'Game of Thrones' Season 4 finale: spoiler discussion

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The night is dark and full of spoilers. Below we'll be talking about the HBO series Game of Thrones, up through and including tonight's episode, "The Children." Discussion of future episodes — or information from the books — is off limits.

There's a scene in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan where Ricardo Montalban really tries to get in Kirk's head. "I've done far worse than kill you," he says. "I've hurt you. And I wish to go on hurting you." For much of tonight's episode, that's exactly what it seemed like Game of Thrones was doing.

Jon Snow's suicide mission to Mance Rayder went sideways, and even though Stannis rode in to save the day, Jon couldn't shake the loss of Ygritte. Daenerys found her attempts at playing queen completely undermined; not only did some of the freed slaves want to go back to work for their masters (it's better than living on the streets, one man argued), but her dragons have been flying around like impudent brats and killing children. (You probably should have started keeping a closer eye on the dragons when they started killing goats, Dany. INSIJS.)

To deal with the problem, she put two of the dragons in industrial-strength dog collars and hid them in the catacombs. Kudos to both Emilia Clarke and the visual effects team for turning what could have been a ridiculous scene into one of real emotional torment, and even higher fives to composer Ramin Djawadi. By taking some of the show's familiar themes and merging them with a melancholy drone, he perfectly matched score with scene, delivering one of my favorite music cues in the entire series.

One of the other highlights in terms of spectacle came when Bran and company finally found the mysterious tree they've been tracking most of the season. As they approached, they were suddenly attacked by a group of re-animated skeletons, and while there was a bunch of Hodor-possession and Jojen finally cashed in his chips, the real magic was in the grim creatures themselves. Calling to mind the old Ray Harryhausen stop-motion skeletons from Jason and the Argonauts (or Army of Darkness, if that's more your thing), they added a real sense of immediate danger that we haven't seen the show try before.

But even then, after Bran and his friends were rescued by the mysterious "children," they didn't have a lot to show for it. They discover the three-eyed raven is somehow a creepy old guy that comes off like the Architect from The Matrix with a beard, and Bran is told that while he won't be able to walk again "you will fly." Whether that was meant metaphorically or literally, it's not entirely clear.

Not feeling beat up enough? The battle between Brienne and The Hound had you covered. Much like in The Oberyn Debacle™, Game of Thrones spent most of this season making us really like The Hound — so of course it was probably inevitable he was going to lose. And we probably should have expected that Arya would just jump completely over to the dark side by refusing to put him out of his misery.

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Sure, leaving him to die and taking his gold is an incredibly Houndian thing to do, but this is Arya we're talking about. Every single turn her character has made this season has turned her into a more cruel, vicious, and less humane person. This is part of what the show is saying, obviously — there is no innocence in Westeros — but it's very hard to not mourn the person she used to be.

And then there was Tyrion.

With Peter Dinklage missing completely from last week's episode, tonight was the night we were supposed to witness Tyrion's fate. I'll admit it; this season has been so relentlessly cruel that I was steeling myself for him to get the axe. It only seemed fitting — and yet, the show somehow found a way to do something even worse.

When Jaime appeared from nowhere to help Tyrion escape, it seemed like they were setting up some sort of Goodfellas nod that would end with Tyrion getting whacked. When he hesitated at the bottom of that staircase, I expected Jaime to rush back in and do his best De Niro: "Yeah, just go right down there. There's some clothes. In the dark alley; it's totally safe." Of course, that didn't happen, and Tyrion decided to head to his father's chambers instead — where he found Shae, in bed.

At least we know why she was so willing to sell Tyrion out at the trial.

That was enough of a gut-kick on its own, particularly given the history between Tywin and Tyrion when it comes to women — but who other than book readers would have expected Tyrion to snap, his love for Shae turning into murderous rage? Peter Dinklage has always been one of the very best things about the show, but to watch his face transform while Shae's neck broke was to watch a man truly lose himself HBO could seriously just send out a "For Your Consideration" Emmy screener with that moment looped 57 times and Dinklage would be a top contender.

But it didn't stop there. Tyrion confronted Tywin, and killed his own father. There's been so much cruelty shown towards Tyrion, it was the kind of scene where you found yourself actually rooting for patricide, preferably with a Schwarzenegger-style quip to bring the moment home.

Tywin: "You're my son! You're a Lannister!"

Tyrion: "That's right, father. And a Lannister always pay his debts." (ka-THWACK!)

Only that verbal exclamation point didn't happen. Instead the scene was miserable, gloomy; revenge without catharsis. And we ended Tyrion's story this season with him stuck in a crate on a ship headed to lands unknown, with Varys hitching a ride because things had gotten too unstable even for him.

This season started with Joffrey's death, and kept piling body upon body onto the narrative pyre, practically begging the audience to throw up its hands and walk away. But as it turns out, killing isn't the worst thing Game of Thrones can do to characters we love. The worst thing it can do is hurt them. Again and again and again.

Onward to season five.