the recap recap

The Best of the Game of Thrones Season 4 Finale Recaps

Photo: HBO

Even without Lady Stoneheart, there was still plenty to discuss surrounding this week’s Game of Thrones season finale. The episode’s biggest moment concerned a certain Lannister patriarch: As Vulture recapper Nina Shen Rastogi writes, “The children of Tywin Lannister had some special Father’s Day F Yous for their Papa Bear.” Meanwhile, Brienne and the Hound duked it out, Arya set sail, Bran got magical north of the Wall, and a whole bunch of people bit the dust, naturally. Your recap of the recaps:

“The bastard son of a slain traitor. The twin son and daughter of a great lord. The king born of their incestuous union. The charred corpse of a shepherd’s daughter. The huge and deadly hatchlings of an exile queen. The two young psychics who sacrificed limb and life to heed some mystical call. The last survivors of a mythical race. The feral young apprentice to a succession of killers. The butcher’s boy whose death spurred her anger. The unwanted offspring who brings his House down around him at last. Game of Thrones titled its fourth season finale ‘The Children,’ and its brood was huge and varied.” —Rolling Stone

“Last night, fan-favorite Brienne of Tarth crossed paths with fan-favorite Sandor Clegane. At first, their team-up was classic comic book: Instead of discussing our common interest, we will fight! It was all too easy to imagine a world in which the two, panting and winded after a spirited tussle, laugh over their misunderstanding and ride off together to the nearest inn for some remedial knot-tying lessons and two dozen roast chickens. But while Game of Thrones is classified as fantasy, it is very rigorous about never, ever indulging ours. Instead of gradual, grudging respect, what we got was a slow descent into barbarism. What better way to illustrate the downward spiral of a ruined world than the sight of two not-knights punching each other desperately in the crotch? I realize Arya was just hiding, but I wouldn’t have blamed her if she had walked away then and there. Chivalry isn’t just dead, it’s lying at the bottom of a cliff with its ear gnawed off and its femur showing.” —Grantland

“Central as it was to the season, Tyrion’s final moments while being shepherded through the underbelly of the Red Keep were as large a turning point as you could imagine. He’s saying goodbye to his brother, knowing he’ll likely never see him again, and there’s a timeline where he makes a clean exit. But Tyrion had been through too much for a clean exit: he needed closure, which is why he murdered Shae and Tywin. Or rather it’s one of the reasons he murdered them, caught up as he is in a set of complex emotions that make all of this more than he can manage. I wouldn’t say that he achieves closure so much as he attempts to, and ends up doing things in the heat of the moment that he might not have anticipated. Peter Dinklage does a fantastic job in the moments where Tyrion is entirely conscious of what he’s doing and what he’s done: choking Shae, apologizing to her corpse, and then the chilling scene as he reloads the crossbow for the second shot. The season has given Tyrion plenty of reasons to take the actions he does here, but Dinklage makes the scenes work by bringing that all to the surface, and it’s still on his face as he crawls into Varys’ crate, headed somewhere else to start a new life haunted by his old one.” —Cultural Learnings

“Indeed, a season that began and then unfolded as the tale of the Lannisters rotting from the inside out ended with surprising cooperation from the siblings. Cersei returned to Jaime, who sprung Tyrion, who helped Cersei by killing their dad. It was almost sweet, except for, you know, all of it. The incest and patricide, especially, although Jaime and Tyrion’s relationship continues to be touching.” —New York Times

“What was striking about the final scene between son and father, sold convincingly by Charles Dance and Peter Dinklage in performances that conveyed decades of history, was that it could have played as fist-pumping payback but instead was simply, deeply sad. This began, of course, with Tyrion discovering one more betrayal: Shae, whom he made hate him to save her, in the bed of his father. Seeing Tyrion, she tries to stab him; he strangles her, but regretfully. And some note of that carries over to his encounter with Tywin; even as his voice drips hatred for Tywin, lying at the last to save himself, there’s pain too. ‘I am your son,’ are his last words to his father. ‘I have always been your son.’ It’s not a statement of anger or defiance so much as an acknowledgment that you can’t erase the hurt of your father’s hating you, not if you plug the hole with a thousand crossbow bolts.” —Time

