Written by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Directed by David Nutter
This episode, as is appropriate for a season finale, has a lot of journeys that are ending. It also has a lot of fallout from the Red Wedding, which is only to be expected.
Bran, Hodor, Jojen, and Meera have reached the Nightfort. This is the site of a lot of really awful stuff, but the show only has time for one of them—the most relevant at the moment, the story of the Rat Cook. Bran tells the story: the cook at the Nightfort felt slighted or wronged by the King of Westeros, and when the prince came for a visit, the cook killed him and served him in a pie to the king. The gods cursed him for breaking guest-right—“That’s something the gods can’t forgive”—by turning him into a giant rat. This foreshadows Arya’s punishment of Walder in the show, but in the books it has a much subtler echo in Lord Manderly’s visit to Winterfell. So of course everyone’s on edge when Sam and Gilly come up the well from the hidden door under the Wall in the middle of the night. I have to say, I think the director missed the humor in this scene entirely, which is a clear homage to the Mines of Moria and “The Bridge of Khazad-dûm” when Pippin drops a stone down the well and alerts the orcs (and, ultimately, the Balrog). In the books, Hodor throws stones down the well and “Hodor”s down it, and Bran tells him to stop with this sense of dread of what he might have awakened. Martin builds the dread when noises start coming from the well, and this huge black thing looms up, and then Meera catches it in her net and it falls over and it’s Sam. It’s a really hilarious moment that the director didn’t quite manage to catch.
While one phase of Bran’s journey is over, his next is starting. He convinces Sam that he really needs to go north rather than joining him and Jon at Castle Black. Jojen has decided that Bran is the savior of mankind for some reason (I honestly don’t know how they got to this conclusion at all; it doesn’t feel set up to me), and helps Bran convince Sam. Sam gives them some of the obsidian weapons he found and tells them just how bad things are north of the Wall, then sends them through.
This is, similarly, an end and a beginning for Sam and Gilly; they’ve reached the Wall finally, but still have to get to Castle Black and they’ve both got emotional journeys ahead of them.
Jon’s journey ends at the Wall, as well; he escapes Ygritte and makes it back to Castle Black, though not unscathed. Somehow she catches up with him (on foot, even though he’s on a horse) and they get to have one last conversation. He tries to explain that she knew, the whole time, who he really was and what he would have to do, and that she won’t hurt him. She yells “you know nothing, Jon Snow!” at him one more time, and he says he does know that “I love you, and you love me.” At which point she puts three arrows in him before he manages to ride away. He arrives at Castle Black a little while later, where Sam and Pyp have him carried into the castle to be doctored.
Jaime and Brienne finally reach King’s Landing, and nobody recognizes Jaime. That seems to be when he truly realizes how much he’s changed, and Brienne gives him a sympathetic but not pitying look and have I mentioned best bromance on the show? Jaime goes to see Cersei, and her name is the only word spoken in the brief scene. Everything else is done with looks—she notices his hand, he notices her noticing, and there’s an understanding that he hasn’t returned unscathed.
Meanwhile, a couple of other journeys are started or ended before they can start. Davos decides that sacrificing Gendry is a bridge too far and releases him into the wild, never to be seen again. (There’s a joke meme about Gendry rowing away forever. I think Benioff and/or Weiss might have made a comment about Gendry still being out at sea, rowing.) Davos admits to Stannis that he released Gendry, but tells him about a plea for help from the Night’s Watch that he found amid a pile of raven-borne notes. He says if Stannis wants to be king, he needs to act like a king and protect his kingdom from these monsters coming from north of the Wall. Surprisingly, Melisandre agrees with him, saving Davos from execution for treason.
Shae refuses to go on a journey; Varys offers her money and a house in Pentos to leave, but she thinks it’s Tyrion being too cowardly to tell her to leave himself and refuses. Varys, serving the kingdom as he does, thinks Tyrion could do a lot of good, but Shae is a liability. This scene really exemplifies the differences in Shae’s character between show and book; if Varys had made book-Shae this offer, she probably would have taken it. She’s only in it for the money. Show-Shae really cares for Tyrion and has gotten viciously jealous about Sansa even though (as Varys points out) that’s stupid, because it’s not like if Tyrion hadn’t married Sansa he would have married Shae instead.
Arya and Sandor find their journey extended by the Red Wedding; rather than meeting up with her family and going home, Arya’s at loose ends again. She witnesses what we only heard about (and saw in a vision) in the books: the Freys beheading Robb’s corpse and sewing Grey Wind’s head to his shoulders. As they head away from the Twins, they come across a couple of Frey men bragging about being involved in the desecration of Robb’s corpse. Arya plays the part of a lost, hungry, cold waif to bring their guard down, then offers them her Braavosi coin as payment for food. When one of them reaches for it, she stabs him in the neck. Sandor’s caught by surprise but rallies quickly and fights off the rest of them, then snarls at her to “tell me first” the next time she wants to do something like that. While she retrieves her coin and gloats over the body (“valar morghulis”), he plops down at the fire and starts eating their food. (Sandor eating stuff quickly became my favorite gag over about four episodes.)
