The last episode of season four! Let’s get right into it. As always, please watch the episode before reading this, as this recap/review is filled to the brim with spoilers.
The episode begins where the last episode left off – Jon is exiting the tunnel underneath the Wall to go and parley with Mance Rayder, the leader of the free folk, and hopefully get to assassinate him as well. In a scene filled with a lot of unnecessary shaky cam, Jon enters Mance Rayder’s tent to sit and negotiate with him. Mance is disappointed by Jon’s loyalty to the Night’s Watch after he appeared so loyal to the wildling cause, but Jon explains that he was loyal to the Night’s Watch all along. They drink together – a toast to Ygritte after Jon explains her death. Mance reveals that he doesn’t want to kill all the Night’s Watchmen; the wildlings just want to escape the terrors in the North that are rising with the cold of winter. Mance seeks asylum over on the other side of the Wall, where the wildlings can be safe, and in exchange for that safety he promises that his army won’t kill the rest of the Night’s Watchmen. After Jon looks too pointedly at a knife stuck into a table, Mance and company cotton on to the fact that Jon wants more than just to talk, and things aren’t looking too good for Jon until a horn is sounded in the distance.
A huge, meticulously organised army attacks the wildling camp from either side. We see from above that they’re much more organised that the wildlings and the Night’s Watchmen, and seem to actually know what they’re doing. After a brief period of fighting, we see that the mystery army is that of Stannis Baratheon (one true heir to the Iron Throne and Seven Kingdoms of Westeros etc etc) and his BFF Davos Seaworth. They have come to the aid of the Night’s Watch after they received a letter from Maester Aemon earlier this season, asking them for assistance in the face of a mysterious, supernatural threat from the North. Stannis arrives looking as determined as ever, and insists that Mance should bend the knee to him. However, Mance won’t do that as wildlings bend the knee to no king, although he will officially surrender to him.
Finally, Jon and Stannis officially meet. Jon tells Stannis that he knows who he is, as his father Ned Stark died for Stannis’ right to sit on the throne back in season one. Stannis says that Ned was an honourable man; what would he have done with the likes of Mance? Jon suggests keeping Mance prisoner and getting information out of him, to which Stannis agrees. Jon also suggests burning all the dead immediately, given what he’s already seen in the North.
So I had a big fit last episode because this is the scene we didn’t get to see. This is how the last episode should have ended – with an actual conclusion to the conflict between the wildlings and the Night’s Watch, facilitated by the one and only Stannis Baratheon and his army that actually gets stuff done – rather than with the weak cliffhanger of Jon walking out of the tunnel. This would have been so great because everything would have been wrapped up in a nice little package, plus it would have allowed more time for certain other things to be explored this episode. Also given that last episode was under time, and this episode went over time, it just seems to make sense that this scene should have been included last episode.
I will say additionally that if you have to get GRRM himself to explain this scene via a video on Youtube after the episode has aired, then you haven’t done a good enough job at explaining this character and his motivations within the show. We saw so little of Stannis this season that my partner was like, “Oh this guy, he’s the boring one, right?” – Wrong! Stannis is awesome and it sucks that people who haven’t read the books don’t get to see the same amount of character development for someone who has a vital role to play in the overall story and world of Westeros.
Back in King’s Landing, Cersei is watching as Maester Pycelle and former Maester Qyburn are attending to the Mountain’s wounds post-battle with Oberyn Martell. As it turns out, Oberyn’s blades were coated in poison, causing a significant amount of putrefaction to his flesh where the blades cut him. Cersei wants the Mountain fixed, and Pycelle says it doesn’t look good. But Qyburn thinks he can be saved via his progressive, pseudo-medical techniques that are not authorised by the Maesters. In fact, Qyburn was kicked out of the Maesters for experiments on humans similar to this. Qyburn says that this process may change the Mountain, but it will not weaken him, to which Cersei seems quite pleased. Then we watch as the Mountain’s blood is extracted using a pretty gross and unsanitary tube mechanism. (Cleganebowl confirmed, get hype.)
