Somewhere on Twitter right now, several die-hard Game of Thrones book readers are tweeting about how disappointed they are about last night. Having never opened a single one of George R.R. Martin's A Song of Fire and Ice novels, I can't share in their negativity. But I've pieced together why they're so heated, and lest I totally spoil what will most likely be a major plot thread in Game of Thrones' fifth season, let's just leave it at this: They're tight about a certain stone-hearted, living-dead character's lack of an appearance at the end of last night's season four finale, "The Children."
How any Thrones viewer could be upset with that episode, though, is beyond me. Season four wasn't perfect—even though newcomer Oberyn Martell was a highpoint, Game of Thrones once again suffered from being overpopulated, with the likes of Theon Greyjoy, Bran Stark, and Stannis Baratheon ultimately existing as afterthoughts overshadowed by a parade of high-profile carnage. Joffrey's death by poisoning; the Red Viper's head getting crushed like a grape by The Mountain; Lysa Arryn falling to her death through Chekhov's Moon Door. But despite that, Game of Thrones' co-masterminds David Benioff and D.B. Weiss executed a largely satisfying and dramatically crushing series of payoffs and wrap-ups in "The Children." There's no wonder why it's the only episode Benioff and Weiss submitted to the Emmy committee for a possible "Best Writing" nomination. Pulling off quality season finales is inherently difficult, but doing so with an innumerable cast of characters? That's one impossible mission that Benioff and Weiss aced last night—for the most part.
Of course, the showstopper was Tyrion's final hour inside House Lannister, a familial reckoning that could've only aired on Father's Day. It was a cavalcade of emotions for the Imp, who followed up brother Jaime freeing him by heading to Papa Tywin's chambers, finding his backstabbing ex-lover Shae sprawled out naked in daddy's bed, and choking her to death with his bare hands. Which led to the moment all Tyrion Lannister fans have been waiting for: his one-on-one with Tywin. No one outside of the book loyalists could've guessed that Tyrion would finally eliminate his tyrannical and cold-blooded father while dad's on the toilet. Instead of dying with the dignity a man of Tywin's stature demands, the eldest Lannister went out like Donald Gennaro.
The episode's other big moment: Brienne of Tarth's ferocious slug-fest with The Hound, the best display of slobber-knocking fisticuffs on a TV show since Eli Thompson's thrashing of Agent Tolliver during Boardwalk Empire's season four finale last year. Though, for my bucks, that wasn't the best action sequence in "The Children." That honor goes to the one involving a "main" character I normally couldn't give a damn less about: Brandon Stark, who's only been half-interesting as a D-plot focal point because of Hodor's lovable simpleton shtick. Before meeting a pint-sized member of a mysterious new faction of Game of Thrones' characters called "The Children," Bran and company are attacked by an army of sword-wielding skeletons that rise from the ground, a wonderful marriage of Return of the Living Dead's graveyard sequence and Jason and the Argonauts' skull-and-bones warriors:
All of those aforementioned scenes rank alongside the greatest Game of Thrones' moments thus far, and because of them, "The Children" is a worthy conclusion. Unfortunately, "The Children" also cemented the show's most frustrating season four flaw as a potentially irreparable problem: Daenerys, she of the countless titles (seriously, Missandei's introduction was basically Chris Rock on Tical 2000: Judgment Day's "You Play Too Much" skit) yet minimal excitement as of late.
Dany's mommy problem look was teased in the season's first episode, when news of her three dragons acting recklessly was capped off by the realization that dragons aren't children, and can't be tamed or disciplined as such. But then Drogon, Viserion, and Rhaegal (whose names, full disclosure, I only know thanks to Google) disappeared for the rest of the season, rendering last night's wannabe-heartbreaking moment between Daenerys and two of her precious fire-breathers devoid of any real emotional devastation. Not that the scene's motivations weren't on-point. Seeing that her dragons are needlessly and uncontrollably burning innocent little kids to death, she leads them, sans Drogon, into the catacombs, lures them near chains with some dead-animal grub, cuffs them up, and entombs them in an underground prison as the beasts wail and mommy cries.
Unlike the rest of the finale's storyline resolutions, though, the sight of a sobbing Daenerys wasn't earned. As handled by Benioff and Weiss, those dragons are concepts, not actual characters or tangible objects of affection for Daenerys. Expecting savvy viewers to feel bad for two mostly non-existent dragons getting imprisoned by their mother is akin to how The Walking Dead's producers thought its audience would feel something while watching Maggie, Sasha, and Larry kill off that bus full of nameless people from the prison who'd turned into zombies. In theory, yes, it's sad, but on a jam-packed show where characters are constantly vying for the viewer's interest, you can't forget about Daenerys' dragons for 90% of the season and then use them as sympathy devices in a finale as loaded and overall powerful as "The Children."
I wouldn't be surprised if this is the only Daenerys-minded Game of Thrones season finale reaction piece you'll come across today. Everyone else is too busy writing about Tyrion, Tywin, Brienne the badass, and Arya the smaller badass. Me, though? I guess I have a stone-heart when it comes to how ineffectively Daenerys was handled this season. And to think, it was all good just a year ago.
Matt Barone is a Complex senior staff writer who welcomes any excuse to reference Jason and the Argonauts, a.k.a. one of his favorite movies as a kid. He tweets here.