Here we are, time to bid farewell to another season of "Game of Thrones," just as soon as we get through this extra long (66 minute) episode—with slim chances that all of our characters are going to make it out intact. If anyone checked out the news about the Emmy submissions last week, you might have noted that this week's finale "The Children" was the only episode that HBO submitted for best writing, so we were expecting a lot from this one (though last week's episode "The Watchers on the Wall" would have made a fine submission too, as though it was rife with action and bloodshed, had some damn fine speeches and story moments. Also giants). But this finale definitely lived up to the hype, with some incredible twists, turns and monologuing along the way as well.
Directed by Alex Graves, who has directed several episodes this season (including the incredible Purple Wedding and the botched Jaime/Cersei rape scene, so, mixed results), this is an episode that has to wrap things up, move things forward and check in with many dispersed characters whom we've left for many episodes to focus on other, more pertinent matters (like the massive Wildling army). That's definitely a tall order, and "The Children" pulls it off.
I was a bit surprised that this episode picked up right where the last one left off, to the minute in fact, with Jon Snow (Kit Harington) making his way out beyond the wall to find and kill Mance Rayder (Ciarán Hinds). He doesn't make it more than a few feet into the woods when he's surrounded by guards and in front of Mance Rayder's tent. Quite the accessible guy, this Mance! He invites Jon inside for a chat, despite his clear disapproval at Jon's return to the fold at Castle Black. Of course, Mance brings up the issue of Ygritte (Rose Leslie), and the two men drink to her memory with some hideous fermented chunky milky moonshine. They also drink to the departed Grenn and Mag the Mighty (the giant who lost his life in the tunnel).
While one of Mance's men prepares a snack, Mance lets Jon know that there are already Wildlings climbing the wall at another location. Mance explains they want the wall for protection (from WINTER) and need to get access to the tunnel, so that they aren't beyond the wall whenever WINTER arrives. Essentially, Mance is just a guy trying to defend his people. All the while Jon eyes the knife left out, though it's clearly a suicide mission to attempt to kill him.
Before anything can happen between these two enemies, a massive army on horseback descends upon the woods, efficiently hacking and axing the Wildlings to smithereens. Excuse my French, but who the FUCK could this be?
Out of the mist rides Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane) and Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham). Wha-wha-WHAT? Apparently these dudes have spent the last couple of episodes bringing their massive army all the way up to the Wall. Mance quickly surrenders, but he won't kneel to Stannis (who is way too obsessed with his quasi kingly status and the useless rituals that go along with it—this ain't King's Landing, bro). However, Jon Snow manages to save Mance's tail by offering up his opinion what they should do with Mance (take him prisoner; listen to him), which Stannis respects because he's Ned Stark's son. How the tables are turned. Jon also gives them a hot tip: burn the dead before nightfall as a preventative tactic against those icky zombie wights.
At Castle Black, Aemon Targaryen (Peter Vaughan) is presiding over the mass funeral pyre of the fallen Night's Watch men, along with witnesses Davos, Stannis, and Stannis' family. Of course, Melisandre (Carice Van Houten) gives Jon Snow the creepy eyes through the fire. Watch out Snow, she's gonna strip you down and leech you if you aren't careful. (Speaking of, did Gendry ever make it out of that boat?) Massive Ginger King Kong Tormund Giantsbane (Kristofer Hivju) has recovered from his multiple arrow wounds and he is PISSED about it too. Jon invites him to say some words over the dead bodies before they burn them and Tormund seems to find this ludicrous. Though he doesn't seem to hold any great sentiment for the dead, he does tell Jon that Ygritte belongs in the North for her final resting place. Jon grants this request, burning her a pyre just beyond the Wall.
The Mountain/Sandor Clegane (Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson) is not dead after squishing the head of Oberyn Martell, but he is in bad shape, his wounds poisoned by Oberyn's sword. Maester Pycelle (Julian Glover) wants to drug him up and let him die in peace, but Cersei (Lena Headey) wants to keep him alive, something promised by the young quack she lets take over (he's not a Maester). The doc quickly sets up some horrific blood pumping system and tells Cersei he won't be the same—not weaker but not the same (so you're making the Hulk? Is that what's going on here?).
Cersei, emboldened, goes to her father, Tywin (Charles Dance), to contest her impending marriage to Loras Tyrell. She refuses to leave King's Landing, to leave Tommen, her son, the new king. Now that Joffrey is dead and Myrcella is off in Dorne, she refuses to leave her last child. Cersei plays the only trump card she has left, and wow, it's a doozy. She threatens to tell the truth, which is, of course, that she and Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) are lovers and parents to her children, which appears to be a fact that Tywin is in denial about. It's the first time we've seen Tywin actually look bewildered, upset, off-put. You're losing it man! The kids are revolting!
Cersei then goes to find Jaime obsessing over his page in the book of knights (very cool hobby). They argue about Tyrion (Peter Dinklage), who is slated to die tomorrow. Cersei kisses him and tells him that she told Tywin about their relationship. She declares that she chooses him, kisses his golden hand, and then the two get busy on top of the table. Okay, but isn't it a LITTLE weird that Cersei would aggressively seduce her rapist so quickly after the attack? Come on now, 'GoT' writers/directors. I'm gonna keep calling out your incredibly poor execution of this whole Jaime/Cersei situation this season. It's a mess! Please get your heads out of your asses next season.
Over in Meereen, Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) is up to the very difficult task of ruling a city she has just overtaken and completely changed overnight. An elderly teacher asks her to let him be sold back into slavery to his master, as the shelters that Daenerys has set up are inviting chaos and predatory behavior amongst the freed slaves (question: why doesn't the guy just move back in to the master's house as a freed man?). She allows him to set up a one-year contract (and thus, employment was born, thank you great Khaleesi), though Ser Barristan Selmy (Ian McElhinney) warns her this loophole is going to reintroduce slavery into Meereen.
Khaleesi has got MUCH bigger problems though, as the next complainant is a man whose toddler has been burned to a crisp by the biggest dragon, whom they've lost track of at this point. She realizes the only right thing to do is to chain up the two smaller dragons in the catacombs, which she does tearfully. Breaker of Chains? Better scratch that title from the list, Miss Daenerys!