Updated 9:45am with many additional reviews.
Game of Thrones, Episode 410: "The Children"
Original airdate: June 15, 2014 on HBO
Spoiler warning: This page contains descriptions of events in this and previous episodes (though not the books). Note that some of the critics linked to below do discuss the books in their reviews (and mention events in the books that have yet to happen on TV).
Game of Thrones ended its fourth season—in which it became HBO's all-time most popular show, surpassing the 2002 season of The Sopranos—last night with its most eventful season finale to date, as well as its longest. It was an episode that managed to kill off a even more characters while briefly revisiting most of its ongoing plot threads. Below, we sample the reactions from a variety of TV critics and recappers to the finale, and in some cases to the season as a whole. (Scores are displayed—converted to our 0-100 scale—only if a publication has assigned a score/grade to the episode.)
Extremely positive reviews
The Atlantic Spencer Kornhaber
Scenes upon scenes were so well-composed, so dramatic, so world-altering that they individually would have been the high point of nearly any other hour of the series. Scattershot? Sure. But we come to Thrones, foremost, to gorge on plot—and I feel more than satisfied.
The Atlantic Christopher Orr
A tremendous end to a (mostly) tremendous season. But there are reasons for concern moving forward.
100 Baltimore Sun Luke Broadwater
Unlike so many promising shows that weaken over time, this HBO series keeps getting better with age.
The Daily Beast Andrew Romano
Only the finest series can say a farewell that adds as it subtracts—that turns a tragic ending for some of its characters into a thrilling new beginning for others, and for the show itself. That's the kind of finale "The Children" was. ... Even before I saw "The Children," I had started to think that this was Game of Thrones' best season yet. But now I'm sure.
100 Den of Geek [U.S.] David Crow
So ends Game of Thrones' fourth season, and for my money, its best one. This finale hit every point perfectly, except perhaps Daenerys' rather emotionless locking of her dragons.
Den of Geek [UK] Ron Hogan
All the groundwork the show laid across this entire season, from the trial of Tyrion Lannister to the journey of all and sundry associated with Arya Stark to the Eyrie, ended up paying off in spectacular and violent fashion. ... It's part roller-coaster ride, part check-in, part set-up for next season, and definitely a sign that the show is moving in the right direction.
The Guardian Sarah Hughes
This has not been a flaw-free season – there have been some (much discussed) plot missteps and it's hard not to feel that a slightly longer season would have allowed for more relaxed storytelling and solved some of the pacing issues – but when Game of Thrones gets it right few other shows can touch it. Tonight's episode was one of those times.
100 IGN Matt Fowler
"The Children" brought big moments of surprising violence, shocking deaths, and meaningful escapes.
91 Indiewire Danny Bowes
At its best, [Season 4] was a beautifully shot and ferociously acted bit of epic drama, and at its worst it was extremely careless with the implications of its much-discussed sexual and violent (and especially sexually violent) content. Its finale, "The Children," is fortunately far more of the better parts of "Game of Thrones" as a show than the worst, with its greatest failings being a bit of ultimately forgivable cinematic sloppiness.
Rolling Stone Sean T. Collins
Sometimes Game of Thrones is a widescreen epic fantasy, other times it's a small-scale study of violent lives, and it's a struggle both to anticipate and appreciate whatever you wind up getting. The answer is to stop struggling. At its best – and "The Children" is certainly this show at its wide and wild best — Game of Thrones is all of these things, simultaneously.
TV.com Tim Surette
An amazing end to an amazing season. "The Children" was the best finale of the series, and Season 4 was easily the best season.
The Wall Street Journal Marshall Crook
Tonight's episode was the best of the season, and a seismic and satisfying conclusion to a show that keeps getting better.
The Wire David Sims
There was brilliant thematic unity to "The Children," probably the best season finale the show has aired. ... This show cannot help but get more sprawling, but as of now it's an incredibly satisfying experience. Who knows how it will keep hold of things in the future, but after a season like this, audiences have every reason to put their faith in Game of Thrones.