Cersei then goes to see her father Tywin and discusses with him yet again the matter of her marriage with Loras Tyrell. He stresses that her marriage to Loras is important to the Lannister dynasty as Jaime cannot marry or have children, nor inherit lands, and Tyrion is obviously destined for execution so he can’t either. She wants to remain in King’s Landing with her son Tommen, and is concerned that the political machinations in King’s Landing will rip him apart – with Tywin puling him one way, and the manipulations of Margaery pulling him another. She decides to tell Tywin something he doesn’t want to hear, in order to inform him that the Lannister dynasty is already ruined regardless of anything he does – all of her children are bastards born of incest. Joffrey, Mycella and Tommen are all her and Jaime’s children. Tywin doesn’t have any power over this act that has already been committed and if he marries her off to Loras, Cersei will tell everyone the truth.
Afterwards, Cersei visits Jaime. Jaime is angry that Tyrion has been sentenced to death definitively, and Cersei is still angry that their mother died during childbirth, giving birth to Tyrion. Cersei tells Jaime that she chooses him, that she told their father about their incestuous relationship, and that she won’t be marrying Loras. Cersei also tells Jaime that she loves him, and she doesn’t care who knows about it. She kisses Jaime’s golden hand and he pulls her away, kissing her. They then proceed to have sex on the table regardless of whoever walks in. This reminds me of the scene in season two where Stannis had sex with Melisandre on that cool table that was shaped like a map of Westeros, but this table doesn’t look as nice.
I hope these three Cersei scenes in a row are an indication that we’ll be seeing much more from her next season, because her character development is amazing, and, most of all, is actually interesting. Given some other interesting casting news for next season, I think this hypothesis may be correct, however I may be wrong. I just want to see more of Lena Headey because she is one of the best actors on the show, and I know she can do Cersei’s story justice in a way that certain other actors (cough) cannot.
Back in Meereen, Daenerys is taking an audience in her royal chamber with a former slave who wants to return to slavery. He used to teach a slave master’s children, which he found a lot of satisfaction in doing. Now he has nothing, despite Daenerys setting up places for former slaves to eat and sleep. Older slaves miss their defined role in Meereenese society, even though younger slaves are happy to be free. Even though he was a slave, he loved what he did and wants to return to it. Daenerys is initially confounded by this logic, but then admits that “freedom means making your own choices”, and from thereon allows slaves to make year-long contacts with their masters if they so wish to return to their former jobs. Ser Barristan Selmy tells Daenerys that the masters will manipulate this decision and use it as an excuse to return to the use of slave labour, even if this one slave is happy with the outcome. Yet another difficult decision Daenerys has been faced with as Queen of Meereen.
Then, a distraught man approaches the throne, holding a small bundle of rags. He tearfully describes something black descending from the sky. He opens the rags on the ground to reveal the burnt and blackened bones of his young child. Daenerys reacts in shock. Later, she learns that the bones are those of a three year old girl. She asks Missandei and Grey Worm for news of Drogon, the biggest of her three dragons. He hasn’t been seen for three days, and his whereabouts cannot be accounted for. Daenerys kows that she must act responsibly – she may be the Mother of Dragons, but she can’t control them anymore. (AKA, Lord Commander Friendzone Jorah Mormont was right.)
Daenerys ventures into the catacombs of Meereen with her other two dragons, Viserion and Rhaegal (those are their names, I’m not sure the show has named them before). Whilst they are snacking on some delicious goat, she chains them up, and walks away. Which is ironic, as she has recently added Breaker of Chains to her long list of royal titles. As she walks, the dragons notice that she’s leaving and go to follow her, but find themselves chained. They cry out for their mother as she leaves them and locks them in the darkness. Daenerys is chaining them up for the safety of her people, but who knows if they’ll outgrow this place, or break their chains? I found this scene really heartbreaking, especially Daenerys’ crying face as she locked them away. It reminded me of chaining up a beloved pet. The music in this scene was also especially affecting.
Daenerys’ story this season has been quite hit or miss, with a lot of ‘filler’ that could have been easily switched up with scenes of actual relevance. But this was a good note to end on as it signifies her moving away from the use of her dragons as the sole source of political power, and towards the unknown. Daenerys is entering a new era of political scheming, and at this point the dragons may be doing more harm than good for her. I wonder how this will translate to future storylines!
