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Game of Thrones: Mhysa

“We should have known. Even then, we should have known.”

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 is a full-time cat servant and part-time rogue demon hunter. (What's a rogue demon?)


  1. I really enjoyed one thing in this episode..when joffrey spoke up to twynn and the "oh no he didnt" look on everybody, (including joffreys) face. that made me laugh

  2. After the Red Wedding anything but another the magnitud of another big wedding or battle or something similar would have felt empty. This episode was just there to wrap up stories and set the board for next season. And torture us by reminding us we have to wait 9 months for it! :o(

    Shae really does love both of them, wow!

    Poor Sansa really can't catch a break! And Arya... well she's getting a tough education. I really liked the Hound's reaction though! "Warn me next time!" So he can help I suppose. Love how she got the knife from him! :p

  3. I'm glad that you highlighted that there is still hope, in the form of Sam, Gilly, Davos, and Gendry. After last week, everyone was saying, "who are we supposed to root for, now that they've killed off all the good guys?" and my first thought was, there are still plenty of good guys to root for. Maybe they'll get killed somewhere along the line, but for now they are still there. Fighting the good fight and putting it all on the line to help others because it is the right thing to do. And that really shone through for me with Sam and Davos this week.

    For me, the most interesting aspect of the final image of Dany being uplifted by her new "children" was the way it paralleled the image of a wounded Jon being lifted up by his "family" and welcomed home. I haven't actually seen any commentary on this at all, so maybe I'm not remembering the Jon scene right. But I thought it was a very interesting visual parallel between our two chief "ice" and "fire" representatives, even though the tone was vastly different (in Jon's case it came as a welcome relief to see that moment, and in Dany's, it was somewhat disturbing to see her drinking in the adoration).

  4. Who are we supposed to root for and who is the good guy? Tyrion, obviously. How could that even be a question? :)

    I liked the episode, exactly what you'd expect after last two seasons' finales. If anything, it's feels less of a cliffhanger than last year's did.

    The Dany scene left me confused because I'm not sure who all those people gathering outside the city gates were, and what's in their future.
    Just regular former slaves or disenfranchised common people? Happy to celebrate their former rulers' ouster — but what then? They aren't soldiers bound to join Dany's army like the former slaves did.
    Will Dany just move on in her conquest for the iron throne, leaving the "freed" people of Yunkai to live in anarchy? See ya, good luck fighting it out who gets to be their your next ruling class.

  5. There wasn't enough Jaime.

    yes, I am completely one-track-minded.

  6. I think that the decision to cast almost exclusively black people to portray the slaves is problematic for many reasons, one of which is what you mentioned, Josie: the myth of the white liberator is something I wish our fiction had passed already, especially on a complex show like GoT. It's also a bad decision because it creates a racial correlation in the viewers' minds that simply doesn't exist on the books, and wouldn't likely exist in an alternate world. Moreover, it will be a harsh contrast when certain white characters, who I won't name for not spoiling, get turned into slaves in later seasons. It just doesn't make sense.

    This is a strategy the producers have been employing since the beginning: they use iconic imagery from certain cultures (mostly Arabic and African) to be more economical in the characterization of the Dothraki, Qartheen, Astapori and Yunkish, implying they're the representatives of these cultures in that universe and making the viewer assume the rest also holds. And it's mostly portrayed negatively, even if Westeros is too.

    Granted, George RR Martin also borrows from the history of all these cultures to build the universe of his books. He gets a bit from here and another from there, however, making the whole of the societies something different from any one society from our world, while making them understandable and believable, maybe even relatable, depending on the reader's background. One of the most interesting things on reading is understanding how this universe works, contrasting to ours, and seeing things through a new perspective on ours.

    On the show, most of it is lost. Even some culturally relevant things from the Westerosi society are erased, such as the colors of each family and what they represent. Would it have killed them to have a crimson and gold cloak for Tyrion to put on Sansa on their wedding? This is odd, considering that it could be played visually much better on the show than what the book does.

    The conclusion is that, on the books, Westeros and Essos (the other continent) borrow heavily from Medieval Europe and Asia; on the show, in contrast, Westeros *is* Medieval Europe and Essos *is*
    the Middle East / Tribal Africa. And this oversimplication makes the show all the poorer.

    As for the rest of the episode, it didn't surprise me because both season enders had been a little boring so far.

    What I didn't expect was to like show Davos so much. Liam Cunningham makes him much more human than his book counterpart.

    It's been a great pleasure reading your reviews this season again, Josie. They're always insightful. And I always marvel at how much you can say without spoilers.

  7. "Sansa, on the other hand, has always had less backbone than … well, than anyone else in Westeros, as far as I can tell."