The Wrap Steve Pond
This was a season that spread the wealth and the blood, and its final episode was a fitting wrap-up, a panoramic mini-epic that sometimes felt like the last hour of a "Lord of the Rings" movie as it moved from one storyline to another, giving everybody a moment or two to remember.
83 A.V. Club Erik Adams
The stubborn refusal to provide many of the finale's most basic conclusions is the most frustrating part of "The Children." If you're in this for concrete answers, then you're basically in the same position as The Hound, stuck begging for deliverance while Arya plucks a bag of silver from your belt. It's cruel, but hey: The show needs to be frugal with every last shred of source material at this point in its run.
BoingBoing Kevin McFarland
"The Children" isn't a perfect capper, nor has the fourth season been without glaring flaws. Finale director Alex Graves presided over the tone-deaf responses from creative personnel over the Jaime/Cersei scene in the third episode. In this final hour, Graves doesn't make up for that controversy, instead plastering over those comments with compelling direction of an extra-long episode that checks in on almost everyone except the Boltons and those within the Eyrie.
Boston Globe Sarah Rodman
After a penultimate episode shot mostly in one location, it was a gratifying, loose-ends-tying finale in which just about everyone got a little screen time to advance their individual plots.
Boston Herald Mark Perigard
There were many treats in the extended fourth season finale, "The Children," and a couple of questionable choices.
Grantland Andy Greenwald
This is the flip side to Game of Thrones' outrageous ambition, of course: There simply isn't time for everything.
The Independent Neela Debnath
While "The Children" was a sterling close to a season that has been filled with more twists than the staircases of the Red Keep, it didn't quite live up to the hype. ... Overall, season four has best of the best of them, even if "The Children" failed to deliver.
Screen Crush Kevin Fitzpatrick
"The Children" made for an exceptionally developmental and competent finale, even if its general strength felt somewhat hollow against more emotionally charged closers of seasons past.
Time James Poniewozik
It's been a season of some incredibly powerful moments and confident storytelling. But its pieces also feel very scattered–by design, maybe, but scattered nonetheless.
TV Overmind Randy Dankievitch
"The Children" is certainly an entertaining episode – Argonauts-esque skeletons, the death of Jojen forcing Bran into a position of leadership, Dany locking up her children in chains… to say "The Children" is without intriguing or emotional moments (Arya's chilling dismissal of The Hound's pleas for mercy) would be a lie; but when it tries to delivers its Big Moments, they're not as established or climatic as I'd imagined they were designed on paper.
Variety Brian Lowry
"Game of Thrones" capped off its fourth season in first-rate fashion ... The accomplishment by showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss is truly extraordinary – having to tame, as they must, the unlimited vistas available to author George R.R. Martin on the printed page, where money is no object and mythology can run amok.
80 Vulture Nina Shen Rastogi
The relationships between generations has always been one of the show's major themes, and GoT used it in resonant ways throughout the hour.
The Atlantic Amy Sullivan
It feels churlish to complain about an abundance of good storylines and characters, but this was a hard finale to watch. ... If this was just what Benioff and Weiss thought they needed to do in order to wrap up season four and make way for a calmer entry into season five, then it's slightly annoying but understandable. If, however, this finale is a sign of things to come, as our characters are necessarily scattered across the map so that they can be gathered together again by the end of the series, we could be in for a bumpy ride next year.
HitFix Alan Sepinwall
It was a finale with many big denouements — too many, arguably, given the need to squeeze them all into a single episode, even a slightly longer one than normal. Some had the desired emotional impact, but others simply got lost in the trans-continental shuffle.
Washington Post Alyssa Rosenberg
There are ... missteps in the episode. ... But "The Children" does handle one storyline masterfully, the shattering of the odd little family that Arya has formed with the Hound.
What do you think?
What did you think of last night's episode, and of the entire fourth season? Let us know in the comments section below.