Game of Thrones – Season Finale Review: A Storm of Swords
Review of Game of Thrones – Season 3 Finale – Mhysa
After “The Rains of Castamere,” the Game of Thrones season finale was already facing a tall order. How do you convince a wounded fanbase to stick around? How do you convince them that it’s not just going to be one long, miserablist slog from here on out, where the villains always win, and the heroes continue to get the short end of the stick? “Mhysa” makes its case for why viewers who are still heartbroken over the Red Wedding should stick around. No, none of the bad guys bite the bullet, and for a brief moment the show even teases that Jon Snow (Kit Harington) will follow his half-brother Robb into the grave. Yet “Mhysa” is still a solid season finale that gives hope to viewers who are burned out on all the misery: Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) sees her influence continue to skyrocket; Jon Snow is reunited with his brothers in the Night’s Watch; Yara (Gemma Whelan) launches a full-scale campaign to rescue Theon (Alfie Allen) and put his torturer to the torch; and Arya (Maisie Williams) kills the s*** out of the guy responsible for beheading Grey Wind, in the episode’s most purely cathartic moment. But beyond these hopeful moments, there’s still plenty to get excited about in season four. Despite the decimation of Robb’s forces, the war is still going on, as Stannis has yet to throw in the towel. In addition, the three-way tension between Tyrion (Peter Dinklage), Tywin (Charles Dance) and Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) continues to grow more intense, building to a conflict that looks to boil over sooner rather than later. So while “The Rains of Castamere” is still fresh in the memory, “Mhysa” puts forth the argument that Game of Thrones is still worth your time.
In the wake of the Red Wedding, Frey forces and turncoats have put the Stark camp to the torch. More horrifically, the Frey soldiers are parading Robb’s body around with Grey Wind’s head sewn onto the decapitated corpse, all while chanting “Here comes the King in the North!” Worse still, a devastated Arya sees all of this, prompting the Hound (Rory McCann) to whisk her away before she goes and does anything rash. The image of Grey Wind’s head on Robb’s body was something from the books I didn’t think they’d have the stones to do in the show, so I have to give credit to Benioff & Weiss for going through with it, horrific though it was (thankfully, they at least left out the other terrible sight from the books, where Frey men nonchalantly chuck Catelyn’s pale, denuded corpse into the river like it’s a sack of trash). However, Arya is able to get her own measure of revenge for the Red Wedding, as she and the Hound stumble upon former Stark bannermen by the road, who brag about what they’ve done. In particular, one soldier claims to be one of the men responsible for beheading Grey Wind and putting the direwolf’s head onto Robb Stark’s decapitated body. And so Arya calmly gets down from her horse, offers the man a coin (her iron coin given by Jaqen H’ghar) for some food and warmth, then proceeds to stab him into a bloody mess the minute he stoops to pick up the coin. While unabashedly violent, it’s a triumphant moment, as bad people have so rarely gotten exactly what they deserve on this show, up to this point. Case in point: Walder Frey.
After the Red Wedding is done, and the blood is being washed from his halls, Walder Frey (David Bradley) rants to Roose Bolton (Michael McElhatton) about his reasoning behind the Red Wedding, declaring that none of the Northern lords every respected him (the same tired-ass song he was singing back in season one when Catelyn first came to him to ask for passage across the Twins). Though Walder is ultimately pleased with how things have gone down, he’s annoyed that Brynden Tully (Clive Russell), the Blackfish, was allowed to escape. But Frey figures he has the Lannisters backing him, while Tully has no one. Roose Bolton, now named Warden of the North, recalls Robb’s “arrogance” in not listening to his counsel, as if to offer an excuse for having betrayed the former King in the North. Roose explains his tactics for taking control of the North, and it’s through this speech that we come to discover the identity of Theon’s torturer, and learn just why he’s such a sick, twisted piece of garbage: as it turns out, he’s a Bolton.
Ramsay Bolton (Iwan Rheon) is Roose’s bastard, whom he’d dispatched to retake Winterfell from the Ironborn (as referenced in season two, I believe). Ramsay presented the Ironborn with Robb’s terms, offering them amnesty in exchange for Theon Greyjoy. Of course, given that this is Ramsay, the Ironborn were killed anyway, following their surrender. And thus, we’ve gotten the season-long torture of Theon that we’ve witnessed.
Ramsay, who was last seen ordering Theon’s penis removed, teases Theon by eating a phallic blood sausage in front of him and asking if humans feel a phantom itch when they lose a vital part of their body. It’s nearly impossible not to feel sorry for Theon, as awful as he’s been in the past, if only because Ramsay is decidedly worse. Theon pleads with Ramsay to just kill him, but Ramsay insists that Theon is still needed alive. The twisted “Bastard of Bolton” then tortures Theon further by beating him until he renounces the name Theon Greyjoy and, instead, accepts the name “Reek.”
