For Game of Thrones, nothing is sacred. The Season 4 finale - on Father's Day - is very aptly named "The Children," and its centerpeice is the downfall of parents. In this episode, one father dies, a mother stoops to imprisoning her children, and a father faces the final disgrace of his house. Sixty-six minutes of riveting television.
Despite an astounding third episode featuring the second of George R. R. Martin's murderous weddings and the death of the widely hated boy king Joffrey Baratheon, this season moved rather slowly. Each episode featured numerous scenes of build-up, with one or two attention-grabbing plot points toward the end. Scenes with Arya and The Hound appeared to repeat one another, and only at the end did the audience get Tyrion's speech, Lysa's fall, and the duel between the Mountain and the Viper.
This episode - by far the longest to date - had the audience on the edge of their seats the entire time. After the title sequence, Jon Snow walks toward the Wildling camp, aiming to kill the "King Beyond the Wall," Mance Rayder. If he does this, he will die, but he will also end the threat to the Night's Watch - which nearly triumped in last week's episode, "The Watchers on the Wall." After betraying the Wildlings, Jon submits to their power, claiming his brothers sent him to negotiate a peace.
Out of the blue, mounted knights break upon the Wildling camp. Rayder, along with Jon and the entire army, are captured by...King Stannis! In one of the biggest surprises this season, Stannis ends up north of The Wall, saving the realm from the Wildling attack. The Night's Watch burn their dead, and Jon says a final farewell to his love, Ygritte. The scene builds tension for the future as Melisandre turns her bewitching stare on Jon.
Meanwhile, in King's Landing, Cersei tries, one last time, to convince Tywin not to force her to marry Ser Loras Tyrell - a character whom HBO decides to make obviously homosexual. In spite, she tells him that the rumors about her and her brother Jaime are true - her brother is her lover, and Joffrey, Tommen, and Myrcella are bastards, not the children of King Robert Baratheon. Then Cersei, who had denied her brother access to her for the entire season, finally returns to him for the night.
Tywin, a father who cares for nothing so much as the honor and dignity of his house, learns that his eldest children - his firstborn son and his headstrong daughter - are shaming his legacy and endangering the peace of the realm.
Immediately after this reveal, another parent faces another devastating truth. Daenarys, "mother of dragons," learns that her children have burnt a human child. Visibly shaking, she resorts to locking them up in an underground cavern.
Topping shameful children and fire-breathing children, however, this episode introduces kids of another kind - children in name only, who lived in Westeros thousands of years before men. Bran, whose storyline proved dull for most fans of both the books and the show, finally meets the "children of the forest," and discovers his destiny.
In another twist - never mentioned in the book - Brienne of Tarth meets up with Arya and "The Hound," Sandor Clegane. While Brienne offers Arya safety, the little girl refuses, and Clegane challenges her for custody of the younger Stark girl. The resulting duel ends with The Hound mortally wounded, while Arya escapes. She goes off on her own - fleeing the woman her mother sent to protect her.
The finale hit a climax with the ultimate reversal of Father's Day - an arrow in the heart for dad. Granted, Tywin Lannister is no friendly papa, especially to his dwarf son Tyrion.
"All my life you've wanted me dead," Tyrion says.
Rather than challenge this damning accusation, Tywin freely admits it. "Yes, but you refused to die. I respect that. Even admire it - You fight for what's yours." Then the bad father lies to his son's face - "I'd never let them execute you." Acting like a good father, he says "I'll never let Ilyn Payne take your head. You're a Lannister. You're my son."
With a loud "thwang," Tyrion kills his father - one shot in the gut and another straight in the heart. In the ultimate moment of shame, Tywin dies in the privy.
While I admired the books and often grow frustrated with the show, I must admit that this episode did George R. R. Martin justice - and then some. Adding the duel between Brienne and The Hound was excellent and strengthened both characters. Jon burning Ygritte's body north of The Wall was a nice touch.
But by far the most astounding and audacious move was also the most entertaining - Tywin's death on Father's Day.