Similarly to last season, quite a bit of episode 10 was aftermath. Last season it was the Blackwater. This season it was the Red Wedding (Side note: Our trivia team's name last week was "It's a nice day for a Red Wedding." The first time the host mentioned the scores, she said our name and followed it with: "No, it's not. You guys are jerks!")
Of course, some aftermaths are more equal than others. High praise to D&D for including this scene, as it's one of the more grisly reminders of what happened at the Twins and is mentioned in passing in the books, but it is one of the images that will tend to stick with the fans. However, the consequence of writing an episode after as momentous an occasion as the Red Wedding while being the season finale is that theme tends to get left behind. While earlier episodes may have been established around a central perception (of mine, if not the writers'), the finale is usually about wrapping things up until next season and that's where this one resides, as well.
Some moments aren't as crucial. I'm not sure that Lord Frey's little soliloquy and brief exchange with Bolton was worthwhile, for example. It's all well and good to hear once again of Walder Frey's spiteful nature and disdain for the people above him in the hierarchy, but we've been there. There's absolutely no need to remind the fans of what he is. It was a convenient way for Bolton to reveal his elevation to Warden of the North (except that Tywin already did that) and also reveals that the "boy" torturing Theon is, of course, his bastard, Ramsay Snow.
It's with Theon and a couple others that we do have some sense of theme, as the finale marks the transition for a few characters from one stance to another. We've seen all of them growing (or degenerating) in one fashion or another, but this episode marks a turning point for people like Theon and Arya as they finally step toward their new lives.
Theon, for example, assumes his new guise of Reek (and, yes, non-readers, that's what all the "rhymes with meek" stuff was about.) It's unfortunate that it's done this way because, in the books, his reintroduction comes in a very different and much more interesting fashion but, once again, the change in medium makes that a bit too difficult to pull off.
Thankfully, some of the best scenes are easy to pull off. All they need are Charles Dance, Peter Dinklage, Lena Headey, Conleth Hill, and Jack Gleeson. The meeting of the small council was, like the Frey/Bolton scene, a bit more affirmation that Tywin is the man running the show, but did so in a far more entertaining fashion. All you had to do was watch Varys' face as Joffrey accused his grandfather of cowardice during Robert's Rebellion. Priceless. Of course, the key to the scene is Tywin staring holes through the king. Watching Dance play his role with some real emotion in mentioning that the service he did the family was not killing Tyrion at birth was another high moment. And Sophie Turner doing several minutes worth of emoting with just a single woeful glance in the follow-up to that moment was brilliant. I think it's one of her best moments on the show.
OTOH, the scene with Balon and Asha/ Yara was... odd. While Balon certainly would have had a different relationship with his daughter and likely alter his normally implacable attitude to feel like he would have to convince her of a path of action, it came off roughly. Balon isn't much of a character in the books, so further development isn't all bad. You can't be as much of an ass to your designated second and purported heir (even in the patriarchal Westeros and, especially, Iron Islands) as you are to the son you disdain as a fool. Of course, Asha/Yara's path of action is a departure from the books, as well, and is obviously a way to keep Gemma Whelan on screen for the next season, as her character disappears for all of Storm of Swords. It will be interesting to see how they wrap that story around with the return of Euron and if, for that matter, the latter will be arriving next season or the one after.
Also, for as momentous as you think they would be, given their adherence to a huge leg of the story, the scenes with Bran were very anti-climactic. There was very little meat on them and they were essentially just Bran repeating "I have to go north." over and over. While they did take the opportunity to emphasize the depths of Walder Frey's crime (I'm willing to take anyone's bet that the latter survives GRRM's story) and provide the bridge (almost literally) between Sam and Gilly returning and Bran and Co. finally entering the real north, they still seem largely incidental. There basically are no scenes left for Bran in Storm, so next season is going to have to contain a lot of material from Dance (since Bran doesn't appear at all in Feast, which is the first half of Dance...)
