Recap: Where Did Game Of Thrones’ Season Finale Leave Us?

So, all of those things happened. (Spoiler alert!)

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This article deals directly with specific plot points from the season four finale of Game of Thrones. You have been warned.

Let’s take a moment to recall the shocking things that have happened in Game of Thrones season four: Lysa Arryn getting mooned. Ser Jorah exiled from his Khaleesi. Joffrey turning purple and bleeding from every orifice. Oberyn’s head squashed like a grape. Ygritte, Grenn and Pyp kicking the icy bucket at Castle Black. Shae’s betrayal of her lion. What the White Walkers do with Craster’s sons. The rape scene that launched a thousand op-eds.

But while there were more deaths and more surprises in this week’s season finale, they weren’t about making audiences shrink from abject savagery and outrage. Rather, they felt muted and sorrowful: a quiet close to mirror the season’s quiet opening.

The word ‘abject’ derives from the Latin for ‘thrown away’. But these characters are choosing to move on — and what we feel is the melancholy of children leaving their parents behind. As the Beatles once sang, “She (we gave her most of our lives) is leaving (sacrificed most of our lives) home…”

GoT arya

“She’s leaving home / after living alone / for so many years. “

In an effective departure from the books, Brienne and Pod actually come face to face with Arya and the Hound. In the excitement, Brienne totally forgets to give her Hot Pie’s wolf bread — but then the Arry, fondly remembered by the baker’s boy, is now a calculating lone wolf.

Brienne and Sandor’s custody battle is eye-openingly clumsy and vicious. No elegant waterdancing, only nads-kicking and rocks to the head. You can see why Arya might think, “Fuck the lot of you.” But it’s also heartbreaking to see a meeting at such cross-purposes. Brienne, in her chivalric innocence, will never understand, much less ameliorate, Arya’s cynicism and feelings of parental abandonment.

And even the Hound, who’d begun to see a glimmer of happiness in being her paternal companion (much as viewers have settled into the Arya & The Hound Show), fatally underestimates Arya’s independent spirit. His thanks for defending her: being left for dead in the wilderness, robbed of his silver. But then all men must die: it’s just a matter of when.

It’s quite a turnaround from episode three, which focused on the corrosive effects of being unable to loose one’s personal chains. Although in this week’s saddest irony, Daenerys, Mother of Dragons and Breaker of Chains, finds herself reluctantly enchaining both her Meereen-children and dragon-children.

Well, the two dragons she can catch. Drogon was always mama’s favourite… and now he’s moved from crisping goats to crisping toddlers, he’s nowhere to be found.

GoT daenerys drogon baby come back

I was surprised to see Rose Leslie’s name still in the credits; she appears as Ygritte’s pretty, fur-wrapped corpse. The girl kissed by fire gets a fitting cremation beside a weirwood tree; a tearstained Jon Snow walks away, dropping the torch like he’s dropping the mic.

It’s a sign of the power vacuum at the stunned Night’s Watch that Jon can come and go as he pleases. Including into the camp of crafty Mance Rayder, for a surprisingly civilised acknowledgment that neither side wants to keep fighting. Mance knows Jon can’t kill him; but letting wildlings south of the Wall betrays everything the Watch stands for.

And then in rides the Stannis ex machina.

The whole season’s been building up to Stannis’s arrival at the Wall (Ser Davos received the Night’s Watch cry for help in last season’s finale), but as with everything Stannis does, it was mainly pissweak bluster. Where were you last night at the actual battle, buddy?

Stannis thinks his montage song is ‘Kashmir’ by Led Zeppelin, but it’s really Coldplay’s ‘The Scientist’.

Stannis thinks his montage song is ‘Kashmir’ by Led Zeppelin, but it’s really Coldplay’s ‘The Scientist’.

Jon Snow reveals himself to Stannis as Ned Stark’s son. It’s fascinating that Ned was catastrophically bad at playing the game of thrones, yet his influence still lingers over the series. Now, Stannis asks Jon, “WWNSD?”

(Let’s face it: he’d probably personally behead each and every wildling. His knights would be pleading, “My lord, please let us help!” while streams of sweat poured down Ned’s face; wild-eyed, he’d be panting, “The man… who passes the… sentence… should… swing… the sword!”)

Melisandre, meanwhile, is truly in her element. An atavistic struggle between good and evil, light against darkness, fire against ice — those Dragonstone barbecues were just a warm-up, so to speak. Across the Night’s Watch funeral pyres, she stares at Jon through the flames. He’s never looked more like his dear departed brother Robb…

Further north, Bran and his babes in the wood finally reach the implausibly sunkissed weirwood tree of his visions… and poor, precognitive Jojen Reed recognises the landscape of his death. Because they’re assailed by Ray Harryhausen skeletons!

At one point I sincerely thought Meera would stab herself rather than leave her brother.

At one point I sincerely thought Meera would stab herself rather than leave her brother.

This was my favourite scene of the episode. I love a good Hodor warging scene; it’s great to see Kristian Nairn’s face fill with a purpose that really belongs to Bran. And while there’s still something a bit shonky about the show’s dragon and giant CGI, those skeletons were magnificent.

But having read the books, I was hoping for more awe and magic on meeting the children of the forest and the mysterious three-eyed crow. It felt a bit perfunctory to me. Although, since the three-eyed crow says he has “a thousand eyes, and one,” the series seems to be affirming the longtime fan theory about his identity.

Cersei has always been a fascinating character because she believes herself much cleverer than she really is. Now, she rebels against her dad by dropping the truth-bomb that the twincest rumours are all true, and then boning a startled Jaime on the Kingsguard conference table. Seriously, how does she expect to consolidate Tommen’s power in King’s Landing when she’s so spectacularly repudiating the Lannister claim to the throne?

I did feel crestfallen that showrunners clearly intended to weave the rape scene of episode three into a wider narrative about ‘those kinky, passionate Lannister twins’. It’s grotesque and culturally poisonous to see sexual violence portrayed as romance. I can only hope that Cersei’s foolhardy arrogance comes home to roost next season.

Jaime, meanwhile, continues to disappoint me by doing genuinely good things, like freeing his baby brother. In the book, this heartwarming parting turns sour when both brothers bring up past wrongs; here, though, Jaime hugs Tyrion with a tenderness that’s almost more fatherly than brotherly.

But before he becomes the second dude Varys has put in a box, he has some unfinished business. Killing his father and Shae isn’t mere payback for the false trial; if we remember back to season two, we realise Tyrion is repudiating a lifetime of paternal abuse, and confusion between love and paid sex.

The terrible possibility that Shae was in Tywin’s pay (and his bed) throughout her relationship with Tyrion is unbearable. “Say that word one more time,” he dares his father. But still he sobs as he strangles Shae with the Lannister gold she turned out to love: “I’m sorry.”

It’s with tears that these children bid farewell. But like Arya – and us – they’re looking towards new horizons next season.

Mel Campbell is a freelance journalist and cultural critic. She blogs on style, history and culture at Footpath Zeitgeist, and tweets at @incrediblemelk.

Read the rest of her Game of Thrones recaps here.