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Game of Thrones Season Finale Recap: The Morning After

It’s the day after the world’s worst wedding. The Freys’ household staff is doing its level best to scrub all the blood from the banquet floor, but you can’t scrub the sound of Catelyn’s screams from our ears. And even as you’re sitting up there, Walder Frey, tucking into some cold leftovers and chuckling at having pulled one over on those goddamn uppity Starks, remember the tale of the Rat Cook: The gods do not forgive the host who harms a guest beneath his own roof.

And suddenly that roof seems very big, indeed. The Lannisters may have crushed the Starks, winnowing this map-spanning conflict down to the War of Three Kings, but now all eyes are swiveling northward. As we wind down season three, it’s as if the camera is pulling back to reveal that, with the proper perspective, the war in Westeros looks very much like those model castles in the Game of Thrones credits: just so many toys, waiting to be swept away by a cold wave of White Walkers. These fractious houses may find that, in the end, they are really just one ill-protected house, and the folks coming over for dinner are not particularly polite.

Wagons are being circled. Birds are coming back to roost. Family and home were key themes in “Mhysa” — although, the episode makes clear, these things are luxuries, not givens, and they are not parceled out evenly among all takers.

Yara, learning of Theon’s fate at the hands (and knives) of Ramsay Snow, defies her father — looking so old and shriveled, sitting by the fire — and declares that she will take the fastest ship in the fleet, 50 of the best killers on the Iron Islands, and she will bring her little brother home. “He’s your son,” she chides Balon. “He’s my brother. He’s a Greyjoy.” It’s a line of argument Tywin Lannister could appreciate; it echoes the story he tells Tyrion about how he didn’t let the sea take his stunted son when he was born, but let him live, “because you’re a Lannister.” (Gee, thanks, Pops.)

Names matter in Westeros. Before Davos and Gendry bond over not-so-fond memories of their mutually humble roots in Flea Bottom, Gendry notes that every time a highborn asks him for his, it means trouble. Names are talismans in this world; they mark you as being deserving of protection. (Though as late-blooming philosopher Cersei points out, “deserving” is a moot point most of the time.) When Varys comes to Shae with a bag of diamonds and urges her to flee Westeros to save Tyrion, he tells her that a girl with no name could never make a life with the son of Tywin Lannister. “I have a name,” she protests. “You have one name, as do I,” he responds. But neither of them have the kind of name that matters: a family one. (Neither did Ros, I’d point out.) This will never be your home, he tells her plainly. As Shae looks out across the water, she’s faced with the same choice she tried to foist on Tyrion at the end of season two, when she begged him to come away with her. But like Tyrion, she won’t go. I’m intrigued by the fierceness of her love for Sansa; their affection had clearly been building all season, but I would never have pegged it as I-would-kill-for-her-level stuff.

Meanwhile, Jaime — having reclaimed his name from under the “Kingslayer” epithet — is coming home, escorted by his new blonde back to his original one. Cersei has been waxing nostalgic, telling a surprised Tyrion that he should follow their father’s wishes and impregnate Sansa — but not as a cruelty, as a kindness. Cersei is a deeply lonely person, her bitterness blooming out of her abiding sense of isolation. When she was a new mother, though, baby Joffrey belonged to her. Even though he’s a baby-faced tyrant now (and getting smacked down by grandpa with a baby’s punishment of bed with no supper), the vile thing Joffrey has grown into doesn’t negate the power of having once had him to herself — someone of her own. So it was particularly poignant to see her sitting there a few scenes later, gently cradling a shell as hard and spiky as her own heart, as Jaime walked in — Jaime, who has always been her real someone. Whether she can love this humbled, diminished version of her golden twin, though, is an open question for season four.

For Jon Snow, his return means the opposite of Jaime’s: a cleaving. In a quietly affecting scene, Ygritte finds him on the run after having been outed as a crow spy. He tells her that he loves her, but that doesn’t change what has to come next: He has to go home. She loves him, too, but despite all their honeymoon-phase fantasy talk of silk dresses and fancy castles, there’s not much for a wildling girl to do on the other side of the Wall. So since she can’t kiss him, she shoots him a bunch of times. Jon eventually staggers into Castle Black, and there is his brother, Sam, who tells him, as he collapses off his horse, hush, you’re home. And in one way, he is. But we’ve already heard Maester Aemon remind Sam of the Night’s Watch oaths, which include that tricky little vow of chastity. That particular ship has sailed for Jon — and we’ve already seen, with Robb, what happens to the sons of Ned Stark when they break an oath for the sake of love. Castle Black may not be his home for long.

