This was a bit of a weird episode for me. On the one hand, only two of the things that I really wanted to see in it happened. On the other hand, most of the episode was really satisfying. At the same time, there was one scene that I (and a lot of other people) just absolutely hated, and it was bad enough to almost ruin the episode.
**Spoilers under the cut.**
The episode opens with more Red Wedding chaos at the Twins. Arya wakes up just in time to see her brother’s desecrated body being paraded through the continuing carnage before Sandor grabs a Frey banner and rides off into the night. I shouldn’t have been, but I was, a little surprised to see the infamous RobbWind brought to life for the show. In
A Storm of Swords
, it’s not clear whether this is a real event that happened or whether the story is part of the already-growing legend of the Red Wedding. It also just broke my heart that it was something that Arya actually sees in the show. Poor, poor Arya.
Later in the episode, Sandor and Arya come upon a group of Frey men who are laughing and joking about the Red Wedding and bragging about their part in it. Arya steals the Hound’s knife, approaches the men as a child asking for food, and then attacks and kills one of them when their guard is down. Sandor steps in to kill the others before they can retaliate. Arya is so obviously
It’s interesting to see how Sandor Clegane functions as another in a series of surrogate father figures for Arya. Ned Stark tried to shelter Arya, only somewhat reluctantly letting her take lessons from Syrio Forel. Syrio introduced Arya to a philosophy of fighting and warfare and then sacrificed himself to save her. Yoren gave Arya the idea of the litany of names she recites–people she someday plans to kill. Jaqen H’ghar killed for Arya and gave her the coin that will help her find the next part of her destiny. Beric and Thoros were kind to Arya, in their way, but viewed her as a pawn, much the same way that most highborn men view daughters.
Sandor, however, treats Arya more as an equal than anything else. He’s not forthcoming, but, when asked, he doesn’t mince words about his motives for capturing her when she flees the Brotherhood Without Banners. When she says he’s the worst, he doesn’t defend himself, but rather just points out how narrow her view of the world is. He doesn’t argue with her or make excuses or beg her forgiveness when she threatens to kill him. Indeed, he respects her anger and never tries to invalidate her feelings.
In “Mhysa” we see another illustrative example of how the relationship between Arya and Sandor works. Sandor knocked her over the head to save her at the end of “The Rains of Castamere,” showing that he feels some obligation or compulsion to protect Arya even though, at this point, there is basically no way that she has any value to him since everyone who might have paid a ransom or reward for her is dead. However, in this episode, the first shot of Sandor and Arya that we get seems to linger meaningfully on Sandor’s failure (or possibly refusal) to protect Arya from the sight of Robb Stark’s desecrated corpse being paraded through the ongoing battle. Later, when Arya kills the Frey man, Sandor simply asks her if that was the first man she’s killed and then advises her to tell him first the next time she’s planning on doing something like that. A simplistic reading of the Arya/Sandor relationship (and the Sansa/Sandor relationship) would be that this man, who lost his own innocence at such a young age, is drawn to the innocence in the Stark girls and wants to protect it. However, I think it’s more accurate to say that Sandor wants to make the Stark girls’ loss of innocence easier rather than to actually prevent it. It’s as if he sees himself less as a protector than as a guide.
Speaking of Sansa, we’re next transported to King’s Landing where she’s walking through the gardens with Tyrion (and Shae behind them). Tyrion and Sansa have a rare bonding moment over their mutual outcast status, and Sansa suggests a prank they could play on the men who just laughed at them. It’s a rare moment between this pair that shows that maybe they really could develop, if not a romance, at least a friendship. It’s nice to see Sansa get even a moment to be herself since most of her time in King’s Landing has been spent under a mask of courtesy just hoping to stay alive and not be raped. The moment is a little ruined, however, when Podrick Payne arrives to tell Tyrion that there is a small council meeting he needs to attend.
At the small council meeting, Joffrey is gleeful upon hearing about the Red Wedding, and he wants to have Robb Stark’s head served to Sansa at the upcoming King’s Landing wedding. Tyrion will have none of that, telling Joffrey that Sansa is no longer his to torment. This, of course, prompts a royal tantrum from Joffrey which only works to elicit threats from Tyrion. Tywin, in his way, sides with his son, at which point Joffrey insults Tywin to his face. The faces of the small council and the moment of silence as they wait to see how Tywin responds are one of many excellent moments in this episode. Tywin responds by sending the king to bed, which effectively puts an end to the meeting.
