This was without a doubt Game of Thrones’ best season finale yet- certainly much better than last year’s relatively lethargic “Mhysa.” I don’t want to say this soon that it was the show’s best episode, but it was certainly up there. As the episode began to near its conclusion I realized that I was feeling the books’ DNA coming alive more than ever despite some changes. When I saw Arya ride the horse towards the dock I thought to myself, “Yeah, this is A Song of Ice and Fire right here.” The music, the landscape, the atmosphere, it all felt like the books I first read so many years ago.
Let’s first talk about Bran’s arrival at the lair of the three eyed raven. Those of you who watch just the show might be surprised to learn that this scene comes not from book three, but from book five (Bran doesn’t appear in the fourth book). It’s probably a good decision because I could see people becoming frustrated with Bran’s journey, especially if he isn’t finding anything of note during his trip. However, Jojen’s death came as a shock to me because he was still alive at the end of book five so what this means about future differences between the books and the show is unknown at this point, but it certainly promises interesting discussion in the future.
The Children of the Forest, or at least the one that Bran meets, appear to be friendly, but they, too, differ slightly from the books. In the books, the Children were thin, with very narrow eyes that allowed them to see in the dark. They often wore cloaks made entirely out of leaves. And the three eyed raven, AKA the Greenseer, looked much more like a tree in the novels as opposed to just being entwined in a tree. These aren’t big changes, but I wondered if they were made for budgetary reasons or because D.B. Weiss and Daniel Benioff were worried about going too strange?
In terms of adaptation, there’s not much left of Bran’s story from the books, just a chapter or two. This leaves us with three possibilities for next season: 1) There’s very little Bran 2) Bran’s two chapters are expanded/deepened 3) Bran’s story goes passed the book. That Martin has yet to finish writing all the novels makes this adaptation all the more fascinating and this season we started to see how the books will skirt around some plots and how it might go beyond some of the books’ plot. I can only imagine that next season will go even further with this and that’ll sure be a trip (or maybe, just maybe, the next book will be out by then- a guy can dream!).
Just a little to the south of Bran’s adventure we get the arrival of Stannis and it doesn’t disappoint. Director Alex Graves gives us multiple beautiful shots of Stannis’ army flying through on horseback, dicing up the wildlings. I was hoping that the last episode would end with this, but I’m happy the show did it justice here. Not only that, we were given a less stubborn Stannis, one who was capable of taking advice from Jon Snow who was channeling the long deceased Ned Stark (wipes away a tear).
The problem with the scene at the Wall is that it’s the only time the show has been able to make the Wall all that interesting this year. So much of the season was a lead up to a relatively unimportant battle that included too many characters we didn’t particularly care about. This season has had a few weaknesses and the Wall, a plot I loved in the books, is one of them. I don’t want to repeat too much of what I said last week, but the characters at the Wall have not come alive the way the Lannisters, the Starks, and the other players at King’s Landing have and so to have so much of this season depend on the battle led to a feeling of disengagement at times.
Also absent from tonight are the Greyjoys. The middle of this season suffered a little in terms of pacing, occasionally going too quickly and occasionally focusing on plots that didn’t seem to matter (and then that one, bizarre rape scene). The Greyjoys were one of those plots that didn’t seem to matter. Yara’s failed rescue of Theon was a waste of time and Theon’s scenes with Ramsay were interesting at first but quickly became repetitive.
Thankfully, the muddled pacing that cropped up in the middle of the season was nowhere to be found tonight. As exciting as events in the North were, events in King’s Landing were similarly fascinating. Tyrion’s killing of Shae is brutal and the shot of his head next to Shae’s dead head is masterful, as is Tyrion’s soft apologies. Even better is the confrontation between Tywin and Tyrion, with Tywin taking a shit during it, literally sitting on the throne. The death of Tywin could’ve been a victorious moment, but Tyrion is too destroyed by everything that’s happened to him that the death comes more as an inevitable end than a rousing act of vengeance. I’m sad we won’t have Charles Dance gracing our screens anymore as Tywin Lannister, but he went out well, in a scene that lived up to how I imagined it when I read A Storm of Swords.
Then we have the breakup of our favorite duo of Arya and the Hound. After a phenomenal duel that results in serious injuries for the Hound, we see Arya sit and listen to him before deciding to just let him die slowly. It’s a brutal moment and Maisie Williams does a great job at giving a vacant stare that shows how much she’s experienced and how she’s been corrupted by all she has seen. Her escape to Braavos is a great note to end a dark season on as it gives us some hope and also shows us how our characters might soon be meeting up.
Season four started out as my clear favorite, but a shaky middle, and a weak Wall plot ended up pulling it back a little, leaving season two as my current favorite, although three is not close behind it. This episode gave me a lot of hope for where the show is going, though. After a scattered season, tonight felt like everything snapping back into place.
Now to address a SPOILER:
Seriously, big SPOILER…
I was surprised there was no revelation of a reanimated Catelyn Stark AKA Lady Stoneheart. I was hoping for it at the end of last season and when it didn’t come I figured it’d be the end of this season. But nothing. My guess is that we’ll meet her through Brienne as opposed to through the eyes of a throwaway character as we do in the book. I’ve been eagerly awaiting the moment all season, but that’s my fault and not the show’s.
Donald McCarthy is a teacher and writer. His fiction has appeared with KZine, Cover of Darkness, and The Washington Pastime. His non-fiction has been featured in The Progressive Populist, Screen Spy, and AOL Patch News. And here, too, but that was probably obvious. His twitter is @donaldtmccarthy and his website is donaldmccarthy.com.