Monday, June 16, 2014

HBO Game of Thrones Season 4 Finale Recap: The Children

For the 5011th time I really do urge you, if you like this story, please do read the books. The first three are really quite good, perhaps even excellent. There are many themes, subplots and dramatic arcs which are done differently in the books. The books do have their drawbacks, which the show creators have generally adroitly worked around but there are some things which the show has altered which are not necessarily for the better. There's a thin line between generous adaptation and fan fiction. I think that this season the show drifted overmuch towards the latter. The show creators are confident enough to make their own narratives. Maybe we'll talk about that in a final GoT post sometime soon. Jon Snow has left the Wall to speak with Mance Rayder. Mance is upset by Jon's betrayal. Jon counters that he was being true to his Night's Watch vows but Mance reminds him of his dalliance with Ygritte. Mance tells Jon that winter really is coming. Mance is trying to protect his people from the Others. Mance sees himself as a refugee leader. Mance figures out that Jon intends to kill him. Mance mocks Jon as his intended act would be almost impossible to pull off and extremely dishonorable under all forms of hospitality. Before Jon can respond there's an attack on Mance's army. It's Stannis, who alone among would be leaders, has taken the Night's Watch request for aid seriously. Obviously he wants to burnish his credentials as "king" but that's Stannis. Mance surrenders but refuses to kneel. Jon advises Stannis to take Mance into custody but treat him fairly and listen to what he says. It's what Ned Stark would have done.

Maester Aemon says words over the dead Night's Watch members before the survivors burn the bodies. Jon visits Tormund to ask if Tormund would like to preside over wildling funerals. Tormund is still suspicious of and angry with Jon. Like Mance he also wants to know if Jon loved Ygritte. Tormund saw that she certainly loved Jon. Tormund asks Jon to burn Ygritte north of the Wall as she was a woman of the Free Folk. Although Jon pretended coldness with both Tormund and Mance, when he burns Ygritte's body we see tears. Obviously he loved Ygritte.

North of the Wall Bran, Meera, Hodor and Jojen are stumbling through a snowstorm when they see the giant heartstree that Bran and Jojen have dreamed of. But when they approach they are attacked by wights. Bran wargs into Hodor to help defend the group but it's too late for Jojen, who is stabbed to death. The remaining trio is saved by a feral looking being calling itself one of the children (semi-supernatural beings who were the original inhabitants before The First Men-ancestors of the Starks and Wildlings). The being takes Bran to meet an old man who appears to be part of a tree root system. For now let's call him "Three Eyed Raven". He says he has things to teach Bran. Things are starting to go south for Daenerys. Similar to many people with good intentions but not much experience she is learning that life is not as simple as just showing up with dragons and telling people to be nice to each other or else. The freed slaves are still trapped in mental dependence and want to serve their masters again. As for the dragons, it turns out that dragons make no moral distinction between eating goats and eating human children. Daenerys is forced to chain up her dragons. Powerful scene. The dragons do not understand what they have done wrong.

In King's Landing, The Mountain, per Miracle Max from The Princess Bride, is not dead but only mostly dead. Oberyn's spear was poisoned. Over Pycelle's jealous objections, Cersei gives care of The Mountain to the tender mercies of Qyburn, who likes the challenge of attempting to save the man. Qyburn warns Cersei that there may be certain changes in The Mountain but as long as The Mountain retains his strength Cersei doesn't care what Westeros' Dr. Frankenstein does. Feeling her oats Cersei confronts Tywin and again refuses to marry Loras. She interrupts his angry tirade by threatening to reveal the truth, that she and Jaime are and have always been doing the do. This is her nuclear gambit to avoid losing influence over Tommen. Tywin doesn't know what she's talking about or does he. The scene could be interpreted differently. Either Tywin knew and pretended not to (remember his crack to Jaime about fathering children named Lannister) or as Cersei suggests he really didn't know. Well either way he does now.  Cersei runs off to find Jaime, tell him what she's done and ride the train. Jaime's dismay about Cersei's big reveal or her undiminished desire for Tyrion's death don't prevent him from hopping on the sisterly slip-n-slide. This scene shows that the previous "rape" scene between the siblings really wasn't a rape. Would a rape victim run enthusiastically back to her rapist?

