Note: Do not read on if you have not yet seen the Season 3 finale of HBO's "Game of Thrones," titled "Mhysa."
It was inevitable that the Season 3 finale of "Game of Thrones" would feel anticlimactic, not just because last week's Red Wedding was so traumatic, but also because there were so many loose ends to tie up. Yes, Arya and the Hound needed to escape and the Lannisters and Baratheons needed to digest the news that Robb Stark had been killed, but, this being "Game of Thrones," there were also about 12 unrelated story lines that needed advancing.
We needed to know who has been tormenting Theon Greyjoy (answer: Roose Bolton's bastard son) and whether there's any hope at all for the wayward Ironborn lord (there is, now that his sister is setting sail); how Bran and his band of freaks were going to make it past The Wall; what would become of Sam and Gilly once they made it to Castle Black; how Tyrion, Sansa and Shae are managing their ultra-awkward menage a trois; whether Gendry was going to end up donating any more blood to Melisandre's campaign of black magic; what would happen to Jaime and Brienne when they returned to King's Landing; what fresh atrocities have been fermenting in Joffrey's diseased imagination; how the residents of Yunkai were going to respond to Daenerys' non-violent occupation; and, of course, whether Ygritte would make good on her threats when she caught up with Jon Snow (answer: he's lucky he can still reproduce).
Did I leave anything out? Probably. It was that kind of episode. But it wasn't without its overarching themes: familial obligations, resentment of the highborn, the tension between doing the shrewd thing and the right thing, the liberating power of going with your gut. There was also an overarching warning. As Melisandre put it, "This war of five kings means nothing. The true war lies to the north, my king. Death marches on The Wall."
Boy, does it ever. And we're beginning to see how pieces of the puzzle as far afield as Yunkai and Castle Black could someday snap together. If dragonsglass is the only substance that can kill White Walkers, then the armies of the Seven Kingdoms are going to need a lot of it. And if dragons really do play a part in the production of dragonsglass, then Daenerys could prove vital in the struggle against the Others.
But that's just speculation. Let's take a closer look at what happened in tonight's finale.
Who can resist Sandor Clegane's slightly panicked puppy-dog eyes as he navigates the burning encampments outside Walder Frey's castle? The Stark forces are getting crushed and there's nothing to do but haul Arya out of there as fast as possible. Unfortunately, before they escape, Arya is treated to the site of her brother's body being paraded through the camps, his head replaced by that of his beloved dire wolf. "King of the North," the armies chant, jeeringly.
We don't have to imagine what kind of effect this will have on Arya, who, after all, was present for her father's execution not so long ago. When she and Sandor come across a band of Frey soldiers bragging about their participation in the slaughter and subsequent desecration of Robb's corpse, she uses her "Valar Morghulis" coin to lull them into complacency, then brutally stabs the desecrator to death with a knife she lifted from Sandor.
This is new territory for Arya. We saw her ice a stable boy way back when, but that was effectively self-defense. This is a straight-up revenge killing, driven by anger to be sure, but executed with cold-blooded cunning. At least it was done on behalf of her family, and not to achieve some calculated end.
Speaking of calculated, back in King's Landing Arya's sister, Sansa, and her husband, Tyrion, are debating ways to take vengeance on the people who laugh at them. Sansa's idea of "sheep-shifting" them seems pretty tame -- especially when it becomes apparent that she thinks "shift" means "shit" -- but at least the married couple is communicating. What they're not doing is consummating, which is of grave concern to Tywin. I absolutely loved the scene where Tywin sent Joffrey to bed without his supper, as Tyrion put it, and I was relieved to see the whole King's Council recoil at Joffrey's warped fantasy of serving Robb's head to Sansa at his wedding. At this point, even Cersei can't muster the energy to defend her son, though she's holding tight to her memory of him as a happy baby who made her feel as if she had someone just for her.
