[Warning: This post contains spoilers for the season 4 finale of "Game of Thrones." Read on at your own risk!]
Suffice it to say, this was not a happy Father's Day in Westeros.
But it's fitting that this "Game of Thrones" finale -- the best finale the show has done to date, as producers promised it would be -- aired on that family-centric holiday. And its title, "The Children," was equally fitting on multiple levels. There are the creatures that go by that name that Bran encounters in the woods. There are Dany's dragons -- not "children" in the literal sense but creatures she's responsible for and who, like other children, are harder to control as they get older. And then, of course, there are the Lannisters.
The episode begins with Jon Snow, who is off his mission to kill Mance Rayder, the King-Beyond-the Wall. He says he's there to negotiate, and Mance brings him into his tent to talk. "It appears my trusting nature got the better of me," Mance tells him. Jon responds that he's been loyal the whole time - to his Night's Watch vows. But not all of them, Mance points out, referring to his relationship with Ygritte. They toast to her and other fallen comrades with a "proper Northern drink" ("Of all the ways I'd kill you, poison would be the last," says Mance) before getting down to business. Mance knows the Night's Watchmen are outnumbered and explains that the wildlings need to go south of the Wall because winter is coming and if they stay they'll be worse than dead (read: killed by White Walkers). So he offers a deal: Open the gates and the Night's Watchmen will be spared. Refuse, and they'll all be killed.
Suddenly, their tete-a-tete is interrupted by commotion outside. A large army is attacking the camp from multiple sides. Whose are these guys? Turns out their led by Stannis Baratheon, the One True King of the Seven Kingdoms thankyouverymuch. Mance lays down his arms but refuses to kneel before Stannis on principle, and Jon then jumps in and identifies himself as a son of Ned Stark. Stannis asks Jon what his father would do with Mance, and he replies, "I was this man's prisoner once. He could've tortured me, he could've killed me. But he spared my life. I think my father would've taken him prisoner and listened to what he had to say."
Later in the episode, there's a funeral for the men who lost their lives in the battle at Castle Black, and Jon makes a funeral pyre for his love, Ygritte.
In King's Landing, Grand Maester Pycelle is tending to a comatose Mountain following his victory over Prince Oberyn in the trial by combat. Cersei is eager for him to recover, but Pycelle says he's beyond saving - turns out Oberyn poisoned his spear, ensuring his enemy would die a painful death even if he won the battle. Qyburn, however, has one of his newfangled experimental ideas that he thinks might work, but could change the Mountain in the process. Cersei's cool with it as long as it doesn't make him weaker.
From there, she marches to her father's chamber and informs him she won't be marrying Loras Tyrell. She won't go off to High Garden and leave her only remaining son, Tommen, alone in King's Landing for Tywin and Margaery to fight over. "I will burn the house to the ground before I let that happen," she says, threatening to tell everyone the truth about her incestuous relationship with her brother, and the fact that her children are theirs. She wonders how someone so consumed with his family couldn't have seen what was happening right in front of his face. Tywin says he doesn't believe her, but when she replies, "Yes, you do," you can see in his eyes that he does.
Cersei then goes to Jaime and tells him what happen. She kisses him, and then his gold hand. "I choose you," she tells him. "I love my brother."
In Meereen, Dany is meeting with her subjects again. First she hears from a former slave who doesn't see a place for himself in this new world order she's established. He wants to be resold to his former master. "The young may rejoice in the new world you have built for them, but for those of us too old to change there is only fear and squalor," he tells her. She says he can form a contract with his former master that can last no longer than one year. If that concession disappoints her, it's nothing compared to what happens next. A distraught man comes in carrying a bundle in his arms. It's the charred body of his 3-year-old daughter, the handiwork of one of Dany's dragons (Drogon, who is currently nowhere to be found). Heartbroken, she leads her other two dragons down to the catacombs, where she chains them to the floor.
We then meet up with Bran, Hodor and the Reed siblings on their journey north of the Wall to find the three-eyed raven and that Weirwod tree from Bran's vision. Their trek across the tundra is interrupted, horrifyingly, by a skeletal hand bursting up from beneath the snow. A hoard of undead warriors (known as "wights" in the "Thrones" universe) comes for them, and Bran possesses Hodor once again to help fight them. Meera's fighting them off too, but Jojen is killed before the rest of the group gets rescued by the Children of the Forest, a mysterious group of creatures that have lived in Westeros for eons.
The Children take Bran to see an old man sitting on what looks like a throne of branches in some creepy woods, and Bran recognizes him as the human manifestation of the three-eyed raven from his dreams. The man tells Bran he's been watching him all his life, and that Jojen knew he'd die so Bran could find what he had lost. Does that mean he'll walk again? No, the man tells him. He'll never walk again -- but he will fly.
In the Riverlands, Brienne and Podrick come upon Arya and the Hound. Pod recognizes the Hound, and then Brienne realizes the youngster she was talking to is Arya. She explains she swore a vow to Ayra's mother to find and bring her to safety and wants to keep her promise. But the Hound is skeptical and won't part with her so easily.
They fight, and it's brutal -- face-punching, ear biting and all. Brienne gets the upper hand and pushes the Hound off the side of a cliff, but the victory is short-lived because Arya is nowhere to be found. Podrick's fault, of course, just like losing those horses. But she's down with the Hound, who begs her to kill him. His name is on her list, after all. But she just takes his money and leaves him for dead. Now a one-woman traveling show, Arya gets passage on a ship bound for Braavos with the help of her iron coin and the words "Valar Morghulis."
And now, back in King's Landing for the finale to the finale. Tyrion, sentenced to death, gets whisked out of his prison cell by big brother Jaime, who with the help of Varys has arranged for a ship to help him escape to the Free Cities. He hugs Jaime goodbye, but first takes a little detour to his old Hand of the King chambers, where his father now resides. Dear old Dad isn't there at the moment...but Shae is, waiting in bed for her new "lion" to come back. She reaches for a knife and they struggle until he strangles her to death with her own necklace.
Anguished by the betrayal and his new status as a murderer, he grabs a crossbow off the wall and finds his father...on the toilet. He tells Tyrion to put down the weapon and claims he never planned to sentence his son to death, but Tyrion counters that his father has always wanted him dead. He admits to killing Shae, and Tywin dismisses her as a "whore." When he says it again, Tyrion shoots him. "I am your son," he says, reloading the crossbow. "I have always been your son." He shoots again, and his father/tormentor is dead.
From there, he goes to find Varys and they both get on that boat, sailing off to the Free Cities as fans begin their countdown to season 5.
What did you think of the "Game of Thrones" finale? Did it cover everything you wanted it to? Share your thoughts on the episode in the comments.