Game of Thrones season finale recap: A Sort of Homecoming
How will Westeros react to The Red Wedding? Plus our season 3 best list
Hi doctor, thank you for agreeing to see me on such short notice.
I know it’s been years since I’ve been here, but I’m really disturbed. Do you watch HBO’s Game of Thrones? … Not your sort of thing? TNT’s Rizzoli & Isles, really? No-no, that’s cool, I just never met anybody who actually watches that show. Anyway, I’m a huge Thrones fan and I’m haunted by last week’s episode. I keep seeing Talisa getting womb-shanked, and then remembering her nakedly telling Robb “attack-attack!” a few episodes back. And Robb’s poor direwolf, whining in fear while trapped in his cage, knowing what’s going to happen somehow. And Roose Bolton, that asshat. He was giving terrified Catelyn that smarmy look when she was realizing Frey’s betrayal. It all keeps hitting me over and over … like last night I was at this bar, right? And when somebody left and the front door swung closed behind them I started hearing “The Rains of Castamere” in my head. Please Doc, by the old gods and the new, you gotta help me. I must get over The Red Wedding!
Thankfully, my doctor had seen plenty of patients with this exact same problem since last Sunday and knew how to handle it. He diagnosed me with Post-Red Wedding Stress Disorder (or PRWSD) and said my only hope was to return to the land of Westeros one more time this year to face my trauma. He explained that such a horrific event befalling the King in the North will doubtless be grieved by many surviving characters on the show and that watching their reactions might help me process this tragedy. He also prescribed watching six episodes of Rizzoli & Isles and Royal Pains this summer, but I’m wary because possible side effects include boredom and jaundice.
So let’s dive into this hopefully therapeutic third season finale, “Mhysa.” At the end of this recap I’ll present my best and worst list for Thrones season three and make a special recap announcement. We must approach this hour cautiously, though. I don’t think Thrones would hurt us again so soon. Usually when Thrones beats us up, the next week it comes back around with flowers and hugs and tries to act like everything is going to be okay (Hey, look, see the dragons? You like dragons!). But you never know. Our hearts are getting harder, just like Arya’s. Speaking of…
The Twins: Roose Bolton overlooks the violence and mayhem as Robb Stark’s army is slaughtered. The Hound is slowing riding out with Arya, not wanting to appear suspicious. A group of Frey’s men are chanting “King in the North.” They have Robb’s body, propped up with his direwolf Grey Wind’s head sewn on him. For a moment I’m hoping he’ll get reanimated and become Grey Robb — part-man, part-direwolf, The Canine in the North! But no. He’s just dead and mutilated. The Hound rides out.
King’s Landing: Like Arya, Tyrion is keeping an enemies list. Unlike Arya, he’s only scheming of ways to make their lives less comfortable. He walks with Sansa, and it seems like the two have struck up a least a friendship, of sorts, they’re both outcasts in their own way, “the disgraced daughter and the demon monkey.” Sansa shares a prank involving stuffing a bed with poop that she learned from Arya. She’s slightly happy. That won’t last long.
NEXT: Tywin manages to morally justify The Red Wedding
At the Small Council meeting, Joffrey is bouncing in delight at the breaking news. Joffrey wants Robb’s head so he can surprise Sansa with it at his wedding feast. “She is no longer yours to torment,” Tyrion says, and reminds Joffrey, “kings are dying like flies.” Joffrey looks around for support, once again wanting to smite Tyrion for his veiled threat. “I am the king!” yells Joffrey. “I will punish you.”
Suddenly Tywin appears at the end of the table and points out to Joffrey that no true king needs to declare himself king. All of Joffrey’s happy energy has turned sour. He insults Tywin, saying he was “hiding under Casterly Rock” during the great war. Tyrion watches this, vaguely interested, and almost certainly pleased that for once he’s not the subject of Tywin’s scorn.
Tywin dismisses the room except Tyrion. He dryly notes that Tyrion’s a fool if he thinks Joffrey is the most powerful man in Westeros. Indeed. This entire season has been Tywin proving over and over that he’s the one who is truly sitting on the Iron Throne.
Tyrion points out that Lord Frey would not have betrayed Robb without Tywin’s backing. Tyrion is such a strategist, he cannot help but admire his father here, yet is naturally also revolted by the massacre.
Then Twyin says: “Explain to me why it is more noble to kill 10,000 men in battle than a dozen at dinner.” He declares that his action ended the war and protected the Lannister family.