But I keep waiting in vain for Tywin to take note of Tyrion's shrewd analyses and start treating him with a modicum of respect. I think Tyrion's holding out hope, too, but it ends in humiliation every single time. You can see why Varys thinks the black sheep of House Lannister is the best hope for the Seven Kingdoms, though. Even if he weren't Robb's brother-in-law, Tyrion surely would have chosen to dispatch him in a manner less offensive -- and less liable to spawn a new generation of mortal enemies -- than the Red Wedding massacre.
I enjoyed the scene between Varys and Shae. Ultimately, Varys is probably right that Shae's presence is a danger to Tyrion's well-being, but good for her for refusing to be swept aside. As Daenerys will later tell the Yunkai'i, only you can claim your own freedom. Right?
For all his warg prowess, Bran remains blissfully ignorant of the fate that befell his brother and mother -- and yet the story he told about the Rat Cook certainly suggested that Walder Frey and Roose Bolton are in for a serious karmic reprisal. If you ask me, the Boltons are beginning to rival the Lannisters for the title of Most Repulsive Family in Westeros. Roose isn't kidding when he tells Frey that his bastard has his own way of doing things. Let's hope those ways don't catch on anywhere else. Taunting Theon with that pork sausage, renaming him "Reek," sending that bizarre threat to his father -- the guy's a complete psycho. (Also, whose idea was it to have him use the jarringly clinical term "phantom limb"?)
How priceless were Balon and Yara Greyjoy's faces when they re-enacted "Dick in a Box" with Theon's severed manhood? Also, remind me that I never want to meet George R. R. Martin's father. This dude has daddy issues out the wazoo -- and I'm just glad Yara finally decides to defy her papa's heartless indifference and set out to rescue her brother, however little he may deserve it.
Like Yara, Ser Davos decides to do the right thing and set Gendry free, after bonding with the unwitting Baratheon heir over their fond memories of shit streams in Flea Bottom. Gendry helps Davos see that his loyal service to the highborn Stannis hasn't served him so well after all, but it's the message from Castle Black that empowers him to save the boy's life. Even Melisandre has to admit that Stannis will need Davos in the coming war against the White Walkers.
News of that war, which promises to reshape every aspect of life in the Seven Kingdoms, comes from a modest source indeed: Samwell Tarly, who is so unassuming that he actually didn't violate his celibacy oath while squiring fertile young Gilly to safety. But even Sam isn't impressed by Bran and his crew of oddballs. If the president of the chess club told you he was going to take down Hitler's army, you'd sound about as confident as Sam does when he asks, "You're gonna stop them?"
Who knows? Maybe they will. In the meantime, Sam will be busy nursing his old friend Jon back to health. Jon is rinsing the talon wounds on his face in a stream when Ygritte catches up with him, and you can tell he's a Stark from the way he reacts. I know I love you. I know you love me. Blah blah blah, wait, why are you shooting arrows at me? Dude, any other show and you'd have been completely safe, but did you see the first season? Or the last episode? Get on your horse and get the hell out of there!
The nice thing about "Game of Thrones," at least, is that arrows aren't enough to kill main characters. So I'm pretty sure Jon will recover from his wounds, even if those scars may linger, Tyrion-style. I'm even confident that he and Ygritte will reunite, maybe after he's expelled from the Night's Watch. God knows he'll never do anything as sensible as lying to the Maester about his sexual history.
I think that brings us to Daenerys, doesn't it? Her tableau outside the gates of Yunkai felt a little over-choreographed, but then she and Ser Jorah are the types to arrange things just so, aren't they? I don't know how many more scenes of liberation this show can get away with, but this one worked for me. I didn't love the crowd-surfing, but I enjoyed the chanting: "Mhysa! Mhysa!" (Pro-tip: this show makes 100-percent more sense when you turn on the closed captioning.) And the aerial view at the end gave me that tingly feeling I look for from "Game of Thrones."
So that's it. The Mother of Dragons marches onward. Winter is coming. But we'll have to wait until next season to see what comes next. It's been a pleasure and a privilege recapping the show with you guys -- thanks for reading and sharing your comments.
Before you go, tell us what you thought of tonight's finale!