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(Spoilers for the tenth episode of Game of Thrones Season Four are below).
It’s no surprise when an episode of Game of Thrones titled “The Children” happens to almost exclusively focus on children. Metaphorical children, dead children, adult children, magical children, and good old fashion regular child aged children … it’s all here. While children and the relationship children have with the Game of Thrones world may be the unifying subject, it’s the choices made by the characters that bring everything together.
In “The Children,” a lot of viewer expectations for character decisions are defied, or their choices are hypocritical of their original beliefs or the beliefs of the families that raised them. Much like the Rains of Castamere was about defying the expectations of plot, “The Children” is about defying the expectations of character.
While there are some noble choices made in this episode, Jojen’s sacrifice for example, their is still a myriad of decisions made by characters that defy their original beliefs or their own value system. These decisions, if they’re aren’t unexpected, are hypocrisies to say the least and full blown betrayals to say the most. Either way the beliefs and values these characters grew up on are all radically challenged as each character makes decisions that compromise their original beliefs and values.
Unexpected and Hypocritical Decisions By Directly Betraying The Family
The Lannister house words might as well be Family First, as Tywin Lannister continues to hammer this message into the heads of his children. Unfortunately that message didn’t serve him too well in this season finale. After being the only compliant Lannister child, at least from Tywin’s perspective, Cersei does the unexpected and announces she will not marry Loras. She even goes far enough to threaten to expose the fact that Tommen is not a legitimate king. Although Tywin is correct in saying Cersei being married to a Tyrell would be best for their alliance, Cersei just can’t go through with another marriage, nor can she abandon the only child she is still able to see on a regular basis. What’s interesting here is that if Cersei does all that she threatens to do about exposing Tommen’s ancestry, this will be a really bad idea if keeping her children safe is her goal. Not only would it undermine Lannister power, but it would make the claims of the other “usurpers” even stronger.
All season Cersei has been involved in betraying family. The way she accuses Tyrion and sets up a trial to condemn him of Joffrey’s murder further showcases how she has betrayed her family. When Jaime confronts her about this, she says Tyrion’s not her brother, to which Jaime responds “you don’t get to choose.” In effect they’re both right, by blood Cersei doesn’t get to chose – speaking for most people – the words brother and sister usually mean more than just a familial relation. Cersei in this case has chosen to deny making her sibling relationship with Tyrion more than it ever should have been.
Jaime also betrays his family while being loyal to it at the same time by setting Tyrion free. He betrays the goals and intentions of his sister and his father, however he is still loyal to his brother. The action of freeing Tyrion perfectly sums up the conflict about being honorable that Jaime has undergone ever since he had to decide to kill the Mad King.
Tyrion has the chance to escape, however he can’t leave until he has some closure. After swearing he loves Shae since the time he’s met her, Tyrion brutally strangles her to death after he finds Shae calling Tywin’s name in his father’s bed. A lot hypocrisies take place here. Not only is it a bit hypocritical for Tyrion to kill a woman he loves, but it’s really hypocritical of Tywin – who’s attitude towards whores since the first season has been profoundly negative – is shown having one in his bed. Not only is it just a whore, but it’s Shae. Shae sleeping with Tywin compromises his whole value system. Tyrion betrays his father’s greatest commandment: family first, by shooting his father to death on the privy with a crossbow. Tywin’s strict standards set him up to be murdered by the legacy he was striving to protect.
Unexpected and Hypocritical Decisions By Betraying Family Values
The Starks have long embodied the idea of honor. Previously, Jon Snow had really taken this idea to heart, but in “The Children,” he strays very far from this idea. Walking into the Wildling camp, Jon calls out Mance to negotiate. However, Jon’s plan isn’t to negotiate rather, it’s to assassinate Mance. Before he gets the opportunity to do so, Stannis’ army arrives. It’s ambiguous whether or not Jon would have gone through with killing Mance, but either way the idea is dishonorable. When Stannis asks Jon what he would have done with Mance, Jon gives him an honest answer, he would have taken him prisoner and treated him well. That’s certainly better and more honorable treatment than what Jon was planning.
Arya has betrayed the family value of honor by killing people at opportune times this season. The opportunity to kill the Hound finally arrives and Arya does the unexpected … she doesn’t kill him. Instead, she leaves him to die a slow painful death, after he just fought to save her from being captured by someone they believed worked for the Lannisters. Arya’s decision to leave the Hound is one of the coldest moments in the entire episode, and it betrays her fathers belief in dispensing merciful justice (as seen in the first episode of the series) and her family’s belief in loyalty. She does however honor one of the Hounds beliefs: a dead man doesn’t need silver. The Hound never treated Arya well when they were together, but should she really leave him to die a slow painful death?
Unexpected and Hypocritical Decisions By Betraying Personal Values and Goals
Jon Snow has a one on one with Tormund after he’s been captured. He sees Jon back in black, but Tormund realizes that Jon still subscribes to a lot of the beliefs that are taught to the Wildlings. Tormund’s argument is substantiated shortly after when we see Jon burning Ygritte’s body north of the Wall. Jon’s a conflicted man, he’s betrayed his vows to the Night’s Watch by engaging in a relationship with Ygritte, and his betrayal of the Wildlings has helped lead to the failure of the surprise attack on the Wall. What will Jon stand for going forward?
Stannis has only talked about becoming King of Westeros. In order to do that he needs to capture the capital, Kings Landing. He doesn’t have the man power to do this so he does the unexpected and comes to the aid of the Night’s Watch. Stannis isn’t known for being charitable, but strategically this might be the best move he could make. At the very least it earned him a military victory, and now there are thousands of misplaced Wildlings that might need a place to stay … like Stannis’ army maybe?
The Hound has explicitly stated over and over that his relationship with Arya is all about profit. When he meets Brienne for the first time and she correctly identifies Arya, the Hound fights to defend her. The question is why? The Hound can’t sell Arya for ransom to her father, her mother, her brother, or her aunt because they’re all dead. It’s in the Hound’s best interest to let Brienne take Arya. The Hound fighting for her simply shows that staying with Arya was about more than just being about the money, and from the looks of it, despite the Hound’s denial of having any honor, here he is trying to do something honorable. It’s unexpected and it’s hypocritical of the Hound’s character to be doing this. Unfortunately the Hounds most noble moment is not repaid in kind by Arya.
One of the biggest moments of hypocrisy in this episode has to belong to Daenerys. She has been adamant about being anti-slave since the first season. Her whole military campaign, her harsh treatment of the masters, and the way she governs is based off these beliefs. After Daenerys is presented with a dragon charred child, she chains her dragons – her children if you will – up in the catacombs. Chains have long been the symbol of slavery, and here Daenerys finds herself needing to use them. Sure they’re dragons, but these dragons have done a lot for her, and they certainly deserve better treatment than being chained up underneath the ground.
Since the beginning of this show viewers have learned to have certain expectations for characters, but in “The Children” those expectations are defied. “The Children” not only focuses on family, but it shows how compromised the values of all of the shows characters have become.