Obviously, the timeline is about to get seriously tortured. It isn't enough that the show has to invent ways to keep people on-screen while they bridge the gap between appearances. It's also that GRRM had to split one book into two. In many ways, he's already covered this ground in attempting to keep timelines together. But we're now talking about 3 whole seasons of the show showing Bran doing pretty much nothing but traveling through the north. Certainly there are momentous events coming up (Coldhands, etc.) but it's going to be tough to stretch things that far and they may be in the situation they found themselves in season 1, in that they had to add material to an already massive story to fill out their time.
Thankfully, the finale was also about great performances, even in single moments. I've already mentioned Sophie Turner's look of pain, but I could go on at length about yet another brilliant scene between brother and sister, Tyrion and Cersei. The chemistry between those two roles and those two actors never fails to satisfy. Likewse, the anguish on Rose Leslie's face as Jon lays out the facts of life is genuinely heartbreaking. It was, of course, the worst lovers' quarrel since Lorena Bobbitt, but even fans of Kit Harrington had to appreciate Ygritte's pain.
Liam Cunningham also comes in for some credit, as he's playing the Davos role better than GRRM writes him. It's a very sympathetic role, for both character and audience, in the first place but I appreciate it now after watching much more than I ever did in reading the books. Likewise, I think John Bradley has nailed the role of Sam better than most could have expected, given his light experience. I remember finally feeling some appreciation for Sam upon his return to Castle Black and assumption of the role of educated leader, since he'd been to the wall (heh) and back. Bradley did that masterfully.
Finally, sticking to that light theme of transition, we had the character who does the most of it in this stretch of the books, Arya. It's difficult to talk about Arya's transformation without engaging in too many spoilers, as her story really takes off at this point. I had been relatively indifferent to her storyline for much of the time until the latter half of Swords, but her incredible focus from this point forward, amazingly exemplified by the bone-chilling stare of Maisie Williams over the coin and through the famous words "Valar morghulis", was thrilling to read and should be equally so to watch.
And, just as in the show, this scene needs no words:
And, after all that raving, it has to be said that the final moment, the "Mhysa" scene for which the episode was named, kinda fell flat. It's all well and good to show the Dragon Queen truly loved by her subjects but, like the Walder Frey scene, we've been there already. After all the powerful performances and change and intrigue, to end with the fairly sappy celebration outside Yunkai was a bit of a letdown. It's certainly not what I'm going to carry with me for the next 10 months while waiting for the show's return. Can't win'em all. (Has to be said: As soon as they started voicing the word "mhysa", all I could think about was: "Meesa ridiculous racial stereotype!")
Lines of the night (there were many):
"Everyone is mine to torment." - Except, you know, grandfather...
"Monsters are dangerous and just now kings are dying like flies." - And uncle.
"I'm all for cheating. This is war." - Tyrion, remaining the pragmatist. Must be easy when you know that your enemies will surely execute you if they win, if not for the crimes of your family, but for simply being you.
"Explain to me why it is more noble to kill 10, 000 men in battle than a dozen at dinner." - Here is Tywin's self-justification at its finest. This and some conversation about Robb's various mistakes have me putting together a post about GoT, ethics, and Machiavelli which I'll have up in the next day or two.
"Noooo... Pork sausage. You think I'm some kind of savage."
"My mother taught me not to throw stones at cripples. But my father taught me to aim for their head!" - While I'm mildly underwhelmed by Iwan Rheon's portrayal of Ramsay (not vicious enough), he does have solid comedic timing.
"Big words. No clothes. What would you have done?" - Srsly.
"He used to drink from sundown to sun-up, visit three brothels a night, and gamble away his father's money. Now it's just the drinking." - I really wish we could see more of Varys, but the Spider is who he is.
"It's not easy being drunk all the time. Everyone would do it if it were easy." - Truth.
"There's nothing worse than a late-blooming philosopher." - Also truth. Better to have perspective before you slaughter people in our ethical world (again, next post.)
"Why you doing this?" "Because it's right. And because I'm a slow learner." - Liam Cunningham knocking it out of the park and with the inside joke yet. All that said, it'd be nice to see Gendry disappear at this point, since his storyline logically concluded right here. That's not to say that Joe Dempsie isn't great fun to watch.
"You see, Ser Davos? You've been saved by that fire god you like to mock."- Friends in the strangest places...