Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Belated thoughts on the Game of Thrones finale

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as Jaime Lannister. (Helen Sloan/HBO)
Still riding the emotional wave of the Red Wedding, I went into the "Game of Thrones" season finale with a fair amount of anxiety. I came out of it feeling not much of anything -- not even a burning eagerness for season 4. Part of the reason is that the finale had no hope of matching the visceral impact of "The Rains of Castamere." And part of it is that two of the stories the show wants us to anticipate most -- Theon's and Stannis' -- have been the season's most troublesome.

The resolution to a season of inexplicable Theon torture wasn't much of one. We know who's doing the torture -- Roose Bolton's bastard son Ramsay. We know it came with a military advantage -- leverage over Theon's father to pull out of the North. And it appears to have been building up to Theon's transition into "Reek." But for what purpose? The payoff hardly seems worth the effort of watching episode after episode of random bits of torture. It's noble that Theon's sister is sailing to his rescue when their father won't -- a scene that plays to one of the finale's themes of what parents will or won't do for their children -- but I can't say I'm excited for it.

At Dragonstone, where a frustratingly weak Stannis has spent the season bending to the whims of Melisandre, events turned around too quickly. One turn of the key and Gendry is broken out of prison (although his ineptitude in the boat was pretty funny). One glance into the fire, and Melisandre and Stannis are shifting their entire focus north of the Wall. This, seconds after Davos was sentenced to be executed for screwing up a strategy they were dead set on. Like Davos, I'm tired of the Lord of Light, and I want to call Melisandre on her b.s., shadow baby or no shadow baby. And the problem with sending Stannis and his army off to fight the White Walkers is that I don't care about Stannis. Let him be defeated. And let Bran and his band take care of the zombies.

The other plot-driven thread meant to stir us up for next season is Dany's steadily growing army. That final shot was impressive, and a great indication of just how powerful she's becoming. The crowd's embrace of her as "mother" shows she's more than a leader -- she's a caretaker and a liberator. But for me, the scene lacked impact because there was no momentum; it was just something tacked on the end of a 70-minute episode. Had last week's battle been saved for the finale, the effect would have been different. (Although, logistically, I see how that wouldn't have worked.)

While the larger-scale scenes did little to stir me, there were plenty of small character moments that did:

-- Jaime's return to King's Landing took up just a few moments, but it said all that needed to be said. He at last made it back to the woman he loves, though he has changed so much as to be unrecognizable. Has too much changed for him and Cersei to recover what they had? As much as my head was crying out "incest!" my heart was urging them to run into each other's arms.

-- Arya is heading down a dark, dark path. She has seen way too much in her short lifetime -- capped by the gruesome image of Robb's body being paraded around with his direwolf's head as his own. The calculating and detached way she killed one of the men involved was chilling, if understandable. Even as her story gets darker, the prospect of her spending time with The Hound has me hoping they will be next season's Jaime and Brienne.

-- Jon's tense encounter with Ygritte was the first bit of proof that the Red Wedding has done its duty. As he fled with three arrows in him, I really thought it was a possibility he could die. I'm glad he didn't, and that he's back at the Wall with Sam.
 The finale as a whole dealt with the Red Wedding well, with characters debating what's fair in war. "Explain to me why it is more noble to kill 10,000 men in battle than a dozen at dinner," Tywin says (although it was much, much more than that). Bran tells the ghost story of what happens when you kill your guests. Tyrion said he's not above cheating. The one that struck me most was Stannis pointing out to Davos, who is against magic, that the much-vaunted dragons are their own form of magic. If Dany ever makes it across the ocean, will her dragons make her battles just as unfair?
 But the best post-Red Wedding moment by far was the simple image of two women cleaning up blood stains at the Twins as if it were nothing out of the ordinary. Just another day in this violent world.

-- I always eat up scenes between Cersei and Tyrion, especially when they get to be frank with each other. Lena Heady somehow always brings me around to Cersei's side, if only for a few moments. If my son were an uncontrollable monster, I'd want to hang on to the memory of him as a sweet innocent too. Her hopelessness is palpable.
 Tywin has a similar ability to make me love him and hate him in the span of a few minutes. Him treating Joffrey like a tired infant throwing a tantrum was absolutely perfect. I actually cheered. But then he had to go and tell Tyrion one more time just how unwanted he is. Ass.

 So there are some things to look forward to next season. How will my favorite (and least favorite) people change next?

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