Daenerys waits to find out the results of her liberation of Yunkai—will the slaves see her as a liberator or a conqueror? She’s letting them decide in their own time, waiting outside the gates with her army and her dragons. The slaves come out finally and push right up to the Unsullied spearpoints between them and Dany. Missandei announces her, there’s an awkward and tense silence, and then someone yells “mhysa,” which Missandei translates as “mother.” Dany decides to go greet her new people, which leads to this super awkward moment:
Lots of other people have discussed why this is a troubling shot, and Martin has defended it as a quirk of casting in Croatia. As with so many other things in this show, by itself it’s not a big deal, but added onto lots of other issues—how they treat Dorne later, not even putting Jalabar Xho in a background shot, making Xaro Xhoan Daxos (a manipulative, power-hungry, and—in the books—pedophilic man) one of the few people of color in the show, killing off or sidelining Dany’s khalasar etc.—it’s yet another sign that they didn’t think through a lot of things regarding how race and slavery were portrayed in the show.
Finally, Asha starts on a journey when Ramsay's "gift" reaches Balon and he refuses to do anything about it because Theon's not a proper heir anymore; he's not even a man anymore. Asha storms off to try to rescue Theon because he's still her brother, dammit.
So that’s the third season. Some of the small changes made in the first two seasons are starting to make themselves felt, but generally speaking, they stuck pretty close to the main beats. I clearly deeply disagree with everything they did with Talisa, but I haven’t gotten to talk a lot about what they did with Sansa this season. Buckle up.
The issues here are subtle, but noticeable. The core problem with adapting Sansa, in particular, is that she’s so internal. A lot more goes on under the surface than ever comes out of her mouth, and that’s really difficult for a visual medium to convey. The problem is that that thoughtfulness and never saying everything that’s on her mind, or even honestly admitting what’s on her mind, is Sansa’s strength. “A lady’s armor is courtesy,” and while Sansa sees things and works things out and is developing a pretty strong political mind, she generally only says the kind, polite thing. Some of this is to save her own life, but some of it is building relationships and just being nice to people (not everyone in King’s Landing has the power or inclination to have her summarily executed, after all). But her development from a naïve, romantic little girl to this carefully-thinking young woman is actually nearly erased in the show. She continues to take a lot at face value, including her relationship with the Tyrells and her impending marriage to Loras. In the books, she’s set to marry Wyllas Tyrell, not Loras (who’s been sworn to the Kingsguard and can’t marry anyone), and though she’s never met him and knows he’s disabled, she’s looking forward to it because it will get her out of King’s Landing. She knows they want her for her claim to the North, but that’s okay because they’ll be nicer to her than the Lannisters. She doesn’t fawn all over Wyllas (who hasn’t yet appeared in the books) or Margaery (though she enjoys spending time with people who don’t treat her like a leper) the way she does in the show. She doesn’t trust anyone.
Likewise, their shift of the circumstances in her marriage to Tyrion changes a lot of her characterization. In the books, she’s given a pretty dress, then dragged to the sept and shoved in front of the High Septon and Tyrion. The way they’ve done it on the show doesn’t quite make sense—giving her warning means the Tyrells could have gotten her away from there before the wedding happened. Instead, Margaery laments how awful it all is and gives her sex advice. And instead of having Sansa refuse to kneel, refuse to participate in this marriage more than she’s forced to, refuse to give up her dignity, they spare Tyrion’s dignity and his feelings.
Sansa’s relationship with Tyrion is a big part of the trouble with this whole thing, and that’s because Benioff and Weiss’ writing of Tyrion is so problematic. They, again, went with just the surface—the smart, drunk, smartass, womanizer that is just a small part of Tyrion’s characterization. I’ll have a lot more to say about this in seasons five and six, but generally speaking, they’ve removed all of Tyrion’s flaws. None of his difficulties are a result of his own choices, but other people being mean to him. So instead of possibly losing some audience sympathy for Sansa by having her also be mean to him, they had her kneel, and then continue to develop an affectionate relationship with him (their first scene in this episode is them talking about punishing a couple of minor nobles for laughing at him by pulling childish pranks) despite all the reasons Sansa would have (and does have, in the books) for doing no such thing. As happens so often, the deeper characterization of a female character suffers because of the characterization of a male character (boy will I ever have more to say about this at the middle-ish of season five).
Couple-a Frey soldiers
Next week: Jon goes on trial. Dany is twitterpated. Arya crosses a name off her list.
All images from screencapped.net