New alliances form, many new paths are chosen, and important characters fall like Wildlings from the Wall as the world turning season 4 finale of “Game of Thrones” once again leaves Westeros in turmoil and more than a few of us scratching our heads, wondering where the series goes from here. More after the break.
Episode ten starts exactly where nine left off, Jon Snow leaving the safety of the gate to confront the King Behind the Wall, Mance Rayder. Apparently the Free Folk don’t believe much in security because our favorite Crow pretty much marches right up to the Wildling encampment and gets within a Dire Wolf’s leap of Mance’s tent before he’s surrounded. Mance exits, and because he likes Jon’s dark eyes and pouty mouth, agrees to meet with Jon to discuss terms.
After some toasting of dead giants and Crows, Mance remembers he’s the leader of a 100,000 person army that includes giants and mammoths, chops off Jon’s head, and has one of the giants throw it over the wall. Wait, sorry… that doesn’t happen, because Mance is a reasonable guy and he realizes HBO will lose most of its teen girl demographic. Mance instead gives Jon some inside information about the next attack (400 Wildlings climbing the Wall to the South ready to kill everyone in Castle Black), and offers to send him on his way. He does provide some interesting alternatives and some pretty good motive, explaining that this is not a conquering army…
…it’s a fleeing one and if Jon simply opens the gates and lets the Free Folk through, no one has to die. Hard to know whether to believe him, but I’m wondering what choices the Watch has. They all know Winter is coming, and what the snow is bringing is worse than any Wildling army. And we may never know what Jon would do, because as he’s ready to head back, horns sound and the Wildling encampment is attacked, not by the remaining Night’s Watch, but by Stannis and his army of Wall-climbing horses!
Stannis’ army makes short work of the surprised Wildlings, and before long stands before Mance, demanding he kneel. Mance, proving he’s the coolest guy left in Westeros (now that Oberyn is gone), refuses, and is rescued by some quick intervention by Jon – who name drops Ned and says some nice things about Mance – thus saving him for next season. A little later, as they commit the fallen brothers of the Watch the the flame, Mellisandre fixes Jon with one of those creepy, “you’re important to the one god” looks, and sets us up for some more red-headed craziness in Season 5.
The Bran Gang
We finally catch up to Bran and his Merry Men as they flounder through the snow. Jojen struggles, his health failing him, and just as he falls and Meera declares they can’t go on, he gets all Psychic Hotline and says “We’re already here.” Sure enough, they crest the rocky hillside and finally lay eyes upon the thing they traveled so long and fought so hard to reach… a tree.
OK, turns out the tree is important and comes equipped with an anti-White Walker force field, but before they can get there they are attacked by skeletal wights. The effects here were interesting, more Harryhausen, Seventh Voyage of Sinbad or Jason and the Argonauts, than straight CGI and I wonder if that was done as tribute to the master special effects artist who died last year. Either way, things don’t look good for the gang, as they are overwhelmed despite Meera kick-assery and Bran once again turning Hodor into his own personal Avatar. They are saved by a fireball casting third-grader – one of the “Children” of legend, but not before Jojen is stabbed by a not-quite dead wight and they are forced to leave him behind. It was an agonizing moment for Meera, who kills her brother rather than let him fall victim to the predations of the wights.
The group finds safety under the tree, any wights who enter turn to dust, and the “Child” explains that the forces that drive the wights don’t work there. The group travels around banks of roots and finally find the being that has summoned Bran through the three-eyed crow, a bearded Gandalf-like figure who is surrounded, perhaps connected to the roots of the Weirwood tree. Bran crawls forward as the figure explains that he will help Bran find what he lost, and when Bran asks “My legs?”, the figure cryptically says he will never walk again, but he will teach Bran how to fly.
Our queen of the dragons is probably wishing she can fly right now, as the weight of rulership continues to weigh down upon her. First she gets a lesson that freedom isn’t always free, as an old slave approaches her essentially asking to be made a slave again. Daeny makes a wise decision here, allowing the old man to enter a contract with his former masters, and committing the Unsullied to clean up the shelters where the older, weaker slaves were being mistreated. Her next visitor brings her a much greater task, the charred bones of his three-year old daughter, attacked and eaten by her dragon. Drogon. It’s devastating to Daeny, who makes the tough decision to imprison her “children” beneath the city to keep the others safe. We last see her looking back in sadness as Viserion and Rhaegal call plaintively to their “mother” to be left unshackled. I imagine next season will highlight the attempt to capture bad seed Drogon and how Daeny handles this newest aspect of her rule of Meeren.
