Valar morghulis, all men must die, and all seasons must draw to a close. For the finale to the fourth series of Game of Thrones, there was an awful lot to wrap up across Westeros in just one hour, and a lot of farewells to be said. But writers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss managed to make sure that every scene built up to be more devastating than the last, as Jon said goodbye to Ygritte, Daenerys turned her back on her dragons, Arya left the Hound to die, and Tyrion tearfully killed his lover, Shae, and his father, Tywin.
"She belongs to the north."
You were left wondering what would happen to Jon Snow in his showdown with Mance Rayder, in what seemed a suicidal plan to slay the king beyond the wall. Mance disarms his assassination plot by breaking bread with the Stark bastard inside his tent, toasting to the memory of those lost in the battle of Castle Black, and explaining the wildlings completely reasonable demand to have shelter behind the wall against the white walkers who are on the march south.
But before Jon has time to rethink his plans he's saved by a little dose of dues ex machina in the form of Stannis Baratheon's mercenary army. There's always a buzz when two characters we've followed in separate stories finally meet up, and having Stannis, and later Melisandre, meet eye to eye with Jon was no different.
What their arrival at Castle Black means for the north, and for the wildlings, remains uncertain, but Jon does have time to say a teary farewell to Ygritte, finding out from Tormund that she loved him and burning her body in its rightful place north of the wall.
For Daenerys, it is another burned body that calls her into making a dramatic decision. Shocked to hear from a former slave that he wishes to return to a life of servitude, her utopian dream of peacefully ruling a free city is torn asunder when a farmer reveals the charred corpse of his dead daughter killed by her dragons. From arriving at Meereen as the breaker of chains, her collaring of her dragons serves as a nice visual metaphor for the compromises she has made, and the realities of ruling which shackle her dreams.
Bran will also never realise his dream of walking again, but is instead told by the three-eyed raven that he will fly. The ten minutes spent with Bran here contained more story than any we've seen with him so far this season, and epitomises a problem in the show whereby dramatic moments are delayed to the latter stages of each season to provide a more grandstanding finale.
Here we have the group find the beautiful-looking Heart Tree, battle some crap looking Jason and the Argonauts-style skeletons, and be saved by a child of the forest. All except for Jojen Reed, who is killed in the attack, but with all the death and destruction in the episode his departure only feels like a footnote.
The same cannot be said for the Hound, who suffers a painful send-off in the show. Brienne, the chivalric soldier, and the Hound, the world-weary fugitive, slug it out in a battle of the not-knights, a terrifically brutal encounter and the best fight in the show to date. Brienne initially plans to force the Hound to surrender, but soon finds herself having to punch, kick and bite for her life as she sends him cascading over the cliff.
Rory McCann, who has given the Hound incredible presence and imbued his character with such tragedy, has his final words on the mountainside to Arya, begging that she take his life and spare him the agony of a slow death. It seems odd that the Stark runaway, who appeared to have warmed to the Hound in recent episodes, reverts to her cold persona as she steals his money and leaves him to the crows, but if there's one thing she's become accustomed to it is having people die around her.
"I am your son, I will always be your son."
She sets sail for Braavos in the hope of a new life, as does Tyrion after escaping the capital and committing patricide. It's no surprise that Jaime sets him free, as the Kingslayer always appeared the most sympathetic to his younger brother, but what wasn't expected was the revelation that Tyrion's former love Shae was literally sleeping with the enemy.
We're not given time to digest the surprise, as in a crime of passion Tyrion strangles his former love and tearfully apologises. Finding out that Shae was in bed with his father hurts, but it is the fact he dismisses her so contemptuously as a whore that sends him in to a murderous rage.
Just like the dying Hound with Arya, Tywin's last few moments, caught with two bolts from a crossbow whilst on the toilet, provide a rather pathetic finale to a mighty character. People loved to hate Joffrey, and recoil in disgust at Ramsey Bolton, but it was always Tywin Lannister, played with chilling menace by Charles Dance, who was the dark heart of the show.
The slaughtering of the Starks at the Red Wedding came under his instructions, and he was perfectly willing to see Tyrion executed as well, the son her never wanted. But Tyrion proves himself to be equally ruthless by killing him, reminding him at his death, "I am your son, I will always be your son".
It's a great last line in what was a hugely satisfying series finale. The fourth season might have stuttered in places, especially in the aftermath of Joffrey's poisoning, but ramped up the tension in the final episodes to leave Daenerys compromised, the Night's Watch crippled, the Stark siblings still separated and King's Landing in chaos. Instead we are left with the children, be they Lannister or Stark, who now separated from their past must move headlong into an uncertain future.