After last week’s wedding went as horribly wrong as weddings could possibly go, it falls to this episode, titled ‘Mhysa’ to deal with the aftermath of those awful events as well as wrap up the season’s individual storylines. Now this in itself isn’t a particularly enviable task – by brining all these various characters back for this final episode, the episode’s length feels artificially stretched. There are characters whose storylines don’t really warrant the level of attention and detail given to them but to give them less would be to undersell the whole idea of ending a season. For example, the Greyjoy storyline, or at least the Iron Islands part of it, didn’t warrant a closing section in my eyes. It would have been simpler and neater to leave Asha’s mission (which we will talk about later) out for season 4, perhaps even as early as the season 4 opener, than to cram it into this already very lengthy episode. The other issue is that since we move around so much in this episode, the overall quality really takes a hit as we move from the season’s outstanding performers to its more forgettable ones.
The plotline of the season, for me at least, has been the Red Wedding and the final demise of the Starks. It wasn’t really as emphasized as perhaps the events leading to the Blackwater Bay in the last season, but that was probably for the best since it made the surprise factor count for a lot more. We open this week’s episode with the wedding still in progress and we get the haunting visual of a direwolf’s head stitched onto Robb’s and paraded around with Frey men derisively chanting for the King in the North. If that isn’t enough to make your blood boil, then little else will. The more memorable scene though comes from the architects of that atrocity. Roose Bolton and Walder Frey may have been co-conspirators in the bloodshed but that is where the similarities end. The difference in the two men is (forgive me) stark – Bolton is cold and calculating whereas Frey is fuelled by his petty rivalries and grudges. There is no mistaking which is the more dangerous of the two men and if it isn’t clear now, I believe it will be made amply so by the end of the next season. Michael McElhatton wasn’t quite as menacing as I would have liked this week – instead he came off more as Frey’s silent toady, politely tolerating the old man’s rant as opposed to a major lord and vicious cunt in his own right. Still, I’m expecting some great scenes from him next season, hopefully he won’t disappoint.
Since we’re talking Boltons, I think it’s pretty clear which of the two are more entertaining. Iwan Rheon has been absolutely killing it as Ramsay Snow and after toying with Theon for weeks, he finally breaks him this episode. In all honestly, I wasn’t as blown away by the scene as I wanted to be. Theon still held onto some shred of his dignity and even though Alfie Allen clearly gave it his all, the scene wasn’t structured in the right way; it didn’t feel as though Theon was truly, thoroughly shattered. I will admit though, watching Rheon merrily shake a sausage around in front of poor Theon was one of those visual images that will forever be both side-splittingly hilarious and just a little disturbing. It also confirms a theory that fans have all but accepted as cannon since ADWD came out – Theon now has more in common with Varys than he would have ever wanted to. I’m honestly a little surprised that HBO has been so willing to show Theon’s torture. I know that the network has never been shy about the gratuity of the violence it shows, but I feel almost as though Theon’s torture is one of those things where less is more. Having read those same scenes, I feel like not knowing what caused the Theon we were so familiar with to break and crumble is more frightening than knowing exactly what is going on. I think at some point though, they should draw the curtain and let Allen’s screams do the talking and in any case, there’s only so much torture they can show before it loses its novelty and that’s the last thing they want.
