"Game Of Thrones" - "Mhysa": Sometimes Hate Is Not Enough To Turn This All To Ashes
We start, of course, where we ended the last episode. In the aftermath of the nightmare we now know as the Red Wedding, The Twins is a land of nightmares, a barren horror show that is perfectly reflective of its twisted master. Beatings, hangings, and dismemberment are all shown in gruesome detail, just in case you might have forgotten the events of last week, a terrible reminder that House Stark now lies bloodied and broken. And in the midst of it all, Roose Bolton and Walder Frey enjoy the fruits of their treachery. The brief exchange between them is one of the show's most chilling pairings -- two men utterly without conscience, one a vile and sneering beast who revels in suffering, the other a cold, calculating sociopath and newly minted Warden of the North.
It is there, in the halls of Walder Frey, that we finally learn the identity of Theon Greyjoy's torturer, the psychotic Ramsey Snow, bastard son of Roose Bolton. Ramsey appears to have a bottomless capacity for depravity, and credit must indeed be given to the unflinching performance of Iwan Rheon. If Roose Bolton is a man without conscience, Ramsey is what happens if any semblance of humanity or self-restraint is removed from that terrifying idea. His calm, jovial manner while eating sausage in front of the man he has just literally emasculated was almost too vulgar and stomach-turning to bear. Yet equally chilling is his capacity to flip the switch into rage, beating Theon relentlessly until, at last, Theon is gone and only the bloodied shell of a man now known as Reek remains.
Yet it's not all victory celebrations and scheming back at The Twins. In one of the more powerful moments (and one of the most impressive acting performances), we see the devastated Arya Stark, near-catatonic after witnessing not only the slaughter of her bannermen, but at also the grisly mockery of her brother created by the warped soldiers of the Frey army, yet one more atrocity that Arya is forced to endure. If you were wondering how much the poor girl could take, you now have your answer, as Arya played the part of the poor, hungry child to a T... before furiously stabbing a man to death (a fate well-deserved), as The Hound rips through his comrades without even blinking. It is there that we see that Arya is hardening and growing more and more feral, and once again we are reminded that one of the most dangerous people in the seven kingdoms may well be that young girl who is now miles away from innocent.
Speaking of miles from innocence, one of the more curious exchanges took place in King's Landing, between Shae and Varys. It was another masterful performance from Conleth Hill, a man who I could watch read the dictionary just for the breathy, poetically measured cadence of his speech. Yet it was also -- at least at the onset -- the rare solid scene from Sibel Kekilli, perhaps the most uneven actor in the cast. It's scenes like these, however, where one sees that it's in part the fault of the writers, who never quite seem to know what they want from her. As a result, a reasonably engaging performance is once again reduced to the petty spite of a petulant child at the end, creating a stark contrast to the always-riveting noblesse oblige of Varys, perhaps the most honorable man in all the kingdoms -- even if he doesn't always want people to know it.
There were also a series of unlikely and refreshingly sympathetic moments. Sure, there was the now-commonplace twisted, mad-dog viciousness of Joffrey as he promises to grant Sansa that most demented wedding gift (and is then gloriously put in his screeching, sullen place by both Tyrion and Tywin). Yet there was also Tyrion and Sansa and a surprisingly sweet new friendship born out of their shared misfortune, a moment that was both tender as well as a gentle bit of fun. But more surprising was the quiet little encounter between Cersei and Tyrion. Those vignettes with Dinklage and Lena Headey are notoriously underrated, and I feel that she consistently shows her best work when pitted against Dinklage. It's one of the rare moments where I found Cersei to be a sympathetic character, a mother who feels like the warped reflection of Catelyn Stark, someone so devoted to her children that one must think her blind. Yet she is in no way blind to the darkness that stains Joffrey's soul, yet she loves him in spite of it. And even though she knows that that son that she loves so much will bring nothing but suffering and strife to the family. The notion of family is a nebulous, murky thing when it comes to the Lannisters -- their loyalty is almost terrifying, even if it sometimes has little to do with love (in the case of Tywin)... and yet when they do love, they do it both fiercely and tenderly, however bent and unsavory it may be (as Jaime and Cersei are finally reunited).
The bonds of family are further explored in some of the smaller moments in the episode. They aren't quite as strong over in the Iron Islands, where Baelon and Yara Greyjoy receive the ghastly package that creates a whole new conflict. Baelon, always disdainful of his son, is ready to abandon him, just as Yara, ever the faithful daughter, will abandon her father to save poor Theon. And so, Yara is brought back into our world, a likely blood-soaked course set with an army born of vengeance at her back. I genuinely missed Gemma Whelan, and I confess I'm happy to see her back.
As for what's left of the Starks, I suppose we should talk about Bran and the Reeds, though I wish we didn't have to. Once again, their storyline fails to resonate, feeling more like an afterthought. Despite the mysticism of it all -- or perhaps because of it, there's simply no meat to the story. Each character is performing capably enough, and Bran's ghost story is certainly a chilling and ominous one -- you can't help but garner some grim, if hollow joy from the hope brought about by the idea of the gods unforgiving view on those who break the rules of hospitality. But the meeting with Sam and Gilly was as ridiculously rife with coincidence as it was ultimately banal and unfulfilling, even with Sam's gifts (though now we can thankfully put to rest the relentless blaming of Sam for leaving the Dragonglass dagger behind, something that the writers botched back
in episode 8).
In the end though, as is frequently the case, sometimes the most powerful bonds are those not born from blood. Davos is the perfect example of this, a man whose loyalty has repeatedly brought him into conflict with his king, yethe continues to do the right thing in spite of it. After a charming couple of scenes with Gendry -- one where he establishes his Flea Bottom bona fides, and the second where he frees him -- Davos is once again brought before the ire of his king. But it's all ultimately secondary, as Stannis and Melisandre are suddenly and abruptly confronted with the truth -- that the real war has nothing to do with who is king, and everything to do with what comes from beyond the Wall. Death marches towards them, and so Davos's life is once more spared, though this time that reprieve comes from the unlikeliest of sources.
As for the Wall itself, we must return to Jon and what were perhaps his final moments with Ygritte. For the first time, their love actually felt like the true and genuine, and their tearful, heartfelt exchange felt real, even if the romance itself came too fast to quite work for most viewers. Yet here, at this moment, it felt right, and Rose Leslie's face was a study in sadness and devotion... right up until she shot him full of arrows. And it's like that -- bloodied, dressed in the garb of their enemies, riddled with their arrows, that Jon Snow finally returns home to the only family that he's ever felt comfortable with. In that frozen wasteland, Jon finally returns to his Brothers.
But it's in Yunkai, thousands of miles away, that we see how a family can be created in yet another way. It's there that we see Daenerys Stormborn, in the face of the teeming masses of freed slaves, showing that she may well be the one who truly understands what freedom is. That final moment of the show, with her surrounded by a legion of hungry and desperate ex-slaves, with an army behind her and dragons swirling above her, was a perfect final note. The Mother of Dragons is so much more than that -- she is a queen and a mother and a savior, one of the few to truly have a worthy purpose in this dark and terrifying world.
And that is where we must leave them all. It was a show that crammed a great many stories into an all-too brief 65-odd minutes, yet for the most part, it was done skillfully. The parts that didn't work haven't worked historically (Shae, Bran), but the rest of it was a fond, if sad farewell to this world. Winter is still coming, and its march is getting louder and more terrifying. The night is indeed dark and full of terrors, and those that stand against it do so in the midst of a world of war and suffering and death. But as they say... Valar Morghulis.
See you next season.