Oh, you see what Tywin just did there? He just took The Red Wedding — something so awful and tragic that you could never possibly attempt to morally justify it — and morally justified it! From Tywin’s cold mile-high view of the ant-sized people scurrying around on his mental Seven Kingdom’s map, sneakily crushing some royals is no sin when it saves the lives of thousands by avoiding more battles. He might as well come out and declare that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. Live long and prosper, Westeros — unless you’re a Stark (or married to one).
“The Northerners will never forget,” warns Tyrion.
Yeah, well, they didn’t forget Ned Stark either, and see what that got them.
Tywin says Roose Bolton will be declared Warden of the North until Tyrion and Sansa’s child takes over. Then he gives us his over-arching philosophy of Westeros game-play: “The house that puts family first will always defeat the house that puts the whims of wishes of its sons and daughters first.” It’s a line that would be right at home in EW’s Westeros business manual.
“It’s easy for you to preach utter devotion to the family when you’re making all the decisions,” sharply points out Tyrion.
Tyrion demands to know an example of Tywin ever making a real sacrifice and, of course, his father has an answer. Tywin always has an answer. You would think that after this season Tyrion would stop trying to out-argue the man. And Tywin’s answer is a doozy. Tywin says the day Tyrion is born he wanted to kill his child but he didn’t. Why? Because Tyrion’s a Lannister, dammit. Tywin’s exterior actually cracks, for the first time ever. He tears up. Wow.
NEXT: Theon’s torturer revealed; Dick in a box
The Twins: Lord Frey has a celebratory snack. We learn Catelyn’s uncle The Blackfish escaped and that groom Edmure Tully wasn’t killed, but is in a dungeon. Frey gloats, saying he’s looking forward to getting a new young bride to replace the one Catelyn killed.
Roose explains why he turned on Robb, noting that the Young Wolf ignored his advice at every turn. He smiles at Frey, but clearly doesn’t like him. Roose is so cold, perhaps he doesn’t like anybody. Roose also reveals what happened last season when Winterfell was sacked. He says Theon Greyjoy was captured by …
His bastard son Ramsay Snow! So that’s who’s been torturing Theon … … …
Okay, for a season finale revelation that’s been getting teased all season, this information doesn’t impact you as strong as it seems like it’s supposed to. Two reasons. If you read the books, you already figured out the Boy’s identity by episode four. If you didn’t read the books, you only started to get an idea of who Ramsay’s father Roose Bolton was in the past few episodes. So it’s not like this kid is Ned Stark and Lady Olenna’s love-child or something.
Dungeon: Ramsay — The Boy — is chewing with his mouth open. Bastards have such bad table manners. He’s eating a sausage, which is pretty non-subtle for somebody who lobbed off Theon’s dingus. This visual really bothered a lot of viewers. He muses about whether Theon will have phantom limb syndrome.
Theon asks Ramsay to kill him. It occurs to Ramsay that there’s something else he can take from Theon — any last shred of identity or self respect. So he gives him a new name. Yes, book-readers, Reek is born.
Nightfort: Bran and his companions camp at an abandoned castle along The Wall. Hodor gets a laugh out of us by using the well for an echo chamber (careful Hodor, you don’t want to wake the orcs). Bran tells a ghost story about a man who was condemned for killing a guest beneath his roof and we can only hope the same fate befalls Lord Frey.
That night, there’s a noise. It’s Sam and Gilly, having made their way through that secret Wall passage. Thankfully Bran doesn’t have them killed. Sam is thrilled to meet the famous Bran, who at first tries to pretend like he’s some other young lord who’s crippled and wandering the North with large semi-mute helper and a direwolf. Sam promises to do anything to help him. “Take us north of The Wall,” says Bran, which is exactly the last thing Sam wants to hear. We’re given a hint of Bran’s destiny, that somehow he might be able to stop the White Walkers. Sam isn’t really a wizard, but Bran might be.
Iron Islands: We haven’t been here in a while. Balon Greyjoy gets a totally psychotic hate-mail letter from Ramsay Snow ordering Balon’s men out of the North. There’s also a box containing Theon’s tallywhacker. At least Ramsay sent the Greyjoys a nice box to keep it in.
Theon’s sister Yara is impacted by her brother’s loss, but dad is unsympathetic as usual. “He’s not a man anymore,” Balon says scornfully, as if Theon clumsily lost his tent-maker rather than having it cut off by Ramsay. Yara declares she’s going to march on the Dreadfort and rescue her brother. Good for her! It’s important to have goals.
