***WARNING CONTAINS SPOILERS OF GAME OF THRONES SEASON 3 EPISODE 10 ‘MHYSA’***
After the hysterics of last week Game of Thrones settled into a more considered tone for the last installment of season three. ‘Mhysa’ was a rather underwhelming conclusion to an inconsistent season of Game of Thrones. While it would be impossible to top the gluttony of violence that pervaded last episodes, the finale fell short on many other counts. We were neither presented with the tying up of loose plot lines, definitive character development or the establishment of new points of friction between characters of parties.
Encompassing approximately half to two-thirds of the source novel, A Storm of Swords, this season ended with little sense of finality, but rather represented a pause in action. While I did not expect to see any of the more prominent events of the latter stages of the book included, I was surprised that there was little foregrounding as to what will occur next season.
Many of the events that did transpire were not portrayed in way that would give them sufficient weight in the overall context of the story. One case in point: Jon Snow and Samwell Tarly arrive back at Castle Black. They were sent out on a mission to find out what was happening Beyond-the-Wall. As far as we know, out of that entire expedition to leave Castle Black they are the only people who have returned. Both have unique knowledge of the immanent invasion of a) a gigantic army of wildlings attacking from both the north and south and b) a gigantic army of White Walkers and their zombies. After spending the entirety of the season risking death to get back and warn everyone there is absolutely no sense of importance placed upon their delivery of this vital information.
While the occurrences on Dragonstone this season have not made for the most thrilling moments of television, Davos succeeding in focusing Stannis’ attention beyond the battle for the Iron Throne and towards the North is a promising development.
Melisandre’s desire to sacrifice Gendry has not been the most glamorous storyline, but it did offer the most i
nteresting examination of the ethics of war and the formation of power.While Davos’ saving Gendry can be read purely as a battle between good and evil, it is also a statement about what a society and its leaders should fight to uphold. If you have to commit atrocities to overthrow a despotic ruler, are you really making an improvement? This subtle change in focus diverts Stannis’ focus from defeating his enemies, employing whatever means is at his disposal, to fulfilling his duty as a king and protecting the realm.
Any man who must say ‘I am the king’ is no true king
As Tywin notes of the fall of Robb Stark and his admonishment of Joffrey, the king is not necessarily the most powerful person in the land. We have to ask then from where does power from?
The chilling murder of Robb Stark last week was followed by the desecration of his body, fusing it with his direwolf in a ghastly parade. The identity of Theon’s torturer is finally revealed as Ramsey Snow, the bastard son of Robb Stark’s murderer Roose Bolton. Keen observers may have remembered Bolton ordering his son to treat with Theon at Winterfell last season, or have noticed the striking similarity to Bolton’s sigil with the torture device used upon Theon. Bolton further explains in his discussions with Walder Frey that Ramsey in fact flayed Theon’s entire crew of Ironborn before burning Winterfell to the ground. A new villainous piece has certainly been added to the game.
The different relationships of parents and their children is also explored throughout this episode. Tywin muses how he initially wanted to drown his son Tyrion in the ocean, Cersei remembers how in her darkest, loneliest days it was the comfort of a baby Joffrey which saved her and Balon Greyjoy denounces Theon as no longer capable of being his son. Theon’s sister Yara took a course of action which will have foreseeable ramifications in the next season, something inherently rare in this season finale, setting off to save Theon from the clutches of Ramsey.
It is interesting that the while the male characters are more concerned with the continuance of the family line and their house’s reputation, the females are more prone to viewing these relationships through a prism of love and companionship.
Not all of these are strictly book canon, yet I think that it is interesting to have this in mind when assessing Daenerys’s appearance in this episode. Her arc is interesting to trace over the course of the season, from begging for help in Qarth with few supporters to a fearless conqueror, backed by warriors and now a beloved liberator of slaves.
Without the insights provided by internal monologues it is often hard to ascertain the importance of scenes for a character. I think this is most aptly demonstrated in this final scene. Daenerys is haunted by her first pregnancy and the death of Khal Drogo at the hands of the magi back in season one. She believed she was helping her but ended up losing everything and to add insult to injury, the magi cursed her so she would never again be able to give birth. Her maternal instincts are henceforth accompanied by a recognized sense of guilt, dread and loss.
The hatching of her dragons gives her a new meaning and target for her motherly instincts and the conflict between the two is interestingly explored in season two’s finale. Upon entering the House of the Undying in Qarth she is forced to choose whether to live in a happy fantasy with the husband and son she sacrificed so much for or save her dragons.
This is compounded by her life history of never having a family or anywhere to call home. She spent most of her life wandering from city to city begging for help. Everyone but her brother was killed in the rebellion to overthrow her father, while he turned out to be a sadistic egomaniac. Despite all of this, we see that her motivations are not driven by a lust for power but as much by an empathetic desire to help others. Even after her betrayal by the magi, she is still concerned enough for the well-being of the slaves of Yunkai to forgo free passage to Westeros in order to liberate the city.
This final scene should represent the culmination of much of her desires and empathetic motivations repaid handsomely with the adoration of thousands. However, in my opinion this final scene was rather poorly executed. The emotional weight of thousands of people smothering here with gratitude and calling out to her doomed loss of motherhood carries little resonance. Instead it is presented, despite her protests, as the lofty savior stooping down to help the masses of the unfortunate. The problem becomes is that we view the relationship between Daenerys and her people as purely one way relationship where she saves everyone. Rather we should also remember (and in the context of Cersei’s story) that all of these people are surrogates for her the children and in many ways are sating her desire for family, love and children of her own.
It is perhaps revealing that this article is primarily focused on drawing out themes that are not particularly prominent in this episode. This season has produced some of the best moments of Game of Thrones so far, yet also some of the weakest. Until the series succeeds in revealing the characters underlying emotions, their motivations and the thematic concerns of the series as a whole, it will continue to fall slightly short of its potential.