I was fascinated to see how the showrunners would wrap up this season, especially given the intense public reaction to last episode’s Red Wedding. The answer is, they didn’t. Not really. What we got in the Season 3 finale felt more like a place holder than a proper finish. Some of the storylines were given a feeling of finality, or at least transformation, while others were being ramped up for Season 4. But all in all it was an unsatisfying ending that mostly served to just reposition everyone on the map.
See, this is the one place where I think splitting Book 3 over two seasons ended up hurting the series. Some people were downright infuriated by last week’s shocking ending, and feeling like the unceasing Stark misery was just too much to take. In the book, the Red Wedding happens midway through -- long enough so that readers still felt compelled to finish it, even if they hated that scene. And without spoiling it, the end of Book 3 gives readers some sweet, sweet vengeance as the comeuppance starts to get doled out to several characters. People only watching the show are left to feel that nothing but horror is on the horizon. And, well, that’s true. But the thing to remember is that horror is on the horizon for ALL of them, not just the “good guys.” I said a long time ago that I don’t believe anyone is going to survive this mess. I still think that’s going to be more true than not.
Anyway, let’s see where everyone ended up at the end of Season 3:
*We saw the aftermath of the Red Wedding, including Robb’s forces being decimated in slaughter and fire. The show also “went there” by actually showing the viewers his wolf’s head stuck on to his beheaded body. That kind of surprised me, but I realized that it was essential for Arya to see that image, so she knew her brother (and by extension, her mother) were really and truly dead. I know everyone is upset about the continued butchering of the Starks, but show-only fans need to understand two things. 1) From a narrative standpoint, all they’ve done is take out the “expected” leaders of the Stark clan -- the mother, father, and eldest son. What we have left are the bastard son, two daughters, and a severely disabled son. A big part of what Martin is doing with this series is exploring unlikely heroes in a medieval setting. How many straight, highborn, non-deformed men are the “heroes” at this point? 2) The Starks are actually not the main characters of this series. They’re the entry point, but they become less central as the plot moves along.
*Arya and The Hound got the hell out of the Twins and are currently wandering around the River Lands semi-aimlessly. Well, that’s not true. Arya sure has something on her mind: bloody revenge. She gets a taste of it after murdering a Frey lacky gloating about his hand in the wedding massacre, and once again shows us the coin given to her from Jhaqar Hagar. Suffice it to say, that will remain a significant plotpoint.
*News of the Red Wedding has spread to King’s Landing, where the Small Council is gathered and King Joffrey reacts with unbridled glee to the news that Robb Stark is dead. The scene serves mostly to underscore Joffrey’s psychopathic nature (he wants to serve Robb’s head to Sansa at his upcoming wedding to Margaery) and again to have him spar with Tyrion. The family squabble is ended by Tywin, who finds that even he is having difficulty keeping Joffrey under control at this point. Ultimately Tywin and Tyrion have a heart to heart about how Tywin’s maneuver to end the war (he was absolutely involved in planning the wedding massacre) will ultimately screw them all, because the North will never forget what just happened. Tywin isn’t terribly concerned, and instead takes the opportunity to inform his youngest son that he very nearly drowned him in the ocean on the day he was born. These family reunions are so touching!
*Speaking of reunions, Jaime Lannister finally returns to King’s Landing (with both Brienne and Qyburn in tow) to discover that nobody recognizes him, and to get a fairly…restrained welcome from his sister/lover/mother of his children. Lena Headey has really grown on me over the seasons. At first I was terribly underwhelmed by her portrayal of Cersei. But she’s gotten much better over the years, and I thought her scenes with Tyrion this season were excellent. So I was irked that this scene, which we’ve been building to literally all season, just landed with a thud. There are a lot of mixed emotions for both of those characters and all we got were two people looking at each other. Missed opportunity.
*In good (?) Lannister news, Sansa and Tyrion had a really sweet scene in which the newlyweds bonded over how to handle sniggering d-bags. That moment of peace was shortlived once Sansa discovered that her husband’s family had most of her remaining family members brutally murdered. But hey, that’s what happens when you have a crap dowry.
*Even more interesting was the scene between Varys and Shae, something that NEVER happens in the book. Neither of those characters are point-of-view characters, and this scene made me understand why. Part of why we love Varys is that you never really know whose side he’s on (except his own, of course). The mystique works for him. Here he openly sides with Tyrion, calling him one of the only people who stands a chance of righting King’s Landing, and he begs Shae to take a sack full of diamonds and leave since she is a “distraction” to Tyrion. Varys is, unfortunately, more right than he knows, and Shae’s pride demands that she tell him to go to hell. My guess is we’ll be seeing more of Shae’s point of view next season, and that’s unfortunate for reasons similar to Varys. The ambiguity of her upcoming actions is what makes them so interesting.
