This is where Arya Stark and the Hound part. Credit: HBO
Whether it was by killing their father, reclaiming their legacy or forging their own path, the season finale of “Game of Thrones” belonged to the youngest of Westeros.
We pick up with Jon Snow walking into the woods after Mance Rayder’s forces, talking his way into camp on the pretense of negotiating surrender, then bungling his chance to kill the king north of the Wall. Ygritte would be disappointed.
But before he becomes dinner for the Thenn, another army of thousands descends on the wilding camp — turns out the word of a former smuggler and a man with a last name that used to rule the Seven Kingdoms buys a lot of manpower in Braavos. Stannis Baratheon dispatches the wildling rebellion with little effort, but Jon Snow, perhaps having taken a shine to Mance during their toasts to fallen comrades during the faux-gotiations, asks Stannis to spare his life.
Meera Reed isn't wrong to feel uneasy. Credit: HBO
Even farther beyond the Wall, Bran Stark and co. reach the sun-lit tree in his visions and are promptly set upon by a band of wights, reanimated skeletons summoned by White Walkers to do their bidding. Jojen Reed, already weak from illness, doesn’t last long in the fight, which turns in their favor when a young girl starts lobbing magical Molotov cocktails at their assailants.
Bran, Hodor and Meera make it inside the massive tree, where the three-eyed raven turns out to be a man who seems to be fused with the branches. Told his heart’s desire would be granted, Bran is at first crushed when the raven-man says he’ll never walk again. His consolation is that he will get to fly.
No stranger to the “dangerous and unnatural” in her own dealings, Cersei is willing to leave the fate of Ser Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane in the hands of an apothecary who had been drummed out of the Maester corps. He vows to help the gravely wounded man, who he allows may “come back … different.” But this series already has an undead army!
In Tywin’s office, Cersei rescinds the dutiful speech that secured her father’s support for Tyrion’s conviction. She has no intention of playing the good daughter anymore and threatens to tell the whole kingdom that what they’ve whispered behind her back — and apparently out of earshot of Tywin — about her, Jaime and their children is true. Cersei won’t sacrifice Tommen the way he’d sacrificed his own. In her next breath, however, she calls her brother Tyrion a disease to be cut out while recommitting herself to her twin, Jaime. So love and family matter when it’s convenient. She’s a Lannister all right.
Jaime, less so. He jailbreaks Tyrion the night before his execution, collaborating with Lord Varys to put him on a ship to the Free Cities across the Narrow Sea. But Tyrion has some unfinished business, and goes to confront Tywin in his bedchamber — but finds Shae instead. He strangles her with the gold necklaces that bought her testimony against him, then barges in on his father sitting on the toilet. It’s not the lifelong resentment and neglect that finally makes Tyrion pull the trigger on his crossbow, but that Tywin calls Shae a whore, then shoots him again to prove that Tyrion is, in fact, his father's son. Only then does he finally go to Varys — who also decides to board the ship when the Red Keep’s bells announce that any co-conspirator would do well to skip town.
Speaking of the other side of the Narrow Sea, there’s more bad news for Daenerys in Meereen. Elderly slaves who had good homes want to return to their masters, as their younger cohorts prey on them in the common houses. Another farmer arrives with a bundle of burned bones, but this time it’s his 3-year-old daughter, seized by Drogon, the largest and most fearsome of her dragons. In response, she chains up her other two dragons inside the catacombs. Apparently, on “Game of Thrones” even non-humans must pay for the sins of their siblings.
In the hills outside the Vale, Brienne and Podrick finally find Arya and the Hound, who’s not about to cede her to a Lannister lackey even if there are no Starks left to sell her to. The other side of that coin is that he’s the only thing standing between Arya and her destiny with the Faceless Men of Braavos. Brienne bests the Hound, though it’s a lengthy and hard-fought battle on both sides, but Arya manages to slip away.
Astute as ever, Twitter points out the real problem with this scenario:
Yet whatever the Hound’s company, and maybe even something close to friendship, means to Arya, it’s not enough to take pity and end his suffering. Instead, she rides toward the sea and finds a small ship bound for Braavos, the captain of which is as good as Jaqen H’ghar promised when she displays his talisman and says this season’s tagline: “Valar morghulis.” They might have been children when the series began, but not anymore.
With that we, too, sail off toward the promised fifth season but unclear about when we’ll get there. Last time, the wait was 10 long months. At that rate, winter will have come and gone before we see the Free Cities again. People had various ideas about filling the void.
I guess since it'll be 9 months until there's more #GameOfThrones I might as well have a baby to fill the void.
Episode grade: B Arya’s had her 40 years wandering the wasteland of post-War of the Five Kings Westeros and is rightly on her way to the next phase of her life. But between her refusal to grant the decency of a quick death to a man who taught her as much about the world as her own father, Shae’s betrayal and Stannis’ improbable arrival to end the wildlings’ conquest, there was too much of this episode that felt convenient and out of character in a way that “Game of Thrones” usually isn’t.
In the meantime, the trailer for HBO’s new series “The Leftovers” featuring James Blake’s “Retrograde” just doesn’t get any less haunting with repetition. June 29, 10 p.m. in case you want to fill the hole in your Sunday schedule.