“Mhysa” is the first episode of the season to check in on every character and plotline. So, despite the extra few minutes of running time (and the diminished cast following “The Rains of Castamere”) it still feels a bit rushed and scattershot. This is especially true when you consider how the past two episodes were framed: each was focused primarily on one or two settings for duration of the hour.
To add to the scattershot feel of the episode is the fact that, in Game of Thrones finale form, “Mhysa” is all about characters transitioning from one journey to another. Some of it felt climactic – Jon Snow encountering the recently-betrayed Ygritte – and other parts felt like pure set-up for next season.
The episode and season end with Daenerys being embraced by the flock of people she just freed. Other plots from “Mhysa”: the Red Wedding massacre continues, and Grey Wind’s head is sown on Robb’s body; Arya murders a Frey lackey; Walder Frey and Roose Bolton reflect on their treachery and recently expanded power; Theon’s captor is officially revealed to be Ramsay, Roose Bolton’s bastard, who breaks Theon’s spirit; Yara vows to rescue Theon; Bran and Sam’s groups cross path, Bran heading north and Sam heading for Castle Black; Ygritte catches up with Jon and looses some arrows in him; Davos frees Gendry and convinces Stannis and Melisandre to head north; Tyrion threatens Joffrey again, and seems to win over Varys, who tries to convince Shae to make Tyrion’s life a little simpler; and Jaime returns to King’s Landing.
If the length of the previous paragraph doesn’t make it clear, let me spell it out: “Mhysa” is a laborious and dense episode of television. But it’s finely crafted and is an enjoyable capper to what’s been a fantastic season.
This show spends a lot of time contemplating what “power” is. We never get a clear answer, but whatever it is, Tywin Lannister has it. He’s orchestrated the death of a rebel king and the subsequent unification of Westeros. Every other royal claimant is dead (Robb, Renly) or severely lacking in armies and power (Stannis, Balon). He can even send the king to bed if he speaks out of line. In the game of thrones, you win or you die – and Tywin won.
The Imp is all of the sudden very important to the security of the Seven Kingdoms. His son will be heir to Winterfell and (theoretically) Casterly Rock. Few others could get away with threatening that little shit, King Joffrey. Tyrion's cleverness was on full display as he realized Tywin's role in The Red Wedding (and the inevitable scorn he'll receive from the North). His tenderness was on display too: It was nice to see Tyrion and Sansa get along for a few moments before her world came crashing down once more. It's also intriguing to see that Varys is now firmly in Camp Tyrion.
It hurts so good to see Arya take the next step towards becoming a ruthless, renegade badass. It wrenches at your soul to see the violence and trauma she’s had to endure, week after week, month after month. But it’s also a delight to see her bringing just deserts to the bum who desecrated Robb’s body.
Stark roll call: Three dead (Ned, Robb, Catelyn), one in King’s Landing (Sansa), one with the Hound (Arya), one beyond the wall (Bran), one with Osha (Rickon) and one at Castle Black (Jon). For the first time ever, I think, no Starks are together. This makes it all the more wonderful when Sam and Bran bump into each other – and all the more painful when Bran refuses to go see his half-brother. There wasn’t much to Bran’s plot this season, but I’m excited to see if his Three-Eyed Crow quest comes to something interesting.
I can’t believe the big lug made it. It seems like Sam is hardly the same person that he was when he left the wall months ago and he now has the secret that may save humanity. He was a hero on a small scale for Gilly, and maybe now he can a heron a big scale. Because Samwell Tarley is the hero that The Wall deserves…
...and Jon Snow is the hero it needs right now. He’s seen what the wildlings are up to. He’s walked with them and learned about their plans to march on the wall. And – assuming he survives these arrow wounds – maybe he can do something to rally and prepare a Night’s Watch that is leaderless. The scene where Ygritte shoots him was a bit of a heartbreaker – I wanted those lovebirds to make it – but also a powerfully filmed note to say goodbye to those two.
