Monday, June 10, 2013

HBO Game of Thrones Season Finale Recap: Mhysa

In the same fashion that GRRM goes out of his way, perhaps too much so, to break artistic convention perhaps the HBO showrunners could start to do the same. For three seasons now the most gripping and shocking moment has been in episode nine while the finale mostly deals with the repercussions. Things really don't have to be this way. It worked for season one because it was almost demanded by the source material. This trope was okay in season two but didn't quite work in season three. The book that season three was mostly drawn from was widely considered to be among the most compelling in the series. I'm not necessarily sure that always came across this season. There may be more on that later. But since this season was the most successful so far does anyone really care besides purist book readers? I don't know.

Anyway the season finale, as expected, starts in the Red Wedding aftermath. Roose Bolton looks approvingly on the final mop up of Stark and Tully forces. Men are hanged, burned alive, and hacked apart. In a horrific scene drawn straight from the books Bolton and Frey men surround the mutilated corpse of Robb Stark. He's been decapitated. Grey Wind's head has been attached to his body. The men mock the King in the North. Arya and The Hound see it and ride off. The Hound thoughtfully grabs a Frey banner as to blend in. You've really got to feel for Arya. In a very weird way she's grown up though. Yoren once held her and prevented her from seeing her father's execution and corpse. The Hound makes no such concession to her sensibilities. It is what it is.

In King's Landing Sansa and Tyrion discover a brief common interest in discussing ways to get back at people who mock them. This is interrupted when Podrick summons Tyrion to a Small Council meeting. Joffrey is besides himself with glee at having heard about the Red Wedding. Maester Pycelle makes Tyrion pick up a coded message from Walder Frey to Tywin that Robb and Catelyn Stark and all their forces are dead. So now you know why Twyin was writing all those letters all throughout the season. Being the sadistic little s*** that he is Joffrey is boasting of how he will have Robb's head served to Sansa, a suggestion which apparently horrifies Tyrion who forbids it. This sets off a little intra-Lannister rumble. Joffrey apparently still believes that Robert was his father and compares Tywin to him in a very negative manner. With that Tywin effectively sends Joffrey to bed with no supper. The chamber is emptied except for Tywin and Tyrion.

Tyrion is shocked that his father was behind the Red Wedding but the ever pragmatic Tywin sees little point in arguing in how a war is won, just that it is won. Besides most of the direct blame will fall on the Freys. Tyrion points out that such treachery will never be forgotten by the North but Tywin shrugs. Now that Robb and his heirs are gone it's critical for Tyrion to impregnate Sansa. When Tyrion protests and challenges his father to name a time that he ever sacrificed for the good of the group, his father icily reminds Tyrion that Tyrion is only alive because he's a Lannister. If Tywin had acted in accordance with personal desires he would have murdered Tyrion in the cradle. Tyrion goes to break the news to Sansa but sees that she's already heard.

This show is big on hints and here's one that was extremely and very deliberately obvious. At the Nightfort Bran is telling the story of the Rat Cook, a man who invited the king to dinner, murdered the king's sons and fed them to him. By the way a similar story is also told in Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus so it's not as if GRRM is alone in an appreciation for Grand Guignol. The Rat Cook was then punished by the gods by being turned into a carnivorous rat who ate his own children. The moral of the story as Bran pointed out is that the gods never forgive the violation of the sacred guest right. It is the gravest sin. People who do that come to extremely bad ends. In the very next scene we see Walder Frey eating and gloating as the blood and carnage are cleaned from his halls. Roose warns that the Blackfish escaped but Frey, who is revealing a MASSIVE inferiority complex, considers that of small import. And if you hadn't noticed that the Bolton sigil is a flayed man hanging on an X shaped rack you really should have been paying attention. In response to Frey's curiosity Roose reveals that the Ironborn occupying Winterfell handed over Theon to his bastard son but that his bastard son Ramsay had other ideas about both the Ironborn and Winterfell. This is an important confirmation that it was Ramsay Snow who sacked and burned Winterfell. So the Bolton treachery goes back further than one might have realized.

At presumably the Bolton Dreadfort stronghold, Theon hangs on the rack, while his previously unknown tormentor, Ramsay Snow, Bolton's illegitimate son, makes fun of Theon's new eunuch status. Ramsay says he got his cruelty from dear old dad. In what seems like a reference to a similar Roots scene featuring Kunta Kinte, Ramsay beats Theon senseless until Theon accepts his new name of Reek. Ramsay also sends Theon's genitals to Pyke, demanding that the Ironborn leave the North or Balon will get other flayed parts of Theon. Balon doesn't care but Yara does. She decides to lead an attack to rescue Theon. Bran and company run into Sam and Gilly. Sam recognizes Bran from stories he's heard about him and after some initial suspicions the two groups share notes. Nonetheless neither can convince the other to change directions and ultimately they continue on their separate paths.

