Game of Thrones – 40 (Season Finale)

Game of Thrones - 40 -23 Game of Thrones - 40 -38 Game of Thrones - 40 -55

“The Children”

At this point, about the only thing I can see clearly at the spot on the map where next season of Game of Thrones lies is “Here there be dragons”.  That’s what they used to write on nautical charts in the old days when the waters were uncharted, and that’s pretty much where I stand with this adaptation.  But I’m pretty sure there actually will be dragons.

It really is the case that it would take me less time to list the things in this episode that were the same as A Song of Ice and Fire than it would to list all the changes.  It’s just a mass of changes, and that leaves me either having to warn anyone who hasn’t read the books off reading any farther, or having to use a month’s supply of HTML for all the spoiler tags.  I don’t really feel like doing either one, so I’ll just say read at your own risk – and I’ll try not to spoil anything from the books too grievously.

Game of Thrones - 40 -1 Game of Thrones - 40 -2 Game of Thrones - 40 -3

A friend of mine who hasn’t read ASoIaF commented to me after “Watchers on the Wall” that he figured nothing much was going to happen in the finale.  You have no idea how hard it was not to laugh, but even as much as I know big events were coming, there was a lot of stuff here that I didn’t expect (and a bunch of stuff I did expect that didn’t happen).  As regards the latter we’re at the point now where we have to wonder if those events and characters (two in particular whose initials are L.S. and C.H. come to mind) are going to be a part of GoT at all, or simply be cut out altogether.

The big news up at the Wall was, of course, the arrival of Stannis and his retinue on the scene.  In its way this was Stannis’ finest hour in the books, a surprising and dashing entrance and an immediate stamp of relevancy for his character.  It’s really a brilliant stratagem on the part of Davos – he’s made Stannis and his vastly-reduced forces a big fish in a small pond, and potentially a folk hero to all of Westeros once the news gets out (especially in the North) and happens to have performed a great service to the realm in the process.  Did that sense survive the adaptation?  I don’t know – it all seemed to happen pretty quickly, much more so than in the novels.  I hope so, because it’s really the first time I felt Stannis got a decent slice of the pie.

Game of Thrones - 40 -4 Game of Thrones - 40 -5 Game of Thrones - 40 -6

What absolutely did work for me was the scene where Jon went to see Mance Rayder (which happened several days earlier than in the book, but was otherwise roughly similar).  Mance is another character whose impact and screen time has been sharply curtailed in GoT, and Ciaran Hinds is a fantastic actor so it’s always a welcome thing when Mance gets to shine.  Here we see him as Martin wrote him – an honorable and practical if ruthless man.  He treats Jon better, frankly, than Jon had any right to expect to be treated.  And he makes his case in unambiguous terms – he’s not there to conquer the Wall, but to cower behind it.  Stannis’ arrival on the scene moots the discussion (note that Mance surrenders quickly before more of his people can die needlessly) and Jon returns the favor by effectively invoking his father’s name to ask for leniency from Stannis – who agrees.  This is a scene that reflects well on all three men involved in it, and as such something of a rarity in GoT.

Game of Thrones - 40 -7 Game of Thrones - 40 -8 Game of Thrones - 40 -9

For a change, Danerys’ arc was among the more interesting this week.  I won’t lie – I take a certain glee in anything that forces her to confront the hypocrisy of the fantasy world she’s constructed around herself.  The constant reminders of how much more complicated her noble goal of “ending slavery” is than she’d like are one thing, but having the charred corpse of a three-year old child dumped at her feet somewhat more visceral.  This is the reality of the noble legacy she wants to reinstate – she is the “Mother of Dragons” who kill and eat children.  One of them, Drogon, remains at-large, but Danerys at least has the decency to chain the other two up underground.  I don’t have a lot of sympathy for her here, but the scene itself is beautifully done.

