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Game of Thrones: Season 3, Episode 10 Deconstructed

Posted by Stefan Sasse on Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Welcome to “It Is Known – Season 3 Deconstructed”! Every week, you will find my extensive review of the week’s episode of Game of Thrones

I will explore the narrative that the show weaves. And what a narrative indeed! The story is complex, the characters are manifold, the twists and turns unexpected. I will deconstruct the episodes piece by piece, moving from character to character. This is an unusual approach, I admit, and a bit cumbersome at times, but the show basically does the same. The episodes are just parts of one, epic story, and as parts we have to examine them if we hope to get everything that happens.

 

This Week's Episode: "Mhysa"

Can you believe this is the last Game of Thrones we will see for ten months? Man, that hurts. The only thing to do about it is, I guess, rewatch all seasons in a row or something. We also end this series of reviews with this issue, of course, and I hope you enjoyed them and took away something from them. For me, the most surprising – and also a little bit disturbing – thing in the writing process was that although I initially planned to keep it light on the book references, I really didn’t. I wasn’t able to stop comparing the two, but I consider it an achievement not to take the books as inviolable gospel. That being said, let’s delve back into the storylines. 

Sam and Gilly finally reach the area south of the Wall. We meet them climbing out a well in the ruined Nightfort, giving Bran and his group the creeps. Sam’s boast that he knows of a secret way proved to be right, and he proves again that he is clever when he immediately deducts whom he has in front of himself. The dialogue with Bran’s group was cleverly written, reminding us of the danger that the White Walkers present, establishing the knowledge of obsidian weaponry (with a cool equipment scene for the group) and having a callback to it later when Sam talks with Maester Aemon. The scene with Aemon was played for laughs at first, with the problem of Aemon not being able to see and suspecting Sam of fathering a child, but it takes a sudden turn into the pathos territory when Sam proves himself an able politician and delivers a speech about the necessity of fighting the White Walkers and Aemon commands him to write the letters. The only thing the scene was missing was a long establishing shot of signal fires being lit all over the ridge of the mountains between Gondor and Rohan. That was certainly the effect they wanted to evoke, and the music did the job well enough. I have the feeling that it just went a bit too smooth in this scene, with Maester Aemon jumping the bandwagon and Stannis later responding, but the show presumably simply doesn’t have the time to show how the message is ignored by pretty much everyone else and even lies around in Dragonstone for some time, so they had to settle for the pathos effect. It works, obviously, no two ways around it, but it takes the surprise of Stannis’ later intervention. Well, I’m curious to see how that’ll play out. 

With that, let’s go to Bran and his group. They reach the ruined Nightfort without exactly knowing how to find a way through the Wall, but Sam’s arrival rescues them from that, of course. Before Sam and Gilly come calling and offer them a spot in Castle Black’s orphan fund program, Bran gives us the much needed exposition about the holy status of guest right, and  boy, was that cut to Walder Frey efficient. The story of the Rat Cook gave me the creeps, although I knew it beforehand. Really, these scenes where they dwell into the lore of Westeros may be slow going at times, but I really relish them, and I hope many people will too on their second run with the series (don’t tell me you don’t plan watching it again). What didn’t really convince me was the tunnel they used to get to the other side. So, it’s simply a tunnel, and you can walk into the light? How has that thing been undiscovered for decades? I miss the Black Gate, somehow, despite how out of place it seemed in the books (where the tunnel can only be opened by a brother who’s sworn the vows). The final shot of the party walking towards the light was nice, though, really beautiful and emotional despite the lack of logic for a tunnel you could walk several raiding parties through. Since they now already went north, we can expect some invented material since in the books, Bran needs much longer to get there. 