When the others leave, Tywin asks Tyrion to stay behind for a lecture of familial duty. Tyrion doesn’t receive this very well, and he asks Tywin when he ever did anything that wasn’t in his own best interests. To which Tywin, who is kind of awful, responds that he didn’t drown Tyrion when he was born. It’s a sad moment for Tyrion, who has always known that his father resented him but maybe did not know that his father actually wanted him dead.
By the time Tyrion returns to the rooms he shares with Sansa, Sansa has found out about Robb and Catelyn’s deaths and whatever fragile accord she and Tyrion had been forging is, predictably, shattered.
Bran, Hodor, and the Reeds have reached the Nightfort, where Bran tells his companions the story of the Rat Cook–a cook at the Nightfort who was punished for violating guest rights by being turned into a giant white rat who, like all punished souls, roams the Nightfort forever in torment.
The story of the Rat Cook suggests a sort of cosmic justice for crimes like those committed by Walder Frey at the Twins, but we break from Bran’s company directly to Walder Frey and Roose Bolton gloating over their victory while servants try to scrub blood from the floors. Roose Boltom complains of Robb’s arrogance and failure to listen to the advice of older and wiser men, which suggests that when viewed from a different angle the Young Wolf’s death is a different sort of justice. As tragic and horrifying as the Red Wedding was, Robb Stark had made choices that were getting men killed. He took advantage of the honor of his bannermen and betrayed them all, leading them in a way that could have gotten them annihilated in the war with the Lannisters. In the end, Robb’s personal charisma and battle prowess weren’t enough to win him a kingdom. Sensible men prefer peace and stability, not wars fought in service of personal quarrels, but Robb arrogantly believed that he could use his bannermen for his own ends and against their own better judgment.
Also in this scene we learn what actually happened at Winterfell, and we learn the identity of Theon Greyjoy’s torturer. Readers of the books weren’t surprised to learn that it’s Ramsay Snow, Roose Bolton’s bastard son. On that note, we get to a scene of the aforementioned Ramsay, who is eating a fat sausage while Theon begs to be die. Ramsay, of course, will not oblige Theon in this matter. Instead, Ramsay decides to rename Theon as “Reek,” a name for fitting to Theon’s current status, and beats Theon into submission. I haven’t loved a lot of the Theon/Ramsay scenes this season, and a couple of them were really just gratuitous torture porn, but this scene worked for me. It’s also one of the scenes that I was hoping to see in this episode, and I was relieved to finally have Ramsay’s identity settled. Now I’m just curious to see what they do with this pair in season four.
Back at the Nightfort, scary sounds wake Bran and the Reeds up, but it’s just Sam and Gilly. Sam almost immediately recognizes Bran as Jon’s brother and tries to convince them to come to Castle Black instead of going past the Wall. However, Jojen implies that Bran may be able to stop the zombie apocalypse, so Sam arms the Reeds and Hodor with dragonglass and sends them on their way. I’m a little disappointed that we haven’t seen Coldhands, although it’s possible that he will meet Bran and the Reeds when they emerge from the Wall in season four. I’m also not sure how I feel about Jojen’s implication that Bran might be some kind of magic hero that can stop the white walkers. The books imply that Bran has a part to play in the global events that are going on, but not so specifically as Jojen does here. It raises the stakes for Bran’s story and imbues the character with importance that he hasn’t had so far in the novels, but I’m still just not particularly interested in Bran’s journey. Time will tell, I suppose.
In the Iron Islands, Balon and Yara receive a box with Theon’s penis in it (am I the only one surprised by the lack of “dick in a box” jokes since this scene aired?) and a letter from Ramsay Snow, who says that if they don’t comply with his demands he’ll keep sending them pieces of Theon. Balon looks unhappy, but he’s prepared to let Theon die. Yara, however, isn’t going to let her little brother get killed, and she outlines her plan to mount a rescue mission. This is a bit of a departure from Yara/Asha’s storyline in the books, but I like it. I also loved the shot of her in her armor striding purposefully around looking tough and capable.
At Dragonstone, Davos and Gendry bond over growing up in Fleabottom, and we learn a little more about Davos’s history. Later, we get a scene of Davos reading letters with Shireen (who preciously tells him that her books are much more interesting) when bells start ringing. Davos rushes to Stannis to find out what the bells are about only to be told about the Red Wedding, which success Melisandre attributes to her leeches, and that Stannis has decided to allow Gendry to be sacrificed. There’s an excellent, if heavy-handed, shot that positions Davos and Melisandre as the angel and devil (respectively) on Stannis’s shoulders, but Stannis is determined to sacrifice the boy against Davos’s protests.