This would all be horrible enough, mind you, but Ramsay has to take it a step further by sending Theon’s severed penis to Balon Greyjoy (Patrick Malahide) and Yara, with the message to leave the North or face complete ruin. Balon is insulted by Ramsay’s threats and refuses to withdraw his forces from the North. However, he also refuses to send forces to rescue Theon. He instead opts to badmouth his son, saying he’s not even a man anymore, while gesturing to the severed dick in a box. Yara will not hear of her father badmouthing her baby brother, insisting that Theon is still Balon’s son, and still a Greyjoy. She intends to take the fastest ships and the fifty best killers in the Iron Islands, and march on the Dreadfort, find her little brother and bring him home. It’s a total fist-pumping moment, as Yara has been completely absent from the narrative for the entire season, yet completely re-establishes the ferocity of her character within three minutes.
Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright), meanwhile, rests for the night with his crew and tells the story of the Rat Cook, which details the story of a cook who’d slain the son of a King, baked him into a pie, and then served it to the King. The gods cursed him by turning him into a rat who would be unable to eat anything but his own young for the rest of his days. It turns out that baking a prince into a pie wasn’t what ticked off the gods, but the killing of a guest beneath one’s roof, as this is something even the gods cannot abide (this story might have been more thematically appropriate last week, but I’m glad they held off, as this might have tipped the viewer off on what was to come). Bran’s group then runs into Sam (John Bradley) and Gilly (Hannah Murray). Once he realizes that Bran is Jon Snow’s brother, Sam tries to convince the group not to venture further North, telling of the horrors that exist beyond The Wall.
However, Jojen (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) reveals that he’s seen all that Sam has seen, and that their journey must continue regardless. And so Sam gives the party his dragonglass for the dangers ahead, stating that it’s the only way to kill an Other. Sam pleads one last time for them to come with him, and while Bran really does wish he could, he states that he just can’t. Bran and co. continue beyond the Wall while Sam and Gilly head for Castle Black. Upon arriving, they’re met with some skepticism by Maester Aemon, who feels Sam has forsaken his vows by taking up with Gilly. But Sam sticks up for her in what turns out to be John Bradley’s best moment in the series, declaring that the vows of the Night’s Watch extend to all realms of men, whether noble or wildling. Heartened by Sam’s words, Maester Aemon takes Gilly in, along with her child (which she’s decided to name “Sam”), and then orders Sam to send the ravens, as they must get the word out about all that Sam has seen.
Yet we’re still not done with the North just yet, as Jon Snow flees from Ygritte (Rose Leslie), who’s caught up to him following last week’s fracas. Jon is certain Ygritte won’t shoot him, to which she tearfully responds, “You know nothing, Jon Snow.” Jon gives a bittersweet smile and says that while he doesn’t know much, he knows he loves her. It’s a line that should be insurmountably cheesy, yet it’s undoubtedly effective thanks to Harington’s delivery and Leslie’s reaction. The two actors make it work beyond what I might have expected from the scene going in. And it only gets more poignant, though also violent, from there: as he rides off on his horse, Ygritte fires, putting two arrows into Jon’s back and one in his thigh. Ygritte cannot hold back her tears as she watches him flee, injured, on the back of his horse. However, Jon thankfully makes it to The Wall, injured but alive, where he’s reunited with Sam and his other Night’s Watch camarades. And that’s really all we get from Jon, but I’m sure plenty of people are relieved that they didn’t axe off Jon Snow, since I imagine that would have been the absolute last straw for some viewers, following last week’s complete slaughter.
Davos (Liam Cunningham) chats with an imprisoned Gendry (Joe Dempsie), and recalls having grown up in the Fleabottom district of King’s Landing. Gendry is initially disbelieving that he shares an upbringing with a lord like Davos. However, Davos is able to convince Gendry of his story by recalling how the human waste flowed from Aegon’s Hill down to Gin Alley, where he lived. Davos recounts the story of how he became a lord under Stannis (Stephen Dillane), then sadly recalls how his son lost his life following him into combat on the Blackwater. While not a hugely substantial scene, this was among my favorite of the episode, simply for how Cunningham and Dempsie imbued their conversation with a sense of freewheeling familiarity, despite the fact that the characters are, ostensibly, complete strangers.
But that’s about as lighthearted as things get for Davos. He argues for Gendry’s life, saying that uniting the Seven Kingdoms through sorcery is evil, and Stannis is not an evil man. However, Stannis counters that Aegon Targaryen conquered the Seven Kingdoms on the back of his dragon, Valyrian the Dread, and declares that there’s power in king’s blood. Thus, Gendry must die. Left with little recourse, Davos sets Gendry free, saying he’s doing it because it’s the right thing to do (and also because he’s a slow learner). Once Davos confesses to setting Gendry free, Stannis sentences him to die. But, before he can be carried away, Davos presents Stannis with the letter from the Night’s Watch, pleading for help against the Others, arguing that this will be a vital issue for Northerners if Stannis hopes to win support to his cause. Melisandre (Carice Van Houten), surprisingly, agrees with Davos and says that the War of the Seven Kingdoms means nothing in comparison to the otherworldly battle beyond The Wall. She feels Davos should be spared, and so Stannis assents, noting the irony of Davos having now been saved by the fire god he’s mocked so often. And just like that, it looks like Team Stannis is headed for The Wall.