Brienne comes upon Arya while Arya is practicing her swordplay. Initially distrustful, Arya is fascinated by the fact that Brienne is a woman warrior. They are hesitantly exchanging stories of their fathers when Podrick and The Hound come into the picture. Podrick realizes that it's The Hound while the Hound immediately assumes that they're after the bounty on his head. When Brienne realizes Arya's identity she tells Arya of her oath to Catelyn. Arya wants to know why Brienne didn't save Catelyn's life. The Hound correctly recognizes that Brienne is from King's Landing and carries Lannister supplied weapons, gold and armor. A knock down drag out fight commences in which ultimately Brienne is victorious. The Hound has his ear bitten off and is knocked over a hill. While Brienne and Podrick are searching for Arya she steals money from the Hound and silently refuses to kill him, despite him reminding her of the foul things he's done. Arya finds a ship and wants to go to the Wall where her last brother is. The ship's not going to the Wall. The ship is going to Braavos. The captain is about to eject Arya before she gives him the coin and says the words Valar Morghulis. Arya gets her own cabin for the trip.

Jaime was evidently not unduly influenced by Cersei's ministrations because he releases Tyrion. Jaime says he was helped by Varys who has provided a ship to help Tyrion leave. All Tyrion has to do is take the steps and turn right. Well, Tyrion has other plans. He goes to the apartments of the Hand, evidently to confront his father. Imagine his shock when entering his father's chambers he hears Shae call out Tywin by the same pet name she used to call Tyrion. When Shae sees it's Tyrion she tries to get a knife but Tyrion disarms her and after a brief struggle strangles her to death. Picking up a crossbow, Tyrion goes looking for Tywin and finds him in the bathroom. Intuiting that this is something more than your normal father dwarf confrontation Tywin says that they can still work everything out and that he wasn't really going to have Tyrion killed. Tyrion doesn't believe him as he believes Tywin has wanted him dead all of his life. But what really got Tyrion's goat was the fact that Tywin was doing the do with Shae. Tyrion loved Shae. This can come across as a little bit abusive in its logic (the whole I loved her so I had to kill her thing) but for all its ugliness it's true. Tywin is honestly shocked that Tyrion loved a whore. Tyrion warns his father not to use that word again and when Tywin does, Tyrion shoots his father twice, killing him. Varys smuggles Tyrion onto a ship leaving King's Landing.

What I liked
  • The pain and confusion of the dragons at being chained and imprisoned by their "mother" was a very obvious reflection of their mother's pain and confusion that a former slave would prefer dependence over freedom. Daenerys is forced to "enslave" her dragons and allow something close to slavery for humans.
  • Ygritte's funeral. We see what Jon has given up for "duty".
  • Mance's explanation that his intentions are not conquest but protection.
  • The creators pulled stories forward from books 4 and 5 in order to ensure that all characters had something to do this season. That wasn't easy to make everything balance out.
  • War brings change and not all change is for the better.
  • Tyrion's final confrontation with his father. The pain is raw.

What I didn't like
  • The fight between Brienne and The Hound. Didn't happen in books. This felt like people laying around thinking about who could win a fight between Godzilla and Doc Savage. I wonder if this was also fan service for those concerned that the show had too much (sexualized) violence against women. The fight was well done (acting, choreography) but it really did damage to both character's narrative arcs from the books. There's a line from the books where opponents to the Hound, point out that he's badly wounded and not long for the world. The Hound's response is something along the lines of "Maybe. But you're all already dead". He then proceeds to make good on his boast. 
  • Tyrion killing Shae in both passion and arguably self-defense. IIRC in book there was no self-defense at all-at least not on Tyrion's part. I'm curious as to whether show viewers think that Tyrion's domestic violence changes what they think of him. Is he morally diminished?
  • There are other Lannister family dynamics left out which also helped explain Tyrion's anger but more on that later.
*This post is written for discussion of this episode and previous episodes.  If you have book based knowledge of future events please be kind enough not to discuss that here NO SPOILERS. NO BOOK DERIVED HINTS ABOUT FUTURE EVENTS. Most of my blog partners have not read the books and would take spoilers most unkindly. Heads, spikes, well you get the idea....
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