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Game of Thrones – End of Season Report, Season 3

10 Jun

Arya Horseface

Game of Thrones Season 3 ended yesterday with more of a whimper than a bang, especially compared to the penultimate episode.  During the silent credit sequence that followed that ninth episode, you could hear a pin drop due to the gaping silence and wide open jaws of the viewers, at least where I was watching.  Still, things happened last night, and plenty of things happened over the course of the year.  The last episode was primarily little bits of wrapping up loose ends and starting new ones.  I’ll take a look at some pieces of the last episode, some continued fall out from the red wedding, and some general season-long trends.

First, it can’t be underestimated how much the greater Westeros landscape has shifted post Red Wedding.  The Lannisters, for most intents and purposes, have won the war.  They know the battles aren’t over forever; there are marauding Ironborn in the north, and Stannis remains alive and everyone knows he’s not one to give in.  Still, Stannis’s forces are decimated.  Stannis will have to regroup and any fight that could actually challenge Lannister superiority is some time away.  The Lannisters and their allies have recaptured the north and their single greatest current threat was wiped out in one single brilliant blow.  The Lannisters now merely need to consolidate their power and make sure their growing unruly king can be corralled.

The three primary parties behind the Red Wedding had different motivations which lead to their hand in the event.  Tywin was out to win a difficult war and saw a way to do so in one fell swoop with a minimum of bloodshed to his side.  He’s not punitive beyond what he thinks will serve a practical purpose, such as to intimidate others from ever taking up arms against the Lannisters again.  He’s not interested in parading the wolf ‘s head around or gloating.  Tywin is an unsentimental pragmatist through and through.  Roose Bolton is a cold and calculating opportunist.  He begins to see, as the viewer does, that Robb, thanks to a series of blunders as well as overall strategic difficulties, is losing the war.  He knew that having supported a losing side for so long is unlikely to earn him mercy with Tywin and the eventual victors.  He’d lose lands at the least, and maybe members of his family as hostages. Instead, he saw a chance to turn his fortunes around by aligning himself with the winning side, and helping them out to prove his value.  Bolton is ambitious but within reason.  He’s going to become Warden of the North, a huge promotion, but he’s not so greedy that he would have made his move if he didn’t see it as a no-lose opportunity.  For Walder Frey, it’s old fashioned revenge, plain and simple.  He wouldn’t have acted without assurances from Tywin, but he’s less interested in the greater conflict than in getting back at Robb and the Stark family, who showed him up.  He is a bitter old man who was lied to.  Robb broke a promise, insulted the Freys, and must pay.

Tywin intriguingly asks whether it matters how they died, when discussing the moral repercussions of his actions with Tyrion.  A war won is a war won, and Tywin rightly points out that fewer people died this way than would have in a prolonged conflict on open battlefields, and not just on the Lannister side.  Still, Tyrion’s point that memories are long is at least equally correct and I think that’s not to be underestimated.  This is a kingdom with a long collective memory, and the North is not likely to put aside its animus towards the events of the red wedding, even as years and decades pass.  Bran explicitly reminds of us of this with the story of the Rat Cook, who was turned into a rat not for murder, or for cannibalism, but for violating sacred guest right.  The odds are against Tywin being haunted by that decision in the near future, but for a man who puts so much stock in considering his family as greater than himself, he may have caused them seriously long term negative reputational value.

Daenerys conquered two slave cities in short order with dragons, guile, and a host of now freed slave soldiers.  She had her best television moment fairly early in the season when she loosed the dragons on the Astapor slave sellers and told the unsullied she purchased to turn on and kill their masters.  I was pretty disappointed with her final scene, which was also the last scene of the season.  The previous two seasons have ended with serious WTF moments, where shocking supernatural events takes place.  This season’s ending did not compare to either the dragons hatching in the first season or the white walkers in the second.  The slave soldiers calling out to Dany, their mother, verged on cheesiness, and did nothing for me.  I may be biased because Dany isn’t my favorite character, but I still thought this was not adding anything new to the Dany narrative; the news she had conquered Yunkai  would have been a better place to end her season’s storyline.  Admittedly, the Dany scenes are among the hardest to place within episodes because she’s so far away from all the other characters both spatially and plotwise.  It’s hard to root against her freeing the slaves, and the slavers are some of the most one-sided characters on the show.  Still, I think there’s a more interesting dynamic to focus on in terms of what happens to the slaves and the cities once she conquers them, and how to take care of her huge number of ex-slave followers. I hope some time is spent with these challenges in the next seasons.

