Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Game of Thrones, Season 3, Episode 10: Mhysa

The season finale of Game of Thrones, George R R Martin has already retired to his dark tower, feasting on the anguish and agony of fandom after the Rains of Castamere. After such an ending, let’s see what he’s got prepared as a finale – and, remember folks, don’t get attached to anyone. This is George R R Martin, he will kill your precious.

Kings Landing

Sansa walks with Tyrion through the pleasant gardens with Shae bringing up the rear with a less than amused look on her face. When people mock him, Sansa hears him reciting a list under his breath – and asks if it’s a kill list. He’s bemused, he’s not Joffrey, he’s not going to kill someone for laughing at him – now make them FEAR death, that’s very different. She tries to encourage him to ignore it and he gently tells her to teach her grandmother how to suck eggs; and they joke about their mutual disgraced and mocked status. She decides to help Tyrion with his vengeance and it’s clear her ideas come down to childish pranks – reminding us how young and na├»ve Sansa is.

Which is when Pod collects Tyrion to attend the Small Council – where Joffrey looks positively bouncing with glee (Tyrion asks him if he’s killed some puppies). Pycelle, using his infirmity as an excuse, drops the message to show Tyrion, making him collect it from the floor. It’s, of course, the message about the Red Wedding that has Joffrey virtually cartwheeling round the room. Joffrey, being Joffrey, can’t just leave it at that – he wants to serve Robb’s head to Sansa at his wedding feast. Tyrion says no and Cersei tries to pass it off as a joke. Joffrey, of course, insists he means it and Tyrion again says no – Sansa isn’t his to torment. To which Joffrey says everyone is his to torment – and calls Tyrion a monster

So he should be careful then – monsters are dangerous and just now kings are dropping like flies. Oh Tyrion, I’ve missed your lines. Echoing silence follows. Pycelle tries to curry favour pushing for Tyrion to apologise (they also don’t get on), Cersei tries to sooth Joffrey, and Tywin is severely unimpressed by Joffrey’s posturing, telling him a real king doesn’t have to remind everyone of the fact all the time and asks him to remember it once Tywin has “won his war” for him. In response Joffrey unleashes a tirade about what a warrior his father was while Tywin hid under Castlery Rock.

*munches popcorn* ooooh, for the beatdown Joffrey is about to receive, we are all truly grateful.

Tywin has Joffrey sent to his room. Awwwww, I expected so much more. Joffrey has one more little tantrum before being dragged from the room – and everyone else leaves, except Tyrion who Tywin tells to stay. Tyrion instantly jokes about Tywin sending the most powerful man in Westeros to bed without his supper, to which Tywin makes it clear a crown doesn’t make you powerful. Tyrion points out there’s no way Frey would have acted alone and Tywin is definitely behind it – and Tyrion disapproves, slaughtering people at a wedding is just not done. Tywin thinks killing a dozen at dinner is better than 10,000 on the battlefield but no-one, least of all Tyrion believes his humanitarian impulses. Tywin doesn’t care, but Tyrion knows the northerners will never forget. Tywin thinks this a good thing, declares Roose Bolton Warden of the North until Tyrion’s son by Sansa is an adult; which he expects Tyrion to get on with despite Tyrion’s insistence that he won’t rape her. Tywin dumps his guide to being a good man and how to be a successful house on Tyrion – someone who puts the needs of his family before his own desires or the desires of his family. Which explains a lot about Tywin; of course, as Tyrion points out, that’s an easy philosophy to maintain when you’re the one deciding what the family should and shouldn’t do – all Tywin ever does is suit himself. Tywin counters with a vicious attack, when Tyrion was born he wanted to drown him, but he raised him instead because he’s a Lannister

Ouch. He goes to see Sansa, distress and sees her crying and looking out the window. He leaves her alone.

