NO. NO. NO.
It’s not over. It’s not.
You remember how people reacted with horrified shock when Robb was killed last week at the Red Wedding, but you and I were all smug because we’d read the books? Well, now I know what it’s like. Now I’m hurtling through the Kubler-Ross stages of grief.
Denial: SEE ABOVE.
Anger: This is BULLSHIT. Write faster, GRRM. Make more than 10 episodes, HBO.
Bargaining: Look, why not just give us a bonus episode next week where we just watch Daenerys play frisbee with the dragons or teach them to do tricks? Or, hey, how about 200 pages of the next book to tide us over for when it’s released in 2026?
Depression: THAT’S RIGHT, GEORGE RR MARTIN, I SAID 2026, YOU SLOW-WRITING SNOW (by which I mean ‘bastard,’ get it??). WHAT DO YOU USE FOR INK? MOLASSES? DO YOUR MIDDLE INITIALS STAND FOR ‘RAILROAD’ BECAUSE YOU PRODUCE BOOKS WITH THE SAME EFFICIENCY THAT AMTRAK CONVEYS PASSENGERS BY RAIL?
Oh wait, that was just anger again, not depression. And I’m not definitely not going to mess around with acceptance, so let’s just stop there.
In all seriousness, I thought the season finale, “Mhysa,” delivered the goods within the context of a show that saves its biggest moments for the second-to-last episode of the year. We followed the same formula this time around, right down to ending the season with Daenerys, and it makes sense; you need to set the table for the next season and keep people interested, so the real fireworks—Ned Stark’s death, Battle of the Blackwater, the Red Wedding—have to come an episode before. Otherwise, especially after last week, some of the reactionary Internet psychos might make good on their promise to quit the show.
Whereas now? Sorry, but with everything that’s developing in Westeros, there’s no way you could watch this episode and feel anything but extreme anticipation for Season Four.
I’m not an expert in Game of Thrones statistics—or “Westermetrics,” as the nerds call it—but I would hazard a guess that we visited more locations in “Mhysa” than any prior episode. There’s very little that they missed, from the Wall to Yunkai, and here’s a short list of plots the writers teed up for us along the way:
• Arya becoming a vengeful carotid-artery-stabbing assassin
• Bran going full warg beyond the wall. Can you warg a White Walker?
• What’s up with Jon Snow? Does he live? Where does Ygritte go from here?
• Stannis is heading north, y’all! (Also, Davos is the ultimate survivor. Dude cannot be killed.)
• Gendry rowing a boat. I hope this lasts at least three seasons.
• Roose Bolton and Walder Frey launching a hilarious “Odd Couple” style spinoff
• Yara Greyjoy is attacking the Dreadfort with 50 people (not great strategists, the Ironborn)
• Balon Greyjoy contending for the coveted “Westeros Father of the Year” award
• Daenerys trying to feed 5 million ex-slaves who think she’s their mother
• Jamie and Cersei trying to navigate sibling sex with only three hands between them
• Tywin and Joffrey’s fun feud, and Joffrey’s continued belief that he’s not a produce of incest
• Tyrion trying to find a polite way to have sex with Sansa, who seems super not into it
• Shae sticking around Westeros to be a total pain
• Grand Maester Pycelle being the grossest kiss-up in the seven kingdoms
• Lord Varys emerging as someone who legitimately does care about Westeros AND…
• Thereby distinguishing himself, at last, from the selfish machinations of Littlefinger
• Ramsay Snow finding new ways to torture Reek, and then sending his body parts to his dad
By the way, were you at all puzzled by Theon’s resistance to being called “Reek”? Like, after everything Ramsay has done to him, wouldn’t you think he’d be thrilled if that day’s torture was just being called Reek? Here’s how my dialogue would have gone in that situation:
Ramsay: Your new name is Reek!
