No more shrieking reaction videos on YouTube until at least 2014, as “Game if Thrones” ends season three on a mostly upbeat and forward-looking note. This was the one-two punch or shock and dismay followed by soaring hope that worked so well at the end of Season One. In both cases with a key assist by dragons.
By and large this was an episode of reunions and transformations.
The restoration of Jon and Sam, with Gilly and child to Castle Black, with several samples of the volcanic black glass that can vaporize the White Walkers, was almost too smoothly orchestrated to be as moving as it should have been.
In contrast, the surprising power of the Cersei and Jamie meeting was a good example of what long-form storytelling can accomplish. Simply by taking this relationship seriously over the full three years the show has transcended not just the initial ick factor but all considerations of whether or not the siblings can “help themselves.” We have come to accept the fact that they see each other as soulmates.
The stability of their bond is especially impressive when you consider that radical shifts in the balance of power and significant character transformations are the norm in George RR Martin’s universe. That a being as vile as Walder Frey could be in a position to supplant, even for a time, the righteous rulers of the North, is scarcely an aberration. Surreal levels of injustice are a natural outcome of a system whose lifeblood is a ceaseless struggle for power uninflected by higher values.
At the most obvious level we have the effects on their personalities of the amputations inflicted on Jamie and Theon, the latter even involving a change of name, to the de-humanizing super-diminutive “Reek.” And we saw, this week, that the cumulative effects of the trauma she has endured have completed the shaping of Arya Stark into a stone killer. She now seems a fully apt companion for The Hound, as deeply scarred inside as he is on the outside.
Changes for the worse come close to being balanced out by developments that point with some hope to the future. The Lannisters, for the time being, are in the ascendant but, as Tyrion observes, “For every enemy we defeat, we create two new ones.” The enormous scale of coming events is suggested by the ice and fire juxtaposition of events in the frozen North and in the desert East, the sense of huge throngs of potential adversaries converging.
Daenerys is emerging as our obvious first choice to rule Westeros, and not only because we are so looking forward to watching her swoop down on King’s Landing on the back of a full-grown dragon. Dany deserves to rule because she is a liberator rather than a tyrant, an innovator of a post-medieval style of leadership. If you wanted to wax Hegelian about it you could say that Dany’s victory is inevitable because she represents the evolution of the human spirit toward freedom. The episode title, “Mhysa,” meaning “mother,” the acclamation her new subjects choose for her, suggests a more primal relationship between a ruler and the ruled.
We know better, obviously, than to count on anything happening in this story exactly the way we hope it will. The steely Stannis, not to mention Jon Snow and for the future Bran, who is maturing rapidly, are not to be counted out. Anticipation and second guessing are part of the fun, but we shouldn’t put too much stock in it. One of the great pleasures of following this saga is the sure knowledge that George Martin and his faithful adapters will always be several jumps ahead of us.