Monday, June 16, 2014
Things began at the Wall, at exactly the moment we left them last episode. Jon's visit with Mance Rayder helped illuminate another thing that made last week's episode not wholly satisfying for me: last week had no Mance Rayder. In the battle for the Wall, Jon was making a point of how only Mance Rayder had the charisma and skill necessary to pull the Wildlings together as an army. And yet we didn't see the man, lending his side of the battle a faceless, Lord of the Rings Orcs quality.
The writers made up for that a lot this week with a deep conversation between Jon and Mance. They drank to fallen comrades. (Even the giant was "somebody.") Mance deduced Jon's true purpose in coming, and challenged Jon to go through with it -- mutually assured death. But then Stannis burst on to the scene, rescuing the Night's Watch. We had a meaningful funeral for the fallen brothers, an even more meaningful glance through the flames between Jon and Melisandre, and then a proper sendoff for Ygritte. What we did not get was the full completion of Jon's storyline from book three, but I was glad still to see some of the emotional heft that wasn't quite there for me last week.
The Cersei storyline was a very interesting one. It may have been a bit of a tough ask, given the scene earlier this season where a book scene of consensual sex was recast as a rape. But if you can set that aside (another big ask), we got a great amping of the stakes in Cersei confronting her father with the incestuous truth. This diversion from the book was possible only because of Tywin's ultimate fate at the end of the episode, but it was a good diversion. It made Cersei both stronger in her willingness to take on her father, and weaker in her childlike petulance to have what she wanted even if it cost her everything else. Both are qualities that inform her actions in the story going forward, so it's good to see the track being laid here. Her forcefulness also helped to justify Jaime's actions in freeing Tyrion later in the hour.
Oh, and before I move on, the episode certainly seemed to confirm the fate of the Mountain in a way that book readers were perhaps only 90% sure of. As in the books, it's revealed that Oberyn poisoned his weapon, meaning he'll get his revenge after all. Also as in the books, the Mountain was then handed over to a mad scientist for treatment. But the show more explicitly stated that he would survive -- just not as himself. This seems to cement that a forthcoming character who book readers had to just speculate about ("is this actually the Mountain?") is indeed him -- just "not as himself."
Dany remains mired in Meereen, where things with her dragons have taken a dark turn. With one having slaughtered an innocent child, she decides she must chain them up, leading to a very well done scene. Cheers to Emilia Clarke for showing real emotion when nothing was actually there to perform with. Even more cheers to the animation team who delivered some powerful performances from the two dragons, showing their sense of betrayal.
Back north -- far north -- Bran reached "Dagobah," as my friend called it. But not before one of the most truly "fantasy" sequences the show has ever done, a big fight against the undead, capped with a fireball launching spellcaster. There was more impressive visual effects work in the fight sequence. What remains to be seen is whether the writers can pull off the even more impressive task of making Bran's "Jedi training" interesting over the course of an entire season. (Or more?)
The night's huge departure from the books came when Brienne met up with Arya. It led to a fantastic fight between Brienne and The Hound. The choreography was superb, running the gamut from rather courtly swordplay down to vicious fistfighting. In the end, Brienne triumphed, paving the way for the book's actual parting between Arya and The Hound: she simply steals his money and walks off. The final scene between the two of them was wonderful, and you could really see the gears turning in Arya's mind as she determined that getting her justice here could involve a long, slow death for The Hound.
Then came Tyrion's escape, appropriately timed for Father's Day. I'm going to be interested to hear how all this played for people who haven't read the books. In particular, Shae's death is so full of meaning, yet such a sudden and impulsive thing, that I'm not completely sure that even the stupendous Peter Dinklage was able to play it all in those few brief moments. The final confrontation in the privy was great, with Tywin arrogant to the last. Even having murdered Shae -- perhaps especially because he'd murdered Shae -- Tyrion could not stand to hear her called a whore. And that spelled the end for the mastermind of the Lannister family.
For the last scene of the episode, I was expecting the epilogue of book three, a shocking development that had me clamoring for a book four that wouldn't come for five years. But the show seems to have put off that development for a season, instead giving us one last melancholy scene with Arya as she leaves Westeros behind to sail east.
And there we have it. I'd give "The Children" an A-. A fairly solid capper to what was probably the best season of Game of Thrones yet. And now, let the long ten-month wait begin.