From the title, we can tell it’s Mother’s Day in Westeros and every proud mama receives flowers and heart-shaped necklaces and no decapitations and if you believe that after last week’s episode, I have a bridge between The Twins to sell you.
Actually, the title was maybe not so much indicative of exactly what I was expecting from a season finale of Game of Thrones. There were some notable absences, the foremost of which would have been a killer cliffhanger to keep tongues wagging till next year.
All I’m sayin’ is last year we got an army of White Walkers, this year we get... Enya.
But which is more terrifying, really?
Again: episode and book spoilers ahoy. There’s no way to discuss my mixed feelings about this episode without talking about what I know from the books.
Last week’s Red Wedding massacre was a shocking moment that people talked about all week. The bloody and tragic turn of events at the Twins made for what, now, would’ve been perhaps better left as a finale. I know it’s not the show’s usual pattern thus far, episode nine being the one where all the big shit goes down, but we have also gotten some great finale scenes that ramped up the anticipation for what’s to come. The first dragons in 160 years! An army of White Walkers marching against the Night’s Watch!
Dany being greeted by the freed slaves of Yunkai to some generic world music feels flat in comparison. Big time. I didn’t know the episode would run over an hour and kind of would’ve forgotten about her entirely if she wasn’t in the episode previews. And maybe it was just me (I doubt it), but there was something a bit uncomfortable about Dany being adored in such a way, by a sea of brown people. “Oh, thank you for saving us, Pretty White Lady.” Just one of those jarring meta-moments when you take a step back from a piece of pop culture and can see how it would look to another group of fans. We’ve seen this scene staged before, in other movies about other messiahs.
But that’s another post for another day and a blogger better able to articulate it all.
So let’s backtrack to the very beginning of the episode which was uncomfortable in a completely different way. Arya seeing the desecrated body of her brother (and his direwolf) was awful. How many beheaded family members does this poor child need to bear witness too? To her credit, at least she saved her small act of impulsive vengeance until she was far away from the heart of the Frey fray. Were you surprised she said that that Frey bannerman was the first man she killed? I mean, it was the first person she killed directly. But her hands have been dirty before. And so we leave Arya wandering with The Hound to parts unknown until next year.
Of course the biggest immediate aftermath of the Red Wedding was some serious gloating by the victors—Lannister, Frey, and Bolton. I’m tempted to say Joffrey’s crowing deserved the biggest slap because he was acting as if he was the mastermind behind this epic betrayal, but Walder Frey’s “Fuck you, uppity Tullys and Starks” speechifying dripped with decades of bitterness.
Better than Joffrey’s relish of all those Stark deaths was his utter balls-out insanity at telling Tywin that his “father” won all the battles while Tywin was “hiding under Casterly Rock.” Oh no he didn’t! Even Cersei looked at Joffrey like he was a freaking Hodor. Tywin’s scenes with Tyrion and the Small Council were probably my favorite of the evening. From sending the King to bed without his supper to telling Tyrion the depths of his loyalty to the Lannister name, the head lion’s been pulling the strings behind the Iron Throne all season. Oh, but he’s a kind man. See, he only killed a few dozen men at dinner to save thousands. And he didn’t drown his infant son because he’s a Lannister. And he only wants Tyrion to rape his young wife so that their son can be heir to the North and have a great title. What a guy!
I feel bad for Tyrion in this whole mess. He wasn’t behind the Red Wedding, but he’ll get to share in the blame. And just when Sansa was maybe starting to warm up to him a bit.
That scene with Shae and Varys was interesting for a host of reasons. If there was any doubt of her allegiance to Tyrion, and her feelings for Sansa, it’s cleared up now. Which will make the eventual trajectory of their relationship very interesting next year. Foolish, prideful girl. I would’ve taken the diamonds and gotten the hell out of King’s Landing. But I’ve read the books.
Speaking of eunuchs... there’s a Lonely Iron Islands joke to make about Balon receiving Theon’s package in a box, courtesy of Ramsay Bolton. And yes, we get absolute confirmation that Theon’s torturer is Roose Bolton’s bastard, for those who haven’t been paying attention all season. Oh but at least Ramsay didn’t eat Theon. You take what crumbs of good news you can in this show.
In a turn from the books, Yara Greyjoy is definitely different from her book counterpoint, Asha. That she would directly defy her father to save the loser brother she barely knows was kind of a big shift. But at least someone cares about Theon. I feel bad for Alfie Allen, too. All the other actors got to see some beautiful landscapes while he was strung up in a torture chamber for months. Theon’s final destination at season’s end is that he is so beaten down and physically and mentally unmanned, he gets christened with a humiliating name and is Greyjoy no more. His name is Reek. It rhymes with weak.
Jaime got to reunite with his sister, but it was so brief, we really don’t get to know what he thinks about being back in the fold. How will he define himself in King’s Landing now?
The other big reunion of the night was Sam meeting Bran at the Nightfort. And a nice shout-out to the Rat Cook. Boy, when Sam relates his tales of danger beyond the Wall and the strength of the undefeatable ice zombies, Bran’s plan to follow his destiny beyond the wall sounds really flimsy.
I was happy to see Maester Aemon again. I missed him! His words, his mannerisms, and his wisdom makes me smile.
But to balance out the good at the Wall, there was also some bad. Like, didn’t Jon dump Ygritte last week? Her shooting him with arrows—again—was pretty damn pointless. Did we need to hear Jon say that he loved her again? Wasn’t that clear? And instead of seeing him warn the other crows about the impending attack from the south, he just kinda gasps Sam’s name. The end.
At least Stannis is a man of action and his beautifully lit scenes propelled the story forward in an interesting way. Well, Davos’ actions were the catalyst, but still. Stannis going north to help the Night’s Watch is pretty big news. Finally someone is taking the crows seriously! It’s as much a political move as it is a Big Mysterious Destiny move. Who do you think the smallfolk will get behind: Roose Bolton the Warden of the North, Boy-King Lannister Psycho, or the man who protects them from armies of the undead? A vote for Stannis is a vote for no ice zombies.
I enjoyed the scenes with Davos and Gendry, though I wish we could have seen more. Loved Davos saying Gendry lived “in the fancy part” of Flea Bottom. I’m so glad Gendry got away. But will we ever see him again?
In the end, I think Stannis going north would’ve been a better note to end on than Dany. But neither scene was what I was expecting we’d go out on, not when there were a few moments from the books that could have been used to great effect. Where was Coldhands? Will we ever meet him? Will Bran meet him along the road as he met the Reeds? Is it because no one’s been cast as Coldhands yet?
I was so certain a season finale called “Mother” would end with the mother of all ASoIaF cliffhangers: Lady Stoneheart. Why build up Beric Dondarrion and his special talent all season to not use it in the end? Major Chekov’s Gun fail. Maybe it would have cheapened the Red Wedding, but it also would have made for another “WTF?!” fan outcry to carry us into season four. Yes, Lady Stoneheart first appeared at the end of A Storm of Swords, but the timeline in the show is wonky and it could have fit. How fast did that raven fly to reach Stannis so quickly?
I really enjoyed this season of Game of Thrones, but I’m sad to see it end with a whimper instead of a bang.
But on the plus side, there’s a lot to look forward to next year.
“The King is tired. See him to his chambers.”
Next week: No new episodes until next year! But with Breaking Bad and Dexter wrapping up forever and True Blood lingering long after its prime, I can still have a steady fix of human despair and bloodshed this summer. And maybe I’ll catch up on Orphan Black since it’s getting some great buzz lately. Cheers! And thanks again for another season of intelligent, heated discussion, loyal commenters. You folks are the best.