The show is called “Game of Thrones,” and gruesome deaths are a standard occurrence, so it seems only natural that one character would eventually meet his end on a throne of another kind. (Spoiler alert: Read not one more word if you have yet to see Sunday’s fourth-season finale.)
And so it came to pass, that after years of behind-the-scenes tyranny, manipulation, and paternal terror — and shortly after learning definitively that two of his children were involved in a years-long incestuous relationship that produced his royal grandchildren — Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance) was shot with a crossbow while sitting on the toilet by his third child, Tyrion (Peter Dinklage). It was payback for, among other things, sentencing Tyrion to death for a murder he did not commit. If Tyrion had any doubts about whether he should kill his father, they probably ended when he found the only woman he had ever loved, a woman Tywin used as a witness against Tyrion in his sham trial, in Tywin’s bed just before their final encounter.
While few would have expected Tywin to be on the receiving end of any “Best Dad Ever” mugs on Father’s Day — a clever programming wink on the part of the producers — this ignoble end in the privy to a character who had meticulously and ruthlessly amassed his power felt fitting.
Tywin was not the only character to shuffle off this mortal coil in a thrilling season finale with a high body count. The episode saw several characters who had once been victims take matters into their own hands, power shifting in an instant; those in transit reaching new crossroads; and the dead being mourned.
After a long journey to be reunited with her aunt only to discover that she had died, Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) was able to scratch another name off her revenge list when Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) triumphed in hand-to-hand combat with Arya’s captor-protector-perverse-road-trip buddy Sandor “The Hound” Clegane (Rory McCann). As The Hound begged for Arya to strike the mortal blow that would end his suffering, she calmly plucked his bag of silver and departed to fend for herself. Thanks to the medallion given to her by the magical Jaqen H’ghar (Tom Wlaschiha), she was welcomed onto a ship. Arya wasn’t the only one hitting the open seas: post-patricide, Tyrion, concealed in a crate, was unceremoniously hoisted onto another ship under the watchful eye of the also-fleeing Lord Varys (Conleth Hill).
Jon Snow (Kit Harington) meanwhile was busy lighting a funeral pyre for his dead Wildling lover Ygritte (Rose Leslie) and trying to negotiate terms of a truce of some kind with the King Beyond the Wall Mance Rayder (Ciaran Hinds) — or find a way to kill him. But before any of that could happen, Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane) and a formidable army arrived to squelch the Wildling uprising and rescue the Night’s Watch from certain death.
In heavy-hangs-the-head mode, Danaerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) found yet another of the costs of the “freedom” she had bestowed on the slave nations she has conquered.
An older man came to her explaining that he may have been a slave but he had taught his master’s children languages and history and was loved and respected in his house. Now he is homeless, fighting for scraps in lawless Meereen-ian soup kitchens where the young among the newly freed prey upon the old and weak. Tragically, he wishes to sell himself back into bondage in order to regain his sense of dignity. Danaerys agrees to the compromise of allowing the man to contract himself back to his master. But just as she is freeing others, she discovers she must shackle her own “children,” as one of her errant dragons is now indiscriminately incinerating livestock, and even more tragically, people.
And finally, Arya’s brother Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright) reached his destination, the weirwood tree, only to be beset by marauding zombie skeletons. His guide, JoJen Reed (Thomas Brodie-Sangster), is sacrificed, and Bran is taken in by some sort of ancient wood nymph to meet the human manifestation of the three-eyed raven.
After a penultimate episode shot mostly in one location, it was a gratifying, loose-ends-tying finale in which just about everyone got a little screen time to advance their individual plots. And as some characters newly come into contact — we don’t like the way Melisandre (Carice van Houten) was looking at Jon Snow — and others set off on new paths — Arya, Tyrion, Bran — it offered hints of what future storylines might hold (especially for those who have not read the George R.R. Martin “A Song of Ice and Fire” books on which the series is based).
“Game of Thrones” has ascended to become HBO’s most popular show ever, and it is in part due to episodes like this where executive producers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss oversee such a large canvas — juggling storylines, characters, locations, effects — with such a sure hand. The late Tywin Lannister would admire their command.