Me: Wait, that’s today’s horrible thing? A new name? You want to call me Reek? Wow, I uh… yeah, I’m on board. Count me in. I’m Reek. To be honest, I’m pretty thrilled that you’re not going to cut off another body part or let me fake escape or eat sausages in front of me. What would you say to just focusing on the name stuff for a while? Like, maybe tomorrow you come in with something worse than Reek, and the names just get progressively more insulting? Because to be honest, I think you could do better than Reek. Maybe reference my missing penis? I don’t know, but—[Ramsay punches me in the face]
So, I’m all over the place in this recap, but then again so was this episode. The highlights, as usual, came from the show’s ability to make great pairings. I’m thinking about Sandor Clegane asking Arya where she got the knife, and the great reply: “From you.” I’m thinking about Tyrion telling his father that the Northerners will never forget the Red Wedding, and Tywin being glad about it. Cersei’s monologue about jolly Joffrey the toddler might have been a bit heavy-handed, but there’s still something dynamic about her and Tyrion existing in the same room. And the funniest line of the whole episode was also the darkest:
Joffrey: I’m going to serve it [Robb’s head] to Sansas at my wedding feast.
Varys: Your grace, Lady Sansa is your aunt by marriage.
Cersei: A joke. Joffrey did not mean it.
Joffrey: Yes I did. I’m going to have it served to Sansa at my wedding feast.
The way Jack Gleeson delivers the last line, as though he’s puzzled why anyone thinks it’s a joke or why the act itself might be inappropriate, is a rare bit of comic relief from the character. I think we all hate Joffrey so much that we don’t stop to consider how amazing Gleeson is in the role. So underrated.
And I have to mention Ygritte. I always thought her shooting Jon was a brilliant plot turn in the books, because Ygritte is not a victim. She’s too proud to be powerless for long, and you just knew she had to loose those arrows. Still, she might have seen the whole thing coming. She knew where his loyalties lay even before they scaled the wall. As more than a few twitter geniuses crassly noted, “Crows before hoes.”
Last thought: After the Red Wedding, how many non-book-readers do you think were watching Daenerys be passed around by the Yunkai slaves and thinking, “Oh my God, it’s happening again! They’re going to kill her!”
I’ll leave you with that for now, and await your reply. In the meantime, I’ll be sitting here cycling between anger and bargaining and denial.
Dear Shane [pauses to cook my kids’ breakfast],
The first thing I did [pauses to walk the dog] before watching the show last night [pauses to check on the progress of the zucchini in the garden] was see how long the episode was [pauses to double-check that it was 63 minutes].
Sorry, just trying to see what it’d be like to write like George R.R. Martin. I’m not sure I can keep that up for 10,000 pages.
Seriously, though, don’t be surprised when I start writing you random emails every Sunday night and Monday morning for the rest of the summer. Withdrawal is a bitch.
Let the accusations of “fanboy” continue, as I thought this was a fantastic conclusion to the series’ best season so far. HBO seems to be in it for the long haul, allowing for a slow build-up to the Red Wedding, and saving many of the third book’s big moments for Season Four.
I think the finale must have also marked the last good night’s sleep The Hound will get in the presence of Arya. I watched the first season before reading the books, and one of the things that I first loved about the series was that, despite the fact that it takes place in the most patriarchal of societies, it was filled with strong women. We’ve seen the transformation of Arya from helpless tomboy to frightened orphan to avenger of Robb, and of Daenerys from child bride to mother of dragons to revolutionary emancipator. We’ve met savvy strategists like Olenna Redwyne and Margaery Tyrell, and warriors like Brienne of Tarth and now Yara Greyjoy, fighting for worthy causes when the men around them are content to fight for selfish gain. For a show that wasn’t supposed to attract female viewers, it’s given us plenty of women to root for, along with a few powerful female villains—and, of course, the complicated Ygritte who’s a little bit of both. Plus, last night, both Yara and Arya proved themselves to be complete badasses.
The heroes of Martin’s creation are often those with the most going against them. That was never more apparent than the meeting at the Nightfort between fat, cowardly Sam, accompanied by one of Craster’s poor daughters and her baby/sister, and Bran, the crippled heir to Winterfell, helped by a mentally challenged oaf and a couple more kids. When Jojen Reed tells Sam that the men of the Nightwatch won’t be able to hold back the army of White Walkers, Bran indicates that his motley crew comprises their only hope.
Among the Lannisters, it’s only the Imp—as Lord Varys (good guy!) says—who might offer some kind of healing for Westeros, until Jaime loses a hand and finds some sense of honor. On Dragonstone, the moral center is provided by The Onion Knight, a lowborn smuggler missing some fingers. And on the wall, we have a bastard starcrossed lover poked full of arrows.
