Another season of Game of Thrones has ended – which means another agonizing, 10-month wait – and I’m going to be bold and say this has been the strongest season yet. Maybe that’s not that bold. The third book is full of huge, game-changing moments, and the creators did have all of that to work with (and, for those of us who HAVE read the books, you know they’re saving a few juicy bits for Season 5). But, even with the unnecessary raping and the rather lackluster Crows-Wildlings war, this season was executed exceedingly well, and gave us maybe the best season finale we’ve had so far.
We open back on Jon Snow, who still literally knows nothing, as he makes his way through a veritable graveyard, with crows picking at the slain soldiers. (It’s a decent in-joke for readers – the interminable Book 4 is titled “A Feast for Crows.) He’s on his way to bargain with Mance Rayder, which actually doesn’t turn out to be as much of a disaster as you might think. Mance welcomes Jon into his tent and tries to strike up a peace treaty, but before anyone can shake hands or braid anyone’s hair or have a pillowfight, they’re besieged by a massive army – and it’s not Jon’s. Stannis might still be the most boring human who has ever lived, but at least he’s getting shit done these days. He makes a pretty feeble attempt to capture the “King Beyond the Wall,” though, who fires a pretty choice comeback at him: “You’re not in the Seven Kingdoms. And you’re not dressed for this weather.” Jon, in an uncharacteristically smart move, tells Stannis that his father died trying to prove Stannis was the rightful king (I mean, kind of true), and that Ned would spare Mance’s life and get information from him instead. He also tells Stannis to burn every dead body, cause, zombies.
(There’s also a sad little scene in here where he burns Ygritte’s body on a funeral pyre and blah blah blah you know nothing kissed by fire yawn over it. Literally the worst part of this scene is that he just leaves his horse standing by the flames. Rude.)
Daenerys, across the Narrow Sea, is still kind of terrible at her job. We’ve seen, over and over again this season, that simply freeing all the slaves doesn’t magically fix everything, especially for those slaves who can’t adjust to a new life. When an elderly man comes to Dany to beg her permission to re-enter servitude, she offers him a number of pathetic options (basically, the Mereen equivalent of shelters and soup kitchens), but he tells her he was taken care of when he was owned. She allows him to sign a contract with his former master, but as Barristan Selmy correctly points out, that’s going to be taken advantage of before you can say “dragon.” Speaking of dragons… Dany’s babies are clearly in their Terrible Twos. A sobbing man approaches her throne, presenting her with the charred skeleton of a small child, and there’s really only one suspect. (Well, two.) Dany does the right thing and locks up the two dragons she has handy, since Drogon has been missing for quite some time, but it’s not without some pain on her part. In an episode fraught with parent-child conflicts, Dany’s strikes me as the simplest and the most touching – her “children” are killers and can’t be fully tamed, but she never wanted it to come to this.
Meanwhile, Bran just got kind of interesting! He and his merry gang of misfits are somewhere up north when all of a sudden, zombie skeletons start bursting out of the goddamn ground and trying to kill them. (If you’ve ever played “Ocarina of Time,” it is EXACTLY like the Stalchildren who insist on popping out of the ground if you dare to run around Hyrule Field at nighttime.) Before too long, a creepy little Child of the Corn – sorry, Child of the Forest, who are supposed to be extinct or whatever – pops out and tells them to leave Jojen, who’s hella dead. (Bran’s been Hodoring Hodor throughout this battle, which was a ton of fun to watch, and it’s very cool seeing the actor who plays Hodor get to not only act normal, but be kind of tough.) The creepy little kid leads them to Saruman or some shit, who tells Bran that instead of walking, he’ll fly, and he’s been watching him, and I don’t really get it, but literally everything about this is skeeving me hard. Moving on.
Arya’s storyline got some non-book stuff inserted into it, but frankly, I have zero complaints – she finished this season out with some seriously dynamic moments. Girl’s just hanging out, practicing her swordplay, when she meets the other fiercest female around – Brienne of Tarth, followed by poor little Podrick (who totally lost their horses, but who cares?! he’s adorable!). She and Arya bond a little bit over being ladies with swords, but the Hound isn’t a big fan of their little lovefest. He points out that Brienne has Lannister gold on her sword (which, in fact, she does, seeing as Oathkeeper was given to her by Jaime), but despite Brienne’s protests that she swore an oath to Catelyn to keep Arya safe, Arya and the Hound are not convinced. (These two clearly don’t know how seriously Brienne takes her oaths.) At this point there’s nothing to do except fight it out, which they do – a complete knock-down, drag-out fight, complete with ear-biting (Brienne TOTALLY Tysons the Hound!) and teeth-crushing and rock-bashing. The Hound is a worthy opponent, but you guys, Brienne once survived a fight with a fucking bear. After what feels like an eternity and a lot of broken ribs, she bests him and tosses his broken body over a cliff, but Arya is already gone. She would definitely be safe with Brienne, but she needs to make her own way.