    I'm sorry, what? I'm one of those rare Sansa lovers so I feel like I need to speak up. Sansa is an immensely strong character and she definitely has backbone. For months she has been able to survive in an environment where she's surrounded by enemies. Every day she has to listen to Joffrey - the man who got her father beheaded and threatened to rape her - and endure his torments. But she manages to retain her dignity and not break down in front of him. She even defies him at times, in subtle ways, with her little remarks. If that isn't backbone, well, then I don't know what it is.

    And while I'm at it ... I'm surprised you interpret Arya killing the soldier as her "having backbone". Because I see it as a breakdown for her. It's not something to be cheered for, in my opinion. She's losing herself. She's turning into a killer (the books explore this further, but I won't get into that here).

  8. Amalie, I completely agree with you about Sansa and Arya.

    Sansa is one of the characters I didn't like at all at the beggining but ended up loving as the story progressed. I think she's usually seen as weaker simply because she retains a lot of her girliness and keeps dreaming about marrying pretty knights. Sadly, we unconsciously keep seeing these things as signs of "not having a backbone", whereas we give the "brave and strong" qualities to the more tomboyish girls. Basically, we associate strenght to girls like Arya, who take on the roles of warriors, which are easily identifiable as typically male behaviors, much more so in a medieval fantasy like GoT.

    Ultimately, I think both Arya and Sansa are strong characters, and I believe they wouldn't have survived had their stories been exchanged. I can't see Sansa surviving the wild running away, but I can't see Arya surviving King's Landing, either.

    I also agree that Arya killing the man is an act of destruction. As a matter of fact, I think Arya's journey is very much about losing herself, losing her "inner Starkness". She loses her wolf, her father, her brother, her mother and her sword (which was, in a way, her reminder of Jon), so she has nothing to relate to, and therefore is going down a path of self-destruction, where vengaence seems to be the only answer.

    On a different subject, despite the episode being very much about setting the pieces for the next season, I did get some satisfaction out of it. Jon's home, and so is Sam, and that felt like a win-win situation for me. As much as I like the Ygritte/Jon storyline, the whole running around with the wildings thing was getting boring, and it's good to be back at Castle Black.

    I was also happy with the ending scene. I can see where you guys are coming from with the whole "identification of Essos and Westeros as Europe and the Middle East", and I do agree that it's a little jarring, but I enjoy the whole messianic journey Dany goes through, and the places in which she chooses to find her stregth. I did find the evolution of this storyline a bit boring during the book, so we'll see how it moves on.

  9. Got to agree about Sansa. She may be one of the strongest characters in the whole show/books. She's learning the game from some of the best players in the game. She's in the most hostile of territories and yet surviving. Her foolish girlish nature may well belie just how smart she is, but the constant horrors, let downs and manipulations she is facing at all times are teaching her a lot.

  10. I enjoyed that this episode was a "breather" of sorts. I feel like a sorta theme of the episode was "hope". Hope because it was a fairly light episode with many characters reaching the end of their arcs this season, and many of them readying up to do something big and life changing. And also hope to give to viewers who may not have read the books and have been turned off by the Red Wedding. I feel like too many people nowadays write off the feeling of hope and what that can do. Hope in aA Song of Ice and Fire? Loony talk I know. It definitely didn't have some big shocking reveal but do too many of those and it definitely would've cheapened it, as CrazyCris said.

    As with Jess, I definitely saw the parallel between Jon being lifted up and Dany being lifted up. The only difference being I don't particularly care for Dany's story. She's hot though. so whatever man. Plus, Jorah's a cool dude. The pretty boy can suck it. Alas, I felt a wryness within myself as Dany was lifted cuz I knew people would make a thing out of it. I thought the imagery was cool in an artistic sense at least.

    Who else was touched as Ygritte launched arrow after arrow into Jon? That's love right there. It was basically the Wildling equivalent of the teary-eyed face slap. I love the teary-eyed face slap.

  11. I love this discussion about the differences between Sansa's and Arya's strength. I agree that Sansa has been incredibly strong, given everything she's been through. And even though she often seems quite naive and foolish, it is sort of refreshing to see her retaining her self and trying to hang onto her dignity and what limited agency she has without resorting to violence, sexual manipulation, or outright bitchery. Think of her attempting to calm the other ladies during the Battle of Blackwater. She has no power, but she does have strength and endurance, and I think it is nice that the story presents a range of ways in which women can be strong.

    I also liked Bea's point about Arya's descent. It brought to mind the movie Munich and that old proverb "Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves."

  12. I thought the episode could have been better, especially since it was a finale. It was very predictable we would get an end shot of flying dragons by the way the last two finales have been-mainly CGI shots- and last year's finale of the "walkers" basically amounted to nothing, they just wanted a special effects shot.

