Warning: Spoilers for Season 4 of Game of Thrones are contained in this review.
About halfway through, the fourth season of Game of Thrones became somewhat of a departure from the structure we saw in the first three seasons. Up until now, each season would build up to a game-changing moment that usually took place in its penultimate episode before ending the season on a quiet, often thoughtful note. That trend ends with this season's enthralling finale, titled “The Children.” Funny, shocking, and wildly entertaining, this episode ushered in some huge changes to the show's already unpredictable chain of events. Oh yeah, and Brienne of Tarth is a beast. Tussling with her just invites the probability that you will be maimed after the fight.
Following the devastating assault on Castle Black, Jon Snow (Kit Harington) heads into the Wildling camp to negotiate with their stubborn leader, Mance Rayder (Ciaran Hinds). Before things can get too shitty, Stannis (Stephen Dillane) crashes the party and finally justifies his inclusion in the show. The dude spent all of last season and most of this season declaring his claim on the Iron Throne and doing nothing to assert that claim. Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) deals with her dragons and their growing unpredictability, solving the problem by shackling them to the ground in a sewer so they can't kill any more kids. Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) finally reaches that damn tree, only to find out that the person he's been seeking is Westeros's version of Santa Claus. Arya (Maisie Williams) and The Hound (Rory McCann) part ways, while Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) shines in one of the best brawls in the season. And let's not forget Tyrion's escape and final confrontation with his father, a scene that has been teased for quite some time now.
“The Children” runs longer than all of the preceding episodes, clocking in at a bloated 66 minutes. There's more ground to cover this time, and the episode clears that ground with confident strides. Ending an already phenomenal season on a high note would be enough to take the spring out of anyone's step, but showrunners D. B. Weiss and David Benioff rise to the occasion and exceed any expectations we may have had beforehand. They seem to be pretty good at that.
The episode delivers some truly memorable and emotionally resonant scenes, with one in particular standing out. After a season of road-trippin' it with Arya, the Hound supposedly dies following a vicious fight with the formidable Brienne of Tarth. Despite his love of simplicity, The Hound has repeatedly proved himself to be a complex individual. Even as he sits slumped against a rocky hillside, dying from numerous wounds (and a missing ear), he plays with our emotions. One minute, he'll spit an insult Arya's way and remind us why he needs to die. But the next, he'll grow pensive and utter some heartbreaking truth about his life that tugs at our emotions. Rory McCann's incredible acting skills are placed on full display here, slamming us with a powerful, captivating performance before leaving us.
From the opening shot of Jon Snow striding into the Wildling camp to the final scene with Arya sailing off to Braavos, the episode seizes viewers' attention and refuses to relinquish its grip until the credits roll. Tyrion's escape stands as one of the show's most important moments, and no doubt has fans the world over talking excitedly about what that means for the charming wordsmith.
It's been one hell of a year for the folks in wild, wild Westeros, and it will be interesting to see where fan favorite characters end up by next season's finale. The show's fourth season takes some intriguing turns, with most of the more dramatic twists happening in the last half of “The Children.” Until next year, though, we'll have to wait to see what those twists mean for the characters and the show. Luckily, we've got one amazing season to hold us over until then.
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