GAME OF THRONES “Mhysa” Recap
As always, my Game of Thrones recaps are done from the point of view of, and for the benefit of, those who have not read the books. Mucho spoilers follow.
Ninety-nine percent of novels, movies, and most other fictional narratives follow the same basic structure: introduction, establishment of main conflict, rising action, climax, and denouement, give or take. Game of Thrones has closely held to this routine for three extremely successful seasons and yet, from a few choice articles I read this morning, it seems to be one that still flummoxes some people. After all, most shows hold off on unleashing sub-climaxes for the season finale in order to set up a cliffhanger that can tide over their fanbases in the months between seasons. Game of Thrones, on the other hand, tends to play its best hand in episode nine and place its many pieces into position for the future in episode ten. While most programs practice total war, Game of Thrones plays chess, a slow and methodical game, only truly appreciated once one understands its intricacies.
That’s not to say that GoT can’t be prone to slight missteps now and then which, after an overnight’s worth of consideration, is what I grudgingly consider ‘Mhysa’, the finale of a mostly spectacular Season Three. Do I feel that way because nothing ‘big’ happened, no jaw-dropping manufactured shocks? No, because as I said earlier, Game of Thrones fans know that it is a season’s penultimate episode that serves the real red meat where shocks are concerned. Rather, ‘Mhysa’ ultimately suffers from a vaguely derivative feel from earlier seasons that largely takes the sails out of an already expected set-up episode.
Once again, Davos and Melisandre fight for control of Stannis’ conscience regarding the life of bastard Gendry. Once again, Tyrion openly threatens an enraged, but ultimately impotent, Joffrey. Once again, an unamused Tywin has to break up the infighting. Once again, Shae bitterly grouses about Tyrion’s marriage to Sansa. Once again, Theon’s torturer beats the ever-loving crap out of him (although we at least find out who the guy is this time). And once again, Daenerys liberates the oppressed citizens of a slave city. There is very much the feel of wheels spinning in place and, although a few plot strands happily meet and part again in order to solidify the goals of these different strands in viewers’ minds, ‘Mhysa’ first and foremost sends a very basic message – “Remember all these people and what they’re trying to do? Well… they’re still working on it. See you next year.” It’s not quite enough.
Much of my frustration, if you can call it that, stems from the episode’s last several minutes, specifically the last two scenes. A brief conversation I had with friend and filmmaker Rafael Antonio Ruiz this morning quickly pinpointed the problem in my mind – the GoT showrunners gave the season’s final scene to the wrong subplot.
In ‘Mhysa’s second-to-last scene, Davos is sentenced to death for releasing Gendry from Melisandre’s clutches, But thanks to Stannis’ daughter and her reading lessons, Davos knows something that neither Stannis or Melisandre do – Jeor Mormont’s Night Watch party that went north of The Wall has been slaughtered and the White Walkers are on the move. And just like that, the War of the Five Kings is essentially over. Melisandre’s visions turn northward and she not only urges Stannis to begin preparing for this new threat but also tells Stannis to spare Davos for the coming war. It is a huge swing in the Stannis subplot, a swing that will surely create a domino effect across all of Westeros and Essos. Like it or not, all the intriguing and backbiting over the course of the show’s first three seasons will avail the powers that be little once the White Walkers’ inexorable march finally reaches civilization. Because really, isn’t that where the show (and the book series) has to be headed? With various kingdoms who despise each other with a passion forced to ally in order to combat the real threat? Stannis of all people temporarily dropping the fight for the Iron Throne by the wayside to turn his attention to the White Walkers is seriously huge. But it is handled with little fanfare. No rising score, no foreboding close-ups, nothing even approaching the “oh snap” final moment from Season 2. This should have been where we left the story for the time-being. Stannis and his surprising shift in focus should have been today’s water cooler conversation.
Instead, Daenerys shows us out. And much as many fans complain that the final episodes of GoT seasons don’t sufficiently bring the awesome, so do I take issue with last night’s final scene. Now, it’s not that I dislike Daenerys. Far from it. There’s a lot of ironic glee to be taken from the fact that, despite the widespread Westeros posturing by a collection of shit-talking men, it’s a woman in Essos that is probably the most militarily dangerous person in the world at the moment. And every time she comes across a new city, she just gets more dangerous, as both Khaleesi’s confidence and army grows exponentially.
So that’s cool, except when it isn’t. It’s almost as if George R.R. Martin, as well as the television show’s adapters, have rewarded Daenerys for her Red Waste hell of Season 2 with what pseudo-writers such as myself sometimes refer to as a “plot shield”. While the majority of GoT’s characters’ plans have been falling apart in brutal fashion, Daenerys is Essos’ King Midas in the flesh. Every plan she has put into action in the recent past has turned to gold and this lopsided feel is currently more than a little detrimental to the show, as painful as it is to say. The Lannisters, the Boltons, the Greyjoys, the Tyrells, what’s left of the Starks… put them all on one side of the scale and Daenerys on the other side and it would still probably be tipping Khaleesi’s way. Despite the show continually trying to remind us that Khaleesi is green and her army untested, one gets the sense that the only thing between her and global domination right now is a big-ass ocean and no ships to cross it.
