The final episode of this fourth season of Game of Thrones was advertised as the best finale the series has produced thus far, and now that we’ve seen it, that’s a hard claim to argue against. In finales previous to “The Children,” the episode prior has typically served as its season’s climax, with the tenth episode essentially tying up any loose ends and setting up what’s to come next year. For perhaps the first time in the series’ run, we got the best of both worlds in this finale, or at the very least, a pleasant mix of satisfying closure and anticipatory teases.
The decision to open with a concluding note to last week’s spectacle of an episode taking place entirely at The Wall was a smart one. For anyone else like me, who became about ten times as invested in plotline revolving around the Night’s Watch on account of the devotion of an entire episode to their story, this was a Wall/Beyond the Wall scene that was met with welcome instead of wandering attention. Jon Snow, in this first scene and his scenes that followed, suddenly seems like more of a well-rounded and interesting character, able to capture interest and communicate to us (as well as, foolishly, to Mance) when he’s considering a strategic murder just by glancing at a knife. More importantly, his relationship with Ygritte is hammered home even more in this episode, which is both helpful in terms of depicting emotional closure for the character as well as buttressing some thematic points. More on that in a moment.
Many were speculating on the meaning of the episode’s title, and now that it’s aired, there remains a debate over its significance. The literal reference is to our first exposure to the mythical Children of the Forest, whose existence was as forgotten by the people as Westeros as it was by the forgetful book reader writing to you presently. Their introduction to Bran continues his weird journey that is going deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole of the oldest of magic. The handling of the skeletal attack on their party as their approach the cave of the three-eyed crow is admittedly a little sloppy looking, drawing comparisons to Jason and the Argonauts by so many clever Twitterers, but the appearance of the fight is quickly overshadowed by how once again, Bran and Hodor are an unstoppable combined force, as well as the visual handling of the cave itself, the Children, and the three-eyed raven guy in the weirwood throne. The line “You will never walk again…but you will fly” is one I do remember from the books, and an all-time favorite.
The title could also be a reference to the Lannister children, featured prominently in this episode. First there’s Cersei, who, in a moment of the utmost defiance of her father, admits to him that his grandchildren are all the product of her incestuous relationship with Jaime. It’s likely the most magnificently acted scene in the episode, with Lena Headey going toe-to-toe with the stone wall that is Charles Dance, and for the first time she makes him flinch, ever so slightly, as this is Tywin Lannister after all. She is essentially sacrificing her own comfort for the sake of the safety of the only child she has left with her—she could marry off to Highgarden and be relatively safe for the rest of her life—even though her status in King’s Landing is waning. It makes her more sympathetic than perhaps ever before, and her subsequent scene with Jaime is, dare I say it, rather sweet. It’s just another touching story of forbidden love, you guys!