Spoilers for Game of Thrones through the end of season three begin now. Consider yourselves warned, lowborns.
The formula is there, all executive producers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have to do is follow it. In season one, a massive ninth episode saw the head of the show’s poster hero roll in “Baelor.” What followed was a tenth episode that reshuffled the deck, brought into focus the “War of the Five Kings” and propelled the story forward with little stops along the way with all of our favorite supporting characters. At the end of season two, the massive, focused effort of “Blackwater” was followed by a road-trip around Westeros (and beyond) to check in on all the now-scattered pieces of what remained. The War of the Five Kings certainly wasn’t over, but it had hit its most dire hours. Armies burned to a crisp, the men of the North far from home and a Queen on the far side of the world barely escaping with her life and those of her dragons. For season three, there was no other way to end. After “The Rains of Castamere,” or more appropriately The Red Wedding, an event so monumentally brutal that it instantly became one of the cornerstones of this show’s very legacy, the only way to go would be softer, quieter, warmer. Otherwise no one would want to wait a year to see what happens next. And so it went with “Mhysa,” season three’s uneventful reshuffling. Some pieces had to be picked up, dusted off and set in place for the next run toward more bloodshed.
It’s the formula. And for the first time in three seasons, it was boring.
Perhaps the problems with “Mhysa” are most indicative of the adaptation of half of a book. Those who have not been reading along won’t realize this, nor am I going to spend a lot of time on it, but much of this episode included things that did not come from any place in the book. It’s a tactful, tightrope game the writers are playing in which they stall because HBO ordered 10 episodes, so we must get 10 episodes. There are also plenty of things that happen in George R.R. Martin‘s “A Storm of Swords” that will become urgent and immediate in the wake of The Red Wedding. All those pieces must be in place, otherwise we’re bound to get blindsided. So it’s drab and tedious, but it also may prove a necessity for Benioff, Weiss and crew. Not that it excuses some missed opportunities, but we’re not going to talk about that (until the clearly marked spoiler section below). I’m committed to not spoiling anything for non-readers, as my fellow book readers are. It’s important that you get to turn these pages yourself (metaphorically).
The episode itself is a clunker from a pacing standpoint. Only once, in the middle when transitioning from Roose Bolton and Walder Frey lunching over the blood-stained wedding hall, do the writers get a smooth transition from one sequence to the next. Roose Bolton talks about Theon Greyjoy. Whatever happened to old Theon, asks the still-delightful-despite-being-painfully-expository Lord Frey? (We know what happened…) Bolton explains that yes indeed, it’s his bastard son Ramsay and his “different ways” that have Theon. And lo, we are swept away to the Dreadfort, where Ramsay is playing further sickness upon the now-Ms. Greyjoy. Beyond the awfully tasteless sausage joke, he does impart something important upon the episode. Theon gets a new name. And not long after, Theon’s junk has a meeting with his sister (though not the meeting Theon had originally intended, am I right?). This meeting refreshes our memories of two things: (1) Theon’s sister is an angry warrior princess and (2) Balon Greyjoy is still a thing. A bristly, shitty old thing. Good for the Greyjoy clan, they made it to season four, mostly in one piece. The same can’t be said for all the houses of Westeros.
The biggest surprise provided by “Mhysa” happens just south of The Wall, where Jon Snow is just trying to get a drink of water when Ygritte comes along and shoots him with a few arrows. They exchange words, he still knows nothing, yada-yada, Jon Snow finds out the true meaning of the phrase “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” Hopefully his story doesn’t end here, as it would be shameful to waste the overt symbolism mirror between the Brothers of the Night’s Watch carrying Jon into Castle Black and the way Daenerys ends the episode. Sure, one of them freed a bunch of slaves and earned the crowd-surf. The other just got shot because he chose “Crows Before Hoes.” But then, who hasn’t made a massive relationship mistake before? I know I have. Luckily, I’ve never dated an angry redhead with stunning archery skills.
Plenty else happens in this extended frame, not much of which will be of consequence until it shows up in a “Previously On” montage in the middle of season four. Therein lies the problem with the show’s tenth episodes, they find these little moments — like Lord Varys making a play to get Shae to leave King’s Landing and let Tyrion become the halfman he’s destined to be. These scenes are well-acted, delicately handled and full of potential to come back later and be relevant. In the moment, however, they feel absolutely wedged in. The same can be said with the Bran/Samwell meet-cute that happens at The Wall. Finally, Bran gets to go headfirst into the danger zone. Sam rescues Gilly and her baby. Hooray. These scenes have little to teach us for now, other than to stick with it, as eventually these storylines may pay off with something great. Seriously, three kids and a giant man who speaks one word are running toward the realm of a character Melisandre (of all people) keeps referring to simply as “Death.” I don’t see how that could possibly end well.