In the gardens, Varys visits Shae, talking about her coming to the country, her influence over Tyrion and how bitter her situation is, even though she likes and cares for Sansa and certainly doesn’t blame her. But she is jealous – Sansa is beautiful and highborn and Varys laments that no matter how much they live with the highborn, they are never truly one of them – and adds that they are foreigners as well, and will always regarded as such. They both have one name – in a place where only the family name matters. He gives her a large sum of diamonds and encourages her to go to his house in Pentos – or Myr or Lys and live in luxury. He’s trying to get rid of her because he believes that Tyrion is one of the few men who can make the 7 kingdoms a better place – he has the line, the will, the right last name – and she is a distraction. Even though she loves him, she is harming him and he wants her to find her happiness elsewhere. She throws the diamonds in his face and tells him that if Tyrion wants her to leave he should tell her himself.

Tyrion is busy getting drunk – or staying drunk rather – and forcing for Pod to do the same until he is chased out by Cersei who joins Tyrion. She tells Tyrion to have a child with Sansa if he wants her to be happy – he points out her children don’t make Cersei happy which she admits, but adds that without them she’d have killed herself long ago. Even Joffrey, followed by a truly awesome and raw speech that shows her love for Joffrey they even he can’t take from her, even as she recognises him as a monster.

Jaime and Brienne arrive in Kings Landing, disguised as peasants (and treated as them as well by the random workers). He enters the palace and finds his sister

The North: Bran & Co

They arrive at the Wall and one of the abandoned castles. They shelter inside though Bran is nervous because of all the dark stories he has heard about it – and Bran shares one of them with us; a cook who killed the kings son and served him to his dad and the gods then cursed him for being a poor host. The lesson from this? The gods have really messed up priorities and when I visit you better bring out the best china!

That night, they hear wailing haunty noises and confront – Sam! And Gilly. And Sam realises who Bran must be. Since he owes Jon a lot he quickly declares he’d do anything to help his brother – so Bran asks him to take them north of the wall. Sam thinks it’s a bad idea and wants to take them to Castle Black – but Jojen reminds them there’s nowhere safe anymore – and Jojen knows all about the White Walkers and their armies of the dead.

In the end Sam agrees – and gives them the Dragonglass arrow and spearheads he has as the only thing that can kill the White Walkers that they know of.

Also in the north, Jon is bathing his cuts in a pool – and Ygritte, bow drawn and pointed, finds him. He makes excuses and says “I know you won’t hurt me”. To which she tells him that he knows nothing (of course). He says he knows he loves her and she loves him – but he has to go home. He turns his back and she shoots him in the shoulder. And again in the leg as he gets on his horse. And somewhere else when he rides away

He truly does know nothing. Ygritte watches him go and cries.

Sam and Gilly arrive at Castle Black to explain things to Maester Aemon. She tells him that she’s chosen to call her son, Sam. Maester asks Sam (senior) if he remembers his oath and Sam protests that young Sam isn’t his son, he’s Crastor’s. He recites the oath including the line “I am the shield that guards the realms of men” he emphasises the plural on “realms” and says that means her as well. And the Wall wasn’t built to keep out men – and he has seen what is coming. The Maester agrees to accept Gilly as a guest and then gets Sam to start writing messages – all 44 of the Keeps ravens are flying tonight.

Severely wounded and falling from his horse, Jon arrives in Castle Black to meet Sam and Pyp.

Riverlands: Arya, the Hound and a copious amount of therapy bills

The Stark camp and its soldiers is being sacked and the men massacred, in the wake of the Red Wedding. The Hound rides through holding Arya – and a team of men parade around with Grey Wind’s head on a spike.

Inside, servants are trying to wash up all the blood from the Hall, and Walder Frey is boasting about how everyone who didn’t like him and mocked him is now dead (except the Blackfish who Bolton points out managed to escape). Frey also wants to know what happened in the north to Winterfell. Bolton reveals that Robb Stark gave the Ironmen a deal – give up Theon and leave Winterfel and they’d get amnesty. Bolton sent his bastard son, Ramsay to deliver the terms – he did, they gave up Theon. But Ramsay does things his own way:

Cut to Ramsay and the tortured Theon and Ramsay eating a sausage and talking about the size of Theon’s penis that they cut off. And yes, it is a sausage, there is some limit to the creepy. Some. But not much – Ramsay is very very very very very very creepy indeed. Adding extra creepiness and cruelty, Ramsay decides to rename Theon “Reek” and beats him until he accepts it

