It hardly seemed possible that only an hour could resolve last week's traumatic episode, as the ramifications of the Red Wedding see the Stark House effectively obliterated with the Lannisters, Freys and Bolton's carving up the spoils. But in Mhysa, an understated but utterly absorbing season conclusion, the themes of the show were richly delivered in scene after brilliant scene between all the major characters. Whilst thirst for power and a desire to do good drive people, at the end the people of the show are defined by their family.
The episode begins in pandemonium, as the rest of the Stark House are butchered at the Twins, the wolf sigil on fire visually capturing the great northern house turned to ashes. Pouring salt in every viewer's wounds, the traitorous troops march the decapitated body of Robb Stark about with his dire wolf Grey Wind's head on top.
Aside from this barbaric opening, the blood letting is relatively light in Mhysa. Only once more do we get another scene of violence, as Arya provides us with a small catharsis in killing her first man, a Frey, and letting the Hound finish the rest off.
The murder might be of small satisfaction to her, but in the greater scale of things the events of the Red Wedding have permanently altered the landscape of Westeros and brings an end to the war between the Starks and the Lannisters. Joffrey can barely contain his glee at hearing his enemy is vanquished, thanking the Freys without realising that the event was not one of fealty but a cleverly orchestrated move by Hand of the Kind Tywin Lannister. But his dogged determination to bettering his family's dynasty comes to the detriment of those closest to him. Tyrion says he has always thought of himself only to be told that the Imp is in fact his ultimate sacrifice as he was kept alive only to continue the Lannister line.
You'd think it be the same with Joffrey, but as Cersei admits, his monstrosities can't prevent her love for her own children. In a tender speech she says:
"You always hear the terrible ones were terrible babies, 'we should have known even then we should have known.' It's nonsense. Whenever he was with me he was happy."
It's not just because the children are her own, it is that they were children she brought into this world with her brother Jaime. Sparing the disgusting thought, she is rewarded when the man most important to her returns, revealing to Cersei that with one less right hand he has not come back the same man.
Jon Snow was also reunited with his other family as he made it back to Castle Black to join the rest of the Night's Watch. In an unfortunately hokey and contrived scene, Ygritte manages to catch up with him and holds him at arrow-point. Confessing he knows she won't harm him, he is subsequently shot three times and barely manages to escape with the arrows inside-him. He truly does know nothing.
Sam also makes it back to his family at Castle Black. He promises to Maester Aemon that Gilly's baby boy is not evidence of breaking his vows and asks him to give her sanctuary in the grounds. As he declares the realms of men, "Mean her as well as us". It's been a great evolution this season for Sam, emerging from being the cowardly fat man to a true hero; saving Gilly, killing a White Walker, and now convincing the rest of the Night's Watch of the threat to the Seven Kingdoms. Writing out warnings across Westeros, the 'wizard' proves the pen is mightier than the sword.
He also helped Bran in his quest north of the Wall. Immediately recognising the young Stark from his dire wolf Summer, he calls, "Any brother of Jon a brother of mine". Bran would like nothing more than to join Jon at Castle Black, but realises that his destiny is more important. Jojen declares that no one in the Seven Kingdoms can stop the White Walkers, but perhaps Bran can.
Or maybe it will be Daenerys. After taking the city of Yunkai under cover of darkness, in the sweltering day the masses pour out of the gates to greet the mother of dragons. Chanting 'Mhysa', Ghiscari for mother, she boldly walks into the crowd of loving arms. In a show based on treachery and betrayal as various forces battle for power, the unadulterated love shown towards the great liberator provides the spark of hope in the show. Last season ended on the masses of White Walkers, highlighting the grave battle ahead. Here we end on Daenerys lifted up by the people of Yunkai, their love a force that can hopefully vanquish the darkness.
Playing the Game
Who else could be playing the game better than Tywin Lannister? The puppet master who successfully pulled the strings in the Lannister's favour, bringing the Stark House down and uniting the Seven Kingdoms under his spell.
In another electric scene between father and son, Tyrion chastises Tywin for winning through deceit, only for Tywin to coldly respond that it's better to lose a few lives at a wedding than ten thousand in war. The ultimate pragmatist, he has achieved victory for House Lannister without any of the inevitable scorn that will fall on Walder Frey for breaking the sacred vows of hospitality.
It all makes sense now that Roose Bolton would produce bastard offspring as rotten as Ramsay Snow. The sharp-eyed would have worked out the identity of Theon's torturer before, spotting the nice visual motif of the St Andrew's Cross; the Bolton sigil and what Theon finds himself hanging from through all of this series.
A less tasteful motif is that of the phallic sausage Ramsey chomps on whilst the camera returns to focus on Theon's deprived crotch. His actions, namely sending Theon's member off to Balon Greyjoy, spur the Iron Islanders into action. Whilst Balon dismisses his only son on the grounds of legacy, saying he is only a fool who cannot now father children, Yara defends Theon by saying, "He is my brother". Whilst it was strange to have the two included in the finale when they have not appeared all season, the stage is set for rescue of Theon Greyjoy by Yara in season four.
A maligned character throughout this season and the last, it was Davos Seaworth who had the best lines and best scenes in this enthralling episode. A reverse-snobbery match with Gendry descends into the Four Yorkshiremen sketch as the Onion Knight proves his humble origins from the filthy alleyways of King's Landing.
Davos might not be a king or a mother of dragons, but from a poor working class background he single-handedly changes the course of history in Westeros through his noble actions. Saving Gendry from being sacrificed by Melisandre, he emphatically responds to Stannis's question of whether one bastard is worth a kingdom by saying it is, "Everything". He might not be high-born, but he has learned from the death of his own son that a family name means nothing, and that all that matters is to protect the Seven Kingdoms from what horror lurks north of the wall.