Of course, this may not last. In fact, it’s almost guaranteed not to. And I’ve been on record several times in saying that I have not read the books. So I don’t know what’s in store for Khaleesi in the long term. But I have a feeling that her dragons are going to be essential in combating a certain race of creepy-ass ice monsters down the road. So take from that what you will. But that doesn’t make things in the short-term any less ostensibly lopsided, nor uncomfortable. It’s a bit of a strange note on which to end a great season of television – Daenerys liberating (conquering?) another slaver city. But while D took care of Astapor by outwitting an a-hole slaver in tremendously satisfying fashion and winning the fiercest warriors on the continent to boot, we don’t even see Yunkai fall. Instead, it was relayed to us via a bit of awkward Jorah exposition in the last episode, which sets up the season’s final scene, one that is either fist-pump worthy or somewhat troubling, depending on what you take away from it. Pencil me in for the latter. Khaleesi interrupts Missandei when she tells the massive crowd of freed slaves that has poured out of Yunkai that Khaleesi was the one who freed her, instead telling them that they have freed themselves. In turn, the ex-slaves, iron collars still on their necks, shout “Mhysa” in adoration (which turns out to mean ‘Mother’ in their language). To disapproving looks from her advisors, Jorah most of all, Daenerys floats into the rapt crowd, beatific smile and all, and is hoisted up in the air. And scene.
It’s a tough image to process as the final scene of a television season, the religious overtones more than a bit contrived and heavy-handed. While most Westerosi wanna-be kings are willing to do whatever it takes to acquire power, such as Stannis ready to sacrifice his nephew without a second thought just a scene before, Daenerys is portrayed as the coin’s flip-side, someone who has always been more concerned with doing the right thing rather than pursuing a reasonably intangible concept like ascending a faraway throne. But ‘Merys’ last scene gives the impression, intentional or not, that Khaleesi may have begun sipping a bit of the ‘Queen of Dragons’ Kool-Aid. The Khaleesi of previous seasons, and even previous season three episodes, seemed to care little for titles that others were so eager to attach to her. But it’s that blissful smile, that obvious Christ pose while being hoisted above the crowd, her blonde hair and pearly whiteness shining upon a sea of trodden-upon brown people that lead one to wonder if all this savior stuff is finally going to her head.
– Lest you thought the horrors of the Red Wedding were over, we get a brief shot of Robb Stark’s decapitated body being marched out of The Twins’ keep with Grey Wind’s head attached, as the Freys mockingly chant “King of the North”. Unfortunately for Arya, The Hound is still trying to find a way out of the fiery destruction of the encamped Stark army when it happens and she witnesses the obscenity in all its horrible glory. Later, they come across a band of Freys in the woods, one of whom is bragging that he was the one who had stitched Grey Wind’s head to Robb’s body. So Arya stabs him to death, while The Hound dispatches the rest. She’s a murderer now and her gaze at the man’s dead body is as emotionless, flat, and terrifying as anything seen on the show thus far. One can only assume that the hapless Frey man will be the first of many Arya victims. After all, was it not Melisandre that said that she saw countless eyes reflected behind Arya’s, eyes of the men that Arya was to kill? The Westeros Revenge Tour list is a long one and Arya is no longer afraid of killing.
– Ygritte tracking Jon and finding him was a great scene, if for no other reason than we get possibly the last-ever “You know nothing, Jon Snow.” I was also surprised that she shot Jon, as I was expecting some variation of the Point Break ‘shooting up in the air while screaming’ scene. But no – Ygritte don’t play that. She certainly loves him still, but traitors get shot in the back and that’s that.
– That being said, Jon still makes it to Castle Black, so you know what that means – The Wildings are headed towards Castle Black and who will be helping to defend it? Jon Snow. That, of course, operates under the assumption that his arrow wounds don’t kill him. From the way his arrival at Castle Black played out, though, I would guess he’ll survive. His story doesn’t feel over to me. Not by a long shot.
– Theon Greyjoy’s torturer is finally revealed to be Ramsay Bolton, Roose Bolton’s psychotic son, who sends Theon’s junk to daddy Balon as a warning to clear out of the North. Predictably, Balon can’t bring himself to care, but Asha is furious, pledging to take a ship and the Iron Islands’ 50 most murderous thugs to go give young Bolton some serious trouble. How that will play out remains to be seen, but in the meantime we get more cackling Walder Frey and Roose Bolton, who both smirk for a few minutes about the end of the Stark line and, to the surprise of nobody, that the Lannisters were in on it.
– Bran and company meet Samwell and Gilly (!), both parties heading in the opposite directions and both unsuccessfully attempting to convince the other to join their particular journey. Turns out that Sam still has plenty of dragonglass daggers on him, which means that I can stop criticizing him for leaving behind the one he used to kill the White Walker with. I think we’re all done calling Sam stupid, right? The guy’s too nice to ever be a major player on a show like GoT, but he’s no idiot.
– Although mostly swallowed by later scenes, the Small Council was (as always) awesomeness incarnate. Despite his internal worries, Tyrion in public behaves as if untouchable, now openly insulting the king because he knows that Joffrey will rant and rave but ultimately do nothing, especially around Tywin. His line about Tywin sending the most powerful man in Westeros to bed without his supper was brilliant. Tywin and Tyrion have had a lot of unpleasant conversations and this one was no different, but before Tywin’s magnanimous reveal that he almost killed Tyrion at birth but decided against it, the two were almost getting along. They have more in common than they’d care to admit and if they ever got on the same page (unlikely, but you never know) they’d make a team that no intriguer could hope to outfox.
– And so end my Season 3 recaps of Game of Thrones. I had a blast writing them and hope you enjoyed reading them. If all goes as planned, I’ll be right here to help usher us into Season 4, which will premiere sometime next year (sob). Until then, brace yourself. Winter is (still) coming. Gabriel signing off.