'Game of Thrones' Season 4 finale 'The Children' recap: Death is only the beginning

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Happy Father's Day, "Game of Thrones" style. The title of the Season 4 finale was not misleading, as the final episode of arguably the best season thus far was all about "The Children."

Arya Stark, Tyrion Lannister, Bran Stark and Jon Snow were all the focal points of the episode, while Daenerys Targaryen had to make the hard decision to imprison her dragons who -- appropriate to the theme of the episode -- had been killing children. It was a hard episode to watch with many significant deaths, but even after all the dust settled, the finale set up the central characters of "Game of Thrones" for a much better Season 5.

At the Wall

Though Jon Snow expected to walk north to his death when he went to treat with Mance Rayder, the Battle at the Wall took a twist that even he knew nothing about. Stannis Baratheon's purpose for getting men and money from the Iron Bank of Braavos became clear when he showed up with a massive army and defeated the Wildlings' attack at the Wall.

The fate of the Wildlings remains unclear. Mance made no secret of the fact that all he wants for his men is to bring them south of the Wall when winter -- or "winter," depending on how you view the mythology of the series -- arrives. Jon convinces Stannis to spare Mance's life, and that's a good thing. But Mance also won't bend a knee for the "One True King of the Seven Kingdoms," so whether or not he has a good future ahead of him will have to wait until Season 5.

Importantly, now Stannis, Jon and Melisandre are all in the same place. And Melisandre was making more than sex eyes when she saw Jon Snow for the first time across the funeral pyre. She clearly sees something important in him, though that that is remains to be examined.

At the Three-Eyed Raven

Do we know where Bran is north of the Wall, technically speaking? It's certainly farther than few others have been, and deep enough where fairy tales are still alive. Bran finally not only met the Three-Eyed Raven (who ended up being a man who is sitting on a very Iron Throne-like chair of roots beneath that massive weirwood) but also a Child of the Forest.

The Children of the Forest are a race of creatures as mysterious as the White Walkers, and who lived in the continent where Westeros is set far before the First Men showed up. As evidenced in the Season 4 finale, they also have insane epic fire-throwing magic powers that allow them to defend themselves against the wights who try to kill them.

Bran finds himself in a very strange new world, and with a person who will hopefully unlock his powers. As the Three-Eyed Raven tells him, "You will never walk again, but you will fly." There is much magic for Bran still to explore, even if Jojen had to die for him to get to a place where Bran to be able to unlock his new abilities. 

In Meereen

Daenerys Targaryen is learning that being a queen is much easier in name than in actions. Not only are some of her freed followers asking to return to their slave lives, but she also learns that Drogon has been killing children. She makes the hard call to imprison her two other dragons in the catacombs, but Drogon is still MIA.

Hopefully the irony is not lost on fans that while Dany is the "breaker of chains" for humans, she has now shackled her own children. Though the Khaleesi has been a powerful conquerer in Season 4, it's hard to not be critical of some of her recent decisions, and her hypocrisy here. Dragons are not meant to be chained, and hopefully that is not too hard to learn.

On the Kingsroad

In a different life, Arya Stark and Brienne of Tarth would make great traveling companions. But that is not the show that "Game of Thrones" is, and these are not the stories it tells. Brienne and Pod cross paths with the Hound and Arya on the Kingsroad, which leads to an epic duel between Brienne and the Hound over who should care for Arya. 

The moment where the Hound acknowledges that he's been trying to take care of Arya the entire time was surprisingly heartwarming for a character who started off as a straight-up villain. The Hound ultimately loses the fight, though Arya has not stood still for Brienne, and she and Pod are once again left without a Stark. 

As for Arya, she leaves the Hound to die from his wounds and takes his money off him. She took the hard lessons from him and didn't offer him mercy, and his cries asking for her to kill him were hard to hear.

While Brienne and Pod's future remains uncertain, Arya's course is clear. When she can't get a ride north to the Wall to reunite with Jon, she uses the coin Jaqen H'ghar gave her to book passage to Braavos. In addition to Dorne being a new main setting in Season 5, it seems like Braavos will be as well.

In King's Landing

There is another Lannister for King's Landing to mourn. Tyrion turned into the monster people always thought he was after his brother Jaime Lannister helped him escape from his cell. Instead of going straight to Varys and fleeing the Red Keep, Tyrion makes a pit stop to get revenge on his father Tywin. What he finds instead is his love Shae lying in Tywin's bed, still groggy from a sex session.

Tyrion kills her -- though in his defense she did try to kill him first. He strangles her with a necklace, offering a pitiful "I'm sorry" to her corpse. 

Tywin Lannister gets no such apology. Tyrion's father never took him seriously up to the end, and never took stock in Tyrion's threats. Now the Imp is a new man, and newly freed from the constraints of King's Landing. Varys leaves King's Landing on a boat with him, knowing that Westeros is no longer a place for him.

This situation puts Jaime in an interesting position with Cersei. She at least no longer needs to go to Highgarden and marry Loras now that Tywin is dead, but Jaime also chose Tyrion over her after Cersei tried to win him over to her side. He had his choice to be with the woman he grew up loving, but it's clear that he put that time in his life behind him.

But how will Jaime react to learning that Tyrion killed their father? He doesn't know for certain that Tyrion didn't kill Joffrey, and patricide could seem like confirmation of regicide. Chances are that hug will be the last time he considers Tyrion an ally.

Also, this recap would be remiss without mentioning the fact that though Oberyn might not have killed the Mountain, he did manage to poison him. Unfortunately, Qybern says he can bring Gregor Clegane back to health -- though he might be changed "somewhat" -- and Cersei gives him all the means necessary to do so.

Best Lines

"Your legacy is a lie." - Cersei to Tywin

"You will never walk again. But you will fly." - Three-Eyed Raven to Bran

"There's no safety, you dumb b****. If you don't know that by now, you're the wrong person to watch over her." - The Hound to Brienne

"You refuse to die. I respect that, even admire it." -- Tywin to Tyrion

"What have you done?" - Varys to Tyrion

Fun Facts

- The opening scene when Jon walks north of the Wall and sees crows dining on the dead giant is a nice nod to the novel that this season was (somewhat) based on, "A Feast for Crows."

- RIP Jojen Reed. Though Jojen is not technically dead in the "A Song of Ice and Fire" novels, there are many fans who speculate he died off screen. His death in the TV series seems to be a confirmation.

- That Brienne and the Hound fight? Never happened in the novels -- which means Brienne doesn't know that Arya is alive in the books either. It's a great deviation for the TV show, and that fight between Sandor and Brienne is one of the best of the series.
Photo/Video credit: HBO