'Game of Thrones' Recap: How to Chain Your Dragons

The HBO fantasy series celebrates Father s Day with a very special episode

Photo: Helen Sloan/HBO

They don’t celebrate Father’s Day in Westeros – though you could argue, given the focus on dynastic ties and lines of succession, that every day is Father’s Day in the Seven Kingdoms – but Sunday night’s fourth-season finale of Game of Thrones, fittingly titled “The Children,” did the holiday justice anyway.

From the dungeons of the Red Keep to the wilderness beyond the Wall, all of Westeros was taking stock of their father figures. Some exchanged old mentors for new, while others finally realized how crappy their daddies really were. One thing’s for sure – after the events of this episode, most of our characters are going to need a lot of therapy.

Major spoilers below! Proceed at your own risk!

Beyond the Wall

It’s been a long time since Jon Snow has seen his father, but Ned Stark casts a long shadow over all the surrogates he’s encountered over the course of his Night’s Watch adventures. Lord Commander Mormont fought Jon about duty, Qhorin Halfhand taught him to bend the rules and Mance Rayder taught him about trust. When Jon approaches Mance’s camp on an assassination mission, there’s a palpable Oedipal feeling in the air.

But before Jon can cut Mance down, someone else does it for him: Stannis Baratheon, who arrives with his army just in time to slaughter the wildling army that’s been camped out since last week.

Mance surrenders to Stannis, and all of a sudden Jon’s got a new father figure to deal with. This one will likely prove difficult, though Stannis begrudgingly lets Jon convince him to spare Mance’s life. Even more worrisome is Jon’s new red-headed stepmom, Melisandre, seen giving our young crow an enigmatic glance over a funeral pyre at Castle Black. Was she attracted by the flames, or something else?

Even further north, Bran and company have finally reached their destination, a flowering heart tree in the middle of a frozen tundra. Just as they’re about to enter, though, they’re ambushed by a group of long-dead wights, long since decomposed.

Game of Thrones is often at its best when it lets its pulpy side take over, and the battle that ensues is sheer Harryhausen, with Meera engaging the skeleton soldiers in hand-to-hand combat, poor Jojen losing his life (just like he predicted he would) and the deus ex machina arrival of one of the Children of the Forest, who defeats the wights with the magic of her people (fireballs, it turns out).

The Child leads Bran down to the caverns below the tree, where things go full fantasy: Bran encounters the Three-Eyed Raven in the flesh: An old wizard, who turns out to have been watching over the company their entire lives. He assures Bran that he will never walk again, but, with his help Bran will be able to fly. Joseph Campbell couldn’t have scripted it better himself.


Daenerys isn’t a father, but as one of her many titles claims, she is the mother to three increasingly unruly children. Just as she’s quite literally laying down the law in her throne room, she receives some heartbreaking news: Drogon, last seen feasting on goats, has now progressed to feasting on children. Rather than re-enact God of Carnage, she springs into action.

Parenting is all about discipline, and Dany decides the best way to prevent further violence is to chain her two well-behaved dragons in the city’s catacombs. Like Ned Stark, the woman who passes the sentence swings the sword: Dany locks the shackles around their necks herself. They call out for her as she walks out into the sunset, in tears. She proves the old saying right: This hurts her more than it hurts them.

The Vale

After three seasons featuring multiple characters wandering around the countryside, some of them were bound to run into each other. The lucky traveler is Brienne, who chances upon Arya in the hillsides outside the Bloody Gate. The two warrior women share a brief moment of connection, but it’s interrupted by the arrival of the Hound, which suddenly makes Arya’s identity clear.

Brienne wants to take Arya to safety, but the Hound spits her words back at her: “Safety? Where the f––– is that?” Arya is caught between two surrogate parents, the Hound’s ruthless pragmatism clashing with Brienne’s honor-based idealism. When they come to blows, it’s a battle of values systems as much as anything.

The fight begins with epic swordplay and a dramatic swordfight – Brienne’s territory, in other words – but before long the strings have cut out and the swords have been knocked away, and we’re left with two grunting brawlers out to inflict the maximum amount of pain on each other, by any means necessary.

By the time it’s over, Brienne has bitten off the Hound’s ear and kicked him in the balls, and Arya has run off anyway. Brienne wins the fight, but the Hound wins the argument: Nihilism rules the day.

Bloody and broken, Sandor begs Arya to end his life. She stares at him for what seems like an eternity, listening to his pleas with a disturbing lack of emotion. Finally she takes action, robbing him and making her way to the nearest port. There’s nothing and nobody left for her in Westeros; why not see what Braavos has in store?

King’s Landing

All across the capital, the Lannister children are in revolt. Cersei has had enough of her engagement to Loras Tyrell, and tries to get out of it the only way she can think of: blackmail. She tells her father the truth about her and Jaime – and if Tywin doesn’t release her from the union, soon the whole kingdom will.

Emboldened by her newfound truth-telling, she makes her way to Jaime’s chambers, where she promptly seduces her twin. Maybe it’s the relative lack of consensual sex on this show, but the result is one of the hottest scenes they’ve ever done.

“People will whisper,” Cersei tells Jaime, “but they’re so small, I don’t see them. I love my brother.” As with everything the Queen Regent does, it’s hard to tell how much of this is a nefarious plan and how much of it is a reaction to the moment, but we’re touched all the same.

If it was a plot, though, it was a danged bad one; the next time we see Jaime, he’s springing Tyrion from his cell. (See? This show can be cruel, but not so cruel as to kill off Peter Dinklage.) The two brothers share a loving embrace, but Tyrion veers off script for a little late-night wandering around the Red Keep. He enters his father’s chambers … only to find Shae there, purring for Tywin.

What happens next might be a bridge too far for Tyrion’s character: Though the show tries to soften the blow by having Shae reach for a knife, he strangles her with her necklace. Afterward, he apologizes, though not in a voice we’ve ever heard Tyrion use before. It’s high-pitched and stilted, as if the Imp were in the process of being possessed by Norman Bates. Clearly, he’s snapped.

From there, it’s only a few short steps to the privy; Tywin has spent so much of his time onscreen taking care of business it seems only fitting that’s where Tyrion would find him. Tywin calls Shae a whore, and the utter carelessness with which he spits the word makes Tyrion’s trigger finger itchy. Tywin tries to talk Tyrion down from the ledge, but he lets one too many “whore”‘s slip past his lips. Suddenly he’s got a crossbow bolt in the belly.

At least Tywin dies doing what he loved: Telling Tyrion he was never his son. Tyrion disagrees. “I am your son,” he says, firing one last arrow. “I have always been your son.”

Happy Father’s Day! We’ll see you next spring.

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