I’ve made a few references in the past to “Blackwater” being the best episode Game Of Thrones was ever likely to produce, but it’s possible that “The Children” may have surpassed it as my favorite. It’s not as focused and cohesive as the big battle episode, but then I maintain that the series’ appeal actually derives in large part from its lack of such attributes. In seasons past, the major fireworks went down in the penultimate episode, with the finale being a rapid reworking of the board that felt more like a traditional premiere. But while “Watchers On The Wall” delivered the major spectacle, it has nothing approaching the far-reaching consequences of the series of climaxes that fill “The Children”. And, it must be said, a lot of my love for the episode flows from the immense sense of relief that Tyrion, Brienne, and all of the other sympathetic characters had made it out alive. I’m sure that Season 5 will contain its share of horrors (not least of which seems to be some sort of FrankenMountain), but it is also poised to offer us Tyrion, Varys, Arya and Jorah in a single scene. Never did I dare to dream of such a treasure.
But let’s focus on things that have actually happened first. At the Wall, Stannis rides in to save the day, as anticipated. Stannis has never been my favorite, but an influx of fresh blood is precisely what the Wall needs to stay at the level it has spent the past season clawing its way up to (which would be “better than Dragonstone or the Dreadfort, not as good as anything else,” if we’re getting technical). And I do like that the Boltons are now sitting between him and the rest of the nation he intends to rule. I mean, he must have ships that could just sail around to King’s Landing, but he’s not exactly known for picking his battles based on expedience.
“He was their king. The last of a bloodline that stretches back before the First Men.”
“Gren came from a farm.”
I know Gren didn’t make much of an impression on most people, but I’ve been surprisingly moved by his sacrifice, once again this week when even Mance honored it with a toast. What can I say? I’m very much a second son, and always more drawn to sidekicks and simple men stepping up to huge plates that they didn’t have to, rather than the protagonists with the stink of destiny all over them.
But I don’t want to begrudge Arya or Maisie Williams their big moments. While I was disappointed that she did not take up Brienne as her new mentor, having her ship off to Braavos (the most badass, underexplored corner of the map) is a fine alternative, and the brawl between the Hound and Brienne was somehow even more brutal and awesome than the Mountain vs. the Viper or any other action the show has ever done. This is exactly the sort of showdown that I’ve talked about in prior weeks, where we have 2 evenly matched opponents who both feel like they could plausibly get the upper hand on the other at any point, and despite audience loyalty to both, and it most definitely did not end in a draw. And so I was a nervous wreck throughout, waiting for Pod to interfere and get himself killed giving Brienne the opening she needed to prevail. Which made it all the sweeter when that didn’t happen, of course. I mean, I liked the Hound as a character, but guy was an unrepentant murderer of children. It would’ve been a much bigger bummer to see Brienne take the loss. And that last scene between Rory McCann and Maisie Williams was worth just about anything. Arya has become a truly cold customer, as she decides to ignore the dog’s lesson about where the heart is, while honoring the one about the dead not needing silver. I suppose the TV dictum is that if we don’t watch him actually expire, we should assume the Hound will be back, but I hope they don’t cheapen that scene in that way. Not that I’m overly worried about it.
But the main event is of course the toilet-murder of Lord Tywin. We all know that Lannisters pay their debts, and in hindsight much of this season can be seen as being about just how deep Tywin in particular had sunk them to keep the Iron Throne in the family. The season opened with a sequence showing him in total triumph, but it was immediately followed by a scene were he was defied by his eldest son, and by the finale, his daughter had also rebelled, disabusing him of his convenient, strategic ignorance as to their incestuous practices. And of course it closes with his being shot to death on the crapper by the son he has spent years abusing and trying with decreasing subtlety to get killed.
This is obviously both traumatic and cathartic for Tyrion. But Tywin was similar to the Hound in that I recognize them as bad guys in the abstract, but enjoyed the performances and dynamics they brought to the table so much that I wasn’t eager to see them go. So it comes down to the manner they are taken out, and for those of us who have endured Red Weddings and Greyjoy geldings and Viper manglings over the years, it feels good to see someone we like strike back at their tormentor. Is it justice? Not exactly, but it’s a lot closer than what would’ve happened if the old man had his way. In hindsight, I probably shouldn’t have been so worried; I think Martin is savvier than he is generally given credit for when it comes to what degree of tragedy the audience can take before needed a little respite, and while I can see the complaint that Oberyn was introduced solely to raise our hopes for the crushing, following that directly with killing the most beloved character would be too much for a book that also contained last season’s massacre in its second half. And the MO of the show has consistently been to bump off the wiser, steadier hands at any particular wheel while the rejects and marginal figures find ways to keep swimming. But I wasn’t thinking that clearly, because this show has fucked with me so consistently and effectively for so many years that I never know what to think in the moment, no matter how many words I write about it after the fact.
Is it 2015 yet? Oh, come on!