Every week in the Game of Thrones TV Club, Rachael Larimore will IM with a different fan of the show about the goings-on in Westeros and across the Narrow Sea. This week she discusses the finale with Yahoo Sports writer and columnist (and frequent TV Club guest) Jay Busbee.
Rachael Larimore: Well, Jay, another Game of Thrones season is come and gone, and all that’s left is to mop up the blood. After the trauma of the Red Wedding—of which we got one more bitter taste in the finale—the episode featured some lighter moments, some humor, and even—dare I say it?—some hope. What did you think?
Jay Busbee: I thought it was a perfect ending to the season, but I didn't get quite the same sense of hope (Mother of Dragons aside) … this felt, to me, like an episode where several major characters realized the crushing inevitability of fate. If you'll pardon a hack cultural reference, this was like the end of Empire Strikes Back: We knew there wasn't going to be a happy ending to this tale after last week, and as word of the Red Wedding trickles out, the characters are realizing it as well.
Larimore: Well, Gendry has been saved for now, and Jon Snow is back home at Castle Black, and Stannis is on his way to fight the White Walkers, so there is something to look forward to. But yes, for many characters, there was a huge grief hangover. Poor Sansa! She was having what would pass in her world as a lovely day, out for a walk with her husband and finding some common ground. It was a little sad for us viewers, knowing what she was about to learn. But Tyrion and Sansa were very nice together in this scene, no?
Busbee: That might have been the tenderest scene all year, if not all series. Each sees something in the other that they treasure. Tyrion has been looking out for the Starks since he slapped Joffrey in the face back at Winterfell in Season 1. And Sansa has been looking for someone in a position of authority whom she could trust since her father died. It's not anything within shouting distance of a "normal" marriage, but then nothing is in Westeros. Shoot, were it not for the complications of Shae and the fact that Tyrion's family had Sansa's family killed, I'd think these two crazy kids might just work out.
Larimore: But not now! It's too bad, because Tyrion seemed to be bringing Sansa out of her shell a bit. One thing I noticed in this episode was that many characters seemed to be at their utmost selves (well, not Theon). Tyrion was all the great things Tyrion is: wise, charming, funny, drunk. Joffrey was at his most obnoxious, Davos his most noble, and Arya her most vengeful (and most awesome). While we're still talking about the Starks ... those Frey bannermen never saw it coming, did they? Arya has had a hard life since her father died, and she’s been resilient. She has longed for vengeance for her father and others around her who’ve died—we’ve all heard the list of people she wishes to kill that she whispers every night. But this taunting is too much, and her grief is too fresh, and she reacts viciously.
Busbee: I feel like we shouldn't want a little girl to go on a murderous crusade of vengeance, but I'll say it: I'm rooting for her. Valar morghulis, girl. And yes, we did see everyone boiled to their essences in this episode. Everyone except our pal Jaime. I’m interested to see what your thoughts are. He's not the same man as when Cersei last saw him, and not just because he's missing a little something.
Larimore: We get an idea of how humbled he's been by his journey—all of it, from when he realized that Cat just wanted her daughters back, to his friendship with Brienne, to losing his hand—that he can only chuckle when a man in King's Landing treats him like lowborn scum. The old Jaime would have reacted a tad more indignantly. Speaking of Cersei, we actually had a few moments of "sympathetic Cersei" here, like when she tells Tyrion to give Sansa a baby so she can have a small amount of happiness. (Again, we must throw in the caveat that Westeros is a strange, strange place, so that suggestion actually has some logic to it.) And she actually means it! It's always disconcerting to see that side of Cersei, don't you think?
Busbee: To pivot off Tyrion's line about monsters, the most terrifying monsters are the ones who have some shred of humanity about them. Tywin, you know he'll step on your neck without a second thought. Cersei? She does have a tiny bit of kindness in her, or at least understanding of what kindness is. That makes her all the more threatening, because she'll have you off guard at every turn. Even Tyrion is somewhat thrown by her at times, and it's tough to play a player. That's what was disconcerting about much of this episode, the way that several characters, like Ygritte and Melisandre, acted unexpectedly and forced you to reassess them.
Larimore: I can't say I'm a fan of Melisandre, but her scene with Davos was good (though it does remind us that Stannis is really pretty useless. Who needs him?). They both are different examples of something that the series (books and show) does well. Davos reminds us that the most noble characters are rarely noblemen (his title, as he tells Gendry, is a "recent state of affairs"). And magic and religion are handled with such complexity. When you put the honorable and full-of-common-sense Davos in a room with the mysterious Melisandre (is she really powerful, or just power hungry?), sparks fly. And whatever Melisandre is, she's not stupid. Whether the "fire" tells her that the “real war lies to the north,” or whether she realizes it's a way for Stannis to earn the respect and love of the Westeros he would rule, she's shrewd. And so it's worth it to spare Davos, since they want the same thing.