At Dragonstone news of Robb's death has reached Stannis. Davos helps Gendry to escape after he's learned that Stannis still wishes to burn Gendry for more power. Greatly angered, Stannis intends to have Davos executed but declines when Davos reveals a letter from Maester Aemon of the Night's Watch asking for help to combat the White Walker threat. Melisandre (cleavage alert!!) goes along with this and claims to have seen something in the fires. As far as escapes go, Varys tries to pay off Shae to leave but Shae thinks this request comes from Tyrion and won't go. Cersei tells Tyrion to give Sansa a baby if he wants to make her somewhat happy. She says that even Joffrey's current status as a psychopath can't erase her fond memories of him as a baby and her love for him. Jaime and Brienne make it back to King's Landing where Jaime is reunited with Cersei. 
Arya and The Hound run across some Frey soldiers gloating about the murders of Robb and Catelyn. When Arya learns that one of these soldiers was among those who mutilated her brother's corpse, she murders him. The Hound makes quick work of the remaining ones and is a bit surprised at Arya's ferocity and skill with a knife. Arya is completely unrepentant and repeats to herself the mantra she learned from Jaqen H'ghar, Valar morghulis, or all men must die.

Ygritte has tracked down Jon Snow. Jon says that he still loves Ygritte and that he knows she feels the same but that he took an oath. Well if she still loves him she has a funny way of showing it as she peppers him with arrows. Then again, she didn't shoot him in the head. It's unclear as to whether this was for lack of trying. Either way I think that particular romantic interlude is over. Sometimes things just don't work out. Again I think we ought to at least consider the chain of events from Ygritte's point of view. The wounded Snow escapes back to the Wall.
At Yunkai the previous slaves embrace their freedom and Daenerys stage dives into what looks like the entire cast of extras from the Matrix Reloaded dance scene. The freed people call her Mhysa or mother. 

What I liked
  • Charles Dance continues to seemingly effortlessly dominate any scene he's in. His Twyin Lannister is a Magnificent Bastard indeed.
  • Arya's murderous frustration and revenge has been a long time coming but we finally get to see hints of it. 
  • Ygritte's almost wordless rage. This was very well played indeed. I look forward to seeing her next season. She can use the same phrase "You know nothing, Jon Snow" to run the gamut of meanings and emotions. There's a thin line between love and hate.
  • Davos' insistence on remaining the moral center for the man he calls king. It's a welcome respite from GRRM's otherwise constant mantra that nice guys finish last. Because of where he was born Davos is a bit more realistic than Ned Stark, as is Brienne but all three characters possess an insistence on doing the right thing and playing by the rules regardless of the personal cost. Two of them are still alive.
  • The show forces viewers to accept that the Stark quest for justice and possibly revenge may not necessarily be the central theme. This really messes with normal storytelling convention. I wonder if it does so so much that some people will give up on the show. I wouldn't blame them if they did. Different strokes, different folks.
  • Sam reminding Maester Aemon that the Wall wasn't built to keep out men. Sam finally comes across as competent in this episode. He may never be a bada$$ but there are some things he knows about and history is one of them.

What I didn't like
  • I don't remember if Yunkai was mostly black and brown in the books. I don't think it was. I certainly don't think the ruling slaver Yunkai class was mostly Caucasian. In any event I think it's somewhat lazy writing to immediately have black + brown = slave in a televised adaptation. Of course this could wind up being a critique of Orientalism and paternalistic imperialism but still. Even ignoring any unfortunate racial implications the Daenerys ending scene was meant to be epic -complete with overhead crane shot and swelling ponderous music- but it mostly just left me cold.
  • The pacing was a little off in this episode and this season. The show runners had said that the Red Wedding was initially the scene which made them know they had to adapt the book. They did an excellent job of that but other storylines either dragged on too much (Theon) or were greatly shortchanged (Arya)
  • It would have been nice to get some reaction from Robb's other bannermen up North about the turn of events. After all, several of their relatives died at the Red Wedding as well.
  • Please read the books. 

*This post is written for discussion of this episode and previous episodes.  If you have book based knowledge of future events please be kind enough not to discuss that here.  NO SPOILERS. NO BOOK DERIVED HINTS ABOUT FUTURE EVENTS. Most of my blog partners have not read the books and would take spoilers most unkindly. Heads, spikes, well you get the idea..of course as the series biggest spoiler is no longer a spoiler perhaps instead of decapitation you would just get sent to the Wall...
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