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Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Review: Game of Thrones "Mhysa"

Non Spoiler Review:
Mhysa closes a gripping and successful third season while servicing multiple plotlines. Roose Bolton and Walder Frey revel in their elevated positions, while Tywin lectures his son on matters of family. Arya finds an outlet for her rage. Daenerys considers if she may be a conqueror or a liberator. Bran meets a new friend, while Jon attempts to get back to Castle Black. Joffrey attends his small council.

The finale was certainly enjoyable, but it lacked the memorable end scene we've grown accustomed to the last couple of years. I believe the writers had to catch up with so many characters given the recent focus on a small number of stories that it took up the entire episode. So while not as strong as previous offerings, it was still enthralling. I just wish it had ended with a little more of a memorable event.

There were a few interesting revelations and reunions, just no major shocks like The Rains of Castamere. It leaves a lot of excitement to anticipate in season four given so much of Mhysa was set up for ominous goings on. Season three managed to shake up the status quo significantly, leaving politics and families in disarray. And so begins another long wait.

Spoilers Now!
Bolton surveys the burning encampment of Robb's army as Frey's men continue their massacre of the bannermen. The Hound makes his way out on horseback with Arya, grabbing a Frey banner to provide cover for their escape. Arya wakens as they lead out a bound and decapitated Robb on his horse, with Ghost Wind's severed head sewn to his body.

In King's Landing, Sansa and Tyrion are out for a walk with Shae following from behind. Passersby snicker and laugh at them, and Tyrion is making a list of their names, though his wife suggests he should learn to ignore them. Tyrion disagrees and Sansa wonders how they will punish them. Tyrion can speak to Varys and learn their perversions. Sansa poses that they sew sheep dung in their mattress, something Arya used to do to her. Tyrion thinks that's amusing, but Podrick arrives to advise that his father has called together the small council.

Joffrey shows up to attend the meeting, anxious for Tyrion to hear the news. Tyrion is stunned to learn of the deaths of Robb and Catelyn. Joffrey wants Robb's head to serve to Sansa at his wedding feast. Tyrion advises him she's no longer his to torment, but Joffrey warns him to remember he's the king and his uncle is just a monster. Tyrion counters that if he's a monster then monsters are dangerous, and kings are dying likes flies. Joffrey goes into a rage again, and Cersei attempts to appease him by dismissing Tyrion as bitter, and Pycelle speaks up that he should apologize immediately. Tywin tells his grandson that any man who must say I am the king isn't a real king. He will remind him of that when he wins his war. Joffrey shoots back to his grandfather that it was his father Robert who is the real king that defeated the Targaryens while Tywin hid at Casterly Rock, prompting a deadly stare from the patriarch. He suggests Joffrey is exhausted and needs sleep, advising Pycelle give him nightshade to help. Cersei leads her son off, and the rest of the council disperses, leaving just Tyrion and Tywin.

Tyrion mocks his father's treasonous statements. Walder Frey will get all the blame and the credit. Tyrion knows he would never have risked such an action if he didn't have Tywin's support. His father explains he orchestrated it to end the war and protect the family. Tywin will always defend his blood. The northerners will never forget, Tyrion warns. All the Stark men are dead, Winterfell is a ruin, Roose Bolton will be Warden of the North until Tyrion's son comes of age, Tyrion explains, and orders him to get Sansa pregnant one way or another.

Tywin lectures him that the house that puts family first will always defeat the one that puts the whims and wishes of its members first. Tyrion says its easy for him to preach when he's making all the decisions in his own interests. Tywin disputes that, and admits he would have killed Tyrion the day he was born, but instead he let him live and brought him up as his son because he's a Lannister. Tyrion goes to find Sansa. She has heard the news already and he leaves her alone.

Bran, Hodor, Meera and Jojen find the Nightfort, but Bran has doubts about the unsettling stories he's heard of it. He recounts the tale of a Night's Watch cook who was angry with the king, and while he visited the Nightfort killed his son and served him to the king in a pie. As punishment the gods turned the cook into a giant white rat who could only devour its own babies but never be satiated. The crime was not murder—he killed a guest beneath his roof, something the gods can't forgive.

At the Twins, Frey is gloating his victory, being named lord of Riverrun. Bolton warns him the Blackfish escaped. Frey toasts Roose as the newly appointed Warden of the North. Bolton admits Robb ignored his advice at every turn. Frey then asks what really happened at Winterfell. Roose explains he sent his bastard Ramsay, offering Robb's amnesty for the ironborn if Theon was delivered. They turned on Theon as he knew they would, but Ramsay has his own way of doing things.

Meanwhile, Ramsay continues to taunt Theon, having removed his genitals and leaving him bound as he eats dinner. Theon begs for death. Ramsay decides he doesn't want to call him Theon anymore, and suggests Reek is a better one. He beats him until Theon admits to the new name.

