They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.
The opening lines of Philip Larkin’s famously crotchety poem, “This Be the Verse,” are apropos to Game of Thrones’ arrow-to-the-bowels of a season finale. Tyrion Lannister murdered his father, the Mother of Dragons put her brood in chains, and Jon Snow began to suss out the ways he’s like Papa Eddard—and the ways he isn’t at all. Happy Father’s Day from George R.R. Martin!
After the empty calories of last week’s flashy-but-bland battle episode, “The Children” was like a full steak dinner: thematically rich, action-packed and emotionally devastating. Nearly every character crossed a major line this week from which there is no turning back. The show killed off some major players, burned a lot of bridges and set us up with a whole new game for season five. When always-knows-what’s-up Varys looks that horrified, you know that things are grim. Best of luck to you, Westeros.
Locations visited: 6. At the Wall, Jon strutted alone and weaponless into the Wildling camp to broker terms with King-Beyond-the-Wall Mance Rayder, but their talk was cut short by the surprise appearance of Stannis Baratheon and his entire army; later, the Night’s Watch held a funeral for their fallen comrades and Jon had a private backwoods cremation for his beloved Ygritte. In King’s Landing, Cersei, who doesn’t give a crap about propriety anymore, “came out” to Tywin about her incestuous relationship with Jaime—this after she gave medieval mad scientist Qyburn carte blanche to enact whatever ungodly horrors on the body of the mostly dead Gregor Clegane. In Meereen, Dany’s reign wasn’t going so hot—some of the slaves she liberated wanted to return to their masters, and her favorite dragon killed a little girl; so a very sad Khaleesi locked her unruly teenage lizards underground.
Somewhere way north of the Wall, Team Bran Stark finally found the Three-Eyed Raven, an old man who seems to have fused with a weirwood tree—but not before suffering a major loss. In the countryside outside the Eyrie, road-tripping duos Brienne n’ Podrick and Arya n’ Sandor met, and instead of high-fiving about how collectively awesome they all are, Brienne and Sandor fought, and Arya left the Hound to die slowly of his wounds. Back in King’s Landing, Jaime sprung Tyrion from prison, and our favorite Imp took the opportunity to murder his ex-lover and his father in one fell swoop, before escaping on a ship to the Free Cities with a shell-shocked Varys. And a newly solo Arya arrived at port town the Saltpans and boarded another schooner—this one headed to Braavos.
Deaths: 29. Fifteen men felled in Stannis’s raid on the Wildling camp; a three-year-old Meereenese girl, burned to death by Drogon; 10 reanimated skeletons deanimated by Meera, Hodor and that creepy elf thing; poor Jojen Reed, stabbed by a skeleton before being mercy-killed by his sister; Shea, strangled with a golden chain by Tyrion; and Tywin Lannister, the mastermind himself, with two crossbow bolts to the torso—while taking a dump. (And by the way, only an actor as great as Charles Dance could sit pantless on a privy with the same gravitas as if he were perched on the Iron Throne.)
Swordfights: 3. Meera and Hodor (while possessed by Bran) each clashed with battle skeletons; and on the rocky crags outside the Vale, Brienne and Sandor had a standoff for the ages.
Boobs: 0. Nobody stopped murdering anyone long enough to disrobe.
Moment of badass: The Brienne/Sandor faceoff. Both expert swordspeople, both frequently called knights even though neither of them actually are—and they couldn’t be more different. Director Alex Graves had a whale of a time shooting this scene, as two brutal fighters matched steel against an equally brutal landscape. Brienne’s victory—complete with ear-biting!—reminded us why this otherwise gentle, honorable soul is not someone to be trifled with.
Effed up thing of the week: What wasn’t effed up? Arya completed her transformation into hardened sadist when she wordlessly left Sandor to die, ignoring his pleas for mercy and robbing him to boot; not to mention Qyburn’s ominous pronouncement on what he would do to Gregor’s almost-corpse: “You know, the process may change him somewhat.” But the winner is the devastating moment when Tyrion squeezed the life out of his beloved Shea before murmuring, “I’m sorry…” like a child caught with his hand in the cookie jar. (All the Emmys to Peter Dinklage, please.)
Missed opportunity of the week: A word to Arya Stark: You couldn’t possibly know this, but you and Brienne would make the coolest team in Westeros. Seriously. Go find her again and be best lady sword buddies forever.
What we liked: It’s no coincidence that this episode was called “The Children”—for the Children of the Forest who Bran meets, nominally, but also because every story touched on the idea of the younger generation leaving the older generation behind. In an episode overflowing with gorgeous visual metaphors, the most striking were of a heartbroken Dany abandoning her dragons to darkness, and of Arya on the prow of the ship, turning away from Westeros and looking ahead to an uncertain tomorrow across the Narrow Sea. Like the song says, the children are our future—and in Game of Thrones land, that future is embodied by a hollowed-out, homicidal orphan with a vengeance streak.
What we didn’t like: Even for Game of Thrones, an army of skeletons and elves that throws fireballs seems a bridge too far. The magic we’ve seen from this show so far is a rough, brutal kind; despite excellent CGI, that whole sequence felt a little silly. And for readers of the books, there was one big whoa moment that was significantly missing from this season finale, which effectively took us to the end of the series’ third book, A Storm of Swords. We won’t give anything away, but leaving off the novel’s shocker of an epilogue felt like a missed opportunity.