It was hard to miss the irony of "Game of Thrones'" fourth-season finale, "The Children," airing on Fathers Day, what with the climatic shock of Tyrion Lannister putting a pair of crossbow bolts into his father, Tywin, before boarding a ship for parts unknown. For a show that loves to scatter its characters to the four corners of Westeros, "The Children" uncharacteristically brought them together: Stannis Baratheon and Davos Seaworth surprised Jon Snow as he was parlaying with Mance Rayder north of The Wall, and Brienne and Podrick bumped into Arya and the Hound, the latter with less pleasant results. Jaime Lannister was reunited, if you know what I'm sayin', with his sister Cersei -- who seems to have gotten over that whole rape thing relatively quickly -- and Jaime and Tyrion shared a more platonic embrace as well.
But the bonds of family were betrayed over and over again: Jaime defied his father by freeing Tyrion, and Cersei shattered Tywin's delusions of familial potency by telling him what he'd never allowed himself to see -- that his utter contempt for anyone not named Lannister pushed his own children to fixate on one another. Arya, who was only a few miles from her mother and oldest brother when they were slaughtered at the Red Wedding, turned away from the Aerie upon hearing that her aunt was dead as well, unknowingly missing the chance to see her sister Sansa once more. And Daenerys Targaryen, the Mother of Dragons, lured them into the catacombs of Mereen and put them in chains, her warrior-queen instincts suffocated by the demands of peaceful rule.
"The Children" ended the season on, for once, a note of open-ended anticipation rather than with a jaw-dropping shocker (bumming out book-readers, who were hoping the character known as Lady Stoneheart would make her long-awaited appearance). But that was only a after a lot of doors had been closed. Tyrion, who once shied from battle, is now a murderer twice over, also having strangled the treacherous Shea in his father's bed. (Surely, there must have been a way out of the dungeons that didn't lead right through Tywin's chambers?) Bran will "fly," but he will never walk, and poor Jojen, stabbed by an animated skeleton, will never get to see him do it. (Nor, speaking of blood relatives, will the Clegane brothers: Sandor lies dying after a world-beating battle with Brienne, a fatal gash in his thigh, and Gregor, aka the Mountain, may be saved from poisoning by the late Oberyn Martell, but he'll be, well, different.) Like the skeletons that clambered out of the earth, they are all transformed, marked forever, and with the older generation all but wiped out, it's left to a new one to build a new world from the ashes.
Reviews of "Game of Thrones'" Season 4, Episode 10, "The Children"
Todd VanDerWerff, A.V. Club
The show is in serious danger of completely flying apart. Part of the fun of "Game of Thrones," I know, is in the smorgasbord aspect of the show. If you’re bored with what’s happening with Dany, here’s a little taste of Littlefinger to keep you going. But in the show’s second and third seasons -- its best -- the series found ways to unify that massive sprawl through both theme and character. Season four was frequently astounding, occasionally strange, and every so often not very good, but it lacked that throughline that might have held everything together. This sounds like a lot of grousing for a review of an episode I really, really liked, but it was an episode that just drove home to me how much of the rest of the season has been lacking to me.
James Poniewozik, Time
Depending on your estimate of how long the entire series will run (seven or eight seasons seems the consenus), we're about halfway through. And the series has largely been structured around taking characters in a few central locations -- Winterfell, King's Landing -- and dispersing them to the winds. A bunch of threads have spread widely from their starting point, and we’re at the point where we have to take on faith that they're meant to come back together, though we can’t see where or how. "Game of Thrones" is at the peak of its popularity, but it may next season reach the point where it tests fans' patience if the story gets any more diffuse.
Nina Shen Rastogi, Vulture
As I watched Arya watch the Hound die, I thought, Arya has learned a lesson that I, as a "Game of Thrones" viewer, haven’t managed yet. Which is: how to remember when someone has done something awful. Given the sheer number of complicated storylines in "Game of Thrones," it's easy to forget who did what way back when.
Alyssa Rosenberg, Washington Post
"Game of Thrones" spends a great deal of time distinguishing the worlds it is set in from our own through the application of brutality. But on Father’s Day, in an episode characterized by rotten relationships between fathers and their children, the show knits itself to our present with a fragile skein of hope.
Mike Hogan, Vanity Fair
Maybe the only drawback to Tyrion's death is that we never got to see him agonize over the revelation that Cersei and Jaime really are the type to keep it in the family. I don't know how Tywin managed to kid himself this long, but Cersei is tired of pretending. I loved her line about how her haters are "so small I can't even see them," but what are we to make of this reconciliation between her and Jaime? And how about the symbolism of him sweeping away the book of knightly accomplishments to take her right there on the table?
Danny Bowes, Indiewire
It ends the season on just the right note for the kind of popular entertainment "Game of Thrones" is: A familiar, unsubtle image with positive pre-existing associations, a major key emotionally speaking. Is it a little corny? Sure, but twenty minutes ago undead skeletons were disintegrating the moment they set foot in enchanted caves. Throw the civilians a bone now and then. It's only polite.
Alison Keene, Collider
The final shot of Arya sailing away portends an opening up of this world beyond Westeros — other than Dany’s story — now. It also set an interesting tone to end the season. Despite everything that had come before that moment, the final seconds of “The Children” didn’t at first seem to reflect the epic struggles that went on for most of the hour. But it was actually perfect by being moody and contemplative.
Myles McNutt, Cultural Learnings
Each season of "Game of Thrones" has been an exercise in selective adaptation, but its fourth season has been a feat of adaptive engineering. Working primarily with material from the third book but leaning heavily on the fourth and fifth in certain storylines, it is the season that has emphatically taken the "book-to-season" adaptation comparison off the table.
Steve Pond, the Wrap
It makes sense that this is the episode that "Game of Thrones" submitted in many of the key Emmy categories -- because in a season during which the show became HBO's most-watched series ever, it summed up just how damn big the show has gotten in many different ways.
Scott Meslow, the Week
Arya has always been a pawn in the game of thrones — and while Cersei once said the only options are "win" or "die," Arya has embraced her newfound agency by discovering a third option: removing herself from the board altogether. As "The Children" ends, she sails off to a strange new place, hundreds of miles away from anyone who will ever be able to recognize her as Arya Stark. Her name and her birthplace are long gone, and her legacy is no longer secure — but for the first time, there's no question that she's the one who will get to define it.
Andy Greenwald, Grantland
In her long pilgrimage from King’s Landing to wherever she's headed next, Arya Stark has seen death, laughed in the face of it, and learned just where, exactly, the heart is located. Get your priorities straight, Brienne and Sandor. The Wall needs protecting. Arya will be just fine.
Alan Sepinwall, HitFix
it was a finale with many big denouements — too many, arguably, given the need to squeeze them all into a single episode, even a slightly longer one than normal. Some had the desired emotional impact, but others simply got lost in the trans-continental shuffle.
Bryan Bishop, the Verge
This season started with Joffrey's death, and kept piling body upon body onto the narrative pyre, practically begging the audience to throw up its hands and walk away. But as it turns out, killing isn't the worst thing Game of Thrones can do to characters we love. The worst thing it can do is hurt them. Again and again and again.