Game of Thrones – “The Children” Review: A Finale of Uncertainty
After taking a stumble with last week's weak battle for the Wall, Game of Thrones
returns with a balanced and excellent season finale that sets up a number of interesting mysteries for season five, completely changing the entire trajectory of the series in the process.
On its surface, "The Children" may seem like an average season finale. Characters finally move toward various goals, some problems are dealt with, and there is uncertainty has to the future fates of several characters. But while an average television series would consider a season ending cliffhanger having a main character injured in a major car crash, or perhaps having a gun go off at the last season with the mystery of who was killed, David Benioff & D. B. Weiss (the show's co-showrunners, who also penned this episode) manage to create a series of excellent cliffhangers that combine grace and intrigue, with mysteries that will leave fans wondering through the long hiatus.
While the episode's title most certainly refers to Bran's new, creepy friends, the episode also leans heavily on the actions of the show's own children. Each big moment and plot twist comes about through the actions of the next generation of Westeros. We have Brienne, who has a concept of honor not found in the older guard of Westeros, and whose sole mission has been to save the Stark girls. Yet, when she meets up with Arya, her aid is rebuffed and Arya "escapes." What will Brienne do now? Search for Sansa? Go to the Eyrie even though she knows Lysa is dead? And Arya- on a ship for Braavos, without much other direction. While escaping Westeros may be the best thing for her, going to a new city with its own set of dangers might not be. Bran is off in his own acid-trip world, with ancient "Children" and a talking tree-man. Jon Snow has thrown the Watch's lot in with Stannis, who may have saved the Wall from Mance, but with Melissandre there is always a price (and that stare down between her and Jon is certainly foreboding).
Finally, and perhaps most interesting, there is now a massive power vacuum in King's Landing. As satisfying as it is to see Tyrion get revenge on his father, Tywin was the glue keeping the Lannister hold on the throne. Without him, it will likely become a free for all as families jockey for power and influence. Poor Cersei certainly picked a bad time to try and play her trump card, as her incest confession means nothing now. As for Jaime, he should remain relatively unscathed, although his relationship with Cersei will likely never recover. And Tyrion is the biggest mystery of all. Packed in a shipping crate and heading across the sea with Varys is certainly a gamble- but perhaps he is the safest Lannister of all at this point. The old guard of Westeros all but dies out with Tywin. The younger generation is waiting in the wings, with Dany across the sea (although, certainly less powerful having lost control of Drogon and being forced to chain her other dragons), Sansa playing in Littlefinger's power games, and Jon taking steps to recognize a king. The children of the series are finally beginning to rise above their fathers (who are now all mostly dead) and begin taking on their own place in the game of thrones.
That the finale manages to touch on so many characters, yet still feel smooth is a testament to Weiss and Benioff's writing. As we've seen over the past several season, finding ways to balance an episode that jumps within several locations is not an easy feat. "The Children" manages to do so, while keeping each story fresh and interesting. It certainly helps when your writing is buoyed with several excellent performances. I would be remiss if I didn't mention the excellent work of Gwendoline Christie, Rory McCann, and Maisie Williams. While the fight between the Hound (McCann) and Brienne (Christie) is not in the novels, the showdown adds a great deal to the episode. It allows Brienne a moment of superior triumph, while also presenting a complex conundrum for the audience. Nearly everyone adores Brienne and almost certainly wants her to rescue Arya and Sansa, but the Hound has become such a rich and nuanced character through his journey with Arya (a major hat tip to McCann here, especially since I have a feeling this might be the last we see of him and the Hound) that you can't help be root for him as well in the fight. As for Williams, her stillness as McCann delivers his amazing speech speaks volumes toward her talent. Each of Arya's emotions flashes across her face until it is clear that the Hound will not get his much desired death.
But the episode's true MVP in the acting department is Peter Dinklage. In fact, I would say Dinklage has been the season's MVP. While he doesn't have as many lines as several characters in the finale, Tyrion's confrontation with Tywin is a masterful class in writing, acting and directing (the episode was directed by Alex Graves). Yes, a chunk of the dialogue comes directly from the novels, but that doesn't make it any less engaging on screen. Dinklage keeps Tyrion calm throughout the confrontation, but the seething anger is clear. The tension remains thick, as Charles Dance's Tywin goads Tyrion once more. It's an incredible moment and one that will surely rate among the series's finest.
All-in-all, season four was excellent. Yes, there were a few missteps, and Bran's story seems to become less and less connected to the show's central plot as it churns on, but I would rate it the series's best outing so far. We didn't get another Red Wedding, but the Purple Wedding was a more joyous occasion. The majority of the surviving characters are all poised for new adventures and new alliances. Things are moving forward and the battle for the Iron Throne is more penitent than ever with the death of Tywin. And, lest we forget, winter is still coming.
-- I know I spent some time discussing it last week, but Kit Harrington's limits as an actor are truly on display in the finale, when he is asked to go toe-to-toe with the superb Ciaran Hinds (Mance Rayder). Hinds is one of the finest actors working today, and Harrington's blank face and open mouth routine make Jon truly look like an idiot alongside Hinds' great performance. Jon's story is kicking into high gear now, so Harrington better use the brief hiatus to learn a thing or two about his craft, lest he continue to fade into the background.
-- Another item I've mentioned previously, but one that remains a major worry: the series is rapidly running out of story for several crucial characters. Bran, Brienne, and Sansa are nearly at the end of their source material. While I'm not too worried about Bran, the show will have to begin crafting story for Sansa and Brienne sooner rather than later. Considering Gwendoline Christie was just cast in the new Star Wars
trilogy, I worry that this means less Brienne on our screens for seasons five and six- and that would be a very sad thing indeed.
-- Confidential Message to Book Fans: I know many of you may be freaking out about the conspicuous absence of a major element at the end of Book 3. Don't be. Think of how much cooler that particular reveal will be if it happens organically during the course of season five or six- especially when you least expect it. After all, isn't it more fun to be surprised?