Busbee: It's interesting how those on the fringes of power are often the most compelling. Davos turned in a performance that now will keep me from rolling my eyes every time the story shifts to Stannis. (I'm with you. Robb and Cat buy it and this guy still walks around, grilling leeches and boring everyone around him?) And Varys is one of my absolute favorite characters in the series. You get the sense that his influence runs so much deeper than even we know, that we could have an entire Varys & Littlefinger spin-off series showing how these two keep King's Landing, and by association all the other kingdoms, hopping.
Larimore: (Maybe HBO can do Varys & Littlefinger as a medieveal take on The Odd Couple if it ever happens that the show gets ahead of the books, a common concern of fans.) My eyes roll whenever Shae whines to Tyrion about Sansa. She's been around the Lannisters long enough to see how they work. But I did like her conversation with Varys, where she admitted she cared deeply for Sansa and would kill for her. It gave her some much-needed self-awareness and depth. And it marked another misstep for Varys—he essentially got Ros killed when she confided in him, and now he fails to buy off Shae. No one can bat 1,000, but it makes you wonder if he is slipping. Now, we've talked about Stannis heading for the north, but we haven't talked too much about what's going on up there now. Despite three arrows from the lovely and sad Ygritte, Jon Snow made it back to the Wall. And unbeknownst to him, Bran is making his way north of there. Do you have any predictions for how the brothers will fare?
Busbee: Well, we know for sure now that Jon Snow does indeed know nothing, at least as regards women. As for the brothers … I was happy to see the loops starting to close there, what with Sam meeting Bran. Too much of this season has felt scattered, with very few characters leaving their circles to interact with others. (Seriously, Dany … I know the slaves are happy you're there and all, but any time you feel like joining the main narrative. …) You'd hope that the Stark family has some good tidings coming their way, what few of them are left, but I know enough not to root for anybody in this series.
Larimore: At least you know something, Jay Busbee.
Busbee: I know enough not to turn my back on a woman with an arrow pointed at me, I'll tell ya that. (By the way, my archery rankings: 1. Hawkeye from the Avengers, 2. Ygritte, 3. Merida from Brave, 4. Katniss. We need to have a tournament.)
Larimore: (I would think that Ygritte and Katniss would make formidable foes if they partnered up in a Hunger Games, that is for sure.) Now, since this was the finale: How do you feel about the season? A lot happened, and there were some surprising developments, even for readers of the books who knew the Red Wedding was coming. The relationship between Jaime and Brienne was delightful, as was (somewhat unexpectedly) the journey of Arya and the Hound. It reminds me that, even in a sweeping epic series with 10 or 12 storylines and almost that many locations, that what the show does best is really advance a story by showing two people together, talking, fighting, screwing, or wheeling-dealing.
Busbee: Exactly. You learn who these people are in those quiet moments. Jaime's transformation is the most remarkable, but based on the Kingslayer anecdote, he's always been this guy … we just haven't seen it visible. The Hound is going to be hard-pressed to sell off Arya to the highest bidder. And the Tywin-Joffrey conversations are cringeworthy.
Larimore: What will you remember most? What are you most looking forward to next season?
Busbee: Outside of the Red Wedding, which nobody's ever going to forget, it'll be the Jaime arc for me, especially if he is tempted to return to a life of comfort and privileged brutality. And I want to see how the Lannisters deal with what are apparently two overwhelming threats: the White Walkers and Daenarys and her armada. It appears the Lannisters will not have the upper hand (sorry, Jaime) for the first time all series.
Larimore: No one—northerners, southerners, the highborn, the lowborn, HBO subscribers—will forget the Red Wedding. In many ways, the season was a long march to that series-defining moment. I think that I will remember Arya most fondly. She's gone from a brave little girl wishing people dead to being a killer, and a pretty darn good one. She's a Stark unlike any we have seen before, with her family's sense of honor but her own sense of justice.
Larimore: And now, unlike Joffrey, I will admit that it’s late and I’m tired. I’m off to see if the Grand Maester can rustle up some essence of nightshade.
Busbee: But of course! Until next we gather again, I'll be perfecting my Bowl of Brown recipe.
Larimore: And may you never have to live near the privy pipes.