The other Stark children, of course, can never go home again, because no such thing exists. And so they point their compasses in a different direction. With Robb gone, Bran is the new man of the family. But his task is even greater than the preservation of his house: It’s the preservation of the whole land. (Exactly how he is going to accomplish this with two kids and a Hodor, even if armed with some dragonglass, is beyond me.) Bran has been evolving into a kind of prophesied savior figure all season; in “Mhysa,” he rejects Sam and Gilly’s pleas to come back to Castle Black with them and instead ventures north, to the unknown, his little band silhouetted against the moonlit sky as a dirgelike version of the theme song plays in the background.

His sister Arya, after all her wanderings, may have finally decided to stop chasing the tattered remains of the Stark line. Stuck in the worst adaptation of Groundhog Day ever, Arya has to witness, once again, the horrifying aftermath of violence being perpetrated against her family. Two seasons ago, she stood in the crowd as her father was decapitated. This time, she looks on as Frey men parade around with Grey Wind’s head sewn onto her brother’s corpse. Surely I’m not the only one who felt that stabbing the man who did the sewing was a justifiable action on her part. But at the same time, violence is doomed to repeat itself. Doesn’t it stand to reason that at some point, Arya will be so warped by what she’s seen that her soul will grow as gnarled as the Hound’s face? In the season-two closer, Jaqen H’ghar offered Arya a chance to escape the mess that is Westeros and join his assassin’s guild, the Faceless Men. Then, Arya refused; she had too much holding her to her homeland. But now she pulls out his coin and whispers the magic words that will supposedly whisk her away to Braavos: “Valar morghulis.”

Even Theon’s insane torturer was folded into the main episode themes: This crazy-eyed apple falls from the very same tree that helped orchestrate the Red Wedding, one Roose “Is Loose” Bolton. Given a name for the first time, Ramsay Snow takes away Theon’s, rechristening him “Reek.” I find myself having very few productive thoughts about this bit. Gratuitous, gory, and for Pete’s sake with the terrible pork sausage joke. I know it wasn’t supposed to be funny ha ha, but I felt like it was just grossness without the pleasure of any fresh kind of shock. And I felt, in a way, that it cheapened the Red Wedding, taking something away from the elegance and high drama of that slaughterfest. I really hope Yara gets there soon.

And not to end on a sour note — because I did think “Mhysa” was a tight, elegant episode — but did anyone else watch the final scene outside Yunkai and think, “Hmmm, am I really looking at a pretty white lady being worshiped by thousands upon thousands of adoring brown people?” The final image of Daenerys, in her Mother Mary cerulean blue, floating at the center of a giant halo of hands, was a visually striking one. And it was a fitting capper for a season arc that’s been all about Daenerys internalizing, and then expressing, this sense of herself as a Joan of Arc–style spiritual and military leader, half-goddess and half-general. But Yunkai, as a society, has not been fleshed-out yet; its people are ciphers. (And that may be the point: Yunkai is a city that Daenerys doesn’t know but has nonetheless “liberated,” and I think we’re meant to be skeptical of that particular impulse, and the fate of her growing empire-in-exile. The look on her face as she crowdsurfed was the smile of a giddy teenager, not a queen.) Here’s hoping the Yunkish will be developed a bit in season four and become more than anonymous decorations in the temple of Daenerys’s cult.

Overall, though, “Mhysa” was a strong finale to a strong season, with plenty of story lines brought to natural inflection points, and many mysteries to pick up in season four. What will happen to Gendry, for example, off on that rickety little boat? Will Walder Frey get his comeuppance? And who will sheep-shift Desmond Crakehall’s bed now

Thanks for joining this season. It’s been a pleasure every week.

Now fuck off. Or does fuck off mean something different where you’re from?

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Photo: HBO