McCann gives a stunning final performance as the Hound, a terrifying character whom we’ve come to love and root for, a complicated, violent, but ultimately human character, full of both darkness and … some less dark parts. He begs her to kill him, but she simply takes the bag of silver off of his body and gets on her way, leaving him shouting uselessly into the canyon. Arya’s cold-blooded transformation is complete.” —The Playlist

“In the context of the rest of the episode, which had a lot of loved ones killing loved ones (or burning the corpses of loved ones, or killing people that should have been loved ones but were actually hated ones), I did like that this death sort of set the edge for kindness: In this horrible, horrible world, there is such a thing as a mercy kill, and Jojen’s sister, slicing him before she raced to Carcosa so the zombies wouldn’t get him, provided an example of it. It was in very stark (sorry) contrast to the next death we should talk about, the Hound’s. Arya not mercy killing the Hound ended up being a real act of cruelty (though maybe, also, a little of respect).” —Slate

“Suddenly, commotion. Attackers, fighting. But who? Stannis Baratheon to the rescue! We see very-rare-for-Thrones overhead battle shots. We’re surprised Stannis has showed up, but mainly surprised that he effectively accomplished something for the first time in this series. Like he had a goal, set out to achieve that goal, then actually accomplished that goal — without somebody else doing it for him. No more moping around his giant wooden table grousing about Blackwater. Moreover, this is a true kingly move — he set aside his own ambition toward the Iron Throne and instead went to protect the realm against an invasion (take that, Tommen!). ‘You’re not dressed for this weather,’ snarks Mance to Stannis, who might have the bigger army, but Mance has the wittier wardrobe jokes.” —Entertainment Weekly

“The murder of Shae challenges that notion – and Tyrion himself is aware of that fact. We understand how Tywin’s death happens. This is a man who has belittled and betrayed his son for most of his life and who in his arrogance fails to take him seriously even when there’s a crossbow involved, but Shae’s murder represents a line crossed. Yes, you can make a case for an element of self-preservation and that it was necessary to stop Shae raising the alarm, but I think it’s made quite clear that Tyrion does what he does because of a combination of love, hatred, self-loathing and despair. There’s a moment when he could stop but he chooses not to. Hence the whispered sorrow and the hatred for Tywin, who once again brands Shae nothing more than a whore.” —The Guardian

It’s never comfortable watching Jon Snow attempt to think, so maybe it’s for the best that Stannis’s forces chose that moment to converge on Mance’s camp. I am no fan of the self-proclaimed One True King, but I have to say that, in the midst of all these Wildlings and Crows and Giants and White Walkers, he and Ser Davos really do class up the joint. It’s also nice to see Stannis take Jon Snow’s advice and ease up on the ‘kneel before me’ nonsense. I’d like to think Stannis and Jon will join forces in some productive way, but it seems far more likely that Melisandre will try to use his blood to create a smoke monster or something.” —Vanity Fair

But ‘The Children’ does handle one storyline masterfully, the shattering of the odd little family that Arya has formed with the Hound. In a major diversion from Martin’s novel, Arya and the Hound (Rory McCann) run smack into Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) and Podrick Payne (Daniel Portman). In a conversation as devastating as the masterfully executed fight that follows it, Sandor and Brienne spar over what is best for the little girl both of them have come to care for… It is true all at once that Brienne of Tarth is the truest, most decent character in Game of Thrones, that she has tried her best to keep every oath she swore and that she has failed at all of them. Both Brienne and Sandor value Arya for who she is, for the fight and desperation for life in her. And neither of them can possibly take Arya anywhere where she could have the life they both want for her.” —Washington Post

“The first tragedy of the scene is that circumstances shatter what clearly could have been an awesome friendship between warrior women Arya and Brienne. And then there’s that duel: Oof. The way it turned from sword fight to literal knock-down-drag-out brawl—featuring groin punching, blade grabbing, and rocks to the face—offered a perfectly meta Thrones moment, symbolizing how the show takes medieval-fantasy-fiction conventions and wrestles them into the bloody dirt. I gasped a few times, most loudly when it seemed Clegane was about to snap the Lady of Tarth’s neck. She ended up knocking him down a ridge, a triumph cut short—perfectly—by her realization that she let Arya get away. What, did anyone really expect this girl to just stand there, waiting to see which warrior gets to take possession of her?” —The Atlantic