Bran wakes up in the night, hearing heavy breathing in the halls. Everyone rises and watches something come up the stairs. Meera brings it down, then hear a woman's screams from below to stop. It's Sam and Gilly, on their way to Castle Black. Sam sees the direwolf and realizes it's Jon's brother Bran, having heard of Hodor, as well. He introduces himself and explains he'd be dead if it wasn't for Jon, and will do anything to help them. Bran wants to be taken north of the Wall.

Sam recounts what they've been fleeing from and asks them to come with them to Castle Black. If Jon is alive, that's where he'll be. Jojen knows Sam saw the White Walkers and the army of the dead, and no one in Westeros will be able to stop them. Bran examines the dragon glass Sam found and listens to him explain how he used it to kill the White Walker. Sam gives them pieces for their arsenal and reluctantly sees them off through the passage through the Wall as he and Gilly continue on their journey to Castle Black.

At Pike, Balon Greyjoy receives a message and a box, with an ultimatum to leave the north by the full moon or every islander still in their lands will be flayed as they flayed the ones at Winterfell. Included in the box is Theon's penis. More boxes will follow with more of Theon if they don't leave. It's signed by Ramsay Snow, son of the Warden of the North.

Balon tells Yara that Theon disobeyed him and the boy is a fool. Now he can't even further the Greyjoy line, and he won't give up the lands he has seized. Yara protests he's his son and her brother. He's not a man anymore, Balon says, and warns her to watch herself as he's made his decision. Yara has made hers. She's going to take the fastest ship and their fifty best killers and march on the Dreadfort to find her little brother and bring him home.

Davos goes down to the dungeon to visit Gendry. He commiserates with him about being lowborn. They were both born in Fleabottom in King's Landing. Gendry confesses he had never been with a woman and was taken in by Melisandre's words. Davos tells the story of how he became a lord in helping Stannis. He accepted the position for his son, so he would have something better, but he's dead now.

Varys comes upon Shae watching the ships, asking when she came to Westeros. Thirteen, she replies. She has been a good influence on Tyrion, he muses. Now she's his wife's servant, Shae admits, but she does love Sansa and would kill for her, but it doesn't make it any easier on her. Varys agrees and points out that neither of them will ever be their countrymen. Varys hands her a bag of diamonds and tells her to sail across the sea and start a good life far from Westeros. Tyrion is one of the few people alive who can make the country a better place, but Shae is a complication. Varys knows she loves him. He's asking her to leave because her presence endangers him. Find a true home while there's still time. Shae tosses him the diamonds. Tyrion can tell her to leave himself if he wants her gone.

Cersei visits Tyrion, goading him about his married life. He wonders if she'll be as philosophical when she's wed to Loras, but she is confident she won't be marrying him. She advises he give Sansa a child so she can at least have some happiness in her life. As happy as Cersei, he asks. She admits even Joffrey gave her pleasure. He was always happy when he was with her. No one can take that feeling away from her, not even Joffrey. Tyrion asks how long it can go on. Until they deal with all their enemies, she answers, even if they create more each time.

The Hound and Arya come upon some of Frey's soldiers boasting of their role in the Stark massacre. Arya leaps off the horse as they discuss the difficulty keeping the wolf head on Robb's body. She asks if she can keep warm at their fire and is told to get lost. She offers up the coin Jaqen gave her as payment, and drops it as the one man reaches for it. As he bends over to pick it up she stabs him repeatedly in the back. The Hound rushes to face off and kill the other men who leap to his aid. When it's done he asks where she got the knife. From you, she says. He asks if it's the first time she's killed a man. The first man, she answers. He warns her the next time she's going to do something like that to tell him first. As he returns to the horse, Arya holds the coin and speaks "Valar Morghulis."

Jon drinks at a pool only to find Ygritte behind with her bow trained on him. He tells her she always knew who he was and he had no choice. He has to go home now. He knows she won't hurt him and he loves her and she loves him but he has to go. Jon turns to get on his horse and she shoots him in the back. He manages to mount it and ride off, but not before she puts two more arrows into him and cries as he gallops away.

At Castle Black Sam and Gilly tell their story to Aemon. She's decided to call the child Sam. Sam protests it's not his child, but one of Craster's, and he's remained true to his Night's Watch vows. He has seen the night gathering and it's coming for all of them. Aemon assures that she and her son will be their guests for the time being and they won't be sent back beyond the Wall. He then has Sam write a letter. All their ravens will fly that night.

Davos' reading is much improved, and he sits with Shireen reading the latest from the ravens. He finds the one from the Night's Watch just as the bells of Dragonstone begin to ring. Davos tells her to bar the door and goes to find Stannis and Melisandre, who have learned Robb Stark is dead. Melisandre explains her faith has been rewarded. Davos knows that uniting the Seven Kingdoms with magic is wrong and evil, yet Stannis reminds him that Aegon conquered Westeros on dragons. Stannis will not forget or forgive his enemies and they will be punished with any arms at his disposal. Davos asks him to spare the boy, given they intend to burn Gendry as a sacrifice, but Stannis maintains he must die.