Back at the Wall, Maester Aemon is conducting funeral rites for the dead brothers of the Night’s Watch. Their watch has now ended, and they will be burned on a funeral pyre. Stannis, Davos, Selyse and Stannis’ daughter Shireen watch as the pyre is lit and the fire grows. Through the fire, Jon locks eyes with the mysterious Melisandre, who is staring at him. I wonder why she would be doing that!
Jon visits Tormund Giantsbane, who has been tied up and medically attended to by Maester Aemon. He’s preoccupied with the idea of his eventual execution, but Jon wants to know about wildling funeral rites and whether there are any words that should be said before they are burned. Tormund says there are no words because the dead can’t hear anything. Then he mentions Ygritte, and tells Jon that she loved him. Tormund doesn’t care about funeral rites of the other wildlings, but he says that Ygritte belongs in the real North. Jon then takes her body to be burned in a funeral pyre beyond the Wall, near a heart tree, as per the wildlings’ religious beliefs. He lights the pyre and walks away, clearly extremely upset. And that’s Jon Snow’s story finished for this season.
At this point in the episode I was happy with how they were concluding all the different characters’ stories. Everyone seems to be ending on a poignant note, with room for development and story expansion into the next season.
Meanwhile, Bran, Jojen, Meera and Hodor are still making their way somewhere. Jojen falls down ill, and asserts that they’ve finally arrived at their intended destination. Indeed, Bran arrives at the top of a hill to see a gigantic heart tree framed against a beautiful sunset, and he too knows that they’re where they need to be, as a result of his visions. The cinematography and lighting is amazing here. However, Bran and company need to cross an open snowy plain to get to the tree. When crossing, a zombie skeleton hand reaches up to grab Jojen’s ankle and pull him down. More skeletons spring from the ground and start attacking Meera and Hodor. Bran wargs into Hodor and kicks some skeleton ass with a hammer that he picks up from one of the ones he’s already destroyed.
As two skeletons are heading towards Bran, Jojen alerts Meera and Hodor to this threat, and a skeleton hand reaches up and repeatedly stabs him in the chest, to Meera’s horror. Then the skeletons that are about to attack Bran get blown up by fireballs sent by a pixie-like girl who has appeared as if by magic. She says that Jojen is lost, and that Bran and Meera should go with her. Jojen tells Meera to go, and she slits his throat. Then Bran, Hodor and Meera run into the caves, and the pixie girl blows Jojen up before he can become a zombie as well (thereby essentially disproving a disturbing fan theory about his fate in the later books). The skeletons follow them into the caves, but they fall apart upon entering. The pixie girl says that the skeletons cannot follow them as “the power that moves them is powerless here”. She describes herself as one of “the children”, and that “he” is waiting for them.
Bran, Hodor and Meera make their way through what looks like a tunnel system made out of roots, to meet an old man who is suspended within the roots in a bigger cavern. Bran immediately knows that this is the Three-Eyed Raven he has been seeking all this time, and crawls to him. The Three-Eyed Raven says Jojen knew he would die. He that he’s been watching them for their whole lives. Bran assumes that the Three-Eyed Raven can help him to walk again, to which the old man responds in the negative. However, the Three-Eyed Raven asserts that Bran will fly, instead.
Well… what a scene. Initially the animation of the skeleton sequence looked really disjointed and fake, like a video game from the early 2000s where hyperrealistic animation was beginning to emerge and still looking a bit rough. But maybe it was my television being weird, because other people seem to think they looked scary and threatening, instead of just like animated gifs. They also weren’t skeletons in the books, but actual wights. They must have been cutting costs back after last week’s most expensive episode yet. Not sure what else to say about this development in Bran’s story. The pixie girl looked completely strange and totally unlike how I pictured ‘the children’ in the books. Didn’t fit the description at all. But at least she looked like a mythological inhuman-yet-personlike creature, which technically they are. Onwards!
