(Warning -- the following article contains major spoilers about the season finale to “Game of Thrones.”)
And now our watch is ended, at least until next year.
The fourth season of “Game of Thrones,” HBO’s ever-more-popular fantasy series, wrapped up Sunday night, with more than 18 million viewers waving a sad goodbye to their favorite kidnappers, schemers, lovers and killers. And the dragons. We’ll miss the dragons.
If you were an outcast on “Game of Thrones” before, things aren’t looking up after the season finale. Warning: Season 4 spoilers ahead.
You thought you had good reasons to brood? Now you live under a tree, or you’re burning your girlfriend’s body.
You’re on a boat across the sea without a friend in the world, and you’re lucky if your cabin isn’t a shipping crate.
A woman throws you off a cliff to die, and your best friend abandons you. The maiden won’t let you rescue her. Your mother chains you in a pit for something your brother did.
You die, shamed and strangled, in the wrong man’s bed. No one will kneel to you, no matter how many times you declare yourself king.
Sunday’s episode, titled “The Children,” delivered nonstop action even when the combat ceased, a departure from the show’s earlier, quieter finales. We meet a people known as the Children, sure, but this episode was 75 minutes of poor parenting coming home to roost as the younger generation defied their families in search of justice, revenge or a meager measure of safety.
“There is no safety,” snarls the Hound during his epic battle with Brienne of Tarth over who gets to babysit Arya, the show’s scrappy, well-armed tween heroine. “And if you haven’t figured that out yet, you’re the wrong one to be watching over her.”
He has a point, especially in a realm where the most powerful men can be murdered in the privy and stray pets can turn innocent 3-year-olds into charred skeletons. The finale was a harsh slap in the face for almost everyone in its giant cast, with favorite characters killing, getting killed or escaping to a more perilous future.
Arya’s final moments with the Hound (Rory McCann) swung between chilling and touching, a fitting end to their deadly friendship.
“Go on, girl,” the Hound says, his body broken, his face bloodied. He wants Arya to finish him off as she has threatened to do so many times. “Another name off your list.” But Arya (Maisie Williams) declines, and she doesn’t join up with Brienne, either.
At first, she tries to hitch a ride to the Wall, obviously not realizing that Castle Black is hardly a haven these days. When she flashes the foreign coin she has been toting around for two seasons, she gets a first-class ticket to another continent and the free city of Braavos, where the main industries are banking and assassin training.
Up at the Wall, Arya’s brother Jon Snow (Kit Harington) fails at his assassination attempt in Mance Rayder’s wildling camp. Mance (Ciaran Hinds), who has no time for the Night’s Watch’s little reindeer games, says he just wants to use their tunnel to flee the ice zombies. It seems like something could be worked out.
The two have a toast to Ygritte (Rose Leslie), the fallen archer who stole Jon’s heart when he was undercover with her wildling tribe. Jon accepts the drink after Mance tells him, “Of all the ways I’d kill you, poison would be the last.” Fair enough.
The free folk — the alleged savages of Westeros — afford their women more agency than anyone south of the Wall except perhaps the Dornishmen in the far south. So we’ll see how the wildlings get along with the red priestess Melisandre, who arrives with Stannis Baratheon’s army in a game-changing surprise visit. When her eyes meet Jon’s across the flames of the burning dead, it does not look like the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
Neither does the first meeting between Mance and Stannis (Stephen Dillane), which wrapped up with the wildling leader repeating, “We do not kneel.”
In King’s Landing, where the real power supposedly lies, the Queen Regent Cersei (Lena Headey) finds her control slipping. Her father, Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance), is not backing down about her wedding to Loras Tyrell, and Cersei isn’t having it.
“I will set this family on fire!” she hisses.
“And how will you go about doing that?” Tywin seems amused.
That’s when Cersei realizes, along with us, that her dad has had blinders on about his kids’ lifelong love affair, and she throws it in his face. If there’s one thing Cersei excels at, it’s using her words to destroy the souls of others.
“One real look at one of them children and you would have known,” she cries. As if to prove her point, she strides off to have sex with her brother Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau).
Cersei claims she won’t leave the capital because she needs to protect King Tommen, who is as sweet as King Joffrey was evil.
In Meereen, Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) is figuring out that her kids are the bullies. When a goatherd shows up with the body of his daughter, she knows Drogon, her biggest, blackest dragon, is responsible. She tearfully chains the smaller two, using the chains she freed so many from. Drogon hasn’t come home.
For his part, Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright) seems to have found the spooky red tree he and the Reeds have been seeing. Even during a fight with zombie skeletons, Summer the direwolf is still the most interesting character in this shabby little crew. Luckily for them, the Children, ancient ice hobbits who live in the roots of the tree, have enough magic to rescue everyone but Jojen.
And their leader has some cryptic news for Bran. “You’ll never walk again, but you will fly.” OK then. That clears up absolutely nothing.
Back in King’s Landing, Jaime decides that he might as well free his brother Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) before execution day. But instead of running, Tyrion has some questions for his dad.
First, Tyrion finds his ex in his father’s bed. Shae’s presence in Tywin’s chambers puts the cherry on top of her betrayal sundae, and Tyrion strangles her, his face a slack stew of rage and sadness.
Tywin Lannister, the Hand of the King, is on the toilet when his fugitive son rounds the corner with an arrow drawn. He remains droll and unflappable.
“Tyrion, put down the crossbow,” he sighs. “Who released you?”
“All my life, you’ve wanted me dead,” Tyrion snarls. It’s an awkward talk to be having on Father’s Day.
“Yes,” his father replies, “but you refused to die. I respected that.”
Tywin, though, dies easy, slumped on the toilet with two arrows in the chest. Tyrion, as they say in no-limit poker, is all in.
“Game of Thrones” has been renewed for two more seasons, with showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss saying they plan to finish their story in eight. It’s hard to imagine the show getting bigger than it did this season.
For one thing, the story is entering the territory of “A Feast for Crows” and “A Dance With Dragons,” the two least popular books in George R.R. Martin’s series of novels. The upcoming source material is repetitive, depressing and confusing. But there is much to look forward to. And Benioff and Weiss have already shown us that they can strip the plot’s fat while keeping its flavor.
Imagine Cersei’s reaction to her father’s murder. Imagine what’s in store for Tyrion when he’s let out of his crate. Imagine Stannis Baratheon, Jon Snow and Mance Rayder jockeying for position with the Whitewalkers at their door. Imagine Arya’s adventures in a realm where nobody knows her name.
To reach Sara Smith, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter: @SarawatchesKC.