Davos heads to the dungeon and tells Gendry he's leaving, helping him to escape. He takes him to a boat on shore and directs him where to go, rowing for a full day and night to King's Landing and not to stop lest Melisandre find him. Gendry has never been in a boat before. Davos explains he's doing it because it's the right thing to do.

Jon's horse reaches Castle Black and he falls off. He's brought inside and he opens his eyes to see a relieved Sam and Pypar. He's carried inside to be tended to.

Jaime and Brienne arrive in King's Landing, walking on foot. Jaime is treated like a commoner among the people on the street. Cersei is in her chambers when he walks in. She turns around and lays eyes on him.

Davos is brought to Stannis and admits to letting Gendry go. Melisandre chides him for saving one innocent against dooming tens of thousands. Stannis sentences him to die this time, but Davos advises him against it. He'll need him, and hands him the letter from the Night's Watch.

Stannis reads it—the lord commander is dead in the north, while one survivor returned warning of the White Walkers. Melisandre reads it, then burns it. She stares into the fires and suddenly declares the war of five kings means nothing. The true war lies north. Death marches on the Wall and only Stannis can stop him. Davos says Stannis needs someone who can raise an army for him. Stannis refuses to change his decision, but it's Melisandre that counters him, advising Davos is needed and has a role to play in the war to come. Stannis is amused at the irony that Davos is now in the army of the fire god.

At Yunkai, Daenerys stands at the gates of the city awaiting her new subjects to come to her. She wonders if they feel liberated or conquered. The doors open and hundreds of freed slaves file out. Missandei addresses them, announcing it is to Daenerys they owe their freedom, but Daenerys stops her. She says they don't owe her their freedom as it's not hers to give. They must take their freedom themselves. The people begin calling out mhysa, a word that means mother. She tells her dragons to fly and goes out among the people while Selmy and Jorah watch nervously. She's hoisted up and carried on their shoulders as the throng of thousands pour out of the city around her.

The Verdict:
Mhysa overflowed with storyline catch ups, but mostly setting up next year rather than delivering a final wow scene on the level of its preceding seasons. What we got was a pleasant Daenerys moment, but one that was very much similar (and anticlimactic) to her departure from Astapor, so in that respect alone it was a bit disappointing.

I'm relieved Jon returned to the Night's Watch, especially abandoning Ygritte in favor of his duty. His plotline really struggled last year and much into this one, so he has redeemed the honor of his character. His reunion with Sam and Pypar was a touching one.

Arya's altercation with Frey's men must be singled out as my favorite, as it contained a laugh out loud moment with the Hound berating her for not warning him what she was doing. Invoking valar morghulis promises excitment to come. I also hope it means the two of them will go on an avenging rampage across Westeros (something I think the Hound could get behind).

Bran's story of the rat cook implies a very nasty end for Walder Frey, which I don't doubt will be coming. But I'm curious to see who it will be from. As for Bolton, he's a much smarter man and less the maniacal villain, but will he be fine relinquishing his appointment as Warden of the North when Tyrion's heir comes of age, or will he plot against that, too? As for Ramsay, how he can let him run amok without concern that he might mess up his own plans is a stretch. At least we have confirmation what happened to Winterfell. All of that theorizing may be moot given the north is about to get a whole lot busier with Yara attacking the Dreadfort and two armies preparing to march south.

Ramsay provides a nice comparison to Joffrey's sadism. Poor Theon has certainly illicited sympathy this year, but his storyline stalled. I doubt he will die, as that would make such a waste of screentime, but it occurred to me about the only thing he could be good for now is becoming a red priest. Interesting that Yara is leaping to his defense given how she treated him.

The Lannisters have seen plenty of development this year, and this week the disintegrating relationship between Tywin and his grandson continues. I thought it odd that Joffrey worships Robert as much as he does. But Tywin looks like he has no patience left, and if he should find someone else to sit on the throne, I think he could easily dispatch with his grandson.

Plenty of storylines got short shrift. I wish we had gotten a scene at King's Landing to see Tywin's reaction to Aemon's message. Or Sansa's reaction at being the last Stark (at least that's what everyone thinks). Jaime's return was very underused, especially given the relationship he developed with Brienne.

It looks like the north is going to be the center of attention next season. Not only is Mance Rayder's army and the White Walkers about to engage the Night's Watch, but Roose will be facing off against Yara's forces. I really hope that Tywin and Joffrey get their just desserts, and surely Daenerys must be ready to make her trip across the Narrow Sea. The series remains strong and immensely enjoyable. The only thing that could make it better is HBO announcing a 12 episode season.

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