Update: Yeah yeah, I’m a little late with this puppy. And by a little I mean almost three weeks after it aired. But who’s counting?
One thing I love about this series, among others, is that the characters you meet are very rarely wholly good or evil. Their desires may be questionable or their moral compass may always point in an unselfish direction, but in the end most of them are a lot like onions: they have layers. Layers upon layers, and then more layers. Take Tywin Lannister, the most ruthless son of a bitch in the Seven Kingdoms who is even more dangerous sitting behind a desk than he is on a battlefield. If it is to his advantage to have his enemies executed during a time of tranquility and marital bliss, he will do it without a second thought and enjoy a good night’s sleep. Ask Tywin about this later and he will scoff at the notion that the act was monstrous, saying that he did what he did in order to save his family from genocide and war. There are characters with this degree of depth in every house and faction in ‘Game of Thrones’, underlining the idea that once you get past the killing and the plotting and the screwing, family is by far the most significant theme of the show, and every family is screwed up.
Dealing with the after effects of episode nine’s bloodbath, it becomes clear right from the beginning that the landscape of Westeros has forever been altered. Never again will anyone feel safe in an unfamiliar place, especially if their host grants them the guest right. They will be terrified that even if their “ally” offers them friendship in one hand, he is simply concealing a knife in the other. Arya has learned this lesson the hard way, watching it play out around her time and time again until finally she no longer puts any stock in fables such as justice or mercy. With her mother and brother gone and any hope of going home lost forever, the only thing that keeps her from packing it in now is the old adage “Valar Morghulis”, that all men must die, and logically she practices this mindset by killing a man for the first time in her life. I expect he won’t be the last, and hey, as we’ve seen there’s far worse people to be on a road trip with than the Hound. Good ol’ Sandor Clegane is a battle-tested veteran and he doesn’t mind when you borrow his knife. After suffering through so much heartbreak of her own, it’s quite possible that Arya is beginning to understand why the Hound turned out the way he did, and the way things are going for her she may wind up just like him.
Jon Snow is dealing with a different kind of remorse, but in his case it was entirely self-inflicted. It would’ve been all too easy for him to abandon his responsibilities in order to live a happy and fulfilling life, and in hindsight perhaps that was the wiser decision seeing as Ygritte nearly killed the poor bastard for leaving. Nevertheless, I don’t think anyone ever believed that Jon would truly bail on his fellow crows, but I think there were more than a few viewers who were still hoping for a happy ending between the two of them. Better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all, I suppose. Then there’s Sam, who has always been an outcast no matter how far north he travels, but now is starting to hit his stride in all aspects of his life. He slayed a White Walker, earned the appreciation of a girl who thinks he’s a wizard, and has a father figure in Maester Aemon (good to see him again) who actually values his intellect. On top of all that, Sam’s chance meeting with Bran solidified his loyalty to Jon and drove home the idea that the old fashioned Northerners will stick together, because Winter is on the horizon and that’s a lot more terrifying than any wedding. It sucks to miss out on yet another potential Stark reunion, but the boys of Winterfell have always had more balls than sense. Why else would Bran urge Sam to let him go north of the Wall if not for his valorous disposition? The Reeds follow without a second thought and have been steadfast in helping the little lord since they found him in the woods, but it’s not like they have a choice; if the kid who can’t even walk is willing to risk certain death, you better get off your ass and go with him.
Of course, this level of fortitude isn’t exclusive to Jon, Sam or Bran, as Ser Davos seems to take it to a whole ‘nother level each and every week. “I’m a slow learner,” he admits to Gendry, as he once again crosses the Red Woman at the risk of his own life. I’ve grown rather fond of Davos, not just because I envy his glorious beard, but because I admire him for never allowing himself to get caught up in the petty squabbles between the nobles. Though the right decision is hardly ever the smart decision in terms of ensuring one’s survival, Davos sticks to his values and his judgments always reflect his strict moral code. Robb Stark had these same qualities and we saw firsthand how far that got him, but after witnessing so much devastation it’s reassuring to see a decent person act accordingly and not be butchered as a result. The fact that Stannis, Davos and Melisandre have managed to co-exist this long, despite their philosophical disagreements, lends credence to the idea that these working relationships don’t need to be perfect and you don’t even have to like one another. So long as everyone is working towards the same goal, you have a chance of staying alive in this world.
And for all their accomplishments, that’s something that just isn’t true when it comes to the Lannisters. Every one of them has a different agenda and they very rarely have a conversation among themselves that doesn’t end with a threat or a cruel jape. It doesn’t help that King Joffrey, the supposed prodigal son who will keep the family’s legacy intact, takes every opportunity to prove that he doesn’t have an ounce of empathy in his body. Tywin just wants what’s best for the Lannisters as a whole, but are Joffrey and his monstrous ways really what’s best for them? If every family member is pulling in a different direction and selfishly pursuing their own desires, then they are as much of a threat to each other as they are to their enemies. That goes double for everyone’s favorite love triangle, which got that much more complicated when Shae refused Varys’ offer to relocate. Sansa will never forgive Tyrion for what his family did to hers (they were finally starting to hit it off too!) and Tyrion will never do the deed so long as Shae remains in the picture. A loveless marriage is like a cancer and eventually it brings down everyone around it. I found it interesting that so little screen time was given to Jaime and the Tyrells, but that meant I got to see a lot more of my main man Davos, so I can’t be too critical there.
As awful as Joffrey has been, I think it’s safe to say that Ramsay Snow is officially giving him a run for his money. That’s right, Ramsay Snow, the bastard son of Roose Bolton and Theon Greyjoy’s dungeon master. Book readers had this pegged from the very beginning, as we discovered not only Ramsay’s identity, but also his role in the sack of Winterfell. In a way, I think the flaying of Theon and the removal of his manhood (which led to a rather gruesome variation of “Dick in a Box”) represents the jarring shift of possession of the North from the Starks to the Boltons, and how much more severe the punishments will be without the Old Gods present to temper the violence of men. That doesn’t excuse the brutal torture scenes we were forced to suffer through all season, and though it has some greater meaning now that we can see the whole picture, the fact is it just isn’t something I ever want to sit through again. And how interesting that Yara Greyjoy is now taking on the role of a rescuer, being the only person who is willing to help the rather unpopular Theon. Even if you live on the Iron Islands, blood is thicker than water.
Daenerys was another character who I felt was shortchanged in the finale, and the fact that her scene closed out the season is why some consider the episode to be anti-climatic. How ironic. We get an uplifting moment and all any of us do is complain that it wasn’t enough. Not that it was poorly executed or anything, but after ending the first two seasons on thrilling cliffhangers I suppose everyone was expecting a little more. However, it was a good contrast to the rest of the episode and it’s pretty cool how Dany is creating her own kingdom and accepting everyone into her family.
There was no way the writers were going to be able to top the previous installment AND tie up everyone else’s storyline in a satisfying manner, and in a way I admire them for not even trying. “Mhysa” is devoid of any moments that are as shocking or monumental as The Red Wedding, which was a little disappointing because this was the season finale and we wanted things to go out with a bang. I understand that complaint, but all you have to do is look at the first two seasons before you realize that episode nine in Thrones is always the high point, whereas the finale is more of a glance in what’s still to come and a little teaser that leaves you wanting more. And unlike the first two seasons, this wasn’t an adaptation of an entire novel from George R.R. Martin’s saga and there wasn’t any pre-determined end point. They squeezed in about two thirds of book three this year and left themselves many of the best moments to include for next season. So be patient friends – it will be worth the wait.
Jesse’s Rating: 8.5/10