Westeros Explainer: 6 Questions You Had About ‘Game of Thrones’ Season 4 Finale

Say uncle!

1. What is with Arya’s iron poker chip, and why does it earn her a place on the salt captain’s ship?

So time for a little refresher: remember in season 2, when Arya was on her way to the Wall, and there were those three guys in the mobile jail cell? And one of them was that pretty long-haired dude, Jaqen H’ghar from Braavos, who ended up in Harrenhal after their expedition was jumped by Ser Polliver and the Goldcloaks. Braavos (one of the Free Cities) is known not only for its water dancing and progressive attitude towards slavery banks run by Mycroft Holmes, but also for David Blaine street magic. So Jaqen gave Arya three magic wishes murders of anyone she wanted, to thank her for saving his life when their cell was on fire.

In her version of wishing murdering for a thousand extra wishes murders, Arya gave Jaqen his own name so he’d be forced to help her escape Harrenhal instead of taking his own life.

Impressed by her moxie, Jaqen gives Arya an iron coin, and says that if she presents it to someone from Braavos and says the customary greeting—“Valar Morghulis,” high Valyrian for “All men must die”—then the Braavosi will grant her one wish (not murder, necessarily, though it’s always an option).

The captain’s response, “Valar Dohaeris,” is also customary, and means “All men must serve.” (Which seems kind of backwards. FIRST die and THEN serve? Could this be an ice zombie reference?)

Another big part of this is that when Jaqen and Arya fled Harrenhal, he offered to take her to Braavos to study with the Faceless Men, a group of ninja assassins who also do David Blaine street magic. Arya says no, because this guy is stranger danger. This causes him to change his face into a completely different face, just to show off. Too bad it is a worse face.


AH! Will Smith is freaking out right now!

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n2Lta9hD7L0]

Now that Arya has left her protectors behind and has literally hit the edge of the civilized Westeronian world, Braavos and a new identity as an anonymous, magic assassin is looking like a pretty attractive option. Thus, her magic coin wish is traded for a passage on a stinky salt boat. We would have wished for flying powers! Or wait, teleportation. That would be our wish.

Hopefully Arya gets to keep her face! We wouldn’t change it for all the salt in the sea, or at least on that one particular ship!

2. Is Dany still a good leader? Her subjects don’t seem that happy. And why does she only have two dragons now? That she needs to lock up? And how is it humanly possible for her to lift manacles that are supposed to be heavy enough to contain a dragon when she weighs like, 100 pounds?

First off…can we just address Dany’s leadership style, once again? She’s gone from chattel to wife to liberator to populist leader to installed dictator in just a few short seasons, so we’re not denying that we’d vote for her come 2016, but where does she come up with the idea of forcing obviously flawed labor contracts onto her subjects? Maybe this is what Jorah was good for: acting as a sounding board for some of Dany’s well-intentioned but ultimately destructive ideas before she got the chance to put them into action. (See also: her plan to send Daario to kill all the slavers in Yunkai, which Jorah gets her to amend to her famous “Live in our new world or die in their old one” policy.)

Didn’t we hear Tywin warn his grandson to always listen to his counselors? Well, Dany just fired her most trusted advisor, and now her high table has an old man, a eunuch and a slave girl whose main skill is translating a language (Valyrian) that Dany already speaks. For a perfect and in no way faulty analogy, it’d be like if the president got rid of his chiefs of staff and made all his policies based on the advice of Joe Biden and an ambassador to Canada.


Secondly! Dany does have three dragons, but the largest of them (Drogon) has been tearing up the Meereen countryside. (Which looks suspiciously verdant for the desert, but oh well. Who knows how the ecosystems work? I mean, in general, but also for this made-up fantasy universe: Who is to say that dragons don’t emit a gazillion times the methane gas of cows?) In a parallel to all my childhood snakes and snapping turtles, these adorable reptiles started out cute but are now too big to control and also are eating babies. Well, burning babies to a crisp with their breath, but not consuming them.

Dany feels for the plight of the Meereen’s Father of the Year, who let his 3-year-old daughter wander alone in his goat flock when there were goddamn dragons on the horizon. Unable to contain her dragons, but unwilling to put them down—also, like, how would she do that? Wait for them to go extinct again?—Dany adopts a course that is again similar to how we dealt with our giant snake/lizard infestation by throwing that shit in the basement and hoping the problem just resolves itself.

Drogon, however, is too smart to fall for that old “dead donkey in the catacombs” trick and is still roaming the shoreline, looking for fresh, neglected baby meat to char.

It is unclear how Dany could lift those heavy manacles, but we’re guessing it’s another power manifesting, as we haven’t seen her +5 Fire Immunity skill used in a while.

3. What is with the skeletons that attack Bran and company and kill Jojen? And how about the weird girl that saves the rest of them, with the firebombs? Are there just lots of supernatural creatures in this show that we didn’t know about before now?

So the armed skeletons are ice zombies, the same as the ones we’ve already seen (just in a much more advanced state of decomposition).

And just to clear something up that people seem very confused about when they discuss Game of Thrones: The White Walkers are not the same as the zombies. The White Walkers, who are their own race of scary, white-skinned creepers, create the zombies (technically called “wights”) by reanimating human corpses. There aren’t that many White Walkers; their army is mostly made up of wights.

White Walkers are really hard to kill, and can only really be harmed by dragonglass, like the dagger that Sam uses to protect Gilly. Wights can be killed by fire, and they burn pretty easily, which is why everyone was so obsessed in this episode with burning all the bodies of the dead Wildlings and Night’s Watchmen. If they burn them, they can’t come back as wights.