Ramsay’s move is interesting because we’ve been seeing everything he’s been doing as purely sadistic. It seems at least one mutilation had a larger purpose, as sick as it is.
NEXT: Arya and Ygritte get murderous
King’s Landing: Shae is tempted by Varys to leave Tyrion. Like Davos and Gendry later, they bond over being low-born, which is a bit of running theme in this episode — nobility vs. commoners. He gives her a sack of diamonds and tells her get on a ship, start a new life. He explains: “Tyrion Lannister is one of the few people who can make this country a better place… you are a complication … your presence endangers him.” I’m all: “Take it! Take it!” She rejects Varys’ sack (so to speak).
Later, Cersei visits drunken Tyrion. She is convinced she won’t end up marrying Loras, but doesn’t reveal how she’s going to pull off getting out of it. She advises Tyrion give Sansa a child so the girl can have some happiness. It’s not the worst advice. She recalls how much fun Joffrey was as a kid, and that even him turning out to be a total monster doesn’t ruin the memory of him as a child. Then they have this exchange:
Tyrion: “How long does it go on?” Cersei: “Until we’ve dealt with all our enemies.” Tyrion: “Every time we deal with an enemy we create two more.” And speaking of…
The Road: Arya and The Hound come across some Frey troops making jokes about The Red Wedding. She jumps off the horse. We’ve seen this before with Arya this season, fearlessly and rather foolishly confronting grown-ups. The other times she tried to bully men who found her antics cute. These guys won’t. She seems to sense that. She approaches them differently than her usual bluster, pretending to be harmless, non-aggressive. She offers one of them her coin — this is the iron coin that her assassin-friend Jaqen gave her last season. When the man goes to grab it, she stab-stab-stabs him.
This is a big turning point for Arya. When she poked the kid in the belly in the first season, it was semi-accidental and he was blocking her way from trying to escape. In the second season, she told Jaqen to kill others, yet didn’t do anything herself. This is different. This is outright murder, and she is remorseless. Luckily, The Hound is there to kill the others.
Arya then reveals she stole The Hound’s knife without him realizing it. This is also growth. Throughout the season, Arya has been unable to pull anything over on The Hound without him knowing what she was thinking first.
Near The Wall: Ygritte gets the drop on a bloody and sad Jon Snow. His face is all scratched from the eagle-attack — does this mean his pretty face will be scarred like Tyrion’s from now on?
Ygritte draws her arrow. Jon sounds kind of whiny. He tells her — rather incorrectly as it turns out — that he knows she won’t hurt him. He also says — and the timing for this is rather good or rather bad, depending on your point of view — that he loves her.
She fires an arrow into him as he flees. Then another. And another. So, yeah, that’s a Wildling break-up for you.
Castle Black: Sam and Gilly meet with Maester Aemon. She comes up with a name for her baby — Sam. Awww. Nice one. Sam argues for keeping Gilly at Castle Black, and points out men didn’t build The Wall to keep out Wildlings. Aemon rules that Gilly will stay on as a guest. I’m sure her presence won’t lead to any problems while she’s surrounded by all the Nights Watch rapists and murderers who haven’t had sex in decades. Aemon also decides he’s going to send a raven letter blast to the Seven Kingdoms. Later, a terribly wounded Jon Snow arrives and is reunited with Sam.
NEXT: Dany goes crowd-surfing
Dragonstone: Davos bonds with Gendry over growing up in Fleabottom, proving to the young man that he’s truly low-born by recalling the poop-river that flowed outside his front door. Gendry explains why he fell briefly for Melisandre in her seduction/bondage/leeches chamber: “Big words, no clothes, what would you have done?”
Later, Stannis and Melisandre learn of Robb’s death. Does this mean her leech trick worked? Stannis is convinced of the Red Woman’s power — and it only took his brother and Robb Stark dying to do it. Davos notes that he’s “seen things crawl out of nightmares” and we wonder if that’s a not-so-veiled reference to Melisandre’s ladyparts, but warns against black magic.
Stannis points out that dragons can help him conquer Westeros and Melisandre wants to burn Gendry to somehow birth new ones. “What is the life of one bastard boy against a kingdom?” Stannis asks. “Everything,” says Davos.
Davos decides to become a smuggler once more, sneaking Gendry out of the castle. He puts him on a dinghy and tells him to row for King’s Landing.
