game-thrones-season-4-premiere It is the season 4 finale of Game of Thrones, which means a bit of heartache, a bit of murder and a whole lot of unresolved tension. Personally, the finale lacked the excitement of even the last episode, but it did successfully set each group of characters on their prospective paths for season 5. This episode, I find myself missing the emotional depth of the books. I mean–whose great idea was it to completely ignore the emergence of Lady Stoneheart? Or to have Arya walking away from the Hound the last we ever see of him? Even the exchange between Tywin and Tyrion could have been a bit more dramatic, but alas, the entire thing lacked luster. If the single most surprising and intense moments of book 3 can be dismissed, well, what else will writers decide is unimportant from the original text? Still, the themes of betrayal, escape and renewal that flow throughout the text remain consistent in the show, as well. In the game of thrones, there are variables and variants that make it nearly impossible to make moral judgements on our players. Whether well loved like Arya Stark or despised like Cersei Lannister, characters continue to push the boundaries set upon them by others and redefine their own nature as choices are made and lines are drawn that cannot be erased. As audiences wait 9 months or so for the season 5 premiere and the answers to all the questions posed in the season 4 finale, we can only speculate on how the show will pack into the next season the actors and places we love from GoT, while remaining true to the scope of George R. R. Martin’s work.

The North

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At the Wall, the sparse troops of the Night’s Watch have been thinned out even more by the Free Folks’ attack and Jon Snow decides to parlay with Mance Rayder in order to find agreeable terms for both sides. When he arrives at the camp, Jon is recognized as a leader of the Crows but also as a liar who infiltrated the ranks of the Wildlings under false pretences. When Jon explains that he followed the orders of Quorin Halfhand to learn all he could about the Wildling plans and then return to the Night’s Watch, Mance admits he only wants the Free Folk to find safety from winter on the other side of the Wall. The easy way that Jon and Mance get along is evident in this scene as they share a drink to mourn dead friends lost in the recent battle, sharing a mutual respect that leaders often do. Before any decisions can be made about terms or surrender, hundreds of nameless soldiers ride through the Wildling ranks, attacking with the element of surprise–so much so, even Jon Snow isn’t sure who the army belongs to. Apparently, the funds Stannis Baratheon and Davos procured from the Iron Bank purchased the contracts of enough mercenaries to overthrow the Free Folk army. With Stannis as saviour of the Wall and Castle Black, the Night’s Watchmen take the time to bury and burn their dead and Jon Snow takes Ygritte’s body North of the Wall for a proper burial in the land which she belongs.  Stannis recognizes Jon Snow as the son of Ned Stark, who died defending Stannis’ name, and immediately we are reminded that Jon’s parentage, while unimpressive to his Brothers at the Wall, still holds some power in the world outside. Stannis is unsure what to do with Mance Rayder and Jon reminds him that his father would not have tortured and killed the man, but extracted information and kept him prisoner, instead. The future of the Night’s Watch is uncertain, but we know that the Wildlings remain on the wrong side of the Wall and, with White Walkers rising and attacking indiscriminately, it is up to Stannis to decide the fate of the Free Folk before it is too late.

Also in the far North, Bran, Hodor, Jojen and Meera arrive at the godswood of the three-eyed raven, only to be attacked by White Walkers who previously lie dormant under the snow. A strange child comes out of a cave shooting fireballs from her hands to save Bran Stark. She knows his name, and says “he” is waiting to meet the group. Jojen is fatally stabbed by a wight and his sister, Meera, must choose to stay with him, fight and die or leave him. At Jojen’s insistence, Meera goes to leave him, but first slits his throat mercifully so that he will have a quick death. The strange child then incinerates Jojen’s body, so there is nothing left of him to reanimate after death. In the cave, Bran meets the warg who is the three-eyed raven living under the godswood. The mission of “the children”, who claim to have been around before the first men, is unknown, but Bran and his friends seem to be safe, for now and will not have to run any longer.

Arya, on the other hand, is running as far away as she possibly can. After finding out about Aunt Lysa’s death, Arya and the Hound are once again on the move and right at their heels are Brienne and Podrick. When the 4 finally meet up, Brienne and the Hound fight for Arya’s well being as much as for control of the situation. Brienne made an oath to Lady Catelyn but the Hound has been looking after Arya, in his own way, for quite some time. Arya chooses not to go with either of them, and, when Brienne defeats the Hound and goes looking for Arya, the girl hides until the lady knight and her squire are gone. With the Hound mortally wounded, Arya decides to leave him to die instead of killing him and crossing his name off her list. I am a bit bothered that this veers away from the book, as I am to understand that we will not see the Hound wasting away from his infected wounds and mercifully murdered later on. Arya does get on a boat to Braavos, using her coin and whispering the words “Valar Morgulis” to the ship’s captain. She procures a cabin and is on her own once again, stronger, resilient, and independent. We can only hope that season 5 brings for Arya peace and safety–two things she cannot find as Arya Stark in King’s Landing or anywhere on this side of the Narrow Sea.