As for Bran’s arc, well – it sort of ends up in kind of a slightly similar place to where it did in ASoIaF, but there’s not much here that’s recognizable.  So much is skipped on the way – including one of those very important characters I now suspect we’ll never see (which would render certain events of the first season pointless) as we sort of leapfrog most of his journey and end up at the great Weirwood tree of his dreams.  This is a pretty out-there scene by GoT standards anyway – this is a fantasy but it’s often easy to forget that, and it’s rarely the sort of story where skeletons emerge from he ground wielding rusty blades and tree nymphs hurl balls of lightning before fleeing into caves protected by magic force fields.  There’s another death that isn’t a death in the books here – Jojen – and as with the earlier ones I’m left to wonder if there’s going to be a reason that becomes more obvious later.  In its way, Bran’s arc is like Danerys’ in providing a bookend to the story – in geographical and thematic terms, each feels quite removed from the rest of it.  And I think we’re learning that’s harder to pull off in a TV serial than in a series of novels.

Game of Thrones - 40 -10 Game of Thrones - 40 -11 Game of Thrones - 40 -12

And then we have Arya and The Hound, which is another arc where changes outnumber similarities but the bastards didn’t change the one thing I was hoping they would (I still mourn you, Oberyn-sama).  It now seems for all the world as if Arya and Sandor were brought together with Brienne and Podrick for no other reason than to reinforce what a fucking tragedy this story is and give us a fight.  It is a helluva fight, don’t get me wrong – nasty, brutal, gory – and it’s impossible to escape the notion that all of this is completely unnecessary.  I think at this point in the story both Sandor and Brienne actually want the same thing – to protect Arya.  And the truth is, I think Sandor is closer to the truth than Brienne is in the way he proposes going on about it.

So, maybe that alone is reason enough to engineer a meeting that’s completely TV-original – everyone can decide for themselves.  But for the record – and this is not a spoiler because, well – obviously – the final scene between Arya and The Hound is materially exactly the same in both versions.  I think I get why Martin wrote it the way he did – I think he was trying to show us how cold and ruthless Arya has become.  I get that, but it’s a wholly unsatisfying end to Arya and Sandor’s story even by Martin’s unsentimental standard.  I hated seeing The Hound left that way, abandoned by Arya to die slowly and alone, because in the context of this story he deserves better.  At best I suppose one might say he’s luckier than his brother (we’ll see how GoT pursues that angle) but it’s a hollow conclusion.  As for Arya, she’s closing this chapter in her life – with Sandor’s silver in pocket she tries to book passage to the Wall and Jon, but it’s Jaqen H’Ghar’s iron that wins her a cabin, and in the other direction.

Game of Thrones - 40 -13 Game of Thrones - 40 -14 Game of Thrones - 40 -15

If Arya’s departure ended the episode in literal terms, it was surely the events in King’s Landing that will be most talked-about (again).  Here’s yet another area where the changes are so comprehensive that I hardly know what to talk about and what to skip over.  I think, at least, that we see that the fallout from the disastrous Jaimie-Cersei rape scene is still very much with us.  Everything between them feels wrong and disjointed (and not just in the way it’s supposed to feel wrong).  I don’t think this wound is reparable – that part of the story is likely permanently fucked.  But things between Jaime and Tyrion are also left in a completely different place than Martin leaves them, and an entire conversation – one I would have ranked as one of the eight or ten most important in the entire series – is left out.  I can’t speak to why – I don’t know.  It’s been alluded to at various points over the first four seasons (though not this one, if I remember correctly).  It’s important to Tyrion’s past, and to his future.  I’m in the dark – I’ll wait and see what happens.

In Tyrion’s actual escape, there are some elements that are the same – but many more that are different, in ways that are pretty much impossible to discuss without completely spoiling the books.  in ASoIaF events play out in such a way as to make one question how much of what happens was planned, and how much an accident.  Are we supposed to have the same doubts here?  I honestly have no idea.  What we see in both places is Tyrion killing people – first Shae, then his father.  I would imagine it difficult not to empathize with him here, after what he’s been through.  But there can be no denying that this is a watershed moment for Tyrion – there’s no going back from the road he’s undertaken, in more ways than one.