To its credit, the episode directed by David Nutter (returning for a second week in a row) is shot beautifully. Some of the moments in King’s Landing, specifically the ones with Tyrion and Tywin talking after the Small Council meeting, are elegant and suited to the conflicted mood-cloud that hang’s over the capitol city. There are also great, exciting moments smashed in between all the arrant bookmarks. Like Arya Stark. Sure, she’s not avenging the death of her family entirely by killing one boastful Frey soldier, but I do like the way she’s dealing with her grief.
The scenes at Dragonstone, seen mostly from over the shoulder of Ser Davos (executed with a brilliant mix of humility and hardened wisdom as always by Liam Cunningham), do finally give this episode a bit of energy. Stay with me on this. I know many of you are probably wrapped up in the awe of the episode’s final shot, but all that Daenerys stuff was really just tossed in there to remind us that she’s still on the show, has dragons, and looks really cool now that she’s got the band all together. It’s the stuff at Dragonstone that is the good meat on this rotten bone. The conversation between Melisandre, Stannis and Ser Davos — right after Stannis decides not to kill The Onion Knight — is very doom-and-gloom, but it serves to show us the tonal shift that seems to have happened in the fleeting moments of season three. In a way that can only be delivered with the smooth, lusty manner in which Carice Van Houten has played the red woman, she explains that the War of the Five Kings is over. And that all that stuff — from season one’s inciting moments to season two’s posturing — all the bloodshed and devastation set forth by the men and their quest for that big metal chair, is all absolutely meaningless in the grand scheme of things. None of this stuff matters — not Joffrey, not Theon’s former manhood, not Tywin Lannister, not even our dearly departed Starks. All that matters is what’s coming from north of The Wall.
Winter is (still) coming. The night is (still) dark and full of terrors. And we only have to wait until next year to find out what in seven hells all of that means!
- In case you missed it, they put Robb’s direwolf’s head on his body and parade him around. Oh, you didn’t miss that? Sorry, I just wanted to bring those painful memories back. Some of us had to find the strength to keep turning pages at that point in the book. You’ll live.
- The look on the faces of Balon (Patrick Malahide) and Yara (Gemma Whelan) when they open the box holding Theon’s severed penis is priceless. They are tied for best facial expression of the season with Tobias Menzies, whose Edmure was one fun background character to watch.
- Good for Gendry. Assuming he doesn’t get swallowed up by the sea. Perhaps Davos could have given him a horse, instead…
- In limited time and with absolutely no dialogue, Rose Leslie still kills it. She’s also a really good shot with those arrows.
- Any time we get to spend as flies on the wall for a Tyrion conversation with Cersei feels like borrowed time. Those two, Peter Dinklage and Lena Headey, have such wonderful chemistry. We almost connected with Cersei emotionally this time. Almost, but not quite.
SPOILER! Notes That I Have to Get Off My Chest Right Now
(Book Readers Only from here, as A Storm of Swords spoilers do apply starting… now.)
- As a book reader, it’s hard not to see that the show’s writers have missed a few big opportunities in this episode. The least of which is the very cool moment Sam has with the door beneath the Nightfort. Based on the way it’s described in the book, it’s a very cool magical element that wouldn’t have been out of place. It would also have been a far better way to show Sam’s ranger skills than having him recite half the oath in the comfort of Maester Aemon’s quarters.
- Missed opportunity #2: Coldhands. Fine, save him for season four. I don’t even care.
- Missed opportunity #3: It sure would have been nice for this episode to have finished with a check-in on Thoros, Beric Dondarrion and their little band of misfits. I arrogantly expected, as a book reader who just won’t give up the way I think things should be adapted, to see some sort of post-credits tag. But as my grandfather once said, you can wish in one hand and take a dump in the other and see which one fills up first.
- Seriously though, come on. The episode is called “Mhysa.” It means mother. Thematically, it’s so obvious.
Next Week: Lets all have a good cry together…
There will surely be more discussion of Game of Thrones season three here on FSR. We just can’t help ourselves, so stay tuned.