As for the girl who kills those wights with her magical firebombs, she is a “Child of the Forest.” The Children of the Forest are a totally different non-human race we haven’t heard about yet. They were the original inhabitants of Westeros, who lived all over the continent 12,000 years ago, before the First Men arrived. They are the ones who carved the faces into the trees, and they taught the religion of the Old Gods to men. They’re also the ones who certain kinds of magic come from, like warging (the ability to jump into the minds of animals or Hodors) and the “greensight” (how Jojen and Bran can see the future).

At first, the First Men and the Children fought battles over the land, but eventually they made peace and became allies, and then they banded together to fight off the White Walkers the last time they attacked from the North, 8,000 years ago. Then they helped the men build the Wall to keep the Walkers out. But after that, the Children disappeared into the forests of the North, and most people these days think they are just a myth.

So going back thousands of years, there is serious beef between these two non-human races. Clearly the White Walkers thought it’d be bad if the humans got to ally themselves with the Children again, so they left a literal skeleton crew guarding the entrance to the cave where the rest of the Children of the Forest appear to live now (which I am going to call Carcossa, because HBO seems to have just recycled that set from True Detective and just like added a couple of tree-walls; guess they spent all their money on last week’s low-light CGI-stravaganza).

4. Doesn’t it seem like Arya is doing everything possible not to be reunited with her sister? Why didn’t she try to get inside the Eyrie, and why didn’t she go with Brienne?

The weird thing about Arya is that she actually keeps making the right decision, but not because she has all the facts. (It’s almost like someone is writing her story for her?!) Remember that she has no idea that Sansa is at the Eyrie, as she is there under an assumed name; and nobody at the Eyrie knows she’s out there, because the Hound isn’t so dumb as to let everyone know he’s got the world’s most valuable hostage.

But let’s say she did make her way inside there and shared an awkward fashion-plate-meets-sword-wielding-tomboy reunion with her sister. Clearly Petyr would not just let her hang around screwing with his plans. If he didn’t just outright have her killed, maybe he’d just marry her off to one of those old Vale nobles. She may not know it, but Arya just dodged a very large Littlefinger-shaped bullet.

Likewise, imagine if she had decided to go with Brienne. What is the plan, exactly? Bring Arya back to King’s Landing, so Jamie can…apologize? And then hide her away forever? Or again, marry her off to some nobleman to get her out of danger? King’s Landing is literally the worst place for her to be. The late unlamented Hound was not a dumb guy; he said it straight out: where was Brienne going to take Arya that would make her any safer? Nowhere, that’s where.

Maybe if Arya had had all the facts, she would have jumped right into the lion’s mouth. So being partly in the dark has really worked to her advantage, as she sails off to adventures new, far from all of the people who want to kill her (and, you know, vice versa).

5. How many different layers of irony are there in Tywin’s death sequence?

Literally too many to list. But here’s a smattering:

Tywin is always thinking about image, but he is killed in literally the most humiliating place. Not only that, but he is looking his short-statured son in the eye, down on his level, for perhaps the first time.

Tyrion was falsely accused of killing Joffrey by means of a poisoned necklace. The fatal stone at his trial was cast by Shae, whom Tyrion killed with a necklace.

The chink in Tyrion’s armor that allowed Tywin to get the advantage over him was his fondness for prostitutes. The thing that inflamed his anger: finding said prostitute in Tywin’s bed.

The crossbow that Tyrion used to kill Tywin was the same one crafted for Joffrey, with the device that allowed the not-very-strong Joffrey (who honestly wasn’t that much taller than Tyrion) to reload it himself.

One of the things that people say about Tywin is that he “shits gold.” Enough said.

6. Why would Varys help Tyrion escape? Wasn’t he one of this witnesses for the prosecution in Tyrion’s trial?

Well, as we’ve said before, Varys’ true allegiance is to the realm, not to any one specific king/family. He told Tyrion that he would continue to report whispers for the Lannisters because to do anything else would raise suspicion, and he is role essential to continuing peace in Westeros.

Though apparently not so essential that he can’t just hop on a boat with yet another person locked in a box (do you think Varys recycled the same crate his old wizard came in??) and sail away to Whereverthefuckistan.

Seriously dude, there is no worse time for the kingdom’s peacekeeper to dip out of town than right after Tywin Lannister gets shot in the bowels and Cersei swore that she was one hot flash away from burning their whole damn royal incesty family to the ground.

Jesus, someone just let Stannis or Gendry or whichever snooze-worthy character wants it the most (though even Stannis is pretty blegh about it these days) sit on the uncomfortable bondage chair so the rest of us can go on with our lives.

Next season: Hodor and the direwolves unionize. Dany runs against local Meereen football coach for Queen of the Dragons, and he wins with a smear campaign “It’s 10 pm. Do you know where your giant lizard children are?” Jon Snow now feels justified in wearing that mopey expression all the time, knowing that no one will call bullshit on a dead girlfriend story.


Seriously, he’s ALWAYS looked like that. This is the first time we are introduced to him in season 1: holding Direwolf puppies, for chrissakes!


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Actually, next season maybe he’ll be adopted by Stannis, the other humorless, overly-earnest guy with brother issues. Can’t wait! Westeros Explainer: 6 Questions You Had About ‘Game of Thrones’ Season 4 Finale