It was always the penultimate episode.
For three seasons, episode nine of Game of Thrones has been the one to shock, the one to break social media, the one readers of the books spent watching their friends as much as they spent watching the screen. Ned Stark. The Battle of Blackwater Bay. The Red Wedding. Each represented a massive turning point in the series, with the final episode of the season left to lay the foundations – read tease us – for next season.
If this show has ever had one theme, a forthcoming winter aside, it is that as far as David Benioff, Dan Weiss and George R. R. Martin are concerned, there are no rules.
The hints were there. Episode eight’s climactic trial by combat was skull-crushingly shocking, even for those readers who knew almost blow-for-blow what was coming. That was an experience worthy of episode nine.
By contrast, the actual episode nine was only an epic battle, focusing an entire hour for the first time on one character’s story arc while featuring the death of a beloved fan favourite.
So episode 10 was surely going to be the breather, surely it was just going to ease us into the agonising break until the first episode of season five sometime next year.
Yeah right. Not so much.
This has been the best season of Game of Thrones yet and one crossbow bolt has relegated the Battle of Castle Black and the Death of Prince Oberyn to podium finishes for best episode.
“I am your son. I have always been your son.”
Touching words from Tyrion, but when they come after you’ve just shot Dad on the privy and just before you send the second, fatal bolt flying, it loses some of it’s Hallmark sweetness. In fact it’s about as caring as uttering “I am your father” just after you cut off your son’s hand with a lightsaber. The scene is about that memorable too.
It’s not been a great series for parents. By season’s end the mother of dragons is being out maternaled by Cersei as one locks her dragons in the basement while the other generously threatens to tell the world her son’s father is also his uncle so that she can stay with him to look after him.
Mum, really, you shouldn’t have.
Meanwhile the winner of the Daddy Dearest award is a tie between Roose Bolton who acknowledged his bastard son only once he was genocidal enough and the leader of the white walkers who half way through the season demonstrated more paternal instincts in one blue-eyed-boy gesture than we saw in the other 599 odd minutes.
Still, they both did well just to make it. The survival rate in Westeros is terrible this season. Which makes for great television.
Where did we begin? Ten episodes and 11 weeks ago (thanks to the vagaries of the US television schedule) Jamie had just returned to King’s Landing where Joffrey was on the throne and engaged, while maintaining a sideline in household sociopathy. Danaerys was conquering cities with her dragons and her, ahem, dragonless soliders. The young Starks were scattered and Jon Snow had more holes in him than the old gods intended thanks to a particularly awkward break up with Ygritte.
Then we met Prince Oberyn in a brothel, a scene that finally tipped off one British newspaper to the apparently surprising notion that Game of Thrones might not be a good alternative to In The Night Garden when it comes to choosing the kids’ bedtime television viewing (click here to read the article). Apparently three seasons of genocide, homicide, sexposition, graphic violence and graphic incest hadn’t been enough of a clue. If the tabloids are angry you know you’re doing something right.
Since then Oberyn, Joffrey and Ygritte have died along with Polliver, Dontos Hollard, Lysa Arryn, Locke (aka Noah Taylor) the entire population of Mole’s Town, the rebels at Craster’s Keep, most of the Black Watch, 163 masters of Meereen and Theon, at least according to his sister who tried to rescue him only to discover Reek the wannabe dog.
That was all before the final episode. In one hour they were joined by Jojen, Shae, Tywin, a large number of wildlings and a small Meereen girl who apparently fell fowl of Drogon the Dragon. Sandor Clegane wasn’t looking too flash the last time we saw him either, here’s hoping there really is a maester hiding behind that rock.
Speaking of which his older and bigger brother seems to be spending time with George R. R. Martin’s answer to Victor Frankenstein so that can only go well.
The season four promotional images bore the phrase “All Men Must Die.” The same words – “valar morghulis” – came at the end. Ten episodes. Ten hours. It’s remarkable how much has been achieved, and not just in funeral arrangements.
Season four has been an epic instalment of this game changing series. There have even been some impressive story changes from the books in the adaptation process. The last two of which had the readers stunned in the last half hour between the death of Jojen at the hands of white walkers and the spectacular battle between the Hound and Brienne, who turns out to be pretty good in a fight but pretty bad at knowing when she’s found one of Catelyn Stark’s daughters, let alone actually getting them to let her protect them.
“There is no safety you dumb bitch,” said Clegane. “If you don’t know that by now you’re the wrong one to watch over her.” He may have had a point.
Not all the changes have been embraced by fans. The at best icky and for many revolting scene in which Jamie appeared to rape his sister in front of their son’s coffin was a source of genuine and legitimate backlash.
Still, the series had been finished by the time that aired, so the story that has played out since was all foretold and it has been nigh on perfect. Somehow it has been simultaneously satisfying and teasing.
So where to from here? We’ve certainly been teased with options.
Bran Stark is far north of the wall under a tree in a sea of snow with an elven child who seems to be throwing plasma grenades, last seen talking to Gandalf the rootball.
Jon Snow’s a blubbering mess and Danaerys is never going to look at a barbecue the same way while the Lannisters are falling like flies to the point where Cersei is effectively in charge of the seven kingdoms and intent on openly shagging her brother. She’s also ringing the bells, but Tyrion is in a box on a ship. Safe. Maybe.
Also at sea is Arya, who we last saw looking like she was off on a voyage drawn from a discarded chapter from Narnia that C.S. Lewis wrote on a bad acid trip, complete with a boy choir soundtrack.
It is a season that introduced characters and killed even more. They gave us everything we asked for, plenty we didn’t, and still left us begging for answers. It was a great adaptation of a great stretch of novels.
Which only leaves one question really. Has anyone seen Rickon Stark?