And so we arrive at the long, barren part of the year during which there is no Game of Thrones. Winter is coming, you say? Season 4 feels a Westerosian summer away. As we dive into "Mhysa," the Season 3 finale, let's first address the elephant in the room. Sorry, A Song of Ice and Fire fans, that didn't happen this season.
In the interest of full disclosure — in case it wasn't clear in my previous recap — I've read George R. R. Martin's books. As such, I did my mourning for the Red Wedding a year ago, rather than last week (but that doesn't mean I didn't mourn for the Starks anew alongside show-watchers), and I was eager to see what fireworks the season finale might have in store. In fact, I had a pretty good idea as to what it might be.
But alas, I was wrong. So now I'm faced with the difficult task of divorcing my unfounded expectations from the actual episode at hand. And for the book readers amongst you, I'll address what was missing from the episode at the end, preceded by enough spoiler warnings to ward off those who wish to remain unsullied.
Following the trend established by the first two seasons of Game of Thrones, Season 3 packed a punch with the penultimate episode, while "Mhysa" quelled the lingering excitement and established a foundation for Season 4. The result was an anti-climactic 63 minutes peppered with satisfying moments that were tantalizing in their brevity. The Season 3 finale may have been a bit of a letdown, they seem to say, but Season 4 promises to be a whopper.
THE WAR OF FIVE KINGS
After Red Wedding in "The Rains of Castamere," the five kings clambering for the Iron Throne have now dwindled to three: Joffrey Baratheon, Stannis Baratheon, and Balon Greyjoy. As the season draws to a close, where do we find each of them? [Editor's Note: In last week's recap, I misidentified the final "king" as Daenerys Targaryen. She, however, isn't included in this count.]
"Mhysa" opens with sweeping views of the grounds outside the Twins set ablaze. The Red Wedding, it's now apparent, was only the beginning of the bloodbath against the Northern army. Ruthless Roose Bolton wasn't satiated by the Stark family deaths alone — he needed to eviscerate their entire army.
Roose, in the mood for telling tales, proceeds to reveal to Walder Frey that he helped orchestrate not only the Red Wedding, but the sack of Winterfell as well. It wasn't Theon who ordered the Iron Islands' bannermen to burn the Starks' homestead to the ground, but rather Roose himself. Roose, obviously a big proponent of telling over showing, also reveals the answer to Season 3's biggest mystery: the identity of Theon's tormenter.
The hobbit-like man with the twisted grin and sociopathic tendencies, we learn, is none other than Roose Bolton's bastard son Ramsay. Ramsay's real motives for torturing Theon may remain unclear — the lengths to which he goes to humiliate and degrade Theon, including Sunday's dramatic renaming, seem to indicate something beyond asking for Balon Greyjoy's surrender — but at least we now have a name to put with that haunting face.
In sending Balon Greyjoy his son's dick in a box (nicely done, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss), Ramsay does us the courtesy of reintroducing us to the King of the Iron Islands. And while Balon is willing to chalk Theon's fate up to the casualties of war (and insubordination), Yara Greyjoy is eager to save her brother. As she sails off in her father's fastest ship, the audience is given a glimpse of Season 4. The Greyjoys, it appears, will play a much bigger role.
In King's Landing, Joffrey has become (if possible) an eager bigger monster. Gleeful – I do believe he actually giggles — at Robb Stark and his "bitch of a mother's" deaths, Joffrey wants to serve Robb's head to poor Sansa Stark on a silver platter... literally. The tension between Joffrey, Tyrion, and Tywin Lannister hits a fever pitch when Tyrion defends his young bride with another treasonous threat towards the king, and Tywin sends Joffrey to bed without supper.
Alone in the the small council room, Tywin and Tyrion face off in a battle of wills. Watching Peter Dinklage and Charles Dance verbally spar is a privilege. Tyrion, thinking he is for once stealing the advantage from his father, seems to shrivel before our very eyes as Tywin announces that his existence is the greatest sacrifice Tywin ever made in the name of family. Tywin's voice remains staid and steady even as he visibly shakes and tears well in his eyes. If there was ever a fleeting belief that these two men would be able to reconcile, it has now been exterminated forever.
And that brings us to Stannis — the dark horse in this fight with only the Lord of Light and his red sorceress in his corner. After his plans to sacrifice Gendry are thwarted by the sneaky Onion Knight, Stannis is forced to change his approach. Thanks to a raven sent from the Night's (which the newly-literate Davos Seaworth charmingly pronounces "nig-hit") Watch, Melisandre declares that "the real war is in the North." Finally hip to something viewers have known for three seasons now, Stannis and Co. come to the important realization that the war for the Iron Throne means nothing if the North falls to the White Walkers.