In the Wilderness
We finally get a reunion of sorts, as Brienne and Podrick stumble upon Arya and the Hound. A brief discussion about Arya’s best interests commences, but like all custody battles, it soon devolves in sword play. Brienne wins the honorable fight, disarming a weakened Hound after an epic battle, but as Sandor reminds our Lady Paladin, he ain’t no knight, and the sword fight turns into a ball-bruising, ear-biting, lady-part kicking brawl that puts the Roddy Piper/Keith David battle in They Live to shame. It ends with Brienne savagely cracking the Hound over the head with a rock and knocking him ass-over-teacups down the hillside. Unfortunately, Podrick lost track of Arya during the battle and he and a desperate Brienne wander off, calling her name.
It turns out, Arya threw a natural 20 on her hide roll, because she was right there, and as Brienne’s voice fades into the distance, she scurries down the hillside to find Sandor, alive but beaten and bloodied and sporting a gruesome compound leg fracture that pretty much seals his fate. The Hound urges Arya to go after Brienne, whom he feels will keep her safe; and when the matter turns to his impending death, he asks if she remembers where the heart is, letting Arya know he is ready to die. Arya simply stares, unsympathetically, even as he tries to goad her into action, bringing up the butcher’s boy, reflecting he had wished he raped Sansa so he’d at least one good memory. Finally he begs for release and she rises, only to steal his change purse and ride off to leave him alone to die in pain.
I have such mixed feeling about this cold-hearted Arya. We’ve been seeing her head in this direction all season, and it makes sense… and if anyone deserves a slow death it’s the Hound (all the cool character development and backstory or not, this still was one awful dude)… but she’s definitely heading towards alignment check territory. It will be interesting to see if she gets set all the way to evil in season 5.
Of course, if it’s evil you want, look no further than Cersei Lannister, who is watching approvingly as disgraced Maester Qyburn experiments on the “mostly-dead” brother of the Hound, Gregor Clegane. Qyburn warns her that The Mountain may “recover”, but he’ll be changed. Something Cersei doesn’t mind as long as he retains his strength. This is a welcome departure from the book, where the secret Frankensteinfication of the Mountain is GRRMs worst kept secret.
Cersei moves on to dad, trying once again to convince perpetual Father of the Year candidate Tywin to forgo her impending marriage to Loras, willing to bring about the big guns to get what she wants: to tell the world that the rumors are true, she and Jaime are lovers and their king the product of incest. Tywin refuses to believe her (at least on the surface), and sends her away, telling her she cannot win. Later still she visits Jaime, lets him know she confessed all to Tywin, and seduces him once again. I don’t say enough about Lena Headey’s performance, and she’s often overshadowed by her counterparts in the series, but she was fierce here, her desperation to keep close to her family, her willingness to let it all go to get want she wants just blazed across the scene. This is the real Cersei, and it’s a sight to behold.
Meanwhile, convicted regicide Tyrion Lannister is waiting on deaths row when Jaime bursts in, rescue plan in hand. Looks like Vaerys the Spider was still a friend after all, and had arranged for passage away from Kings Landing. Jaime hustles Tyrion from the cell, gives him instructions on where to turn, and the too share an emotional hug that once again shows us the bond between these two characters.
I can’t help but wonder if Jaime regrets his actions with what happens next, for Tyrion has more than escape on his mind. Instead of following the prescribed escape path, he travels the secret ways through the Tower of the Hand and pulls himself into his father’s chambers. Once there, his footsteps are heard and a familiar voice calls “Is that you, my lion?” A heartbroken Tyrion finds A naked Shae lies sprawled across Tywin’s bed, and her surprise at seeing the lover she betrayed is soon replaced by anger. She pulls a knife, Tyrion leaps upon her, and the battle ends with a sobbing Tyrion strangling the woman he loves with the necklace he had bought her. Afterwards, as he sits in darkness, he decides with this line crossed there is no looking back. He finds Joffrey’s crossbow and finds his father sitting upon the chamberpot. Tywin, for his part, seems rather unsurprised to see his youngest son free…
…and commences to try to take control, trying to convince Tyrion that he respects him for his ability to survive, to discuss these terms in his chambers, and to inform him that he never would have allowed the execution to happen. Tyrion, is unmoved, and after his father refers to the dead Shae as a “whore” one time too many, puts a crossbow bolt through Tywin’s gut. Tyrion leaves his father to die, returns to Vaerys, who packs him in a shipping crate and has him loaded to a boat. Before Vaerys can return to the city, the bells ring through Kings Landing, announcing either Tyrion’s escape or Tywin’s death, and Vaerys, ever the survivor, realizes his home is no longer safe for spiders. He returns to the ship, deciding to accompany Tyrion to safer shores, his face a mask of regret and sadness.
The season ends, not here, but back with Arya, who approaches a captain in some port city, seeking passage north. The captain tells her the North is a place of war and danger (and he’s heading to Braavos anyway). Arya, remembering the words of the Faceless Man, pulls out his coin, presents it to the suddenly deferential captain and speaks the words, Valar Morghulis (All men must die). The captain responds Valar Dohaeris (all men must serve), and offers Arya passage. The season ends with Arya, standing at the bow, wind whipping through her hair as she follows her destiny.