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It’s a cruel world, but hope isn’t completely lost in the series finale.

The Children opens with Jon Snow striding away from Castle Black, through the ground of fallen giants and other bodies, to find Mance Rayder. When he wanders into Mance’s camp, the two share a drink and discuss the battle and the losses shared – the death of the giant’s king, a descendent of an ancient race, as well as the tragic demise of Ygritte. Mance explains the reason for forming an army to march on the wall. The age-old adage (and the show’s most well-known tagline): ‘Winter is Coming’. He fears that the White Walkers will decimate the Wildlings and any other creatures north of the wall, so has been fighting to get his troops beyond the danger zone and hidden in a safer region. Mance should probably heed what the Hound says later though: ‘there is no safety’.

Just as Jon makes a move to attack Mance, horns sound and a new enemy approaches: a human army, not a white walker horde. The army is led by Stannis Baratheon (looks like the Iron Bank granted him his loan after all). Stannis talks with Jon and the two decide to take Mance prisoner, instead of slay him, and then burn the bodies of the dead so they do not reanimate. Later in the episode we get to see Jon’s funereal rite for Ygritte’s body, as he sets her on a pyre by a godswood tree and lights it.
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In King’s Landing, Cersei is meeting with Maester Pycelle and Qyburn, a doctor attending to a festering and diseased Gregor Clegane. Oberyn Martell’s stab wound was a mortal blow to the Mountain, as the weapon was poisoned with Manticore venom. Qyburn has something interesting to add however, as he says that Gregor is not completely done for – he can be brought back to health and fighting strength, although it may change him. This sounds a lot like we’re going to see a zombie Mountain. Cersei then heads to see her father, finally confronting him about her unwillingness to marry into the Tyrell family and her love for Jaime. After leaving Tywin with that truth bomb, she visits Jaime and seduces him.

Jaime releases Tyrion from his prison and the two share an emotional brotherly moment. Instead of racing to freedom though, Tyrion decides to pay a visit to his father, where he discovers Shae lounging on the bed waiting Tywin’s return. Unable to take this betrayal, Tyrion attacks and murders Shae (after she grabs a knife to go after him), strangling her with the necklace he gifted her with. This breaks him completely, as he mutters ‘I’m sorry’, grabs a crossbow and heads off to see Tywin. Tyrion finally gets his revenge on the man who has tormented, belittled and emotionally scarred him all his life. For a man so falsely dignified, Tywin gets his comeuppance in the best way possible. Shot with an arrow while perched on the toilet, after stupidly goading Tyrion with some final insults. Tyrion escapes to Varys who secrets him into a crate and boards him onto a boat. Both Tyrion and Varys are headed out to sea and away from King’s Landing.
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Daenerys faces her own hypocritical scandal. During one of her regular meet and greets with the Meereen citizens, she is visited by a man who brings her the charred remains of his young daughter – burnt to a crisp by Drogon, the scariest of her three dragons. This finally makes her see how dangerous her children are, and chooses to lead her two remaining dragons down into a pit to lock them away. Considering these dragons are the cute ones, and Drogon is essentially the evil one who gets away with it, Daenerys still comes across as the bad guy here – enslaving and chaining her vulnerable children. If we have learnt anything from Tyrion’s story, it’s that we should never treat our children cruelly, or without a fair trial before locking them away. This act will come back to haunt the mother of dragons in a terrible way.

In the most peculiar and fantastic sequence of this entire series (even more than seeing the White Walker frozen palace), Bran and his crew reach the godswood tree they have been searching for. As they are traversing the ice to reach it, suddenly skeletons erupt from beneath the ground in the vein of Ray Harryhausen’s Jason and the Argonauts. Jojen and Meera are caught by the creatures and Jojen is mortally wounded by one of them. Meera manages to fight her way to safety by showing some neat blade-wielding skills. Bran wargs into Hodor to fight off the approaching creatures and then they all take shelter under the giant godswood tree thanks to the help of a mysterious fire-wielding girl. This girl is revealed as one of the ‘Children’, a race born long before the others. She guides them to the centre of the tree maze, to an old-looking wizard man. This elderly figure seems to be ancient, and not human. He tells Bran that he will never walk again, but he will fly . . . anyone else think Bran will warg into a dragon in the future?

This crazy scene leads into the BEST scene of the episode. Brienne and Pod catch up with Arya and the Hound. Brienne finds Arya alone at first, and the two bond over their mutual love of breaking down typical gender roles. When the Hound arrives, Brienne realizes she has found Arya and a fight ensues between Arya’s two potential guardians. Instead of defending the Hound, or even running to Brienne’s side, Arya simply smiles as the two warriors come to blows in a splendidly choreographed scene. They trade sword jabs and parries before things start getting dirty; the Hound kicks Brienne while she’s down, and she retaliates by biting his ear off. Ultimately Brienne is victorious, and the Hound falls off the cliff. The Clegane brothers are clearly difficult to kill, as he survives his fall. Barely.
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When Brienne’s exerted efforts paid off it was a cheer-worthy moment.The problem is that Arya doesn’t want to put her life in anyone else’s hands; she wants to control her own destiny, her way. She hides from Brienne, and visits the Hound as he lays a broken mess in the valley below. His attempts to provoke her into finishing him off are futile, as she no longer understands the honourable or merciful way to behave, after all that has happened to her. She steals his coin purse, and leaves him to rot, without registering even a flicker of emotion.

The final moment of the episode is reserved for the next part of Arya’s journey. She reaches a dock, and manages to gain passage to a ship after showing the captain the coin from Jaqen H’ghar and stating ‘valar morghulis’. Granted free travel and a cabin, viewers are left with the image of her gliding away from shore and facing the ocean beyond.

Instead of dragons, burning cities and marching ice monsters, this series ended with Arya on a boat, on her way to Braavos: a scene so simple yet full of weight. Her long journey from the comforts of Winterfell, to the horrors of King’s Landing and the despair of the road, is finally over and a new adventure is ahead of her. This was certainly a satisfying finale to end a perhaps inconsistent and, at times, lacklustre series. The final moment was full of hope and trepidation, but hinting at an exciting prospect for the future. Although eager viewers didn’t get quite what they were hoping for with the final scene, there’s still hope such highly anticipated moments will happen next year. However, we must have learnt by now not to trust hope. Nothing is safe in George R R Martin’s world.

★★★★★

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