In looking ahead to Season 4, we must remember the three leeches Melisandre sacrificed to the flame a few weeks ago. One named for each Robb Stark, Joffrey Baratheon, and Balon Greyjoy. Robb has fallen — how long before Joffrey and Balon achieve a similar fate?
BEYOND THE WALL
While the Starks, it seems, may never, ever get back together (thanks for this one, Internet), our three intrepid parties bordering the Wall — Sam and Gilly, Bran Stark and the Reeds, and Jon Snow – begin to criss-cross one another. The first chance meeting is that of Sam and Bran. Sam, bringing voice to viewers' wishes, advises Bran to come with him to Castle Black, where he will be reunited again with Jon Snow. But Bran declines, choosing instead to follow the dark, underground passageway through which Sam has come to the world beyond the wall.
After showing Bran his way, Sam and Gilly continue on to Castle Black. Once safely inside, they are able to send ravens to the Westerosi leaders imploring immediate aid. But it seems only Stannis will answer their call.
Jon Snow, meanwhile, is forced to abandon Ygritte a second time, after she finds him bathing his eagle-inflicted wounds. Jon Snow may know that he loves Ygritte and that she loves him in return, but that isn't enough to guarantee his safety. Ygritte fills Jon with quarrels as rides away, even as tears make tracks on her cheeks.
Miraculously, Jon does make it to Castle Black — but only barely. He recognizes Sam before he slips out of consciousness, his fate unknown. Fans everywhere hope against hope that Martin hasn't just killed off another Stark.
ODDS AND ENDS
- I hate to relegate Dany to the odds and ends — especially considering the episode was named for her – but her storyline felt like more of an afterthought in this episode. Her battle for Yunkai completed last week, in "Mhysa" she enters the city for the first time. And, to her surprise, she is greeted by the freed slaves not with gratitude or obligatory devotion, but with pure love. "Mhysa," they call her, "Mother." And with a single word, flitting across the lips of a thousand free men and women, the Mother of Dragons, the woman who has been prophesied to never give birth to a child, becomes the mother of an entire people.
- Arya's moment of revenge – enacted upon a boastful soldier — was bittersweet to me. Sure, it was a kickass moment for our young heroine, no one will deny that. But it was also heartbreaking to see Arya so overcome with violent rage, so hardened against the world, that she would kill a man with no provocation beyond lies a man tells for personal glory. Her dancing lessons with Syrio seem not a distant memory, but rather a dream of impossible days.
- Perhaps my favorite moment of the episode was Jaime's quiet return to Cersei. When Cersei turns to see Jaime, her brother and lover, standing in the doorway, it looks like she has seen a ghost. And when she registers Jaime's presence, her expression changes from shock to disgust. It seems Cersei's love for her brother was left in the dirt along the Kingsroad, to rot along with Jaime's sword hand.
AND NOW, FOR THAT SPOILER...
Turn back now if you have not read A Storm of Swords. I implore you, like the Nig-hit's Watch implores help from Stannis Baratheon, do not read past this point if you do not wish to be spoiled. Even if you think you want to be spoiled but you haven't read the book, stop reading now.
Why the f**k wasn't the Joffrey/Margaery wedding in this episode? I would have bet my right hand (sorry, Jaime) that the season would end with Joffrey's death, Sansa's escape, and Tyrion's arrest. Not only does the Royal Wedding follow the Red Wedding in a one-two punch in Martin's book, but this now leaves a ton of ground for the show to cover in Season 4. We've got to get Sansa to the Eyrie in the early episodes of Season 4 or all hope for the show to continue in any sort of reasonable timeline is lost.
Not to mention, killing off Joffrey — the show's universally hated character — would have thrown a major bone to fans. How better to move on from Robb, Talisa, and Catelyn's tragedy than with a hearty dose of revenge? The lack of this moment overshadowed the entire episode for me, as I'm sure it did most (if not all) fans of the books. We promised non-book readers another whammy of an episode and then waited, and waited, and waited… until it never came.
Also left out of this episode were the mysterious appearances of Coldhands and Lady Stoneheart. I wouldn't be surprised if we don't see Lady Stoneheart until the final moments of Season 4, but I do hope we meet Coldhands soon. I'm ready for Bran's storyline to go apes**t. You heard me, bring on the weird!