Game of Thrones - 40 -16 Game of Thrones - 40 -17 Game of Thrones - 40 -18

Of Varys I won’t speak much – far too dangerous (is he shipping Tyrion out in the same box he had the sorcerer who castrated him shipped in?).  While Varys is usually out of sight in GoT, he should rarely be out of mind.  Of Tywin I will speak, because this is another death that emotionally cuts both ways.  Tywin is, of course, the original GoT magnificent bastard.  I don’t deny for a moment he richly deserved to be run through with crossbow bolts while taking a shit, or that Tyrion should have been the one to do it.  But what a fascinating, complicated man he was – and in a series full of brilliant performances by brilliant actors, Charles Dance stands out as one of the very best examples of both.  Tywin was a man of astonishing cunning and breath of vision, yet capable of being blind to the brilliance of the one child who inherited those qualities because of his birth and his body, and of almost being able to blind himself (but not quite) to the scandalous acts committed by his other children because…  Well, because he simply couldn’t bring himself to admit they were true.  There’s no one like Tywin and no one like Charles Dance, and I’m going to miss them both.

Game of Thrones - 40 -19 Game of Thrones - 40 -20 Game of Thrones - 40 -21

In practical terms, Tywin’s death is just one more reason to believe that the state of affairs in Westeros is serious chaos.  Even if we weren’t seeing the Butterfly Effect rampaging out of control it would be hard to say just where Game of Thrones is going from here, because we’re at a point in the books where the narrative structure becomes quite unorthodox and seemingly unfilmable in anything like its native form.  And in truth, we don’t even really know how close Martin is to finishing the story – there are at least two more novels due, talk of more, and no notion of when the next one will see the light of day.  Yet the program has been officially declared by HBO as its most popular ever (over The Sopranos), and there’s talk of all sorts of possible directions in which they might take it – big-screen releases, prequels (how I long to see a proper adaptation of the “Dunk and Egg” stories) and Martin himself has opined that longer seasons for the main series would be a huge boon.  I’m assuming we’re looking at another year-long hiatus between seasons, but apart from that I have little more idea of what’s coming than anyone else.  Here there be dragons…

Game of Thrones - 40 -22 Game of Thrones - 40 -24 Game of Thrones - 40 -25
Game of Thrones - 40 -26 Game of Thrones - 40 -27 Game of Thrones - 40 -28
Game of Thrones - 40 -29 Game of Thrones - 40 -30 Game of Thrones - 40 -31
Game of Thrones - 40 -32 Game of Thrones - 40 -33 Game of Thrones - 40 -34
Game of Thrones - 40 -35 Game of Thrones - 40 -36 Game of Thrones - 40 -37
Game of Thrones - 40 -39 Game of Thrones - 40 -40 Game of Thrones - 40 -41
Game of Thrones - 40 -42 Game of Thrones - 40 -43 Game of Thrones - 40 -44
Game of Thrones - 40 -45 Game of Thrones - 40 -46 Game of Thrones - 40 -47
Game of Thrones - 40 -48 Game of Thrones - 40 -49 Game of Thrones - 40 -50
Game of Thrones - 40 -51 Game of Thrones - 40 -52 Game of Thrones - 40 -53
Game of Thrones - 40 -54 Game of Thrones - 40 -56 Game of Thrones - 40 -57
Game of Thrones - 40 -58 Game of Thrones - 40 -59 Game of Thrones - 40 -60
Game of Thrones - 40 -61 Game of Thrones - 40 -62 Game of Thrones - 40 -63


  1. M

    If I would have to guess what is going to happen in the next seasons, I will bet that GRRM is going back to his original plan with the Book series: Make a 5 years time skip.

