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“Happy fucking Father’s Day.” — The Season Four Finale of Game of Thrones

The TV adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s A Storm of Swords has now come to a close and, at the end of it all, what is the overall lesson this tale has taught us? Really, it’s the same overarching message that the climax of nearly every slasher film ever made has attempted to hand down: don’t count your opponent as being out of the fight until you are setting fire to his breathless corpse. Though Joffrey may have fallen, Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage, whose work this year has been damn near transcendent) found himself at the mercy of the cruelest members of his family. For a moment, Tyrion believed he may have discovered a sliver of hope in his trial-by-combat “champion”, until Prince Oberyn of Dorne wasted one too many seconds taunting his downed foe before he found himself on his back, Ser Gregor Clegane’s thumbs deep in his eye sockets. But tonight, Tyrion got to dole out a few teachings of his own to his tyrannical father, as the imp was once again underestimated by those who look down their nose at him. The resulting patricide is one of the most heart-wrenchingly sad moments in Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire saga, and show-runners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff have translated it into the perfect capper for what may be the series’ strongest season.

North of the Wall, Jon Snow meets with Mance Rayder to try and come to a mutual agreement regarding the Night’s Watch. After they pour a few drinks out for the ones they lost, Mance gives Jon a choice: let us through the wall and we won’t kill any more of your men. Refuse and you will all die. However, the choice is taken away from Jon, as Stannis Baratheon and his army arrive and overpower the force beyond the Wall. Mance surrenders, while Jon burns the bodies of the fallen.

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Meanwhile, the arguments in King’s Landing are many. While Gregor Clegane lay dying from the poison Prince Oberyn laced the tip of his spear with, Cersei tells Tywin she won’t marry Loras — she refuses to go to Highgarden and be parted from her remaining son (and current King) Tommen.“Your legacy is a lie,” she hisses at her father before revealing the truth about she and Jaime’s relationship. Immediately after, she marches off to see her brother and tell him that they can finally be together. “I choose you,” she says, and the two embrace in passionate lovemaking that is far less rough than the (now extremely problematic) sex they had beside Joffrey’s chilling corpse just a few episodes ago.

In Meereen, Daenerys discovers that one of her precious dragons has murdered a young girl. Facing a no-win situation like Jon’s, she has no choice but to lock her other two babies in a dungeon and seal them away. The beasts have grown beyond her control, much like her empire has threatened to over the course of Season Four. Will the once child bride rise to the occasion and finally learn to harness the power she possesses? Only time will tell.

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Even farther North, Bran, Jorjen and the the other travelers make it to the tree from the boy’s visions, only to be attacked by the undead (or “wights”,  for those book readers amongst us). Skeletons begin shooting up out of the snow and ice and attack them as they attempt to scramble toward the tree. In a sad and cruel twist, Jorjen is stabbed again and again by a skeleton as Bran is forced to watch his friend bleed out. Without warning, a young girl appears from a nearby cave and begins tossing fire balls at them (I know, right?). In the midst of her psychic napalming, she torches Jorjen in order to keep him from turning into a wight.

Bran and Co. find shelter with these “Children of the Forest” (here’s a Wiki link explaining these creatures’ existence, again for non-readers), who take the crippled boy to an old sage called the Three-Eyed Raven. As it turns out, the Raven is the physical manifestation of the metaphorical crow from Bran’s dreams. The Raven explains to Bran that he will never walk again. “But you will fly,” is the cryptic fprm of hope he offers. Again, we’ll have to wait and see what that truly means for the lost Stark boy.

In the Riverlands, Arya and The Hound are discovered by Brienne and Podrick. Though she professes her allegiance to Catlyn Stark, The Hound doubts her, thinking she’s there only to collect the bounty on his head (the sight of Oathkeeper certainly doesn’t help her argument). The two brawl in yet another spectacularly brutal moment of choreographed hand-to-hand combat. Brienne comes out on top, pushing The Hound over a cliff. Unfortunately, Podrick loses sight of their quarry and as they scramble, Arya says goodbye to a dying Hound. It’s an emotionally draining moment, as she refuses to kill her protector and leaves him by the side of the cliff.

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Finally, back in King’s Landing, Jaime lets Tyrion out of the dungeon, leading him down a tunnel to safety. But Tyrion can’t go without saying something to his father. He sneaks into the Hand of the King’s quarters to find…Shae, cooing his daddy’s name while she lay naked in his bed. Disgusted, he jumps the girl and strangles her to death. After crying for a moment, he arms himself with a crossbow and confronts his dad on the john (side note: King’s Landing has indoor shitters?). Some tense words are spoken and Tyrion shoots him down, content to leave his father dead in a shameful position. The imp is then smuggled away onto a ship by Varys. Meanwhile, at a seaport in the Riverlands, Arya boards a ship headed to Braavos and speaks the word taught to her by the assassin in Season 2: “Valar Morghulis.” (“All Men Must Die” in High Valyrian.)

While it’s easy to whine about what was omitted from this final hour (Lady Stoneheart anybody?) this “baby with the bathwater” mentality that some “book readers” have when it comes to the show’s fidelity to the source is kind of wrongheaded. Season Four did so much right, delivering numerous shocking deaths and stunning performances, not to mention some of the best action the show has ever seen. Great television and cinema are meant to stand on their own merits, regardless of whether or not it’s an adaptation, and Season Four was truly a marvelous accomplishment for HBO. “Valar Morghulis” indeed.

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