It’s time to catch up with everyone who’s still alive!
The Black Gate
Bran, Meera, Jojen and Hodor make it to one of the abandoned Night’s Watch castles on the wall. To amuse them, Bran tells a story about the rat said to haunt this castle: he used to be a man whom the gods turned in a rat to punish him for crimes against them. Not murder, nor cannibalism, but the violation of guest right. If only Walder Frey had known that story…
The mysterious noises in the mysterious well/tunnel that they’re sleeping right beside (because why, exactly?) happily turn out to be Sam and Gilly, not giant white cannibal rats. The Reeds are all about protecting Bran’s identity, but Summer’s presence gives the game away, and Sam swears he’ll help Bran however he can – except going beyond the Wall again.
He does – reluctantly – show them the way through the wall, and also gives them some (all? Please, not all!) of the stash of obsidian weapons he and Grenn found on the Fist.
One maybe-important difference from the books here, in that Bran never makes Sam promise not to tell Jon they met. It’s possible this was just edited out for time, or signals an upcoming plot change.
Sam and Gilly make it back to Castle Black, where Maester Aemon is in charge. Sam shows a little bit of quiet confidence in this scene that we haven’t seen in him before, insisting both that Gilly is entitled to their protection and that he has stuck to his vows and Gilly’s baby – also Sam! – is not his child.
I remember my oath… “the sword that guards the realms of men.” The realms. That means her, too.
He also sticks to his story about the White Walker, and Aemon takes him seriously. Sam has a lot of letters to write…
Jon seems to have made a clean getaway, but Ygritte was always better at cross-country, and catches up with him. Jon recognises his loyalty to his Night’s Watch family over his personal feelings – which means he and Ygritte can never be together:
I do know some things. I know I love you. I know you love me. I have to go home now.
But he also thinks she still won’t hurt him. GUESS AGAIN, JON. Ygritte puts three arrows in him before he rides away – but knowing her skill with a bow, if she’d meant to kill him, she would have. She wanted to hurt him, which means she’s probably not done with him yet. Emotionally, anyway.
Jon barely makes it back to Castle Black alive – but at least Sam is there. He’s home.
Davos gets to know Gendry a little – both boys from the slums of King’s Landing made…well I would say “good” but Gendry is in a prison cell and Davos is missing several fingers and a son, so let’s just leave that there. I love the little moments of humour in this scene, and the rare chance to see lowborn people talking to each other (we got another glimpse this season with Shae and Ros) without the highborn present:
Davos, when he sees that Stannis is set on letting Melisandre sacrific Gendry to the Red God, helps him escape. Gendry owes Davos his life (whether he’ll survive to repay the favour is another question altogether, as the boy can’t row, navigate, or swim). Though for a while it looks like Davos won’t have a life to save, as Stannis sentences him to death for his betrayal. But Davos’s reading lessons with Shireen have paid off; he knows something Stannis doesn’t – he got Maester Aemon’s letter. Melisandre promptly throws it on the fire, and what she sees in the flames puts her on Davos’s side. There is a greater war to be fought than the one Tywin Lannister is currently winning: they must go north.
Lord Bolton, with characteristic coldness, discusses the results of the Red Wedding with Lord Frey – Edmure is a captive and the Blackfish escaped – and shows us his motives: Robb Stark ignored his advice, and with him gone, the Boltons are are Wardens of the North. He also finally fills us in – for those who hadn’t twigged it yet – on who the nutter torturing Theon is: Ramsay Snow, Lord Bolton’s bastard son. (“Snow” being the name illegitimate children are given in the North, so no relation to Jon. I can’t imagine Ned Stark and Lord Bolton have the same taste in women, somehow…). As fun as it is to see some of the most amoral men in Westeros cackling away together, this scene gave exposition a bad name. Ramsay’s remark about his father later gives us more information about his motives than Bolton ever would himself. And do we really believe that Bolton would have stayed loyal to Robb if only he’d done what he was told?
Theon regains consciousness after being castrated, to find Ramsay eating a pork sausage – he swears. Theon begs for death, but Ramsay won’t kill him – yet. He knows his father needs him alive (though not unharmed, which is odd, because surely his ransom/bargaining value goes down the more parts Ramsay lops off). It’s an interesting insight into Lord Bolton that we get through his son, too:
My mother taught me not to throw stones at cripples. But my father taught me aim for their head.
Ramsay needs Theon alive, but he doesn’t need him to be Theon. His name from now on is to be “Reek.”
I’ve said several times that I think Theon’s storyline has been done badly this season, and this another example. No disrespect to Alfie Allen and Iwan Rheon’s performances, but for something as psychologically complex as what happens to Theon now, it felt too quick to be believable. Done through flashbacks, as in the books, gives it the horror of inevitability that’s missing here – what do you think?
The Iron Islands
Turns out Ramsay was telling the truth, because Theon’s penis is delivered to his father and sister in a box, with the promise of more appendages to follow if Balon doesn’t pull the Ironborn out of the North. Balon isn’t having it:
The boy’s a fool… He cannot further the Greyjoy line. I will not give up the lands I’ve seized, the strongholds I’ve taken”¦My son is not a man anymore.
Helloooo, patriarchy! It’s all about the penis. Yara, though, isn’t so content to see more bits of her little brother come back to her in boxes, so she takes a ship and “fifty killers” to sail inland to the Dreadfort and get Theon back. But even if she gets there, will he still be Theon when he does?
