And now, the end is near, and so we face the final curtain. Quite literally for some, mostly theoretical, for this is not the end, it is not even the beginning of the end … Bloody hell! It’s not even the end of the beginning. Let’s recap! We started season 4 with a bastard Lannister boy on the Iron Throne, Arya Stark on the run, Sansa in trouble with powerful people in a wicked city, Jon Snow facing a threat from the north and Daenerys struggling to control the slaver cities and her troublesome dragons, while Bran Stark wandered towards a mysterious and exceptionally “fantasy” coloured “destiny”. So, ten episodes later, how do we come out? There’s a bastard Lannister boy on the Iron Throne (different boy, same vicious mother), Arya Stark is on the run (one Hound shorter), Sansa is in trouble with powerful people in a wicked city, Jon Snow is facing a threat from the north (this time with Stannis at least temporarily at his back), Daenerys is struggling to control the slaver cities and her troublesome dragons, while Bran Stark has found a tree-herder closely connected to his mysterious and gradually even more fantasy coloured “destiny”. It’s rather amazing, impressive even, to see how much you can stretch nothing into something. Nothing? cries the ardent supporters of Game of Thrones. Tons of things have happened! Yes, I reply, events have taken place, several. But we haven’t taken one single step towards the inevitable end. I have been reminded that the “fire” in A Song of Ice and Fire might be connected to Melisandre and her fire-cult, but since that in turn is obviously connected to Daenerys and her dragons I find the objection irrelevant and overrule it.
The final episode builds a major pile of events, thus increasing the speed almost exponentially, which would be good if it wasn’t for the fact that it just throws light on the snail pace of the previous nine episodes. Jon Snow has a sit-down with Mance Rayder when the Wildling camp is overrun by a large cavalry force commanded by Stannis Baratheon (his attempt to seek support from the Iron Bank was apparently successful, congrats!). The entire scene, though well executed – I mean, who doesn’t love that cavalry charge? – raises some questions: how did that large army, all those horses, end up north of the Wall? What is preventing the Wildlings from taking the same route the other way? And why, incidentally, doesn’t the Wildlings simply scale the Wall? Yes, it would take a long time, but it would work because there is no way the Crows could man the entire construction. And why – oh please explain this to me – why haven’t Mance Rayder posted scouts on his flanks or in his rear? They always make this simple mistake, which makes the scene very much like a deus ex machina: how to solve the stalemate at the Wall? I know, just let Stannis pop up with an army out of nowhere. Not even Tywin Lannister knows of it and, after all, he knows everything, even what Daenerys is doing far, far away.
It appears I was wrong: ser Gregor Clegane didn’t die in the fight with Oberyn. Instead it is hinted that he will survive and become even stronger. Cersei is pleased, I think it’s a nag: get rid of him, please, he doesn’t add anything relevant, making him even stronger is just ridiculous. In fact, Cersei is so happy she reunites with brother Jaime in amourous embrace. She also threatens her father that she will reveal her incestous relationship with Jaime if Tywin tries to force her to marry ser Loras Tyrell, the poof. (And while wiki-ing ser Loras I learn that the pommel of his sword is made of alabaster. Wow! Stupidity among stupidities! The pommel serves as a counter-weight to balance the sword, in some fighting styles it’s also used to hit the opponent. Brass or steel do a good job because they’re both hard and have a high density, i.e. they’re heavy, but alabaster? Please!)
Daenerys continues to learn the art of ruling, facing the handy-work of her dragon Drogon. Realizing that she can’t control her kids, she chains them up in the catacombs, a moving scene that doesn’t mean anything: I wager she will let them out and use them to retake the Iron Throne, not next season, or the seasons following it, but in the end, the end that hasn’t begun yet.
Tyrion manages to escape, with a little help from his brother and Varys. On his way out he puts two crossbow bolts in his father while the vicious old geezer is on the privy, and strangles the treacherous Shae. Tying up loose ends for season five?
Brienne of Tarth finally catches up with Arya Stark, who, reasonably enough, doesn’t trust her since she is carrying the valyrian steel sword Jamie Lannister gave her. Violence ensues, with The Hound and Brienne fighting edge against edge like complete amateurs. Valyrian steel apparently gets notched as easy as normal steel. The Hound finds himself falling off a cliff – another good looking scene – and is abandoned by Arya who decides to set out on her own, sailing into the sunset or whatever. Why Arya hasn’t even been allowed to attend the funeral of her aunt Lysa in the Eyrie I don’t know, but I suspect it would have forced a reunion with sister Sansa which would have killed Aryas arc and apparently it’s a popular one. Because she’s a kid? A girl in a world of evil men?
Bran Stark also reaches his goal, the mysterious tree of his visions. A well guarded place apparently, a troop of undead, skeletons to be precise (remind me: how can skeletons scream, when they have neither wind-pipe, nor lungs?), burst from the ground to attack them and they only narrowly escape with their lives, well, not all of them of course, this is Game of Thrones after all. Under the tree Bran learns … nothing about his destiny. There is a lot of magic at play here, including the ever-present fireballs. You might as well watch someone play a fantasy adventure computer-game.
This episodes score: 4. It’s effective, but only because it has to be. The loose ends must be dealt with, the cliffhangers must be established. And they are, but that is precisely the problem: I don’t care, because I know it will not end any day soon. We have years and years of this ahead of us. Some people may love that fact, I simply can’t help asking, as I have so many times before: why this huge distance to travel when the end is obvious? It’s as relevant as watching people run 25 laps in a stadium. It might be exciting to begin with, or to end with, but the rest? Sorry, it’s just not interesting. Every point that has been made in season 2 through 4 was made in season 1. Nothing is added but incidents. If I ever read the books I might go at it by reading A Game of Thrones, then the recaps in the following volumes, and finish by reading the entire final book. That will suffice, believe it or not.
I understand that George R R Martin originally intended there to be a five year gap between two of the books, allowing Daenerys’ dragons to grow up and be ready to serve their purpose: to be the supreme weapon wielded by a benevolent ruler in order to show what good such a ruler could do to the world. I wish he had stuck to that plan, because all that remains now is that distance to travel, events to witness. In the end it doesn’t matter who lives or dies in Westeros, or who sits on the Iron Throne when Daenerys arrives with her army and her dragons, because when she does, she will sit on the Iron Throne, she will kill anyone that stands in her way, probably with the help of Jon Snow and Bran “The Once and Future Tree” Stark. My end prediction? Jon Snow will marry Daenerys, thereby uniting the north and the south for the cataclysmic, multi-hundred pages final battle against the White Walkers. There will be trouble in paradise of course, but it will be spring, going into summer.
You’re just jealous! Martin-fans all over the world throws at me, and yes, I am, but mostly because I can’t see why this is considered so good, so new and so interesting. It’s the same old modern, post-RPG fantasy, built to be cool rather than art, to accumulate cash rather than make a relevant statement about human dilemmas. Mr Martin is no doubt financially independent, he could turn this into greatness if he wanted to. Instead he caters to the crowds like a latter-day caesar presiding over his lavishly decorated gladitorial gala. Let the millions of disciples curse me for this final question: what’s so bloody great with this?