Elsewhere, Brienne and Pod awaken to find their horses gone, probably because Pod didn’t tie them up correctly. They’re still on the way to the Eyrie, so Pod now has to carry all their supplies. After heading towards the Eyrie, Brienne finds Arya practicing with her sword. They have a conversation and Arya seems drawn to this female warrior, given their similar interests (fighting, swords, probably killing people also), and they share their father’s expectations of them as women who didn’t want to become stereotypical ladies. When the Hound arrives, Brienne realises that this girl is Arya Stark, and she tells Arya of her oath to her mother, to find her and keep her safe. But the Hound asserts that Brienne is being paid by the Lannisters, using her sword as evidence. Brienne says that she isn’t being paid by the Lannisters, but the fact that Jaime gave her the sword doesn’t do her any favours. The Hound tells them to go away and that he will be the one to stay with Arya, as he’s the best protection she’s got.
Brienne and the Hound then proceed to have a thrilling swordfight that is pretty brutal and very well choreographed. There is some great music here, totally different to anything else we’ve heard from Ramin Djawidi, and I hope this becomes Brienne’s signature fight music. Brienne and the Hound seem to be equals in battle until the Hound smashes her in the face and they start fighting dirty. Still, she gets the upper hand, biting his ear off and spitting it onto the ground. Brienne eventually prevails in the fight, bashing the Hound’s head multiple times and pushing him down a very steep hill. After winning, Brienne calls out for Arya, but she has camouflaged herself in the rocks and sneaks away.
Holy crap was Gwendoline Christie amazing here. I love Brienne, and with each and every scene, Christie ups the ante. I cannot wait to see her next season. Moving on.
Arya goes to see the Hound, who is lying at the bottom of the hill, bashed up pretty badly and covered in blood. He knows he will die, and tells Arya to go with Brienne, but she refuses, preferring to go alone. The Hound tells Arya that he’s ready to die, and that she should kill him to cross another name off her list. He tells her horrible things about killing the butcher’s boy and wanting to rape her sister Sansa, to try and provoke her into killing him, but she still won’t do it. Arya stands up and steals his gold instead of showing him the mercy of a quick death. Arya knows that the ultimate punishment for the Hound isn’t a quick death like he’s shown her how to do, but a slow and painful death; that way she can both cross his name off the list, and also ensure that it’s the most painful way of doing do. She walks away as he repeatedly and painfully calls after her to kill him.
This scene showcased the best acting Maisie Williams has done all season. Her blank and emotionless face as the Hound was telling Arya about what he did to the butcher’s boy and wanted to do to Sansa was genius, and I hope we see more of this style of acting in the future instead of some of her previous efforts that have been a bit ineffectual and stereotypical. Meanwhile, Rory McCann did the Hound so much justice in this singular scene where he’s left to die. Even though he was a villain in the beginning of the show, and we’ve been shown him doing some horrible things, you cant help but feel extremely sorry for him, as his character has been thoroughly redeemed through giving protection and showing a form of kindness to Arya.
Back at King’s Landing, Tyrion is lying alone in his cell at night when he hears a key turning in the lock; he expects someone to take him away to his execution. However, it’s Jaime visiting him – to set him free. He tells Tyrion that Varys is helping as well. Jaime gives Tyrion instructions regarding where to go to meet Varys, and then they have a heartfelt and emotional goodbye to one another where Tyrion thanks Jaime for giving him his life. Tyrion goes to escape up the requisite stairs, and somehow ends up in the Tower of the Hand – Tywin Lannister’s quarters. He approaches Tywin’s bed to find Shae there, calling out for “my lion”, expecting Tywin returning. Tyrion and Shae look at one another with horrified faces – Tyrion’s shock and heartbreak is palpable. Shae goes to stab him but Tyrion holds the knife away and pulls her down over the bed by her necklace, strangling her to death. After she is dead, he apologises, and then his face becomes determined as he sees a crossbow casually sitting against a wall. (That slow pan from Tyrion’s alive face to include Shae’s dead face in the frame was also genius.)