In the castle, Davos confesses and Stannis condemns him to death. Davos naturally advises the king against killing him, then whips out his trump card — Aemon’s letter warning about the White Walkers invading. Surprisingly, Melisandre agrees. “The true war lies to the North,” she says, agreeing, and tells Stannis to spare Davos. He’s so whipped at this point he does it.
King’s Landing: Jaime enters the city and nobody recognizes him. He’s been through so much he no longer cares that he’s disrespected. He finds Cersei. He probably should have at least cleaned up first. She sees his hand. Yup, there is that, but he’s still got his other parts (unlike some people). This reunion is much more dramatic in the books, but we’re going to have to wait until next year to see it.
Yunkai: Dany outside the city. The slaves exit. How will they react to their newfound freedom? “Your freedom is not mine to give … you must take it for yourselves,” she declares. They begin chanting the episode’s title ‘Mhysa,’ meaning ‘mother.’
She lets the masses approach. What’s going to happen next, do you think? If you guessed “crowd surfing the freed slaves,” you’re right! Top that, Abe Lincoln! Nope, there’s nothing uncomfortable about that visual at all.
And credits. Looking at the comments below, some of you are disappointed by the finale. I suspect that was inevitable. How can any episode running after The Red Wedding be anything but anti-climatic? So Thrones embraced the come-down, with characters reacting to last week’s twist and setting the stage for season 4. Some book-readers wonder: Why wasn’t [character name] killed? My suspicion: It would have felt like seeing a car accident after witnessing a plane crash (meaning: any potential emotional impact would have been dulled). Now let’s hit some end-of-season bests:
Best Episode/Scene: “The Rains of Castamere” / The Red Wedding.
Best Episode/Scene (Runner-Up): The second best episode also had the second-best scene of the season: “And Now His Watch Is Ended” which climaxed with the Plaza of Punishment dragon unleashing.
Best scene (Second Runner-Up): The Small Council’s near silent “game of chairs” as the players jockeyed for position around Tywin. Probably the show’s most brilliant moment to date, it’s a testament to how well we know these characters that this 2-minute exchange required zero dialogue.
NEXT: More best/worsts, special announcement
Weakest Episode: “Dark Wings, Dark Words” — The second episode of the season had lots of walking and talking set-up for the rest of the season.
Best Performance: So tough this year. I’m going to avoid singling out one performer and point out three actors that had material that really help them stand out: Michelle Fairley, Emilia Clarke, Charles Dance. Some of you below point say that I should have picked Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and that’s a fair point. And I suppose I’m probably taking Peter Dinklage for granted by now. Embarrassment of riches on this show.
Weakest Storyline: Bran’s trek north. Enough Hodoring!
Best Addition: Lady Olenna. The sassy Tyrell grandmother lit up every scene she was in. She has earned her cheese.
Most Disappointing Addition: Mance Rader. After being hyped for the previous two seasons, the King Beyond the Wall glowered and threatened Jon Snow, but ultimately didn’t make much of an impact.
Creepiest Sex Scene: So many to choose from. As these recaps have pointed out this season, Thrones really elevated its sex and nudity scenes this year, making them feel like essential story points. The winner is Ramsay’s nymphs seducing a terrified Theon Greyjoy.
Best Fight: Jaime vs. Brienne sword fight. In terms of staging, Beric and The Hound’s cave fight was better, but the bridge fight had a greater emotional payoff.
Best Romance: Jaime and Brienne again. Unconsummated, sure, but these two had loads of chemistry. Check out when they walk into King’s Landing and Jaime is insulted, they exchange this wordless look; like a true couple, they’ve evolved to know exactly what the other is thinking (and so do we).
And we are finished for another year. Did you survive? Are you still suffering from PRWSD? Can you ever risk your heart with Game of Thrones again? Like an oft-jilted lover, some viewers were so upset by The Red Wedding they made it sound like they’ll watch Thrones with their arms-crossed and less emotional investment from now on. I wonder if that’s true.
And so, it’s that time. Summer is coming. But rather than hang up my recap hat for another year, I’m going to take on a new assignment between now and next spring. After seeing the ongoing urging from fans on our comment boards, we’re reviving EW’s recaps for Showtime’s Dexter for its final season. If you haven’t seen our cover post, check it out here (or better yet, pick up this week’s issue of the magazine). The showrunner says he has some dramatic shakeups planned.
So join me watching Deb, Dex and his Dark Passenger for their final hours starting June 30.
This one is pleased to have served you.
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