    He finished book 3 planning the time skip, threw it to the trash can in book 4, and wished he didn`t in book 5. For the TV series, they have made it quite possible now and they can fill in the plot holes with some anime OVA. =)

    BTW, Martin said that Winds of Winter is half way, and he thinks it will be completed at the end of 2015 or 2016. XD

  2. That date has been elastic for quite some time. If it's Monday, it must be 2016.

  3. S

    Most Bookreaders actually subscribed to the theory, that Jojen was dead (maybe even in Paste-form) at the last chapter from Bran Book 5. So Jojens death and the NK scene in always Winter were a Show Spoiler for book 6.

  4. C

    I know you probably can't post this here, but do you have any thoughts (you can keep it vague) for what episode 9 of season 5 would be? It's been very easy to predict so far, and now I'm at a loss.

  5. Difficult to say here, and difficult to say, period. There are so many different ways they could tackle next season and that's not even factoring in butterflies with wingspans like eagles.

  6. A

    It's kind of a shame that Tywin was killed off. Charles Dance just lit up the screen every time he was on, a great actor in a great role. GoT won't be the same without him.

  7. w

    I kind of feel like lot of the scenes failed to convey the emotional weight they were supposed to. The deaths nearly felt inconsequential, when they were all really important. The Hound's scene was the only one that I really felt was given the treatment it deserved, but the fight between he and Briene felt so frustratingly pointless that even that didn't sit right with me.

    On Stannis, I would say this definitely felt like his best moment, but it also still felt rushed and somewhat tacked on. I kinda feel like they tried make their usual, quiet finale, but still kept all these really massive developments so the whole thing felt a little jarring.

    Still it's been great reading your posts and discussing this series with you, I'll see you next March. Time to read those books…

  8. m

    I really wish, Game of Thrones was written with a whole lot more editorial oversight than it is. As is written in the blogpost: many earlier scenes have lost any meaning they may have had and it's questionable if any of the writers cares enough to affix any new (or old for that matter) meaning to those scenes.

    The thing that's praiseworthy about Game of Thrones is that arguably any one episode can be viewed in isolation and still hold its own in terms of themes, ideas and conflicts.
    The same more or less goes for all the seasons. But that's where the cracks start to show.

    Right now I feel like it would have been a lot better to have been less faithful to the books in the first place especially regarding to the children of Winterfell.
    See, Theon's anguish was extensively drawn out whereas Bran's arduous journey was cut short, both would have been better served had they been presented by means of flashbacks or even just word of mouth stories, that's were a lot of the actors shine anyway.
    I this feel applies to a lot of the stories and subplots in Game of Thrones but in particular to those of the children of Winterfell.

    Moving on: Daenerys' exploits would even have been better suited for a more fantasy-esk Buffy-Angel-like/Doctor Who-Eureka-like spinoff as yet they are completely unrelated to anything happening in the central plot. In fact the only part of that that is even slightly related to the main plot in Kings Landing (or the secondary one at the Wall) is the continued existence of powerful Targaryen claimant to the Iron Throne, something I feel could be more effectively conveyed through stories and whispers and rumors and silent curses uttered by the small folk and minor lords.

    Really that ought to have been the way they milked to Mother of Dragons' story line. Maybe, just maybe then I could have brought myself to like it outside of the scenes of Jason Mamoa being an unexpectedly genteel, undefeated badass and Harry Lloyd being an entitled obnoxious asshole.

  9. G

    I generally agree that it all felt rushed and this series would have benefited immensely from seasons of proper length, but we have what we have and I'm immensely looking forward to the next season far more than I was looking forward to this one just to see what'll happen.