With that, to Jon. In a scene that initially seems like a dream – I don’t know how, but Ygritte standing there all alone seemed surreal at first -, they depart for the final time. The scene teemed with emotion, and finally Kit Harrington got some real good stuff to use. Choking back tears, he told Ygritte that he had to “go home” and that he loved her at the same time. Ygritte never replied, but there was no need; Rose Leslie did all with the little emotions on her face. And then, she started shooting Jon. I’m not sure whether she didn’t kill him on purpose, really. But had he not fled, she would have killed him, I’m sure. This story can’t have a happy ending, but the resolution was pushed into season 4, so we will have to wait until then. The arrival in Castle Black was a bit surreal, too, by the way. It was very effective, however, that Pyp and Sam greeted him telling him that he was “home” now, calling back to his words to Ygritte. There’s some serious drama waiting down the road and some much needed background for Jon to grow up to. Now that season 3 has come to a close, it becomes even more obvious what a blunder season 2 was in regard to his storyline, because there’s much character development to catch up to. Luckily, Kit Harrington proved his critics wrong. Given the right material, he can act, and after the emotional stunts he pulled off this episode and the last, I’m confident that he will be able to rise to a more prominent role in the seasons to come, when the narrative focus shifts more to the Night’s Watch.

Game of Thrones Cersei

Theon, on the other hand, just keeps hanging there. Every doubt about whether he was “only” castrated (because Ramsay wielded a castrating knife in episode 8) or if his penis was completely removed should be out of the picture. And now, Theon isn’t just imagining this, as some analysts suspect. In my book, he really lost his dick. Obviously, Ramsay (I can finally call him that, yay!) isn’t contend. The real torture only starts in earnest now. When Theon begged him to kill him, he instead started the degrading process that will reduce Theon to “Reek”, a pitiful creature, not a man anymore. I’m excited to see what’ll happen when Roose Bolton returns north. 

Speaking of which, we see him twice this episode, once in the beginning, when he looks on the onslaught of Robb’s army (so much for your “dozen people at a wedding feast”, Tywin), and later, when he gives some much needed exposition on the whole northern politics we witnessed in these past episodes in bits and pieces. The first scene, which also features Sansa and the Hound leaving, has one of the most memorable images: Robb’s beheaded body with Grey Wind’s head sewn on. Even the Hound is shocked by this barbaric display of a total derailing of all decency and common behavior. Bolton and Frey play in a totally different league – Joffrey area, just without the stupid. This becomes apparent in the scene where Bolton talks to Frey about how Ramsay killed the Ironmen that surrendered Theon (surprise) and burned down Winterfell, all the while the smallfolk is mopping up the blood from the floor. A striking image if there ever was one, in an episode ripe with such imagery. Really great stuff here. 

Arya, in the meantime, is riding along with the Hound to – nowhere, really. They come across a group of Frey soldiers, boasting of doing the deed of sewing Grey Wind’s head to Robb’s body (in the mandatory sullen Frey tone), and Arya decides to kill them. This is the point where I have to gloat a bit: only a few days ago, people complained how a major piece of Arya’s character development – her stabbing the Tickler several times when she encounters him, therefore transforming her into a killer – was impossible in the show because the Tickler was killed by Jaqen H’ghar in season 2. I said “wait and see, they will find some other asshole for her to stab”. And here we are. I was right. Hah! The scene was done very efficiently, with Arya even using the coin that Jaqen gave her and invoking its presumed power, reminding us that “all men must die”.  

And then, the Iron Islands. Haven’t seen you in a while! In fact, it was season 2 when we last visited you, so seeing Balon and Yara (with a new haircut) was a nice surprise. They get Theon’s cock, which is a pretty clear message. (By the way, to those who claim that this makes “no sense” since Balon now won’t retreat and that Ramsay should have sent a finger like in the books – as if Balon would retreat. The guy planned to attack the North when they had Theon as a hostage, why should he stop now?) When Balon Greyjoy decided to sacrifice Theon in pure Tywin-Fry-Bolton-manner, Yara snaps and decides to take a commando force of Ironmen around Westeros and to the Dreadfort. The plan, as every battle plan in the show, doesn’t make a whole lot of sense (the Ironmen could carry their longboat faster to the Dreadfort than to sail into the Narrow Sea), but the scene is very effective. It also makes the Ironborn plot from the books utterly impossible, so we will tread completely new land here. I’m really excited about it.

