Color me conflicted. There were some totally kickass parts of tonight’s S4 finale, but they were sandwiched between a bizarrely timed opener and yet another botched ending. The overarching lesson I’ve learned from this season is that even when the showrunners have all the best material with which to work, they still have a serious problem ending an episode.
The episode began where last week’s left off, with that idiot Jon Snow stomping out north of the Wall to meet with Mance Rayder. I have just about maxed out on Jon at this point, I find the Wall stuff one of the least interesting elements of the books, and I was so disappointed by the conclusion to the Battle of the Wall episode that this was literally the last thing I wanted to see this episode. I would have preferred the “Moon Boy and Patchface Variety Hour” to this. Jon literally just walked into a Wildling camp and rapped with Mance. (I still dislike that casting, BTW.) They drank to Ygritte in what can only be referred to as The Great Wasting of Time. Mance informed Jon that after the assault on the Wall, he sent 400 Wildings to scale the Wall miles down the way, and that his army has no interest in conquering -- just survival. And to do that they need to be south of the Wall before winter really comes. Jon made a terrible play to kill Mance, but was interrupted by an army attacking the Wildlings out of nowhere. And THIS is what should have happened at the end of last episode. THIS should have been the end of Episode 9. Because Stannis Baratheon swooping in to stomp Wildling ass is precisely how that battle ended in the books, and it was freaking great. I cannot figure out why the showrunners decided to hold off on this until the beginning of this episode. Wouldn’t this all have been MUCH more satisfying last week? The only other element of note in this plotline is that Jon gave Ygritte a special funeral-pyre sendoff, and seriously, enough. No offense to Ygritte or the actress or anything, but the amount of time devoted to her this episode, at the expense of other critical plotlines, was eyeroll inducing.
In King’s Landing, the maesters -- Qyburn and Pycelle -- worried over the poisoned, dying Mountain. Pycelle objected to Qyburn’s barely contained glee at experimenting on Ser Gregor, and Cersei flicked him away, giving Qyburn the green light to do what he liked to the great slab of meat laying on the table, so long as it didn’t make him weaker. That…won’t be a problem, Cersei.
That led to a a FASCINATING scene between Cersei and Tywin in which Cersei explicitly told Tywin that his son and daughter have not only been fucking, but that his grandchildren are all the product of incest. The fact that Tywin didn’t know this was the case was shocking to me -- I always assumed he knew, but that he refused to to acknowledge it because of the shame it brought to his house. That was followed up by a scene between Cersei and Jaime in which she told Jaime that she was ready for the Medieval nuclear option regarding their relationship -- to go public, and eff the haters -- and pledged her love to him. And then they had sex on top of the table in the King’s Guard meeting room, because they’re classy like that.
In Meereen, Daenerys was given more proof that freeing the slaves was maybe not as easy as taking off their collars. An elderly former slave begged her to allow him to be sold back into slavery; Dany tried to find a middle ground by saying that he could sell himself back for only a year at a time -- a situation that Barristan Selmy assured her would be quickly exploited by the slavers. And then the goatherd from one of the first few episodes of this season (I think) came back with the charred corpse of his 3-year-old daughter, burnt to a crisp by Drogon, the biggest of Dany’s dragons. This is weird to me, because wouldn’t Drogon eat the child, not merely burn it and leave the body sitting there? Anyway, horrified Mother of Dragons Dany put her other two kids in Time Out by trapping them in a makeshift dragon pit under the city, and then she shackled them there herself. BECAUSE SYMBOLISM. No frozen-yogurt bar after baseball practice for Rhaegal and Viserion. But Drogon remains loose…
To me, the highlight of the episode came from the Bran plotline. I can’t remember the last time I said that. Team Bran continued its hike through the frozen tundra until it happened upon the fiery-hued weirwood in Bran’s dreams. But, problem: just as they were about to approach the cave at the foot of the tree, skeletal hands popped out of the ice, and terrifying zombie skeletons attacked. A pitched battle saw Hodor again become the great punching bag of Westeros, Meera Reed kicking ass, and poor Jojen getting stabbed repeatedly. Things looked bleak until one of the Children of the Forest -- think child-sized, wingless fairies -- popped up and started shooting fireballs. I don’t recall Jojen dying in the books, so that was quite a surprise (and there goes the theory I read about Jojen actually being possessed by his warging father, Howland Reed). Safe inside the cave, which was thick with roots from the towering weirwood above, Bran came face to face with the Three-Eyed Crow, who told them he had been watching them all their lives, “with one eye and 1,000” (a significant line to book readers). He had good news and bad news for Bran: “You’ll never walk again, but you will fly.” Bran’s storyline just got super cool, you guys.
In another big surprise, Brienne and Podrick Payne walked right up to Arya Stark and The Hound. THIS NEVER HAPPENED. I had been wondering what the show was doing, bringing Brienne so close to Arya and Sansa so soon. In the books she goes wandering WAY off course, getting involved in some fairly tangential, but possibly quite significant, story beats of her own. Arya and Brienne had a really lovely scene before things predictably devoled into Brienne vs. The Hound -- a battle that, again, never happened in the books. This was an epic beatdown that involved nut punches, an ear being bitten off, and at least two sprawls down rock-covered slopes. In the end, Brienne emerged victorious and The Hound was EFFED. I mean, seriously wounded -- bones protruding from his leg and everything. Arya left him literally begging for death after she walked off with his coin purse. The Hound’s fate is much more ambiguous in the books.
Finally, in the Tyrion plot, Jaime worked with Varys to spirit his little brother out of King’s Landing in order to save him from being executed. Some critical discussions between Jaime and Tyrion, and later Tyrion and Varys, were left totally out of the episode, specifically regarding Tyrion’s first wife, Tysha. That’s going to be problematic going forward, as the information contained in that discussion has a profound impact on Tyrion. Tyrion decided to make a last-minute stop by the Tower of the Hand and found Shae in his father’s bed. Awkward. There was a struggle -- this scene was weirdly way more upsetting in the show than it was in the book -- and Tyrion strangled Shae to death with a gold necklace. I will say that the show did a much better job establishing Shae’s motivations for betrayal than the books ever did. Tyrion then grabbed a crossbow (Joffrey’s?), found Tywin in the crapper. After a conversation about whores and survival, Tyrion shot his father in the gut. And then he shot him again for good measure, meaning TywinLannister is officially dead, too. Happy Father’s Day, Tywin! And then Tyrion got packed away in a crate by Varys and put on a ship. So please check your FedEx packages very carefully over the next few days.
Also going on a journey: Arya Stark, who booked herself a passage to Braavos thanks to that coin given to her by the Faceless Man back in, like, Season 2. And that was the end of the season.
Which was nice, I guess. A lovely shot. And everyone loves Arya, especially now that she’s finally on her own, in the must fucked-up “Mary Tyler Moore” scenario ever. But the third book had an absolutely jaw-dropping epilogue that I think most readers who also watch the show expected to close out the episode…and it didn’t. They just left it for, presumably, Season 5. And I just don’t get that. It is in the Top 5 WTF moments in “A Song of Ice and Fire” history, and tonight would have been the IDEAL place to drop it. So I’m really not at all clear on what the showrunners were thinking there.