyburn convene in Pycelle’s laboratory to try to save the Mountain.
Pycelle has no experience with the manticore poison, but his book learning tells him they should give up.
Qyburn refuses: it’s possible to save the Mountain. Qyburn is the crazed genius who healed Jaime’s hand. As Pycelle tells it, Qyburn was kicked out of the Citadel for a reason. “He’s not even a maester,” Pycelle sniffs before Cersei dismisses him.
Qyburn drains the Mountain’s blood to purge the poison. He warns Cersei that the process of saving the Mountain may change him, but Cersei doesn’t care if it won’t weaken him.
Tywin commands Cersei to marry Loras Tyrell
After Cersei leaves the convalescing Mountain, she visits her father. Tywin commands Cersei marry Loras Tyrell, which is even more pressing given he’s about to lose his heir, Tyrion. (Jaime cannot be his heir due to his Kingsguard oath never to marry.)
Cersei’s main concern is being around to protect Tommen from her father and Margaery. If she is shipped off to Highgarden, she threatens Tywin that she will “burn the house down” and reveal Jaime is Tommen’s father. This would shatter Tywin’s precious legacy. Tywin refuses to believe Cersei about the incest, but deep down he knows the truth. And, Cersei sees it in his eyes.
Cersei and Jaime fight over Tyrion, and then make up
Cersei and Jaime have a showdown over Tyrion’s imminent execution. Jaime can’t believe his sister still hates Tyrion for killing their mother and tells her that is absurd. Cersei then reveals that she told Tywin about their incest and she wants to be with Jaime publicly. To celebrate, they have sex on the table.
You didn’t really think they’d kill him, did you? Come on, Peter Dinklage is the star of the show. But, then again, it’s Game of Thrones so anyone’s fair game. Go ahead and exhale: Tyrion lives. Here’s what happens.
At the trial bt combat, Tyrion’s chance for exoneration imploded when Oberyn’s head exploded; Tywin decreed the gods had spoken and Tyrion must die. As a result, at the beginning of this episode, he’s being held prisoner in dungeon.
The door rattles. Tyrion expects death. Instead, Jaime rescues Tyrion. There’s a galley waiting for Tyrion to board. Jaime runs Tyrion down the corridors, torch in hand. They hug warmly and Tyrion thanks him for his life – none of the nasty conflict in the books. This is a nice ending for the recent bromance.
Tyrion recognizes he is beneath the Tower of the Hand, and can’t resist sneaking into his father’s quarters through a trap door.
Who does he find in his father’s bed chamber? None other than Shae, his former lover. She grabs a cheese knife off a fruit plate. They struggle. Weeping, Tyrion chokes the life out of her by twisting the heavy gold chain around her neck until she suffocates. He regrets killing her. Tyrion even remains by her body with tears on his cheeks — until he remembers whose chamber he is in.
Tyrion picks up a cross-bow and searches for his father. He finds a very surprised Tywin on the toilet.
Tywin agrees that he’s wanted Tyrion dead his whole life.
Tywin claims he’d never let Illyne Payne execute Tyrion, but Tyrion’s nobody’s fool. He’s not buying it.
Tyrion is still reeling from killing Shae. As a result, he says he’s crossed the point of no return. Tywin brushes her death off – “she’s a whore” – and that’s his big mistake.
Tyrion warns his father not to say “whore” again. Tyrion wants answers — why did his father want him dead, knowing he didn’t poison Joffrey. When Tywin suggests talking in his chamber, Tyrion refuses saying he can’t go back there.
“Why, are you afraid of a dead whore?” Tywin asks.
And, with that, Tyrion fires a cross bow bolt into Tywin’s chest.
Although Tywin can’t believe it, Tyrion coolly reloads.
Tywin’s last words to Tyrion are “You’re no son of mine.” A possible truth Tyrion (may have) misinterpreted as rejection. Tyrion shoots a last fatal bolt, which strikes Tywin in the upper chest, and flees the chamber. He finds Varys in the corridor.
Despite knowing Tyrion’s done something terrible, Varys smuggles Tyrion out of the castle in a crate with holes in it. After Varys hears the bells tolling to signal an escaped prisoner, he goes and sits by Tyrion’s crate, to ensure it gets loaded into the galley headed to the Free Cities. This is Varys, so it’s unclear why he does this. Loyalty? If so, to whom? The realm?
Brienne and Pod Find Arya and the Hound
Brienne and Pod come across Arya and the Hound. It starts out as touching scene, but it ends tragically.
Brienne the lady not-a-knight fascinates Arya. In a way, Arya is seeing her future self and finally a woman she can admire. The two have great chemistry, so it’s too bad their touching moment won’t last.
The Hound refuses to let Arya go with Brienne. To the Hound, Brienne clearly has no idea how to keep Arya safe. “Safety, where the f— is that?” After all, Arya’s mother, father, brother, aunt, and everyone else who could protect her are dead.
Brienne refuses to yield. Brienne and the Hound face off. This is epic. They are worthy adversaries. The fight denigrates into a dirty slugfest – head butts, biting – it’s not pretty. In the midst of all of this pummeling, the Hound tumbles down a huge cliff.
Arya hides in the rocks and after Brienne leaves, she finds the Hound. He is mortally wounded: broken bones and a huge gash in of his leg.
The Hound laughs that a woman will be the one who killed him. He tells Arya to go after Brienne.
The Hound tries to goad Arya into killing him, but she won’t do it. He reminds her that he cut down her butcher’s boy. He begs Arya to do it. Arya merely takes his purse and abandons the Hound, who is shouting at her to kill him while she walks away.
Arya Cashes in Her Chip
After leaving the Hound, Arya arrives at a seaport. She begs the captain for passage north, but he refuses. She offers him the silver from the Hound’s purse, and he still refuses.
When she hears the captain isn’t going north, but is going home to Braavos, Arya tries one last time. She hands the captain the iron coin the enigmatic Jaqen H’ghar gave her and says “Valar Morghulis” as Jaqen H’ghar instructed to do if she ever needed help. Immediately, the captain agrees to give her not only passage but a cabin. This mysterious coin is an altogether different currency – and it has power. Arya is sailing to Braavos. A new adventure awaits her.
The Round Up
At the end of tonight’s episode, up to five characters may be dead. Shae, Tywin, Jojen, and maybe both brothers Clegane are gone. Possibly the most shocking death of all is Tywin played by the amazingly rich-voiced Charles Dance. Tywin seemed undefeatable: certainly, his children would never get the upper hand.
The theme of the episode is “children” – in their various forms. Brienne fails yet again in her attempt to protect Catelyn’s children. Jon, however, gains favor with Stannis because of who Jon’s father may be. And, Daenerys now has a problem child: Drogon.
At Tywin’s death, that family name he’s sacrificed everything for looks like it may be shattered. His children stomp on his legacy: Jaime refuses to leave the Kingsgaurd and be his heir, Cersei refuses to ensure the family legacy by leaving her own son and moving to Highgarden with Loras, and Tyrion, who may not actually be his son, kills him.