This review contains spoilers.
4.10 The Children
In the world of Game Of Thrones, you win or you die. On the show Game Of Thrones, you act and then, inevitably, your character dies. It seems the show exists solely to introduce us to great new characters, and then later that season, or the next season, or four seasons down the line, that character is doomed to die. Valar Morghulis. If you didn’t get your fix of character deaths last episode, then you’ll definitely get it this episode.
Usually, the tenth episode of the season is kind of a chance to relax, reflect on what happened in crazypants episode nine, and generally just catch your breath and get ready for the next season of weirdness in Westeros, Essos, and the whole of George R.R. Martin’s imagination. However, The Children offers no such breathing room. From the very beginning, as Jon Snow marches north to palaver with Mance Rayder, to the very end, as Arya Stark flees Westeros for her new life as a Braavosi sellsword (or Faceless Man), there was not a chance to breathe, and the extra-long episode allowed for more exploration – albeit still not enough for most fans of the show.
I’m really not even sure how to approach everything that happened in the episode, except to say that all the groundwork the show laid across this entire season, from the trial of Tyrion Lannister to the journey of all and sundry associated with Arya Stark to the Eyrie, ended up paying off in spectacular and violent fashion. Brienne and Sandor Clegane engaged in one of the most brutal fights in the history of Game Of Thrones. There have been stellar fights this season, from the Mountain and the Red Viper to the last episode as a whole, but the brutal street fight between two non-knights with very different concepts of honour and fighting fair started out as a pretty straightforward duel and degenerated into something incredibly brutal and messy, with an ending left depressingly ambiguous.
Still, while it lasted, it was great stuff, and full credit to Gwendoline Christie and Rory McCann for making their fight into something more than just bashing one another with swords. It, and their exchange before the fight, was a major moment for both characters (and perhaps a final moment for The Hound). There are ways to show characters without speaking, and this was a great example of just how well Game Of Thrones does meaningful combat. Even when the combat isn’t particularly meaningful, as Stannis the Mannis and Davos Seaworth’s mercenary army ride to the rescue of Jon Snow in the midst of Mance Rayder’s camp and lay waste to a few hundred more wildlings in a thrilling, out-of-nowhere scene, it’s still well executed, plus any excuse to have Stannis hanging out somewhere other than Dragonstone is great to see.
Given the show’s tendency to pair off characters, I’d love to see Stannis and Mance hang out and talk king stuff while Jon Snow gets to apprentice at the side of the brilliant Onion Knight, the guy who really knows how to get stuff done. This seems to be the direction they’re heading with Tyrion and Varys, the relationship the show has hinted at several times, but not outright shown all that much considering just how alike the two are and how the two seem more concerned with the good of the realm rather than the survival of one particular king or ideology.
Alex Graves has turned in a great episode this week. The action scenes are handled with visual aplomb, particularly the helicopter shots of Stannis literally riding in with the cavalry and running the wildlings out of the forest north of the wall. However, the most effective scenes, as usual, involved Tyrion Lannister. From the shared hug with brother Jaime to ending the life of the woman he loves, Tyrion (and Peter Dinklage) was on fire this episode, and Graves did a great job showcasing these brutal, vitally-important actions from the little Lion of Lannister. The death of Shae was great; claustrophobic and heartbreaking in turns, with a memorable last shot of Tyrion and Shae sharing one last tender moment after Tyrion strangled her to death with a gold necklace. The final moments of Arya celebrating her new life, the mad scientist lair of Qyburn (Anton Lesser) and his experiments on the dying Mountain, and of course the Ray Harryhausen skeleton warriors chasing Bran, Meera, Jojen (RIP) and Hodor into the arms of the mysterious Children of the Forest.
Game Of Thrones has some of the best special effects on television. The swarming armies of Stannis Baratheon, the skeletal wights emerging from within the frozen north near the three-eyed raven’s lair—and the three-eyed raven’s lair—Daenerys’ heartbreaking imprisonment of two of her three dragons due to the misdeeds of the bad-tempered Drogon, the magical fire from the Children of the Forest that turned back the skeleton attackers (and the way those attackers burst into dusty bones when they crossed into the sanctuary of the Children)… all of these things that, on a different show, would have looked cheesy and cheap, but on Game Of Thrones, these effects all looked awesome, particularly the dragons.
The combination between director skill, great writing (from Dan Benioff and D.B. Weiss, as per usual), and great special effects is one that’s hard to top. Even the wind-down episode of the fourth season was a thing of tense, affecting beauty, with heartbreak, celebration, violence, and tragedy in equal measure. It’s part roller-coaster ride, part check-in, part set-up for next season, and definitely a sign that the show is moving in the right direction. After an action-packed fourth season, I’m not sure how Game Of Thrones will live up to its own reputation, but I’m sure it will be fine.
The fifth season is only ten long months away…
US Correspondent Ron Hogan is very glad to report that Hodor made it north of the wall without any major incident, and that Bran was able to protect him from evil wights. Find more by Ron daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.
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