On Dragonstone, Davos bonds with Gendry over the talk of Flea Bottom and decides to release him (in a rowboat!) before Stannis can burn him. He knows of course that this will doom him in front of Stannis, and Stannis reacts like one would expect. Without much ado, rattling off his titles, he condemns him to death. This is just the situation where Davos expects his new reading skills to pay off, as he found Sam’s letter from the Night’s Watch (ravens teleport as well as Littlefinger, I suppose). Stannis is immediately interested (it being his duty to defend the realm, after all), and Melisandre has that look of “fuck, something I missed completely” in her eyes. Great acting again from both of them, as they come to the same conclusion. If Davos hoped that his “you need me” line (that was utter bullshit anyway) swayed Stannis, he was mistaken, though, because Stannis made his decision, and the man is nothing but principled. Help arises from Melisandre, an irony that Stannis immediately points out: “You’re part of his army now.” Wow, that was chilling. And the whole scene shot against the setting sun was just such stark imagery (no pun intended) that it really was my favorite scene of the episode, looks-wise. 

Penultimate location: King’s Landing. Tyrion and Sansa seem to have found some common ground, and Sansa really warmed up to him, telling him a funny story about her family (you know, the one that was murdered last episode). Tyrion also seems to have eased up a bit in regards to Shae. But the fledgling harmony is disturbed by the news of the Red Wedding, and Joffrey acts the complete ass that he is in the council chamber. When he’s told to stop it with the outrageous insults, he goes all Prince Charming again telling Tyrion “everyone’s mine to torment” and then attacking Tywin for being a craven in Robert’s Rebellion. The same craven grandpa that just killed Robb Stark for you, boy. After everyone has left the unhappy meeting, Tywin tells Tyrion that he only didn’t drown him because he’s a Lannister, but he really, really would have liked to. You know, Tyrion, just in case you had any doubts about what your father thought of you. We only get a glimpse on what the devastating news do with Sansa. Let’s see how that’ll turn out in season 4. Varys in the meantime tries to buy off Shae in order to save Tyrion from his inner demons, but Shae, getting bitchy again and suspecting Tyrion behind it, refuses to take the diamonds. That’ll create some problems not far down the road, I’ll suspect, especially since Varys isn’t the type to give up if the other one isn’t playing nicely. By the way, where is Littlefinger? Have they send him off to the Vale finally officially? If yes, I missed it. 

And with that, we’re with Dany in the very last scene of the season. The doors of Yunkai open, the slaves pour out, all brownish skinned and poor and desolate, and the white princess Dany crowdsurfs a bit. I don’t know why, but the scene is strange. I had tears in my eyes when I watched it, because they play on the big emotions and do so well enough (pathos in music and imagery and all the people calling out to their savior), but the scene still feels odd somehow without me being able to put my finger on it. Now Dany has not only a host of Unsullied (as clearly seen in the closing shot) but also a mass of unwashed slaves. It’ll be interesting to see what she’ll do with them, but I’d guess HBO created a problem for themselves (or more precise, got it created by Martin’s source material): much of the dynamics of Dany’s interaction will revolve around this disparate mass of people, but the budgetary constraints of the show dictate that there won’t be many such scenes. I’m a bit doubtful as to whether they will be able to maintain the illusion of the rag-tag mass of people. Since the show failed in doing so with Drogo’s khalasaar and Robb’s army, I’m a bit skeptical. I’d guess the show-writers will find ways to work around it, but that’s the single biggest problem I see for season 4 so far. 

So, having seen the whole of season 3 now, what can we see? It surely was the best season so far, with most storylines really paying off spectacularly and none being a total mess like season 2’s treatment of Jon. Although getting stronger towards the end, Jon remains a weak link for most of the season. Sam, on the other hand, really proves to be an emotional anchor of the show and a much needed comic relief and works well in both capacities. Bran had little screen time, but it was used well to establish key principles (White Walkers, warging, etc.), and I guess his storyline will be expanded compared to the books. As a Bran-fan, I relish that notion. Theon will most likely be tortured some more and mainly serve as our window to the post-Stark northern politics, especially once Roose Bolton returns north. There’s no telling what exactly will happen with Arya, but I’m confident it will be interesting, and with that. No clue whether or not the Tullys will play a role hitherto, but I’d guess so. Bet on Jaime getting assigned to the Riverlands soon. The whole King’s Landing plot inevitably drives toward a conflict between Lannister and Tyrell, while there’s also no clue as to how the new Ironborn storyline or Stannis’ one will turn out. The same is true for Dany, who I guess will continue her liberation mission in Slaver’s Bay. 

Anyway, I’m excited to see more of the stuff they make. Season 4 can’t come early enough. 

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