Wrapping up after the climax of the previous episode, we open with fires blazing, corpses strewn, and the true horror of it all reflected in Arya Stark’s (Maisie Williams) eyes. To have got so close to the safety offered by her family, then have it ripped away from reaching hands so cruelly is an offensive irony – one drawn large over her childlike face.
This is the last such massive bloodshed we will see, however, as the finale is more of a gentle weaving together of disparate threads, rather than the bang of the penultimate. The setting up ready for the next series is inevitable, and while this is problematic in pacing terms, there are some exquisitely crafted dramatic moments to break any potential tedium.
From here, we plod with rattled pace, one scene shunting into the next, through the medium of Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage). He is summoned to a meeting of the small council in a scene which is possibly the best in the entire series; where news of the Starks’ deaths has broken and is discussed with a distant apathy or a shameful joy.
The dialogue comes in fits and starts, an effervescent biting mess of text and subtext, punctuated by the steely held gaze. The deft power play at work is mesmeric; a soothing counter point to the physical slaughter shown at the close of last week’s episode. The Lannister men shift their position by the quickest of tongues, whether it be to their fortune or detriment.
Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) is true to form, and his sadism knows no bounds as he plans to serve Robb Stark’s head on a platter to Sansa. When The Imp takes exception to this slight on his new bride, the room is filled with silent energy, a sense of waiting for the gun to smoke. The boy king is taken down a peg or eight by Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance), who spits a pithy utterance in his direction: “Anyone who must say ‘I am King’ is no true king”.
As Joffrey fails utterly to recognise his position within the pack, his grandfather has him summarily escorted from the meeting. His hunched and sulking figure as he leaves, round-shouldered in humiliation, is perfectly observed by Gleeson; a boy sent to bed without supper, having been found doing something untoward to the school gerbil.
Though slow, the pace is expertly handled, each scene leading neatly from the next. It is a ribbon of storytelling, dancing from place to place over bridges hewn from anecdotes and warnings. It spins out from Valder Frey (David Bradley), to Roose Bolton (Michael McElhatton), to Ramsey (Iwan Rheon); just in time to witness the next level of Theon Greyjoy’s (Alfie Allen) personal hell.
Allen’s acting throughout this ordeal has been flawless; here we see a man broken utterly, hovering near the edge of tears, making for uncomfortable viewing. The absolute humiliation of Theon culminates in his rechristening. A submission in totality, a loss of self.
When the truth is unveiled about the fate of Theon’s pride and joy, we discover that while his father is apathetic to his son’s plight, his sister is not so, setting out on a fearsome campaign to rescue him, adding a further plotline to look forward to; a thickening of the stream.
Samwell Tarly (John Bradley) is an undisputed hero this week, more than making up for his previous transgressions. He reveals the power of the Dragon Glass on the White Walkers to Bran (Isaac Hempstead Wright) and his cohorts, and successfully reaches Castle Black, telling Maester Aemon (Peter Vaughan) of the storm gathering north of The Wall. With the ravens released to Westoros at large, there’s a comfort in knowing that the threat the Walkers pose, though unimaginably large, has at least become known.
Arya overhears men talking with joyful abandon of murdering her family, and is tactical in her approach. She plays the innocent angel hungry at the fireside, and appeals to the man’s avarice. In the last few moments of his life, he does nothing to suggest that the brutal stabbing rained down upon him with righteous vengeance, is anything less than deserved. The others she cannot best, but The Hound (Rory McCann) is swift to dispatch them.
Their relationship is a strange one; flung together by fate’s decree, they jostle and scrape on each other’s last nerve, yet there is unmistakable respect in his eyes for her beastly slaughter. These signs of softening somewhat around the periphery makes for an engaging on screen dynamic.
When Ygritte (Rose Leslie) catches up with Jon Snow (Kit Harington), his words of love dent not the scorned woman within. As he rides for home, her reaction is a murderous one. Shot thrice with arrows, his blood seeping, and his love left lonely, stood on a hillside, he casts a figure set in excruciating pain.
A testament to Leslie’s acting then, that we empathise as much with the pang etched clear into her glassy, tear-threatened eyes. As he falls into Castle Black, almost on his last gasp, there’s a feeling of hope building steadily for the prospects of man.
Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham) releases Gendry (Joe Dempsie), with some brilliant dialogue between the pair about Genndry’s lack of boating prowess. When news of this further treachery reaches Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane), fate turns in Davos’ favour for once, as the message from the Black Watch is read in the fire, by Melisandre (Carice Van Houten).
As the Red Woman speaks, the words are ones which resonate with a truth felt deeply since the show’s inception. Words which pique your curiosity. Which spark your imagination. Words which make you want to travel to these lands again.
“This war of five kings means nothing.”
In a universe so densely inhabited as Game of Thrones, it is understandable for the finale to flit between many of its’ citizens, wrapping them in the neatest of bows, ready for the following season, but we forgive this necessity.
We forgive the meagre tease; of glimpses clutched through latticed screen, at the fate scrawled on the faces, of those people that we peer at. For the questions that it leaves, curled up like fiery waving hands, beckon and cajole. They call to us, with voices soft and loud alternate; for when next we dance this dance of ours again.