Back to Arya and the Hound, as they ride, she hears a group of soldiers boast about killing the Starks and parading around the wolf head. She slips down from the saddle and walks up to them, pretending to be lost and hungry – and takes the chance to repeatedly stab the boasting one in the head and neck. The Hound takes care of the other 3. The Hound asks her where she got the knife and she calmly says from him – she stole it when he wasn’t looking. She confirms it was the first man she’s killed (emphasis on man) and he tells her to tell him before she does something like that. Holding the coin Jaqen H’ghar gave her she whispers “Valar Morghulis

The Pike: Balon Greyjoy and Yara

Ramsay has sent Balon a letter – telling him in most undiplomatic terms that all the Ironborn better get out of the North or he’s going to flay them all alive. As he has already done. Also, here’s Theon’s penis in a box, keep hanging around and he’ll continue mailing bits of him in boxes. Balon isn’t impressed and orders Yara to throw away the box, he’s not giving up any lands he’s taken. To which Yara gives him a very pointed look – it’s a very very good look. She says Theon is Balon’s son and her brother; he insists he’s made his decision. Fine, Yara’s made hers as well – she’s going to the Dreadfort with the most vicious killers she can find and she’s going to rescue her little brother.

Dragonstone: Gendry and Davos

Gendry’s in the dungeon and very bitter – realising what a fool he was to trust highborns and how peasants like him only exist as tools and toys. Davos protests he isn’t a highborn, that he was born in the slums and earns some trust from Gendry by proving it with his knowledge of the poor part of town and his story of how he became a lord by smuggling supplies to Stannis when he was besieged during the war against the Targaryens. And lost his fingers for smuggling. He did it for his son – who is now dead.

Later, Davros reads through the post Stannis has received, struggling with his limited literacy and helped by Shireen. Including a letter from the Night’s Watch. As he reads it, all the bells on the island ring. He hurries to the main room where Stannis is waiting with Mellisandre. They tell him that Robb is dead. Of course, Mellisandre implies her spell is to do with it – and Davos speaks up, whether it is or isn’t, uniting the 7 kingdoms with blood magic is wrong and evil. Stannis points out that the Targaryens united the 7 kingdoms in the first place with magic – with dragons – despite the superior forces raging against them. And he’s not forgiving any of the kings who have torn his land apart – and they talk again about sacrificing Gendry.

That night Davos goes down to the dungeons and releases Gendry. He puts him in a boat and tells him the direction to row in. He gives him some practical advice about keeping his head down (and not falling in since he can’t swim).

After all that practicality he then goes to Stannis and Mellisandre and confesses what he did. Stannis sentences him to death and Davos says he won’t want to do that, Stannis is going to need him – and gives him the message from the Night’s Watch. Stannis is shaken – he hands the letter to Mellisandre who reads it then puts it in the fire. She reads the flames and tells him the war between the kings means nothing – the real war lies to the North. She adds that Stannis will need Davos at the Wall. Stannis laughs that Davos has been saved by the fire god he mocks.

In Foreign Parts: Daenerys

Daenerys and her people are waiting for the gates of Yunkai to open – reminding us while they wait that Daenerys hasn’t conquered them, she has liberated them. Daenerys still worries because people “learn to love their chains” (is that the explanation for all the slave army deciding to become Daenerys’s happy dappy slaves?). A procession of people in metal slave collars leave the city and approach. Missendei speaks up, introducing Daenerys and telling them they owe her their freedom, but Daenerys says “no” and speaks up herself. She tells them they owe no-one their freedom, their freedom belongs to them and them alone. They need to claim it for themselves. To which they begin chanting “Mhysa” – which means “mother”. She walks down from the ledge she is on, telling her dragons to fly. She walks about among the crowd who touch her and revere her with worshipful faces before lifting her up above them, using their arms as a throne for her while everyone adores her. On the ledge, Jorah, Berristan and Missendei also get in on the worshipping gazes.

And that’s the season finale. It feels a little anti-climactic after last week, but I think this is giving everyone time to catch their breaths. But I also think nothing inherently happened so much as everyone was positioned for the next season. Jaime has been restored to Kings Landing, Daenerys has her army of worshippers, Robb has been *ahem* resolved, Yara has laid out her plans, Arya has turned many corners, Stannis is heading North – everyone is put in place, groups have been killed off or amalgamated. This episode was all about setting up the next season and letting us know what’s coming.