Davos then rushes to smuggle Gendry out of Dragonstone, putting him on a boat that should get him to King’s Landing if he doesn’t fall out and drown. Stannis is predictably angry about Davos’s duplicity and is ready to have Davos executed when Davos suggests another plan. They’re going to go north to aid the Night’s Watch and secure the kingdom. Even Melisandre agrees with this plan and she intercedes with Stannis to save Davos’s life. Stannis’s little laugh at this rare accord between his two most valued advisers is one of my favorite moments in the episode, although the brilliance of the setting sun lighting the shot seemed a little over-the-top dramatic to me.
Back in King’s Landing, Varys approaches Shae and we get another scene of people bonding over shared humble backgrounds. I like that Shae gets to be a little more complex in the show than she was in the books. Her love of Sansa as well as her jealousy over Tyrion’s affections are compelling motivating forces that make show!Shae much more interesting than the more pragmatic and mercenary Shae of the novels. Varys, however, wants Shae to leave King’s Landing and is willing to pay her handsomely to do so. He thinks she is a distraction for Tyrion, who he contends is one of only a few people capable of doing real good in Westeros. Needless to say, Shae doesn’t take this well and she refuses to leave.
Tyrion, meanwhile, is getting very drunk with Podrick Payne when Cersei comes to talk with him. Cersei advises Tyrion to give Sansa a child as soon as possible and recounts how her own children were what kept her from killing herself, giving her purpose and joy in her life. I love these sort of conversations between Tyrion and Cersei because I get the feeling that these are the times when we see Cersei as her most authentic self. She’s able to be honest with Tyrion in a way that I don’t think she is even with Jaime because Tyrion isn’t blind to Cersei’s faults the way Jaime seems to be.
Back in the North, Ygritte catches up to Jon Snow, who is on his way back to Castle Black. Jon makes an enormous ass of himself, insisting, childlike, that he “[has] to go home now.” Ygritte, who dared to hope that she might be Jon’s home, is devastated. Even with her bow trained on him, Jon doesn’t think Ygritte will hurt him, prompting another reiteration of “You know nothing, Jon Snow.” Through her tears (and with a delicately quivering lower lip in another excellent performance by Rose Leslie), Ygritte manages to hit Jon with several arrows as he rides away.
At Castle Black, Sam has brought Gilly to meet Maester Aemon. Gilly has decided to name her son Sam, which is adorable. After Sam gives an impassioned speech about his interpretation of his vows to include Wildlings, Aemon determines that Gilly can stay as a guest of the Night’s Watch for the time being. Then, Aemon immediately puts Sam to work writing the letters to be sent out to all the lords in Westeros warning them of the danger coming from beyond the Wall.
Jaime and Brienne have reached King’s Landing, where Jaime is no longer recognizable as himself. Brienne’s small sort of smile of encouragement and sympathy was lovely and sad. Jaime, of course, goes straight to find Cersei who, for once, is speechless, although we’ll have to wait until next season to find out if she’s speechless with joy or dismay.
Finally, outside Yunkai Daenerys and friends are waiting outside the city apprehensively. Then the gates open and now-freed slaves start streaming out. When the crowd has gathered, they start yelling “mhysa,” which means “mother” in old Ghiscari, at which point Dany decides to walk amongst her new people, who lift her up worshipfully. While dragons fly in circles overhead, we get a wide shot showing the thousands of people in Dany’s army and the mass of freed people from Yunkai. Then the credits start.
I have never been so disappointed with the ending of any episode of this show. All the way up to the last five minutes I was enjoying the episode, but the Dany scene that gives the episode its name is truly terrible on basically every level. The scene of the uniformly brown freed people practically worshiping the whitest white lady in the world should seriously make everyone uncomfortable. Because it’s gross and racist. In addition to being heavy-handed, cliche, and just plain cheesy. It’s not even laughably bad because it’s obvious that the writers and directors took this scene very seriously and really, really thought that it would be an emotional high point for viewers. In three seasons of this show, there have been a lot of sour points for me, but this just absolutely takes the cake for being disgustingly racist as well as just plain lazy and unimaginative.