(The eighth and final season of Game of Thrones debuts on April 14th, marking the beginning of the end for HBO’s cultural touchstone. Over the years, we’ve covered all 67 episodes of the series, and are revisiting those original reviews in our new retrospective series titled, “Winter is Coming”. We’re pulling these straight from our vacuum sealed digital time capsules, so step into the virtual time machine with us and read our impressions from way back! With the benefit of hindsight, there is plenty of reasons these reviews will raise some eyebrows)
When it comes to a show as thoroughly and consistently shocking as Game of Thrones, it’s easy to feel like we’ve already seen it all and that eventually there’s going to be a dip in the steady level of quality. Yet somehow showrunners David Benioff and DB Weiss continue to wow their viewers again and again.
On the heels of last weeks all-out action spectacle, the audience might have expected a quieter more subdued episode in the vein of previous season finales. In that regard, our expectations were properly set and toppled with enough major game-changers occurring in “The Children” to fill an entire season.
The first of these is Jon Snow’s meeting with the King Beyond the Wall, Mance Rayder, wherein it is revealed that the Wildling commander does not wish to shatter the Night’s Watch and raid the cities of Westeros, but is simply seeking the protection that the Wall provides. Even with the terms being presented as reasonable, and the sure destruction of the Night’s Watch should he turn down this proposal, Jon still contemplates carrying out his originally planned assassination, but luckily is stopped by the second major reveal of the episode, as Stannis charges in with his new army and shatters the Wildlings ranks in a hurry. Now, with Stannis at the wall, maybe the dwindling pack of Night’s Watchmen finally have a chance of becoming a formidable force again, but at what cost? With Stannis still vying for his throne, and the Red Woman at his back, it’s impossible to know what motivations are driving this alliance.
‘The Children’ sends the season out in grand style
Two Stark journeys came to an end in this episode as well. The first, Bran’s, reached its zenith as he finally arrived at the Great Tree he has been seeking almost since the series began. There he spoke with the mysterious three-eyed raven, met the titular Children, and was given just enough information to allow these new characters and their goals to remain shrouded in mystery. He also lost a friend, the episode’s first fatality, as Jojen Reed fell to the fierce undead warriors who guarded the Great Tree. For a storyline that has felt stagnant for most of this season, it was a great payoff for these characters, one that will hopefully set Bran on the path to his true potential in the near future.
The other Stark whose journey ended (or properly began perhaps) is of course Arya. The end of her wandering, her partnership with the Hound, and very likely, the Hound himself. After a fierce clash with Brienne, one that provided some of the most tense moments of the episode, the Hound was finally put down for the count. Thoroughly maimed, hundreds of miles from civilization, and with a very broken leg, the Hound knows he cannot possibly survive and implores Arya to cross him off of her list. But in a shockingly cold and cruel move, Arya simply steals his gold and leaves him to die. It’s a bold step for her character, one that arguably makes her less sympathetic but certainly more interesting. More intriguing still is her last minute decision to travel to Braavos and seek out the Faceless Men, a huge moment that not only sets her on her own individual path, but removes her from the Westeros game board altogether.
The close-out for Daenerys’ storyline is not so grand and epic as all of this but considering her diminished role this season, that’s not entirely surprising. Still, the revelation that one of her dragons has killed a little girl, and her subsequent choice to lock her fiery children away from the light of day was a brutal one and a moment that offered the most heartbreak and unbridled emotion of the entire hour.
Finally, there is Tyrion whose fate has been hanging in the balance for nearly the entire season. In some ways, this has really been Tyrion’s season, and it’s only fitting that they close it out by giving him the heaviest and best moments of the finale. As it turns out, he does still have a few friends in King’s Landing, with his brother Jaime and Varys the Spider conspiring to procure him safe passage out of the city. Tyrion has a last minute change of heart though and decides to take care of some unfinished business regarding his father Tywin.
Coming a few episodes after his trial, it’s nice to see that the dripping venom that Tyrion poured upon the court in “The Laws of Gods and Men” has not been forgotten. This is truly a changed man, and in many ways, a broken one. Shockingly, however, Tyrion finds not his father in the Chamber of the Hand, but his former lover Shae. It turns out there are no limits to either Shae or Tywin’s disdain for the Imp, and this encounter only fuels the flames of the fire that consumed him at the trial. A grim and somewhat pathetic struggle occurs, one that’s made all the more wrenching by how evenly matched this skinny girl and her half-sized Lion truly are. Tyrion gets the upper hand in the end, and simply sits on the floor apologizing over and over again in a state of shock.
This leads to the fourth and final death of the episode and certainly the most jaw-dropping. A crossbow equipped Tyrion seeks out his father and finds him at last in the privy of all places. Still, Tywin thinks he can talk his way out of an unscrupulous demise, and he plays every card he has to try and pull Tyrion’s strings one last time. Tyrion clearly is having none of it, and after this final betrayal, is perfectly resigned to commit patricide on a father who’s hated him since his very birth. As the second bolt puts an end to Tywin’s machinations for good, it’s hard not to feel a jolt of elation at this manipulative monster’s unceremonious end.
Ultimately “The Children” is arguably the biggest episode the series has ever delivered, and with nearly every character’s arc either ended or altered dramatically, Game of Thrones is primed for a season that should be an entirely different animal from the show we’ve come to expect. But as we’ve learned consistently with Game of Thrones, you can’t really expect anything to follow the course you might imagine in a show of this caliber.
So, in tribute to another great year, “Valar Dohaeris, Valar Morghulis.”