Tyrion takes the crossbow and goes to find Tywin, who is revealed to be relieving his bowels in the bathroom. Awkward. Tywin tries to rationalise with Tyrion, seeing the crossbow. He admits that he wanted Tyrion dead but he would never let anyone execute a Lannister, so it wouldn’t happen. Tyrion says that he loved Shae, but he murdered her, and Tywin says it doesn’t matter because she was a whore. Tyrion tells him not to use that word, and finding himself with the upper hand, tells Tywin that he knew he didn’t poison Joffrey, and yet he was still found guilty. He wants to know why, but says he cannot return to Tywin’s chambers to discuss this with him as Shae’s dead body is there. When Tywin uses the word ‘whore’ again, Tyrion shoots Tywin in the stomach with a bolt from the crossbow. Tywin says that Tyrion is no son of his, but Tyrion counters – “I am your son, I’ve always been your son”. He shoots Tywin again, this time in the chest. Tywin dies sitting on the toilet, which is going to be super awkward for whoever finds him. Tyrion leaves as the Rains of Castamere starts to play in the background.
Varys meets Tyrion at the door where they were originally meant to meet, and asks him what he’s done. Tyrion is then packaged up into a box, and is taken to be shipped off to an unknown location. Warning bells sound to raise the alarm in the Red Keep, as presumably Tywin and Shae have been found dead. Varys sits with the box (with convenient airholes) on the ship, as wondrous and rousing finale music begins to play.
Well! What can one say? Did anyone ever really expect Tyrion to be put to death? With a character like his, he’ll always figure out how to get out of any predicament he’s in (however since the rest of the books are not yet finished I can’t make any definitive assertions until GRRM gets his shiz together). The showrunners changed something huge here that has significant implications for Tyrion’s future story. I’m not surprised that they changed a significant element of Tyrion’s story in this scene; an element that affects a certain piece of dialogue that is repeated over and over the next time we see him. Book readers will know what I’m talking about (sorry show-people, I’m too scared of spoiling future plotlines to elaborate). I’m not sure I understand why they changed it for the show, but in any case, Peter Dinklage was amazing here and I cannot wait to see the next chapter of Tyrion’s story.
The final scene of the episode is with Arya, who has taken one of Brienne’s horses. She spots a small port in the distance and rides over to it, where people are packing up salt to be shipped elsewhere. She finds the captain of a ship and asks about being taken to the Wall, but the captain won’t go there. She offers to work on the ship, but the captain won’t take her. She asks where the ship is going, and the captain responds – the Free City of Braavos. Remembering something significant, Arya then offers the captain a coin – the coin given to her by Jaqen H’ghar back at the end of season two. She says, “Valar Morghulis” to the captain, to which he seems shocked, and responds, “Valar Dohaeris”. He then says she can sail with him, and he will give her a cabin. This mysterious coin has afforded her much respect; it has more power than she expected. Then the ship sails off and the land of Westeros fades away. Arya strides towards the bow of the ship and watches as they enter open waters, to head across the sea.
My first response after this episode ended was to wait until the credits had finished screening to see if they had put anything extra at the very end. But no, there was nothing, and I was extremely disappointed because they left out one of the hugest things that book-readers have been waiting to see the entire season! Still, I won’t say what it is in case they include it next season and I spoil something massive. If I say the letters “LS”, book people will know what I’m on about. I don’t hate the way the episode ended because it was a great way to finish Arya’s storyline and indicate to viewers that the world of Game of Thrones will be opened up and explored even further in the future. But even so, ending it with a certain character would have been even better. I think they missed their chance for a really epic (and I never use that word) ending to the season.
This season will henceforth be known as the one that was the least faithful to the books. In some ways, I don’t think this is such a bad thing. GRRM has the tendency to waffle and it makes sense to cut some things out. But they cut a lot of stuff that seemed very significant indeed during the books, and that’s confusing. And annoying. Please expect this complaint and more from a future post that will reflect on this season as a whole!
Overall, this was a pretty good episode that finally fulfilled my wish to see Stannis being the boss of life, and also an episode that dropped a lot of bombs that were handled very well. At the same time, kind of like the last episode, it isn’t the best finale episode we’ve seen in the series. But it serves its purpose well, with many memorable scenes and some awesome acting that gives me hope for the next season.
I don’t have a preview to show for the next episode obviously because the season is all finished, but here’s a fun cocktail recipe (with swearing and sexual innuendo/general inappropriateness) to make when you feel sad about the fact that Game of Thrones is all over and done with until next year. Yep, off to make that drink now.
Episode rating: 4/5