So, Theon suffering continues, with no end in sight, for now at least. Back in his homeland though, his family seems in good enough spirits. Surely by now they must have heard of how Winterfell had fallen? I remember Asha visiting Theon in the show and telling him to come back – the entire Ironborn invasion of the North was an extremely well executed (heh, cos you know Rodrik died, and he was badly executed? …Ok) storyline but we never heard from Asha or Balon ever again. Now, I don’t really have a problem with that per se – as far as I know, nothing particularly noteworthy happens to either of them in this time but the trouble is, that it makes their sudden reappearance here feel really odd. In fact, of the two, Patrick Malahide, who plays Balon is almost absurdly light-hearted. He essentially laughs off Theon’s maiming and castration and it’s not even so much that Malahide himself is misplaying the scene but rather that the show itself seems to be telling us that this is a fairly amusing situation. It’s almost like a family comedy where the daughter looks at her clumsy, but sweet dad and goes ‘Oh, dad, you just so silly!’ except that the topic they are dealing with is their blood relative’s capture and torture at the hands of an established psychopath. Everything about that scene is just so weird – so after our totally inappropriately light-hearted moment, things get serious again and out of nowhere Asha announces that she will lead a mission to invade a fortress in the middle of the woods, miles from the sea and rescue Theon. The whole thing is filmed like you would an imaginary sequence or something similar to a dream sequence and you expect someone to end the scene at any second and drag the characters back to reality but that just doesn’t happen. Now, I won’t lie – another reason that this scene just doesn’t sit too well with me is because I don’t know what it is trying to accomplish. Either Asha is going to successfully rescue Theon and they’re going to cut the whole Ghost in Winterfell sequence (and you can’t expect me to cheer that) or she is just going to run into Stannis and get caught there, which would also be weird since that would mean that she is on the Wall when Stannis finally gets his moment in the heroic spotlight.
Is there a way we can just avoid talking about Stannis? Like forever? There has to be some kind of device that lets me erase the world’s memory of the character and let him have a fresh start. I don’t blame Stephen Dillane, not one bit – the whole character was just never given a chance to be anything other than a shadow of his novel counterpart. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not Stannis’ biggest fan but his showing in this episode flies straight in the face of everything that book’s character is and isn’t. In the novels, he is prickly, headstrong and honestly, thoroughly dislikeable character but he isn’t a wimp. At his core, in the novels, he is a good man or at worst, a moral utilitarian who is hell-bent on doing his duty no matter the cost to himself or to others. Over the course of this season though, we have seen Stannis full of petty jealousy, lusting after a woman who he isn’t married to and basically being a character of shallow morals. More than anything, watching the character flip-flop over whether or not to execute Davos only for him to reverse his direction when Melisandre orders him to, was just too much for me too bear. I get that Stannis isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but this is just blatant character assassination.
Still, HBO taketh away with hand but giveth (away?) with the other; for every colossal fuck up in the Dragonstone storyline, it’s hard to complain (ok, not really) when we get scenes like that between Tyrion and Tywin. Charles Dance and Peter Dinklage have been the show’s brightest lights for some time now and their ability to work with a variety of other actors makes them all the more precious to the audience. The chemistry between the actors despite the antagonistic relationship between the characters they play (or perhaps because of it) makes intense scenes like this one absolutely riveting. Tyrion has been getting along well with Sansa and is on the cusp of drawing her out of her shell when the Red Wedding strikes. The tense standoff between Tywin and Joffrey was absolutely glorious to behold but that was just an appetizer for watching Tywin tell his youngest child that he had wanted to drown him when he was born and not doing so was the only time he had put him own desires above what was good for the family. It’s a vicious thing to say but you get the sense that there was no malice in Tywin when he says it; just disgust with himself and his own weakness. The raw emotion on Dinklage’s face is absolute heartbreaking and I think this makes it clear that there will never truly be a reconciliation between the two men despite the blood ties they share.
Speaking of family ties, I’ll end this week’s discussion and the season with Emilia Clarke and Daenerys Targaryen. The episode’s title, ‘Mhysa’ is a reference to the season’s final scene; the mother of dragons now becomes a mother to the thousands of slaves she has liberated. In a scene that some might argue was a little tasteless in its execution, dozens of decidedly brown former slaves hail the extremely white Daenerys as their saviour and call her Mhysa out of a deep reverence. I’m not pulling the race card on my own or on anyone’s behalf here but I actually hated the scenes even before I thought of that particular layer of it. First of all, it’s just plain corny. I get that it’s all touching that these oppressed masses would cheer for this lone figure that freed them from their living hell, I really do, but this particular scene just took it too far. I can appreciate art as much as the next man (ok, that’s debatable) but at some point you can’t sacrifice the character and story just for the symbolic value of a scene, right? Maybe it’s just me but this felt like a really weak way to end an otherwise fairly strong season.