So, after weeks of not-so-subtly giving us Bolton treachery vibes, Theon’s torturer is revealed to be Roose-on-the-Loose’s son. It’s a shame that this plotline exhausted any interest I might have had in seeing Ramsay and Theon, as well as foreshadowing too heavily, because this revelation might have had some impact. Still, I enjoyed Ramsay’s sadistic sausage munching, and sending Theon’s sausage to his dad was a twisted, clever way to threaten the Greyjoys. I’ll remain tentatively optimistic at the prospect of a showdown between steely Yara and fucked-up Ramsay – though, if I know anything about this show, it will take her two and a half seasons to actually make it to Winterfell.
I wanted to give Davos an A for doing the noble, stupid thing of freeing Gendry. Ever since Ned Stark died, noble, stupid things have been in short supply in Westeros. But I did feel like the show muddled the Dragonstone scenes a little bit: Melisandre’s sharp turn towards sparing Davos and heading north felt abrupt for a stubborn character. He hasn’t had much to do this season, but I’ve enjoyed Davos’s emergence as a moral center for the show.
No cliffhanger of this episode made me more frustrated to see what’s next than the cutoff after Cersei first sees Jaime, a dozen emotions portrayed by the always-impressive Lena Hadley. But beyond that, I loved Cersei’s scene with Tyrion. It humanized her by allowing her to elaborate on her continued affection for Esteemed Little Shit Joffrey.
Let’s be honest: Last week was brutal. Hearts were broken (mine included) as one Stark after another was killed. But Game of Thrones is not a hopeless show. Every now and then there’s some example of power and goodness, of a world “nourished back to life by life alone.” And this week, it was Dany who gave us our glimpse of hope. Seeing her become Lincoln crossed with Jesus to a crowd of former slaves wasn’t quite dragons or snow zombies (previous season’s final shots), but it was a positive note to end the season on. It’s a reminder that ambition and good nature do sometimes cross paths. Now let’s hope that Dany can bring that that rare combination to Westeros (finally).
In other words, it feels most of the ingredients in this stew are only starting to simmer. I can’t wait to see where these characters head next, and the idea that we’re only halfway to the climax of some of these stories is pretty exciting. Good episode, fantastic season.
Extra credit and other thoughts:
- I find it ironic that Ygritte was sinking her arrows into Jon Snow. Heh.
- Why did the show keep Walder Frey offscreen for so long? Sure, he’s a shithead, but he’s the kind of curmudgeonly shithead that you like to watch.
- “Valar Morghulis” indeed. I’m loving how that phrase has embedded itself into the show. It has become the prism through which Arya views death and becomes hardened to it.
- There’s a dichotomy of actors on this show between those who are good, and those who really embody their character. Among the characters who have good, but somewhat indistinct, actors: Bran, Sansa, Melisandre, Robb, even Jon. There are a few characters whose actors absolutely embody their roles, though: Joffrey, Tyrion, Daenerys, Ygritte. As frustrating as Theon is, I absolutely love what Alfie Allen has done with the part he’s been written, and I happily count him in that second group.
- I love it when Hodor “Hodor”s. Kristian Nairn has great comic timing with each “Hodor.”
- The focus on Ser Jorah in the final scene was very striking, and Iain Glen nailed it as always. Part of the visual focus on Jorah probably has to do with his ties to slavery, part of it with his dreams of Dany liberating the Seven Kingdoms in a similar way, and part of it his growing awareness that he’s losing her – to Daario, to Essos, to the thrill of power.
- Varys scenes are always appreciated. I feel like he has risen the ranks of “most underutilized character” this season.
- “Can someone just kill him already?” was not quite as much a refrain this year as in past years, but – yes – my wife is still rooting for the murder of Joffrey.
- There was some great work in the editing room this week (though not as great as this season’s editing MVP, “Kissed By Fire.”) My two favorite cuts were from Bran talking about the Rat King betraying his dinner guests to a shot of Walder Frey, and Roose Bolton talking about his .
- Who broke the news to Sansa? Joffrey? That seems like a great, painful scene waiting to happen.
- Daario has done nothing to offend me, but his face seems more and more punchable with each episode.
- I’m not really sure how Ygritte snuck up on Jon Snow, or why there were no wildlings with her.
- Nine months until more Game of Thrones :(