*The Theon Greyjoy Torture Hour returned, this time confirming what has thus far been left up for debate: his captor is indeed Ramsey Snow, the Bastard of Bolton. (The Boltons came out of nowhere this season to become the best bunch of murderous sociopaths in Westeros -- well done, boys!) After some completely unsubtle sausage innuendo through which we discovered that Theon is now technically a eunuch, Ramsey continued the psychological breaking of Theon by making Theon refer to himself by his new name: Reek. This is a significant departure from the book. Here Ramsey seems to come up with the name on the spot, as a reference to Theon being nothing but a pile of “stinking meat.” In the books, Reek is an established character who for a chunk of the series is actually Ramsey in disguise -- he goes all the way back to Book 2, possibly even the first one. There’s a whole backstory to it that is awful and disturbing. But I can’t imagine that jettisoning it will really hurt the ongoing Theon/Reek plotline.
*One of the better moments of the episode to me was using the Theon plot to solidify Yara (in the books called Asha) as a real point of view character in the series. Yara has been barely seen in Season 3, but after getting the Westeros equivalent of the SNL “Dick in a Box” skit (Step 1: Cut off Theon’s junk; Step 2: Put it in a box; Step 3: Send it to the Iron Isles) she informs her father to stuff it and takes a boat full of pirates to get back her brother. Yara/Asha is a great character, and it’s her story that makes the Iron Islands stuff even worth caring about. I was surprised to see that there was not another significant development in the Greyjoy family, but I guess they’re saving all that for Season 4.
*Jon Snow’s dumb ass got caught by Ygritte, and after Jon whined to her like a baby (“I’ve got to go home!”) and said that he knew she would never hurt him, Ygritte proved that Jon really DOES know nothing by shooting him with at least three arrows. This is another scene that was exclusive to the show -- Jon was seriously injured when escaping the Wilding group -- and the thing that makes no sense is that Ygritte found him, but the rest of the Wildlings were nowhere to be found. I can’t imagine that JormundGiantsbane just let her run off for some bucolic couples therapy.
*Jon’s brother Bran finally made it to The Wall with his motley crew, and stayed the night in the Nightfort. He told The Reeds and Hodor the tale of the Rat Cook, which may seem pointless, but stressed to the viewer just how huge a deal the Frey betrayal was in the eyes of the Westerosi gods. It also served to spook the kids just as Sam and Gilly climbed up a well into the Nightfort. Information about White Walkers was exchanged, dragonglass daggers and arrowheads were given (so apparently Sam had the whole damn sack he found at the Fist of the First Men), and then Sam showed Bran and the bunch the “secret way” out of the Nightfort. Which…did not look secret at all. It look like just a regular passageway. In the books I feel like this section was way cooler, involving a magic passage, a weirwood door, and spells that warded off nonhuman creatures. Which becomes very important in Bran’s story pretty much immediately…
*Finally we wrapped up, as we seemingly always do, with Daenerys. The Mother of Dragons became a mother once again, this time to thousands of Yunkish slaves who spilled out of the city to greet their emancipator. It was a nicely filmed scene that again showcased the leader Dany has become. It grew to a “moment” with the dragons flying and Dany being raised up by her new “children,” chanting “Mysah,” which means “mother.” I hope Dany enjoyed her time at Medieval Lolapalooza, because everything pretty much goes to hell for her from here. One thing the show didn’t mention: I believe all of these new non-slaves that have joined her are primarily whores and domestics who have no practical application in her army. And that’s a LOT of new mouths to feed. So like all single mothers, Dany is in for a very challenging road. But at least she has her dragons. Nothing could go wrong there, right?
And that does it for Season 3. It ended not with a bang, but with crowdsurfing. There were any number of cliffhangers they could have gone with, and they chose none of the above. An interesting approach. Will it be enough to keep people coming back for more? I hope so. While the Red Wedding is probably the most shocking moment in all the books yet published, there are plenty more “Oh, Shit!” scenes yet to come. And my hope is that the show will vastly improve on the sloppy, slow-moving plots of Books 4 and 5. But first let’s get through the rest of Book 3. There’s another wedding on the horizon…