Previous Game Of Thrones reviews can be found here.
Game of Thrones, for all the unpredictability of its plot, follows a pattern with its seasons. The penultimate episode is where the big fireworks (decapitation, Blackwater, now the Red Wedding) go down, and the finale is much more what you would expect from a typical premiere, setting various folks on various roads to various places they probably won’t arrive at until well into the next year. There was a bit of a question whether this year, which unlike the first two concluded in the middle of a source book, would follow suit, but it certainly did in the end. Arya hits the road again, in much the same position (but worse) as she was in the last two finales. Bran heads north of the Wall with a small party to protect him, much like Jon did at the end the first season. Sansa remains a caged, miserable bird at King’s Landing as a new set of meager hopes are cruelly dashed by the horrific murder of her elder relations. Yara sets out to rescue her brother, Stannis refocuses on the threat of the Walkers, and Dany, having decided that walking over everyone and everything in Essos is too much work, is now crowdsurfing her way to Westeros (at the same leisurely pace).
What previous finales had, and what I think largely prevented people from complaining about them as anticlimaxes following the episode where Shit Goes Down, was truly striking closing images that promised major changes to come. Dany rising from the fire with her dragons is the signature image of the series thus far, and the army of the dead marching through the snow was unexpectedly epic in scale and gave us a nice jolt to end on, even if this year ultimately did remarkably little to follow through on its promise. The Walkers are aptly named, it would seem, having spent all year shuffling through the off-screen snow without reaching anywhere we might recognize. One of them appeared for exactly one scene between the pre-credits sequence of the premiere and the finale where they remained an unseen threat even as they drew the attention of more important characters.
The eponymous sequence of “Mhysa,” however, packs less of a punch, because it neither surprises nor promises anything new. Dany’s been on this messianic path all year, and the actual conquest of Yunkai took place last week, so I’m not sure what the tension of the scene was supposed to be, or whether it was supposed to feel like more of a game-changer than it did. She already had some freed slaves as followers, now she has some more. Bully for Danaerys Stormborn, The Unburnt, The Breaker of Chains and Addendumer of Superfluous Titles, but given that this was her only scene of the finale, this fell a bit flat for me.
Indeed, I think the last two episodes may have benefited from rearranging. If you move all of the Yunkai material to the finale, and pack as much of the Jon and Bran scenes as possible into last week, I think “Rains Of Castamere” could’ve been a counterpoint to last year’s “Blackwater,” with the focus squarely on the Starks and their hangers-on rather than the Lannisters. It may not have worked as well, since it still would’ve had to remain more geographically diffuse compared to the King’s Landing-bound “Blackwater,” but I think having the closing sequence immediately follow the taking of Yunkai would’ve given it more kick, and made it feel like a resolution rather than a postscript.
But enough about the ending, how about the opening? The initial shot of Bolton surveying the devastation of the Stark bannermen was gorgeously composed, and the chaos of the massacre as brutal as we’ve come to expect from this show. And seeing Robb’s body defiled and paraded through the camp was a kick in the gut even after last week’s elaborate atrocities. It was good to see Arya enact a little antipasto of revenge on some Frey goons later, but it’s a very small, very cold comfort after having to witness that on top of every other horror she’s endured. With no home left to go to, one wonders if the Hound could be convinced to escort her all the way to Braavos? The idea of Arya meeting up with Dany in Essos and returning for her main course on the back of a dragon is certainly enticing, but then when was the last time the show gave a sympathetic character that satisfying a triumph?
Anyhow, the other big rousing moment of the night came from the long-absent, mostly-asshole Greyjoys. Well, actually just Yara. And sure, she’s a remorseless killer, and we haven’t seen her or her father all year, and she’s closing the barn door after the cock has left the building, but darn it, I like her and anyone who can potentially do some damage to the Boltons is in my good books for the time being.
And while I can’t say the Theon material was fully worth all the time spent on it throughout the year, I am glad to at least have a positive ID on his tormentor. He is, as suspected, Bolton’s bastard, and his cheeky letter to go with the present for Balon was a new level of theatrical villainy for the show, not to mention how he ostentatiously chows down on a sausage in front of the newly-gelded Theon. If we’re going to have him around awhile – and I assume we are, as apparently at some point in the third book, Martin did a survey of the terrain and decided “hmmm, what this story really need is less sympathetic heroes and more leering, elfin sadists” – it’s better to know a little about him, particularly since it’s not like his identity is significant enough to warrant building up any more “mystery” around.
So go Yara, and go Arya! Also go Hodor! Bran may still be trekking vaguely north as he was at the beginning of the year, but at least we got the best “Hodor!” of the series when he was playing in the well. Maybe next year, once Bran starts mixing it up with the White Walkers or Mance (or at least meets up with his uncle Benjen), I’ll start looking forward to his bits the way I do the stuff in King’s Landing.
Which, surprise surprise, is where the best parts of the episodes are set once again. Joffrey’s giddiness at the news of the Starks’ deaths and plan to serve Sansa her brother’s head at his wedding are horribly in character, and the entire Small Council gainsaying him to the extent that they dare was queasily funny. Tyrion goes so far as to make an overt, albeit vague, threat, but it’s Tywin who of course scores the knockout blow. “A king who has to say ‘I am the king!’ is no true king.” Boss. And then Jack Gleeson’s petulant delivery of “I…am not…tired!” was one of his best, if broadest, acting moments.
But he can’t help but be outshined by the rest of the Lannisters. Dance and Dinklage as always shine brightest bouncing off each other, where both characters can speak the most plainly. Tywin’s declaration that he wanted to kill Tyrion as a child could be seen as a retread of their meeting in the premiere, and indeed the Imp jokingly said as much to Jon Snow way back in the second episode of the series, but it strikes me as a true character beat that hearing it from the old man’s mouth would draw blood all over again.
But if anyone walked away with the acting award for tonight it’s Lena Heady, who is unfailingly great at making the prickly Cersei human, but has been increasingly marginalized over the course of the year. Her reaction to Jaime’s return broke my heart a little, which it probably shouldn’t have, all things considered. But her monologue about Joffrey as a cute little inbred baby (all sixth fingers and webbed toes) was her finest work in a long time.
Also knocking it out of the park was Ian Cunningham as Davos, who is increasingly the conscience of the show. The framing of him as the angel on Stannis’s shoulder opposite Melisandre’s devil certainly suggest it, which of course is cemented by his freeing of Gendry simply because no one deserves to be sacrificed, no matter the potential gain. And Stannis needs that conscience, as he is not the warmest of guys despite being cozy with a Fire God, and it looks like he is the realm’s best hope at turning back the White Walkers. I’ve never been Team Stannis in that I think he’d make an atrocious king, but am I eager to see how he goes about bringing the fight to an army of dead men? Fuck yeah, I am. Almost as eager as I am to see how Jaime reacclimates to the capitol, and how Brienne reacts to finding out another of her sworn lords has been murdered, or what mischief Littlefinger gets up to in the Veil, or what happens when Joffrey finally decides to push back against his overbearing grandfather…
Is it next April yet? Oh, god damn it. I guess I know what I have to do to pass the time…