There aren’t a lot of Starks left for Arya to reunite with at this point, but the appearance of Brienne of Tarth – a sworn ally and protector of Catelyn – has to count for something, right? Shouldn’t Arya be totally psyched to meet someone who actually wants to keep her safe, instead of just doing it for the money? … No? Arya couldn’t give two shits about Brienne, even after their touching exchange about female empowerment? Well, fair enough. Let the fight begin.” —Previously.TV

“’If it looked like we’d blown up everything you thought you know about Westeros before, wait until you meet this ancient pyrokinetic elf,’ D.B. Weiss and David Benioff seem to say with ‘The Children.’ So many characters have died, so many allegiances and consolidations of power have been torn asunder that this might as well be a universe in which one prominent quest—the one with the heaviest doses of mysticism and fantasy magic—concludes in a Carcosan tangle of roots and a promise that Bran Stark will ‘find’ what he has ‘lost.’ You’ll have to wait until next spring to find out what the Warg behind the three-eyed raven is getting at; the stubborn refusal to provide many of the finale’s most basic conclusions is the most frustrating part of ‘The Children.’ If you’re in this for concrete answers, then you’re basically in the same position as The Hound, stuck begging for deliverance while Arya plucks a bag of silver from your belt. It’s cruel, but hey: The show needs to be frugal with every last shred of source material at this point in its run.” —A.V. Club

“The opening scenes above the Wall were among the best we’ve seen in the North all series. I’ve been waiting to get another look at the great Ciaran Hinds as Mance Rayder for, if arithmetic serves, 16 episodes. But he proved worth the wait, owning his interactions with both the headstrong Jon Snow and the self-important Stannis Baratheon. Moreover, he highlighted the point that both of you noted last week: The wildlings aren’t venturing south out of a desire for conquest, but rather out of a desire to live. Winter is coming, after all, and its blue-eyed minions are not known to play well with others. ‘We’re here to hide behind your Wall,’ Mance explains. ‘Just like you.’” —The Atlantic

“In some cases, of course, the creative team is stuck with the impact of a decision they made earlier in the season, not realizing how it would play with the audience and influence all that followed. It’s one thing if different members of the team publicly disagree about the intention of the Jaime/Cersei rape scene in the aftermath of their son’s murder, but when the characters appeared together again in ‘Oath Keeper,’ neither acted as if that was what happened — we were meant to view Jaime’s actions not as a massive reversal of course on his road to redemption, but as just one more kink in an unholy sexual alliance. But if you’re an audience member who viewed that event as something more — something that Cersei would perhaps pretend to forgive, all while silently seething and plotting her vengeance — then the Cersei/Jaime scenes in ‘The Children’ made clear that Benioff and Weiss did not share that viewpoint. The Cersei who is willing to finally turn against her father for the sake of her love for Jaime — who looks joyful as she tells her brother that she chooses him over any other option — is not someone who has ever viewed herself as her brother’s victim. And that is problematic at a minimum, as well as wildly distracting from the story that the show’s writers are actually trying to tell.” —HitFix

“Since fleeing King’s Landing at the end of the first season, Arya has bounced around Westeros in the tow of someone or other—Yoren from the Night’s Watch, Tywin at Harrenhal, the Brotherhood Without Banners, the Hound—with the vague promise of being reunited with her family. In this episode, she was given the chance at new, better companions in Brienne and Pod, who would legitimately fight to reunite her with her sister and restore her to Winterfell. Nonetheless, Arya’s decision to cut all ties and flee felt like absolutely the right one. She’s been told over and over again this season that following the rules will just gets her killed, and no matter whose hands she ends up in, she’s a child, a female, and an heir to Winterfell. She’ll be some sort of pawn no matter how noble her companion. Arya turned down Jaqen’s offer of mentorship in season two because she wanted to reunite with her family, but she’s evolved a lot since then.” —The Wire

The Best Game of Thrones Season 4 Finale Recaps