So you think the theme is mothers? Those who are mothers, those who ought to be, those who are motherless—and what that does to them. Although only a few scenes in “Mhysa” alluded to the shocking climax to last week’s episode, this Season Three finale felt like one long lament...
...for Catelyn, of course, and the lawful order she represented. (I’m trying to keep that spoiler out of the top paragraph in case any of our readers have been living in caves and somehow missed hearing about the Red Wedding.)
Arya and Sansa Stark are the only two Starklings who know what happened to their mother: Arya, because she was so close; Sansa, because Joffrey made sure she knew. (I wonder if Bran will have a vision, and what it will be of.) Arya’s reaction is not surprising: she turned assassin, stabbing the soldier in the woods. Arya has always had more backbone—or at least a more prickly backbone—than the other Stark children, and her arc has gradually turned into Education of a Killer: the loss of her wolf, the list of those who have harmed her, J’aquen Hagar, and now the Hound. Props to the Hound for his laconic “Next time you do that, tell me first.” Because any sort of finger-wagging would have weird.
Sansa, on the other hand, has always had less backbone than…well, than anyone else in Westeros, as far as I can tell. (Let’s blame the loss of her wolf.) All of her girlish bonding with Tyrion is for naught: now that she knows the Lannisters killed her mother, brother, and whole troops of Stark bannermen, she’s back to hating both her husband and her family.
I’m enough of a Tyrion fan that Sansa’s behavior struck me as both charming and thoughtless: she was able to be kind to her husband, but not to sleep with him. She’s fourteen, according to the show, so I doubt Sansa knows that she’s doing—but it must have irked Tyrion, having to make conversation with a rather dopey teenage girl and still getting teased for being the wrong husband for her.
Tyrion can’t catch a break, though. Like Arya, he’s making a list: not of those to kill, but of those he wants to punish some other way. But he’s pulled between respect for Sansa’s wishes, devotion to Shae, and fear/respect/loathing for his father. Tyrion is clever enough to parse his father's statements about “family,” which Tywin seems to define as an abstract noun rather than a collection of actual human beings. Sacrificing to the ideal of “family” by not killing his son? That’s sheepshift, on par with any discussion utilitarian war-making that presupposes righteousness as an excuse for massive death. (Yeah, Stannis, I'm looking at you.)
And while I’m ranting about Tywin: where has he been all these years? Joffrey wasn’t wrong about Tywin hiding under Casterly Rock—but I’m more interested in why Tywin didn’t support family above all else back when Robert was still alive; any well-placed spy could have told him that Joffrey was growing up wrong. Now that Tywin is in King’s Landing, it’s too late. He may be able to send the king to bed without his supper, but that’s not going to turn Joffrey into a good man. It’s only going to make him pettier and scarier.
I’m not sure we can blame Cersei, either. In the books she’s a bit more horrific, but the show has chosen to portray her as a victim as much as a perpetrator. And, after all, she is a mother who loves her children and takes joy in them. Her feelings for Joffrey remind me of this New York Times article about young psychopaths. The mother profiled in the piece describes her child: “I’ve always said that [he] will grow up to be either a Nobel Prize winner or a serial killer.” She’s able to see his potential even though he enjoys inflicting pain.
And it’s not like anyone else is faring better than Joffrey. While Catelyn may have been a force for good, plenty of motherless children in Westeros are reveling in the opportunities for psychopathy presented by war. Roose Bolton’s bastard son Ramsey, for instance, and his pork sausage. Poor Theon, without a mother to take his side, has been disowned by his father and must be rescued by his sister. Either way, it’s a bit too late. (Is that a pun?)
There’s still hope for humanity, though. Gilly seems like she’ll be a decent mother to baby Sam (and how great was Sam’s face when he realized she was going to name the baby after him?). Gendry may not know his mother, but he’s got a nice father-figure in Davos. And Dany…
Well, the Dany scene was this episode’s climax, on par with the Gigantic Zombie Horde we saw at the end of Season Two. I love Dany, and I love her arc, and I love the way she takes “motherhood” to a whole nother level, but I have to admit: that scene left me weirdly uncomfortable about the beautiful blonde savior rescuing the tawny desert folks from their oppressors. I usually try to push those feelings aside when dealing with old-school fantasy like Game of Thrones, the same way I can’t get all worked up over sexism in Dickens. But visuals of the final shot of Dany, surrounded by the people of Yunkai, only worked because her whiteness and blondness stood out so much against the backdrop of anonymous rescued, oppressed bed slaves.
[Cue the hate from both sides. I know it’s coming; please just try to keep it civil.]
Some of that discontent might not be intellectual, though. Rather, my visceral reaction to last week’s episode meant this week’s would inevitably be a let-down. I didn’t expect them to top the Red Wedding, but I’d hoped for a bit more than an extended prologue to Season Four. And while each individual scene in this episode was as perfectly composed as always, I got rather bored during my reviewing re-watch. Rather bored, and completely excited about Season Four.
Grumpkins and Snarks:
• Tyrion: “Killed a few puppies today?”
• Joffrey: “Everyone is mine to torment.”
• Tywin: “Anyone who must say ‘I am the king’ is no king.”
• Tyrion: “You just sent the most powerful man in Westeros to bed without his supper.”
• This week in Shae: she really does love both Tyrion and Sansa.
• This week in Pod: people make comments about his sexual prowess as he walks by!
• This week in Jaime: he’s back!
• This week in Jon: he’s back, too, with a few arrow wounds courtesy of Ygritte.
Reminder: book spoilers live here. And here is a speculative post from Juliette!
Three out of four sheep shifts.
Josie Kafka reviews The Vampire Diaries, True Detective, Game of Thrones, and various other things that take her fancy. She is a full-time cat servant and part-time rogue demon hunter. (What's a rogue demon?)
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