Joffrey is overjoyed that Robb and Catelyn are dead, and boasts while at a meeting of the Small Council. Joffrey says he plans to serve Sansa (Sophie Turner) Robb’s head at the wedding feast, but Tyrion implicitly threatens Joffrey’s life, saying that Sansa is no longer his to torment. “Everyone is mine to torment!” says Joffrey. “I am the king!” To which Tywin responds that anyone who must proclaim himself king is no such thing. Tywin and Joffrey have a standoff, and Tywin sends Joffrey to bed like a petulant child, in a moment that would be truly badass if Tywin weren’t such an irredeemable man in his own right. The Council meeting dissolves and Tyrion and Tywin come face-to-face. Tywin says a good man puts the interests of his family ahead of his own, to which Tyrion asks when Tywin ever did such a thing. Tywin mentions the day Tyrion was born, saying that he wanted to send Tyrion into the ocean and let the waves take him away, but couldn’t bring himself to do it because, dwarf or not, Tyrion was a Lannister. I’ve always loved the conflict between Tywin and Tyrion, and this was a fitting companion to the earlier argument this season over Tyrion’s “rights” to Casterly Rock. It’s intense enough to almost make you forget about poor Sansa, who’s already heard the tragic news about her mother and brother when Tyrion finds her.
Meanwhile, Varys (Conleth Hill) attempts to bribe Shae (Sibel Kekilli) to leave. He says that Tyrion is the one man who can truly do good for the kingdom, and that Shae is a complication. Shae is incredulous, yet Varys presses on, gently breaking it to Shae that she’ll never be anyone in King’s Landing, since people like them only have one name, when it’s family names that matter here. He adds that Shae’s presence here only puts Tyrion in greater danger; thus, he pleads with her to take his offer and leave, for Tyrion’s own good. Yet Shae remains obstinate, tossing Varys’s gold back at him and saying that if Tyrion wants her to leave, he can tell her himself.
For his part, Tyrion gets drunk with Podrick (Daniel Portman) when Cersei (Lena Headey) enters to give her brother a hard time. She tries to convince Tyrion to give Sansa a child, saying it will bring the Stark girl some much-needed happiness, though Tyrion guesses Cersei is only doing this so she can take credit for being the one to talk Tyrion into siring an heir. Tyrion, taking umbrage with Cersei’s assertion that children lead to happiness, asks Cersei just how happy she is. Cersei sadly admits that she isn’t very happy; however, without her children, Cersei states, she’d have thrown herself from the highest window in the Red Keep. She feels this way about all of her children. “Even Joffrey?” Tyrion asks. “Even Joffrey,” Cersei responds. She then describes the sensation of having a person you can consider wholly your own, recalling how she would simply gaze at Joffrey after he was born. It’s a great moment for Lena Headey, and further illustrates her ambivalence about Joffrey in a way that makes sense from a character perspective. She understands he’s a tyrant, yet he’s still her son. Of course, she also understands that, in many ways, it’s a Lannister’s lot to make enemies. She explains this to Tyrion when he asks how much longer this interminable conflict must go on, since every enemy they make wins them two more. Cersei says their fight must continue until all their enemies are brought to heel. And while this totalitarian rhetoric is all well and good in the abstract, Cersei doesn’t really seem to have her heart in it as much as her father. To make matters more complicated for her, Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) has finally returned to King’s Landing with Brienne (Gwendoline Christie). When finally coming face-to-face with her brother/lover, Cersei is rendered utterly speechless. And it’s on that image that we leave Cersei, and the Lannisters, for the season.
Lastly, we finally check in with Daenerys, who awaits the arrival of the freed people of Yunkai. She worries they’ll resent her for having liberated them, since “people learn to love their chains.” The gates to the city open and the slaves come pouring out, some still wearing their broken chains and collars. Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel) dictates Dany’s message to the slaves, telling them that they owe Dany their freedom. However, upon hearing this, Dany steps in and corrects Missandei’s statement. She tells the slaves that their freedom is not hers to give, and that they must fight to maintain and defend that freedom for themselves. It’s a scene that shows just how well Emilia Clarke has grown not only in the role of Daenerys, but with the role of Daenerys as well, coming across every bit as authoritative and hopeful as she does naive and uncertain. The slaves chant “Mhysa,” which Missandei says means “Mother.” They praise Dany as she sets the dragons free and walks among her people. They reach out to her and lift her above their heads. Though Dany still isn’t in Westeros just yet, she’s amassing a steady group of loyal followers who see her not only as a queen, but as a mother.
The third season of Game of Thrones has been its most complicated and top-heavy, yet I’d argue it’s also been its best, from a strictly dramatic standpoint. Sure, season one told a better-paced story, and season two had more action, but season three really illustrated what the show was really capable of, revealing that it can get people truly invested in the journey of these characters, and the outcome of this world’s conflicts. “Mhysa” is a fitting close for a season that took considerable narrative risks, for rewards that can hopefully be reaped as the show moves into season four.