And so my watch ends.
To say the 4th season of Game of Thrones has been tumultuous would be an understatement. We’ve seen the introduction of a new favorite, Pedro Pascal’s Oberyn Martell, only to watch him die in screaming agony at the hands of Gregor Clegane, the Mountain Who Rides. We’ve seen Joffrey Baratheon, the First of his name, die horribly (and deservedly) at his own wedding feast. We’ve seen Dany take a kingdom to rule and a sellsword to her bed while casting away one of the pillars she always had supporting her. And we’ve watched Tyrion endure countless more abuses than all the previous seasons combined.
I’m going to get to the juicy parts about Tyrion in a moment. First I’m looking north of the Wall, where Jon Snow goes on a suicide mission to end the Wildling threat. In the books, Janos Slynt and Alliser Thorne send Jon on the mission to kill Mance Raydar in order to kill two birds with one stone. Here we see Jon taking the initiative because no one else would be willing to do so. Mance is not evil and nor are the Wildlings (as a group). They are desperate people attempting to avoid a fate worse than death. Some part of Jon understands that now, with the things he’s seen. The arrival of the sellsword army and Stannis Baratheon change the stakes at the wall. Now there is an army at the Wall, one that the Night’s Watch cannot be beholden to. One can only imagine the reaction of King’s Landing at this development in the next season.
Lena Headey is a marvel to watch. Sometimes she has not been given much to work with but in this episode she shined. Her conversation with Tywin is probably the first time Cersei has ever successfully outmaneuvered her father. Everything Tywin has worked toward for the last two seasons has come crashing down around him. The revelation, which Tywin chose to stubbornly ignore, of his grandchildren’s true parentage was an invisible slap in the face. Charles Dance played the scene marvelously, conveying revulsion and wounded pride without uttering a word. The following scene with Jaime and Cersei is not as romantic as one would think. Cersei is hedging her bets. Qyburn’s Dr. Frankenstein-esque experiment with the Mountain is about maintaining a capable and feared fighter at the ready. Sexually coercing Jaime is about keeping him away from Tyrion and Tywin both. Everything is a calculation to Cersei and Lena Headey plays her malicious intellect so well it’s glee-inducing to watch.
For Dany, the inevitable came to her doorstep. The slave revolt is a fine starting point but it is all some have known. She has replaced an unjust, law-abiding society with a just, chaotic society. It’s often been noted that victims often become oppressors and the old slave/teacher brought that lesson home to Dany with his quiet words. The other inevitable, the one Jorah warned of in the first episode of this season, are the dragons. They are fire made flesh and just as unpredictable. It is a sad irony that the woman who claims the title Breaker of Chains is forced to chain her children of fire to protect her children of duty. Only Drogon, the dragon named after her beloved husband, remains at large.
The passing of Jojen Reed is a departure from the books but one that I feel is appropriate to the story. Jojen was Bran’s John the Baptist, the one who knew more but only enough to point him in the right direction. Now Bran’s story enters the more mystical elements of A Song of Ice and Fire. The Three-Eyed Raven and the Children of the Forest are still unknowns to those of us who’ve read the books. What they will reveal in the coming season is anybody’s guess at this point. I will say that I’ll miss the Jojen character only because there was so much that could have been done with the character that won’t happen.
Another marked departure from the books occurs with the fight between Brienne and Sandor. In the books, Arya is off to Braavos long before Brienne comes across someone claiming to be the Hound. Here we have two diametric opposites seeking the same purpose: protecting Arya. After wanting nothing more than to ransom her and collect a fat bag of gold, Sandor reveals that beneath his gruff exterior there is something human. He cares for Arya, in his own twisted fashion, proving yet again that Westeros is filled with characters with varying shades of gray. It doesn’t condone his harsh actions from prior episodes but it does make him a more rounded character.
Arya’s cold detachment to the Hound’s fate is to be expected. Too much has happened to this little girl over the course of four seasons for her to remain remotely the girl we were first introduced to. There are flashes of the Arya from the first season but they are submerged beneath the ice grown around her heart. Sandor’s claims of no safety in this world are truer for Arya than anyone else. In the end, she recognizes that the Hound does not deserve her mercy. My hope is the Hound returns in some fashion. He’s far too interesting a character to leave by the wayside. Arya’s fate is one of greater mystery and more lessons born of pain. It is a fate she chooses, her first real choice since the beginning of the show. Maisie Williams is perhaps the best actor on the show, next to Peter Dinklage.
As a side note: Damn that was a brutal fight.
This brings me to the final moments of the season. Peter Dinklage has been stellar when given the opportunity. He’s relished the juiciest meat the writers could provide him. And his character, the beloved Tyrion, has had endure heartbreak, shame, and humiliations that would have broken others long ago. They finally broke Tyrion in this episode. For too many years, Tyrion has endured the abuse of others, some of his own making with his sharp tongue and even sharper intelligence. Now he is a man without a home, without a name, without the fortune that kept him safe. Were he anyone other than Tywin Lannister’s son, Tyrion would have died before reaching puberty. But a person can only endure so much before they snap. And in that moment, something dark, twisted, and ugly emerges from the bowels of their psyche.
Shae’s death is the most heinous, in retrospect. Tywin’s death has long been deserved. No parent should ever show such contempt for their child, especially one as imminently capable as Tyrion. But Shae (the show version) at least had earned Tyrion’s heart and she did love the Imp. He loved her in return, despite his best intentions. Her betrayal hurt him the most and that hurt came thundering out in a stranglehold on the best parts of Tyrion’s emotional core.
Tywin’s death could not have been more inglorious. The man feared by all the Seven Kingdoms, the linchpin behind the Iron Throne’s power, died while taking a shit, all because he once again underestimating one of his children. Tyrion makes the conscious decision to enter the Tower of the Hand but I don’t think until the moment he pulls the trigger he had plans to kill his father. Who he is after killing Shae and his father is not a man I would wish to meet. Westeros is going to find out just how much of a monster the Imp can be.