And make her own way she does – the last shots of the finale show Arya on the Hound’s big white hunter, galloping towards a ship that’s headed towards Braavos – luckily, she has Jaqen’s coin on her still, which inspires immediate respect in the captain and gets her a cabin for the journey. Maisie Williams has been absolutely brilliant this season, and she carries this last, gorgeous shot on her tiny shoulders, finding her way to the front of the boat as she leaves Westeros behind, as there’s nothing left for her there anymore.
But let’s get to the big thing. THE BIG FUCKING THING. The big thing I’ve been waiting for this entire season. Wait, wait, let me back up a little bit – Tywin is basically having the worst Father’s Day ever. Cersei stomps on over to his chambers in the morning and informs him that she definitely won’t be marrying Loras, because her place is in King’s Landing with her “last son,” and also, Loras is kind of a wet blanket. (She doesn’t say that exactly, but she might as well.) When Tywin basically says there’s nothing she can do to change that, she pulls up the ace of spades hidden up her sleeve – she can tell all of Westeros that the rumors are true, and her children are incest-borne bastards, rather than true Baratheons. She leaves him to stew and goes to find Jaime, and despite the two actors selling the ensuing love scene very well (Cersei tells Jaime she belongs to only him, won’t leave his side, blah blah blah), I still can’t get the bad taste of that rape scene out of my head. Maybe this consensual scene was an attempt to remedy that, but I guess I wasn’t quite ready for more sibling love just yet.
Jaime must be feeling really inspired by all of this family togetherness, because he helps free Tyrion and spare him from his impending execution, concocting an escape plan with Varys’ help. This scene was super rushed, but Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Peter Dinklage are so unbelievably sweet with each other that they sell it no matter what. The Tyrion-Jaime relationship has always been strangely touching, and never moreso than when Tyrion thanks Jaime for his life, who in return gets to his knees and holds and kisses his younger brother. There’s genuine love between these two- but absolutely none lost between Tyrion and Tywin, and Tyrion has some free time to go take care of that right now, actually. Rather than heading out to Varys and the waiting cargo ship, he heads directly up to Tywin’s chambers, where the cameras linger forebodingly on the metal-wrought Lannister lions.
Upon entering Tywin’s bedroom, he finds no father, but a naked, sleeping woman, who rouses just as he nears the bed. In one last act of betrayal, that woman is Shae, Tyrion’s former love, who calls out for Tywin, calling him “my lion” in what was, for me, the single most heartbreaking moment of this entire season. Her motivation here is deeply unclear – did she do this for the money? Did she do it because Tyrion called her a whore, or because she was actually jealous of poor Sansa? – but Tyrion’s motivations are all too clear, as he wordlessly attacks her and strangles her with her enormous gold necklace (most likely a gift from Daddy Dearest himself). After she’s good and strangled, the camera looms over Peter Dinklage’s screwed-up, tear-stained face, as he whispers, “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” CAN SOMEBODY SEND THIS GUY HIS EMMY NOW PLEASE THANKS
Tyrion’s not done yet, though – not by a long shot. Literally. Picking up a crossbow, he hilariously finds his father taking a dump, who begs him to be rational. Tywin tells Tyrion that of course he’s always wanted him dead, but he has a certain amount of begrudging respect for a man who absolutely refuses to die as much as Tyrion does, and he obviously wasn’t actually going to let the execution happen. (I feel like I might actually believe this – Tywin is many things, but he is actually a man of his word.) Tyrion’s done, though. Plus, even though he didn’t kill Joffrey (though, as he points out, his father was willing to imprison him for it), he did just kill Shae, so he’s officially a murderer now. Tywin shrugs that off, saying she’s “just a whore,” but that was the wrong way to put that. Tyrion puts one arrow through dear old dad for that one, and while Tywin struggles to comprehend that his son his killing him, Tyrion reloads the crossbow and tells him, “I am your son. I have always been your son” before letting the second, and final, arrow fly.
Varys, always the sneakiest Spider, simply loads Tyrion into a crate and onto the ship as the bells toll for Tywin, but the damage is done, and the Imp will probably never be welcome in King’s Landing again. Season finales for this show typically don’t end with such huge cliffhangers, but give us some set-up for next season’s struggles – and although Arya’s story has firmly ended one chapter, with another to begin next year, King’s Landing is going to be thrown right back into the post-Purple Wedding turmoil. This was a GREAT finale, though, which saved up some of the best moments from the books until the absolute last minute when they’ll prove the most satisfying (except for one big moment, which I have to admit I was disappointed to miss out on – but DO NOT CLICK THAT LINK IF YOU HAVEN’T READ THE BOOKS GODDAMMIT). I can’t believe I have to wait until next April – this is like OITNB all over again!
Thanks for reading, for the few of you who did. My next recap will be either True Blood or The Newsroom or very possibly both, since a) they’re both ending and b) they’re both great for hate-watching. Until next year – valar morghulis! (Valar dohaeris.)