This last post has taken me awhile to write partly because I have been in four different cities since I watched the finale live while in Washington, D.C. But it has also been difficult to write because it is hard to face the reality that the next new episode of my favorite television show will not be available for 9-10 months, probably in late March 2014!
The most important line from the episode, as is the case with most episodes in which he appears, was spoken by Conleth Hill's Lord Varys when he said "Here only the family name matters" to Tyrion Lannister's wife's maid (and his lover), Shae. The fact that Shae and Varys do not have a n important family name, or any family name at all, like Lannister, Stark, Bolton, Frey, Tyrell, Tarly or Greyjoy means that in the universe of Game of Thrones they are automatically doomed to subaltern status.
After last week's decapitation of the family the audience most identifies with, i.e. the Starks of Winterfell through jaw-dropping treachery and obscene violence, "Mhysa" has a much more low-key feel to it, although multiple important events do occur.
One of these is the conversation between Varys and Shae where he offers the former slave a near-fortune in diamonds, enough money to set up her own household in a far-away land, if she will only abandon Tyrion Lannister and exit his life. Bizarrely, Shae refuses the money. Another important scene is the confrontation between Jon Snow and Ygritte, where the former lovers tried to reconcile their different understandings of loyalty and faith, unsuccessfully, It ended with Jon on a horse galloping away with three of Ygritte's arrows protruding from his punctured flesh. Another important scene was the chance meeting between Brandon Stark and Samwell Tarly, which neatly showed how the fates of the two characters are intertwined yet, moving in very opposite directions, as Brandon "needs" to go beyond The Wall, while Sam very much wants to get back to his home with the Night's Watch on the "right side: of the Wall.
There were several high points to this episode, with the primary ones being:
- The look on Cersei's face as she turns around and find a one-handed, somewhat nervous, silent Jaime (her brother and the father of her children!), standing in her King's Landing doorway was thrilling. The actor did a great job wordlessly communicating the character's joy, sadness, relief and curiosity in just a lingering glance.
- Arya's transformation from spoiled tom boy to dangerous girl who likes to (and does) kill people if the attitude strikes her. This time she did it as a sudden revenge for a hapless Frey bragging about the death rattle of Arya's mom.
- As usual, Charles Dance as Tywin Lannister, the "real" king of Westeros was fantastic. First he continued to devastate the psyche of his son Tyrion, this time explaining that he put his love for family ahead of his own disgust at the birth of his own dwarf child, because even that child would possess the Lannister name. Second, he literally commanded his grandson, i.e. the King of Westeros, to go to bed without his supper. The show is indicating that there is likely to be a future blow up between Joffrey and those who dare to try to control or limit his royal powers.
- The primary low light was the final scene of the episode, and thus the season. It showed Dany, one of the most important characters in the ongoing Game of Thrones, being carried on the shoulders of the people she has just freed from slavery, who spontaneously start chanting the word "Mhysa" (Mother). The optics of the situation are just overwhelmingly negative. As the image at the top of this post indicates, Dany is very, very pale, with white-blonde hair and blue-eyes. To have her walk into a sea of dark-brown people who are chanting her name and lifting them up on their shoulders simply reeks of multiple racially problematic tropes we have seen before (the great white hope rescuing the unwashed, powerless brown people).
Overall, this was definitely a let down from S3E09 and was the weakest of the three Season finales so far (S1E10 we saw the birth of the dragons and in S2E10 we saw the arrival of the army of the White Walkers). There are simply no obviously narrative-altering events that occur in the episode. That being said, there are plenty of traditional cliffhangers to pique our curiosity for the long wait until S4E01. Some of these are: How will Jaime and Cersei's relationship be changed by his disfigurement? Will Jon survive his wounds inflicted by Ygritte? Will Walder Frey and Roose Bolton get away with their treachery of the Red Wedding unscathed? Will Gendry survive a voyage on the open sea in a small boat? Will Yara be able to actually rescue her little brother?