The Hound and Arya escaped the Twins intact, but Arya goes postal on some Frey soldiers they come across in the woods. Book readers will recognise that details from this scene were lifted from book-Arya’s escape from Harrenhal – and non-book readers will have been adequately warned by whip-smart and independent Arya acting the doe-eyed girl.
Arya’s just seen her dead brother’s body paraded for laughs with his direwolf’s head skewered on, and heard her mother’s murderers discuss how silly she sounded as she died. Do you blame her for paying them back in kind?
The Hound’s reaction is perfectly characterised, too. No questions asked, he finishes what Ayra started and kills the rest of the group. His first question isn’t about her motives, it’s practical: “Where did you get the knife?” The second one is curiosity:
Hound: Is that the first man you’ve killed?
Arya: The first man.
After that, he only wants Arya to warn him “next time.” If there’s anyone who understands the cathartic power of violence, it’s him.
But the real question is: where are he and Arya going now? Her only relatives with any money to pay a ransom are her aunt Lysa and her great-uncle the Blackfish (who is on the run somewhere between the Twins and Riverrun). If the Hound wants ransom for Arya, there aren’t many people left to get it from.
Tyrion’s efforts ““ ongoing since last season ““ to develop some kind of relationship with Sansa finally seem to be paying off: she joins in his flight of fancy about how to get his own back on the people who tease him and even suggests something Arya used to do to her in Winterfell: “sheepshift” her bed.
It’s heartbreaking to watch her playfulness re-emerge, only to be smashed so quickly by the news of the Red Wedding. And Tyrion is helpless, knowing his own father is the orchestrator of her grief. As far as Sansa knows, she is now the only member of her family left alive.
Joffrey is finally allowed in to the Small Council meetings and promptly makes a hash of it, delighting in the news from The Twins and demanding Robb’s head be sent to him so he can put it in front of Sansa during his upcoming wedding feast. Cersei tries to defend his demand as a joke, but Joffrey insists, and while the rest of the Small Council are appalled, it’s Tyrion who is the most vociferous defender of his wife (his romantic streak is showing).
Tywin sends Joffrey away when he goes too far and impugns Tywin’s actions during Robert’s Rebellion ““ I felt like applauding. Tywin is awful, but Joffrey is the worst and it’s nice to see someone who’s finally willing to stand up to him.
Tyrion’s consideration for Sansa doesn’t do him any favours with Tywin, who doesn’t really care about anything except that Tyrion must consummate his marriage: using rape, if necessary. Tywin wants a Lannister heir to Winterfell, and soon. Tyrion accuses Tywin’s devotion to “family” of really being devotion to his own wants; Tywin fires back with one example of when he went against his own instincts:
The day that you were born. I wanted to carry you into the sea and let the waves wash you away. Instead, I let you live. And I brought you up as my son. Because you’re a Lannister.
If Tyrion had seen Tywin with Arya in Harrenhal I don’t think he would have made that accusation. Tywin’s obsession with his family’s legacy is bone-deep.
Later, Cersei echoes Tywin’s demands: Sansa needs a son. But her reasons aren’t dynastic: a child will give Sansa something to live for, as her children have for Cersei:
I would have thrown myself from the tallest tower in the Red Keep years ago if it wasn’t for them.
There’s an echo of Roose Bolton here in Cersei’s apology for Joffrey: they both know their sons are horrors, but are willing to use them and defend them despite that. We get the impression that there’s nothing Joffrey could do that would make Cersei turn from him, because she sees him as an extension of herself – more than either of her other children.
Meanwhile, Varys does his best to protect Tyrion in his turn. Shae is a distraction and a liability from what Varys sees as Tyrion’s true purpose: to rebuild Westeros. Gods know no-one else has shown themselves capable of it so far.
But Shae throws Varys’s proffered bag of diamonds away. She loves Tyrion; she even loves Sansa, despite how difficult it is to watch Tyrion with her, and she won’t be bought off. She’ll leave when Tyrion wants her too, not before.
Finally, Jaime returns to the city with Brienne – and without his escort and his armour, he’s treated like any lowborn man: badly. His homecoming isn’t quite the occasion he would have hoped for, either: Cersei doesn’t rush to him, but only stares at where his hand should be.
Ok, this whole event and the way it was presented gave me an icky in my feelings. Benevolent white lady comes to free the grateful brown people? Throughout this whole scene, I was just cringing at the racial cluelessness of it all. In the words of Fear of a Brown Planet comic Aamer Rahman,
She ends up crowdsurfing over the brown people like some kind of Targaryen Bono with all of the smug satisfaction of a gap-year backpacker that has just built an orphanage in a village somewhere.
Also, plotwise, what happened to all the people in Yunkai who weren’t either slave soldiers or slaves?
The last episode of a Game of Thrones season has always been the eye of the storm: the ninth episodes bring the climactic events – Ned Stark’s execution, the Battle of the Blackwater, the Red Wedding – with the tenth setting up the following season. In that way, this episode proceeded pretty much as expected – with the high notes being Arya, all the Lannister scenes, Sam and Davos being badass, and Shae telling Varys where he can stick his money. I also loved the compare-and-contrast themes of family and class. The terribly-done Yunkai scene, though, really meant this season ended on a sour note for me.
WARNING: if you want to talk about the books from this event in A Storm of Swords on, please preface your comment with a ***spoiler***. The first two books and first two seasons of the show are not considered spoilers.
Screencaps c/o screencapped.net. All images are the property of HBO.