We’ve lost our share of characters this season, but those of you freaking out can come back down off The Wall and remember that so many of the best ones are left. And the road ahead of them is a long one.
By the way, is Westermetrics real? Maybe I’m not a real fanboy after all.
P.S. – Daenerys Stormborn, The Unburnt, Mother of Dragons, Inventor of Crowdsurfing
Nice GRRM impression, but you forgot stop midway through you email to make guest appearances on all the late-night talk shows and to give interviews to any magazine that asks.
On a serious note, you captured something in that last email that I’ve been trying to put into words for a while—the sense that it’s going to be down to the tired, the poor, and the powerless to bring down the White Walkers and unite Westeros. It was a shock to everyone’s system when Ned and Robb Stark died, but the people who pegged GRRM as a literary anarchist have it all wrong. There’s a method to his madness, and as you pointed out, there are certain characters who begin without power or prestige that are going to determine where this story goes. Or, alternatively, they began with power and prestige but were brought low. When we met Daenerys, she was being bullied around by her creepy, obsessed brother. Arya was the girl who couldn’t accept her gender and was at least a little embarrassing to her mother. Tyrion was the imp, the subject of mockery and shame. Jon Snow was the bastard who couldn’t sit at the Stark table at the Winterfell feast. Sam was the son who embarrassed his father. Davos was the lowborn smuggler. And then the humbled: Jaime loses a hand, Bran gets crippled. And hell, even Theon; why would GRRM keep him around if he didn’t have some part to play?
That’s why I got a little angry last week when people ranted and cursed at HBO and the author for breaking their hearts and toying with their emotions. To get all uppity for a moment, those people don’t deserve this show, or these books. The writers are doing something revolutionary here, which is to sow the same kind of tension we feel in real life, when death can come at any moment and there’s no deus-ex-machina to ensure that only the bad guys die. If you came into GoT, witnessed its unique style and excellent story, and then still demanded that the plot follow the predictable tropes of every other show you’ve ever watched, well…like I said, you shouldn’t be asking if GRRM is living up to your standards, but whether you’re living up to his.
That being said, this is still a story. And while none of the characters mentioned above are immune from death, anyone who has immersed themselves in the rhythms of the story knows that they have a role in whatever comes next, and are not as dispensable as Robb or Ned.
Okay, self-righteous rant over. Let me say that I welcome all the Monday emails to come, and also that no, unfortunately Westermetrics is not real. Until we make it so, Josh. Until we make it so.
Let me leave you with this question: As much as we hate Joffrey, did you, like me, kind of love this scene:
Tywin: Any man who must say “I am the king” is no true king. I’ll make sure you understand that when I’ve won your war for you.
Joffrey: My father won the real war! He killed Prince Rhaegar, he took the crown! While you hid under Casterley Rock!
I almost pumped my fist at that, and then felt an immense wave of guilt for feeling any positive association with Joffrey. But come on, that was a sick burn, right? Nobody ever brings Tywin low, and it’s true; he waited to see how the war would play out before rushing to Robert’s side at the very end. It was nice to see the look of shock on the Lion’s face, even if it was only temporary. Are you with me, or am I going to the dark side here?
Anytime Tywin and Joffrey want to go at each other, I’ll happily watch. It’s like rooting for an ugly, error-prone game between Florida and Auburn (or in your case, Duke-NC State?). The flipside of all these strong women with humble beginnings are the heartless patriarchs who care more about their family name than their actual families—Tywin revealing he wanted to drown Tyrion in the sea, Balon Greyjoy giving up on Theon when he realizes he won’t be bearing any sons, Walder Frey coldly sacrificing his young bride. He’s given us a traditional patriarchy only to critique it.
Also, I just realized who was missing last night: Petyr Baelish. I can just imagine Aidan Gillen getting that week’s callsheet. “What do you mean the entire cast but me? Fine, if you change your mind, I’ll be fishing with Hot Pie.”