In terms of the season – well it was excellent. The huge numbers of characters weren’t particularly hard to juggle (even if a few of them could have been culled) because the story holds them all together so well. It has, as we always expect, intrigue, excitement, awesome characters and lots of action and the occasional slit throat or three. There are so many plot lines going back and further but they all matter – even Jon and Sam who I don’t care one iota about – they matter in the grand scheme and tapestry of this vast show that means that, even though it had a slow start, this show was excellent.

And it’s complex. The good guys don’t always win and they certainly don’t always live. Even the awesome ones can’t be consistently awesome – Tyrion took a distinct step back this season for example. And much as Tywin is evil, you have to admire his skills. Because most of the characters are complex and layered with their own plots and self interest and few of them are saints (the ones that are are dubious because of that) and most of them are sinners. It’s what keeps this show compelling and real and powerful.

The world is amazing, the characters are very real and the pacing, despite the vastness of it all, was pretty well done – considering just how much there is to cover things did advance.

Marginalised issues though… well let’s start with a plus.

The women in this show have got a lot better from previous seasons. BETTER, doesn’t mean perfect – but equally we’re seeing less gratuitous boobies everywhere (again, LESS but that doesn’t mean we’re still not presented with excess boobage for no reason). But part of this is an introduction of more strong female characters but, equally importantly, female characters who are strong in different ways.

We’ve said before how frustrated we’ve been by many of the women on this show – my endless rage against Catelyn the Spunky will go down for all time and I hereby award Catelyn Awards for utter self-sabotage when critiquing other books and shows because she is the benchmark. She and Cersei have mixed impotence with failure quite regularly and we see that same impotence in Sansa and others as well. It made Season 2… difficult.

But in season 3 we have a considerable number of strong female characters. Of course there are Brienne, Yara, Arya and Ygritte – strong women who have broken the gender binary and rejected traditional femininity to become “as good as the men”. Though they all have different strengths represented in different ways between them – they’re not copies of each other by any stretch. But also strong women in other ways – Melisandre leads Stannis by the nose (though I wish she didn’t need to strip every 5 minutes to do it) and has real power. Lady Olenna and Margeary are fencing gloriously with the Lannisters. Even Sansa’s endurance in the face of all that is dropped on her, and Shae’s determination and, yes, even Roz’s ambition (which can fail, certainly – being strong and determined and clever is certainly no guarantee of victory). And, of course, Daenerys has grown up a lot from the whiny, entitled child we once knew.

There has been a turnaround, it seems this season, a push back of the ineffectual and impotent women – and that pushback itself with competent women of different strengths means we can better appreciate the strength of those who fail or those who have no power but still endure.

What has not been progressive is Daenerys and her save the brown people tour – endless scenes of POC bowing and worshipping at the feet of the whitest of white ladies. These remain the only common POC on the show – and they’re all from barbaric, savage, brutal cities as either monsters for Daenerys to vanquish or supplicants to worship her. Her whole saving the slaves is the very epitome of the White Saviour trope and seeing everyone gathering around her calling her mother and basking in adoration for her is faintly nauseating.  The whole issue of her freeing the slaves is ridiculously simplistic, with such complete open trust and adoration among the liberated – and all of them serving her slavishly anyway. They are freedom from bondage to join a cult that worships the ground she walks on? No, too simple, too easy and really uncomfortable to watch. Also she needs to find some friends she hasn’t bought. What are all her armies eating and being paid anyway?

Also, she just appears in foreign parts, levels cities to the ground, slaughters their leadership and moves on - what does she leave behind her in these places she's saved?

Loras remains the only gay man on the show – largely there for jokes and insults; to call him a side character would be a stretch, to call him an extra wouldn’t be entirely inaccurate.

These remain major elements of the show that the series has to address – the story, characters and world are excellent, it’s definitely moving forward and its made some major improvements – but there are weak elements that need addressing and I don’t think I have a lot of faith in them being addressed

Also, no-one slapped Joffrey. This makes me sad.