A couple of characters actually converge  and meet up with one another in this final episode!  Sam meets up with Bran, and even though they go their separate ways, it’s still a heartwarming little meet and greet.  Bran has gotten the bulk of the show’s supernatural activity this season and he demonstrates his warg power and his future vision or greensight.  His spirit guide Jojen seems to believe Bran could play a major role in fighting the white walkers in the upcoming battle. Bran’s plot is consistently the hardest to predict because it’s so steeped in the supernatural. Jaime also finally reunited with Cersei, providing an oddly sentimental moment for incest, though the one moment is about all we get from from their meeting.

In a plot beginning, Stannis is soon to be off to the wall with both rivals Melisandre and Davos agreeing on a plan. It’s an intriguing move for a king without a kingdom.  How to convince the people of the kingdom to join his side?  If he can’t beat his enemies within, attempt to defeat the kingdom’s enemies without, the white walkers.  The Stannis plots this season have been limited, but with him off to the wall, where Jon Snow and Sam are hanging about, it seems like they may get a lot more interesting soon.

The petulant young king Joffrey is a problem, but less so than when there was merely Cersei to corral him, as Tywin is clearly in control of the kingdom now.  Having the crown hardly makes one king in more than name.  That said, there’s at least a minimum of connection to the crown that one needs to obtain ultimate power as well. Varys reminds Shea of this when mentioning that he, as a foreigner, will never be able to hold more than a certain amount of sway no matter how much he knows.  I didn’t particularly care for the Varys – Shea scene, largely because it seemed as if Varys was saying a lot for our benefit that he would never have said to Shea in context, but the point still stands.  You don’t need to be the king to have power but having the family connection and the high born status doesn’t hurt.

Tyrion, who basically owned season 2, didn’t have a whole to do this season, but that’s okay.  He did marry Sansa, against both of their wills, and the little bit of banter we’ve seen between the two of them has been surprisingly entertaining.

Arya and the hound have become the latest buddy pairing to tear up the Westeros countryside, hot on the heels of Jaime and Brienne and before them Tyrion and Bronn.  The Hound has some of the more mysterious motives of any character in the show, as he’s done some monstrous deeds, but also seems to have some redeeming characteristics.  He also really does not like fire. Him and Arya make short work of four Frey soldiers sitting beside a fire, and Arya, perhaps not surprisingly considering all she’s dealt with, has begun to harden considerably in her treatment of men minding their own business hanging around the countryside.  Just last week, she asked the hound to spare a man’s life.  No more.

Jon finally makes it back home, ending his middling attempt to pose as a wildling.  It’s heartbreaking to see Ygritte aim at Jon Snow, and it’s an open question if she’s actually trying to kill him or not, but I think it’s oddly reaffirming that both of them are standing up for what they believe in.  I’d love for them to be together, but it’s difficult when they have belief systems that are diametrically at odds.  Jon stands up for the Night’s Watch and makes a daring return home to warm of the upcoming wildlings attack, while Ygritte tries to fulfill her promise that if Jon betrayed her she would kill him herself.  I’m certain glad, however, that she was unable to come through on hers.

A reveal in the finale is that the character torturing Theon for the entirety of the season is Ramsay Snow, Roose Bolton’s bastard, who took over Winterfell from the Ironborn.  The number of Theon scenes this season has seemed gratuitous – two or three scenes of torture were good enough to get the point across, and beyond that seemed unnecessary.  Still, here we have a truly evil, truly sadistic character.  To me, this actually makes view Joffrey in a different light.  Ramsay is a face of evil.  Joffrey is a spoiled immature brat who received the keys to a kingdom as a teenager when he normally would have received groundings and time outs.  He’s bad, unquestionably, but I think he’s more out of control than evil.  Now Ramsay Bolton, who continues to torture Theon for days and weeks on end simply for the fun of it.  That’s evil.