How fitting that Tywin Lannister, who has essentially ruled Westeros the past three seasons without actually sitting on the Iron Throne, met his end on another type of throne. The self-proclaimed wealthiest man in the Seven Kingdoms died while answering nature’s call in the middle of the night at the hands of the man he’d sentenced to death two episodes ago: his younger son, Tyrion Lannister.
“You are not my son,” the Lannister patriarch said to the dwarf whom he’d sentenced for the murder of King Joffrey—Tywin’s grandson and Tyrion’s nephew—even though he’d known he was innocent.
“I was always your son,” replied Tyrion, who put two arrows from a crossbow into his father’s chest after a lifetime of negligence and abuse. A man can only take so much belittling—particularly a dwarf.
Justice, a concept that is so often ephemeral if not outright invisible in the world of author George R.R. Martin, was served on Sunday night’s season four finale of Game of Thrones. Tyrion Lannister, who has long provided the viewer’s perspective to this empire primeval, not only got a stay of execution but exacted vengeance on the two people who most egregiously betrayed him: his father (on Father’s Day, no less) and his former lover, Shae.
Let the record show that in the final two episodes of this season of GoT, the underdogs got the better of the overwhelming favorites. A pair of giants perished while a midget turned the tables on the godfather of the Red Keep. A cripple, Bran Stark, advanced all the way to the under-root lair of the three-eyed raven while a brigade of skeleton soldiers straight out of a Sinbad matinee failed to stop him. The overwhelmed and under-sexed men of the Night’s Watch held off their fortress while being outnumbered 1,000 to one and without a woolly mammoth in their arsenal.
And irrepressible Arya Stark, the most unsinkable vessel on either shore of the Narrow Sea, at last rid herself of Sandor Clegane, a.k.a., “the Hound” and, for the first time since she was frolicking with the butcher’s boy early in season one, unwanted adult supervision. In a land that has a surfeit of badasses, no one is learning how to play the game more quickly than Arya.
Of course, Game of Thrones has always been every bit as much about word play as sword play. Relationships matter every ounce as much as alliances do. This is medieval Risk, but on a most humanistic and at times even mundane scale. It is not an accident that two of the series's most intimidating male characters, Tywin Lannister and the Hound, met their demise on Sunday night shortly after attending to fecal matters.
And for all the special effects, for all the wondrous landscapes—the final sweeping scene of Arya sailing off into open waters, a new horizon, was as awe-inspiring as anything James Cameron has done—it’s the details and the characters that make GoT the most-watched show—even more than The Sopranos—in the history of HBO.
Early in Sunday’s season finale, Jon Snow finds himself in the tent of wildling warlord Mance Rayder, who in most any other series would be a straight-up villain. But not here. As Rayder explains, his people have nowhere to turn—winter is coming, after all—but south, except that a man-made, 700-foot wall of ice is in their way. Rayder is no more a scourge than Geronimo was. Perhaps, years from now, when peace and affluence are restored to the Seven Dingdoms, the Knight’s Landing pro sports franchise will name themselves the Wildlings.
Elsewhere, Daenerys Targaryen, a.k.a. the Mother of Dragons, has put two of her three incorrigible children in a serious timeout. She lured them into the catacombs of Meereen and then locked them away. It’s “How to Train Your Dragon”, Khaleesi, not “How to Chain Your Dragon.”
At some point in Season 4, perhaps right after Joffrey’s death by poisoning, Daenerys and Sansa Stark appear to have undergone a mojo exchange. Both young women, roughly the same age, were introduced to us as naive tweens. Where Khaleesi grew up but quick, Sansa spent three years at the edge of tears and self-pity. Finally, though, Sansa has become a survivor and while she may not have made a deal with the devil, she likely went one step further—a union with Petyr Baelish, Littlefinger, who only had eyes for her (deceased) mother.
Meanwhile, Khaleesi began Season 4 having figuratively unfurled the MISSION ACCOMPLISHED banner across the former slave city of Meereen, which she liberated from its oppressors. She also executed many of the masters, and then decided to try her hand at nation-building.
Ever since, Khal Drogo’s widow has sent away her lover, learned that her most trusted advisor and friend, Ser Jorah Mormont, had first come to her acquaintance by spying on her, and has realized what King Robert Baratheon learned long before his own death—governing is a tedious and often thankless gig. Especially when it is not even your own native state.
As Khaleesi closed the tomb—but for how long?—on two of her three beloved dragons (the other is out, presumably smoking a goat, so to speak), there were tears in her eyes, despair in her heart. If she were to have passed a Night’s Watch recruiting office on the way back to the palace, who knows if she may not have just enlisted.
Back in Knight’s Landing, wine lover Cersei (Can I get a Sancerre-sei?) finally called her father’s bluff. Before Tywin died, Cersei defied him by informing the wealthiest man in Westeros that she would not wed renowned “pillow biter” (her words) Loras Tyrell. And if you think about it, on Father’s Day all three Lannister progeny defied dear old Tywin—it was Jamie, after all, who set Tyrion free.
Anyway, Cersei informed Tyrion that she would not wed Loras, that she would not lose her third and last child, either to pigeon pie or enforced exodus or a power struggle with her future daughter-in-law. Cersei would remain in (Knot’s) King’s Landing and continue raising her only remaining son, Tommen, who just happens to be the king, in an upright manner while continuing to commit incest with her brother the Kingslayer.
And after informing him of that I can only assume Sancerre-sei went online and snatched up the last remaining pair of front-row tickets to the Katy Perry concert.
And so at last we come to the main event, Lady Brienne of Tarth vs. Sandor Clegane in the heavyweight class. The prize? Not a championship belt but rather guardianship of Arya Stark, who did her damnedest to prevent this duel from taking place against a breathtaking highlands backdrop.
“The Bloody Gate is 10 miles away,” Arya informs Lady Brienne once the latter recognizes her, but Lady Brienne refuses to abandon her. She swore an oath, after all, and her sword of Valyrian steel is named Oathkeeper.
“I swore to your mother I would keep you safe,” Lady Brienne counters, which inspires the episode’s, if not the entire series’s, most inspired line. It comes from the mouth of the Hound.
“There’s no safety, you dumb bitch,” he says. “If you don’t know that by now, you’re the wrong one to be watching over her.”
There’s no safety. Not on this or that side of the Wall. No matter how high you build it. Not in Westeros or any other place. How do you protect people from monsters when, after all, the monster is us?