    King's Landing is always interesting and everyone at King's Landing is interesting. It's everywhere outside of King's Landing can get dicey. Never mind Theon, I think I'm getting tortured by Jon Snow, his story is boring and lethargic and he's lucky in a show where other scenes are much more interesting. I hate Ygritte, I hate how she calls him by his full name, and I wished she would have used half the arrows on herself.

    Everyone goes on about the Red Wedding massacre, that stuff happens all the time on "The Walking Dead," not sure why it's such a big deal happening on this show- plus Robb was a total bore and no more of him and his boring wife is a good thing.

    The show is a bit over-rated but the King's Landing bits are great, amazing, all of those scenes and some of Dany's scenes are great and very few of the others- it's a good show, but there are definite parts that could be better.

  13. Gus, excellent comment!

    This is a strategy the producers have been employing since the beginning: they use iconic imagery from certain cultures (mostly Arabic and African) to be more economical in the characterization of the Dothraki, Qartheen, Astapori and Yunkish, implying they're the representatives of these cultures in that universe and making the viewer assume the rest also holds.

    As I mentioned in my review--and as you said much more elegantly in your comment--this makes me uncomfortable for political reasons.

    But it also makes me uncomfortable for literary ones. This "economical" shorthand limits the potential of fantasy/SF, because it makes these other worlds into slightly tweaked versions of our own. The world-building feels cheap sometimes, cobbled together from various "real-world" examples, most of which are viewed through a Western European lens.

    I'd love to see more fantasy novels that incorporate true difference, utterly radical social structures, mentalities, and discourses. There are a few examples: Guy Kay's novels, at the least, portray other cultures with some fidelity under a fairy-dusting of the fantastic.

    But most fantasy novels seem to assume that our current experiences and understandings (where "our" refers to industrialized western society) are universal: monogamy as a default; sexual identity as a core component of selfhood; tension between religion and state; the value of the individual; the utility of logic.

    It must be difficult to portray a radically different way of existing and way of knowing. But I think speculative fiction is up for the challenge.

  14. Couldn't agree more with the comments about Sansa. I've said before here that one of the things I love about the books (more than the TV series) is how they show that Sansa is just as strong as Arya but in a different way. I also can't agree with your characterisation of her as "dopey", Josie. Tyrion clearly enjoys her company, and I think what that scene shows is that in different circumstances they could have been good friends. That's the tragedy of the scene where Tyrion sees Sansa has heard the news about the Red Wedding - that promising relationship between them has been killed in its cradle.

    I also agree with the comments about Arya killing the soldier. It's awful watching her long, slow slide into darkness.

    But I do agree with you, Josie, about the racism, which is problematic in the books and is not improved by the TV series. That white liberator stuff was very disturbing. And I don't think we can make the Dickens excuse for GRRM either. The book this was based on was published in 2000 and he should have known better.


  15. Wow so many interesting comments. I love it that people don't necessarily see Sansa as the weakest Stark.

    The scene with Rob's body and the direwolve's head is one of the most disturbing things of this series for me. And Arya's look nearly gave me the rest. Poor girl is going down a dark path now but can't say I blame her.

    I like that some of the "walking" stories are over with Jon at Castle Black and Jaime in King's Landing. Unfortunately though Dany is still in the desert, giving monumental speeches and collecting people with the help of her admirers and dragons. Her savior attitude is starting to annoy and bore me. I hope she get's something interesting to do next season. The final scene was a little bit to cheesy for my taste too.

  16. As with last series I seem to be alone in really enjoying the Dany scenes of the finale.

    For me the episode had two main themes: the obvious one was family, the slightly subtler one was generous and/or noble will lead to suffering. With the massacre of the Starks, they seem to be underlining the idea the honourable will suffer. Tywin and Cersei spend the episode talking about the importance of family, Arya and Sansa are shown as being utterly lost without theirs, Sam and Bran are linked through Jon.

    As for noble actions: we see Varys trying to get Shae to leave for all the right reasons, and Shae refusing to leave because she truly loves Tyrion. Jon can't hurt Ygritte because he loves her and gets an arrow for his troubles and Sam having endured hell but refusing to break his vows to both Gilly and the Nights Watch.

    Then we have Dany. Dany started the series with a psychotic brother who treated her as currency, and was shortly left with no family at all. She could have left Yunkai rich and powerful beyond her wildest dreams, with everything she needs to claim the Iron Throne. Instead she chooses to selflessly free the slaves and in that moment she attained a power the Lannisters could only dream of. She became a queen, rather than a warlord. An army behind her, supporters all around her and Westeros in front of her. Dany has the mind, the will and the name to make the Seven Kingdoms whole again.


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