I guess I have slightly more sympathy for those heartbroken by The Red Wedding, but anyone who abandons the show now can go back to watching police procedurals where the world recents every week. Also, don’t watch The Wire or Dexter. Or M*A*S*H. Yes, GRRM has killed off some of the good guys, but when you have something like 15 significant protagonists, doing so only raises the stakes for whatever hope of justice remains. (And not even Ned approached the heartbreak I felt for a certain kid buried in the vacants.)
Since this is our last Game of Thrones exchange, how about ending some Westermetrics. The Suffering Quotient of Living Characters Who’ve Endured the Worst So Far. Here’s hoping better days are ahead for:
5. The Onion Knight – Saw his son die in the Battle of the Blackwater before he himself was stranded on unforgiving isle of rocks. Imprisoned, sentenced to death. At least he can now read. SQOLCWETWSF = 6.2
4. Jon Snow – Sent to The Wall, captured by wildlings, turned into a pin cushion by the woman he loves. SQOLCWETWSF = 7.9
3. Sansa Stark – Betrothed to her father’s murderer, the psychopath of a king who wants to serve her his brother’s head at his wedding. After getting her hopes up that she’d wed the handsome Loras Tyrell, she’s now married to The Imp. SQOLCWETWSF = 8.4
2. Arya Stark – She’s now seen her father beheaded and her brother’s body paraded around with his direwolf’s head attached. She’s been a captive three times over. SQOLCWETWSF = 9.4
1. Theon Greyjoy – When he betrayed the Starks and murdered the two young farmhands, you thought this guy deserves to be tortured and castrated. Until you watched him tortured and castrated. SQOLCWETWSF = 11
Whose misery am I missing?
Great list. I think you came close to nailing it, so I’ll round out the misery rankings with 10-6. I’ll let you decide if my #6 deserves a spot in the Top Five:
10. Joffrey - Had to go to bed when he wasn’t even tired. SQOLCWETWSF = 13.2
Just kidding. Here we go:
10. Shireen Baratheon – The Westeros version of leprosy should earn our sympathy, right? SQOLCWETWSF = 5.0
9. Lord Varys – Call me a hopeless soft-heart if you will, but I have sympathy for anyone who was castrated after being sold into child slavery. SQOLCWETWSF = 5.6
8. Jaime Lannister – lost a hand, and had Westeros’ most massive ego shattered SQOLCWETWSF = 5.7
7. Tyrion Lannister – The usual issues with being an imp, plus his whole family blaming him for killing his mother, the knowledge that only a sense of family duty kept his dad from murdering him as a baby, having to watch your first wife have sex with a group of guards because your dad wants to teach you a lesson, and then being humiliated by your nephew on your second wedding day. SQOLCWETWSF = 6.1
6. Bran Stark – He seems to be a really resilient young lad, but that doesn’t change the fact that he was crippled. Especially tough since he was such an active kid, riding and climbing and cavorting in Winterfell. Plus he has to contend with the usual Stark tragedies. SQOLCWETWSF = ???
One last interesting point about yesterday’s episode—a friend of mine noted that the closing scene with Dany might have been brutal from a historical/political/symbolic perspective, but leaving that aside, I had a thought that it was maybe on the corny side. And now we have an Esquire article making the rounds calling Dany the worst character on the show. Is the world suddenly turning on the Mother of Dragons here??? If so, we have to stop it somehow. I’m curious to get your quick take on this potential disaster.
I can’t believe our epistolary adventure is ending, Josh. It’s been a pleasure, and hopefully we can do this again soon. Until then…
Please Don’t Die, George RR Martin.
I did think there was some crappy CGI there at the end with the perfect concentric circles stemming from all the Mother worship. But to jump from that to “worst character?” May Daario take revenge on such crazy talk from Esquire. Of course, you and I are coming from the perspective of those who’ve read ahead and might dismiss most of the points he makes.
I’d have put Bran higher on my list—yes, he loved to run and climb and now he can’t walk. But he can control animals with his mind. He can run faster as a direwolf than he could as a kid. That’s a hell of a consolation prize. SQOLCWETWSF = 5.8. Of course, he’s about to travel north of The Wall, so his SQ is subject to change.
Until next season, anyone know of any good fan fiction? Game of Thrones LARP clubs? Okay, I haven’t sunk that low yet, but I need something to tide me over until Breaking Bad returns on Aug. 11.