True to its title, Game of Thrones 4×10 “The Children” followed the stories of those who will gladly inherit, and those who are plagued by their families’ names. We learn that although beloved Prince Oberyn is dead, his spear was laced with magical manticore venom. Grand Maester Pycelle says the Mountain’s wound cannot be healed, but the mysterious ex-maester, Qyburn, who was kicked out of the Citadel for his dark experiments, says otherwise.
Curmudgeonly Pycelle wants Qyburn gone (Dee Dee, get out of my laboratory!), but Cersei kicks Pycelle out instead—providing further insight into her (lack of) judgment. With one child dead and the other locked in a marriage pact in Sunspear, the audience was provided a haunting glimpse into the Cersei we may be seeing next season: She loves youngest son Tommen so much that she would burn her house to the ground for that child.
Cersei also, at last, confronts her father with confessions of her children’s origin. The crack in the veneer shows, perhaps, that House Lannister isn’t as stable as we once believed. Jaime, in a pact with Varys (“Sadly, my Lord, I never forget a thing”), sneaks into the dungeon to free Tyrion from his cell. Tyrion lingers, and slips off his father’s room.
The show glosses over Tyrion’s original prostitute-cum-love-interest from the books, Tysha, in order to make Shae the woman that propels his character forward. Alas, seeing Shae in his father’s bed provides the final betrayal. He strangles her with her own chain, and soon targets his father in the privy with a crossbow. We witness one final power play from Tywin, trying to convince Tyrion that he would never let him die. The words fall flat, as Tywin proves Tyrion’s point in the end: He doesn’t listen to his own children. After warning his father not to call Shae a “whore” again, Tywin lets one more “whore” slip, and gets an arrow to the chest.
The Hound, who has provided some levity to a show that increasingly darkens as time passes, delivers a harrowing realization to both the audience and the honorable Brienne of Tarth: No one is safe. Their sword fight (not in the books!) confirmed as much, as Arya abandons her last semblance of a parental figure—the fatally-wounded Hound—and flees to Braavos on the cachet of an assassin’s coin.
Since the Red Wedding this time last season, the death toll in Westeros is especially high. Arya’s father, mother, and elder brother are dead. Oberyn had his head smashed in mere episodes before. Fiery Ygritte was shot through with an arrow just last episode. Joffrey Baratheon, who show watchers loved to hate, is gone. Things are changing, with many of these plotlines yet to be played out. Bran, who is now on the turf of the elfin Children of the Forest (“The Children”!) who beckoned him, is current with his plotline in the books. Sansa too, with her newfound Hot Topic wardrobe, is where we left her in A Dance with Dragons—beginning to place her pawns on the chessboard to start a game of her own.
George R.R. Martin admitted earlier this year that the show had finally begun to outpace his epic series, and book readers, who once felt secure with five books’ worth of knowledge under their belts, are now on shaky ground. In a surprise twist, Jojen Reed, who is in bad shape at the end of A Dance with Dragons but still questionably alive, gets stabbed to death by a wight skeleton. Maybe he’ll live, we all thought, before a magical leprechaun grenade set his body ablaze. And with the war at the Wall, readers got a glimpse further into the North than they’d ever imagined, with a crowned, Darth-Maul-ish White Walker turning an infant into an evil-ice-baby with the tip of his finger. There is so much unknown coming up, a mixture between A Feast for Crows, A Dance with Dragons, and the yet-to-be-published The Winds of Winter.
Despite all the chaos, viewers received some momentary closure and new promises for future seasons. The war at the Wall ends as Stannis shows up. Pyp and Grenn (another example of show-only deaths) are burned at the Wall as Jon says goodbye to Ygritte’s corpse north of the Wall. Daenerys, who has spent this season learning the diplomacy and judgment necessary to be a ruler, makes a difficult choice of her own—and one that she does with her own hands. The charred bones of a shepherd’s child—scorched to death by Drogon—leads her to chain her two other dragons in the catacombs of Meereen. They cry for their mother as the slab rolls shut, leaving them in the shadows.
Although one of the biggest character reveals from A Storm of Swords was left out of the finale (seriously, do not Google this if you do not know!), we are left with the sensation that our favorite characters will still slide across the chessboard (or cyvasse, for book readers) as they continue to make their own moves and power plays. Who will win in Cersei and Margaery’s struggle for the king piece? Where was that boat taking Tyrion and Varys? What will happen to Jaime now that he’s freed his brother from the Black Cells? What does Melisandre have in store for Jon Snow? (He does love redheads, after all.) The bishops, rooks, and knights continue to move, even after all the deaths and cities overtaken. The Westeros we once knew is now completely altered, yet we still end on the image of Arya near the figurehead of a Braavosi ship, the sea mist spraying into her face. Although the children have suffered, they still have reasons to live and hope—and isn’t that what keeps us watching in the end?