    Charles Dance I'll definitely miss greatly because as far as villains for this show have gone, Tywin was beautifully done. He put forward an air of arrogance and confidence that was incredibly intimidating and I felt like this episode and GRRM did his demise poorly because of how seemingly uncharacteristically it was done. First almost unimaginably for the first time I can recall Cersei actually gets one over on him and then while he's actually cowed by her for once he gets summarily shot to death on a toilet. The whole point was probably to subvert my expectations of him somehow going out in some kind of glorious double-cross of epic magnitude but it just seemed very anti-climatic.

    One thing I always liked is on this show you had a juxtaposition of two obviously villainous characters, Tywin and Joffrey, and they were such in totally different ways. Joffrey was like a cartoon character, a crazed psychopath that I'm shocked wasn't on screen drowning kittens yet his death was excellently done and very appropriate while Tywin seemed like he had it all figured out but was offed like an afterthought.

    Charles Dance, Sean Bean and Pedro Pascal are three men I'm going to miss a lot in their roles as they did them so well and I was absolutely riveted whenever they were on screen.

  10. Z

    I did do a double take when the faerie appeared and started hurling fireballs. Lol what?

    The Brienne of Tarth vs Sandor Clegane fight did have an air of Gundam Wing "we shouldn't be fighting at all, we're on the same side" to it.

    I did like the scene with the wildling that got mown down by a passing Baratheon knight as Stannis and Davos approached Mance and Jon Snow. I also quite like the scene where Varys gets back on the ship after the bells start ringing. "Oh what have you done!?" (lol).

    At this point I probably don't mind the writers going off in a different direction as I'm getting increasingly irritated with the smugness of (some) book readers.

  11. K

    I don't understand why they're skipping so much. With how popular the show is, you think they would be trying to make it as long as possible, but it's like they're trying to get through the books as fast as they can.

  12. That is an interesting angle to all this. Occam's Razor is that they're trying to get a full book into a 10-episode season – if they had 14 eps like Martin wants, they wouldn't have to cut good stuff out. But then – since they are indeed going to pass the books and soon, too, who says you have to film an entire book per season? Why not make each book two seasons, say, or one and a half? They fudge events so that parts of the TV end are always different from the ends of the books anyway.

  13. M

    Bravo! That was an intense albeit incredibly heartbreaking finale.

    Mance and his big old army of 100,000 didn't seem all that much in the face of Stannis' intervention. I'd almost forgotten about poor Bran and co. and then that happened. Our time with the Jojen folk felt short. Excited most about where to next for the children.

    I know some weren't keen on it, but I was swept up in the tragic scene between Brienne, Ayra, Pod & Hound (probably my favorite scenes of the episode). Such a clash of complex emotions and irony there. And Arya, the sweet smiley Ayra, finally bent into a merciless shadow beyond the Hound's reach. Unspeakably dark stuff, my girl.

    The writers weren't satisfied enough with Oberyn, Yigritte and Jojen. Yes Tywin dying was a loss for the show, but a sweet victory for justice. Worse then is that Tyrion had been goaded all his life into this single moment by his father no less. Tyrion's vengeance tautened like the strings on that crossbow.
    Now Cersei and Jaime can hump happily ever after… :/

    Simply can't wait for the next season. If this episode constitutes mostly of original material, then Season 5 should be a blast. I'm reading the books; though I don't expect the same experience at all.

  14. Z

    It says a lot for Tywin (and the other Lannisters) that it takes a Lannister to kill a Lannister.

  15. J

    To be honest I think Stannis' arrival would have worked better in the series if he just roared on up there and Jon Snow had just come to terms with the wildlings. It can be dramatic, but not battle-y, and Stannis could still have an over-powering army, allowing Jon to defend the wildlings to Stannis.

    Right now it just felt really underwhelming, and Stannis' only saving graces in the show are the Onion Knight, and him accepting Jon Snow's advice, for the rest he still seems really dumb and boring to me.

    And, yeah, skeletons and tree nymphs just didn't work, the threat was too rushed and out of the blue, their rescue just felt deus ex machina, and the whole sequence wasn't needed, it already felt magical enough for GoT.

Leave a Comment