[Contains blind-siding, bushwhacking SPOILERS!!!]
And so we come to the end of another, all-too-brief season of Game of Thrones… one which may well finish with far fewer viewers than it began, after the tragic and traumatic events in the penultimate episode.
While I have no intention of dropping the series myself, I can understand why many might choose to do so… after all, I gave up on The Vampire Diaries for equally outraged reasons… but I think there’s a distinction here that needs to be made. With TVD, I was appalled that such a sweet and funny supporting character could be killed in cold blood by a main character, who we would still be expected to respect and sympathise with over the following episodes, as some sort of sexy, smouldering “bad boy”… I was equally appalled by how quickly the other main characters forgot and/or forgave his heinous crime. With GoT, however, the massacre of the Starks was orchestrated by supporting characters who were never sold as anything other than sadistic, devious curs… and while no formal declaration of war existed between House Stark and House Frey prior to the ambush, the fact remains that the Starks were at war. They may have been unarmed and unprepared at the time of the assault itself, but that’s largely because they’re too noble and naive to expect the sort of guerrilla tactics that were employed against them.
My point is that they weren’t “innocent civilians” in the same way that Lexi was in TVD… and (regardless of Frey’s own petty motives) they weren’t killed simply to cover a single, selfish a-hole’s back… they were killed to quell a rebellious, treasonous uprising that had torn the entire country apart. Don’t get me wrong, I believe Robb Stark had right on his side, and no one can fault him for taking up arms against a spoiled, sadistic, snivelling, slappable little shit like Joffrey Lannister… but I can’t say I ever had much faith in him as a military strategist or a potential ruler. I don’t want to “blame the victim” and say he had it coming… but, to some extent, he did rather dig his own grave (and then shag Talisa in it). Which isn’t to say that I wasn’t shocked and horrified by the way “The Red Wedding” played out, because I’m still getting rather unwelcome flashbacks to the gorier moments as I write this… but I don’t consider it a “deal breaker”, as far as my appreciation and admiration for the show goes. If anything, it’s a welcome reminder that War isn’t all about dashing young men doing terribly heroic and romantic things for Queen-and-Country… War is ugly and brutal and dehumanising and degrading and icky and not for the feint-of-heart. Fact.
Would I have felt differently if Arya (Maisie Williams) had gone leaping feet-first into the bloodbath, as she so very nearly did? Hell, yes! I would’ve cursed GRR Martin as a muthaf*cka, and punched out a ranty blog post with my bloodied fists, while frothing at the mouth… but thankfully she was saved by The Hound, to live another day. Hurrah! Unfortunately, I now have far less faith in her potential “hero’s journey”, and feel a lot more nervous about the long-term prospects of all my favourite characters. For what it’s worth, in an Entertainment Weekly interview about the episode (and its corresponding chapter, back in the day), Martin reiterated that he anticipates “a bittersweet ending” for the (still unfinished) series of novels. Not quite sure what that means for our Arya, but I was glad to see her reconsidering Jacquin’s offer to train her up as a stealthy assassin, so she can eschew the Stark family tradition of gambolling carelessly into slaughterhouses.
Hopefully, we’ll get to see Dany* (Emilia Clarke) and her dragons set foot (and talon) in Westeros someday… because she’s really been making up for a rather lacklustre second season, by stepping up her game and razing slave-cities to the ground! Her obvious sympathy for the oppressed masses, backed up by a willingness to put her own neck on the line in the name of emancipation, makes her a firm favourite for the Iron Throne in my book… but Martin has proudly stated that he likes his fiction “to be unpredictable”, so the very fact that she’s the most obvious and desirable candidate might well count against her in the long-run. And now I have to prepare myself for the possible nightmare scenario of Arya, Dany and Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) all facing-off against each other in some sort of heart-breaking three-way duel to the death, dammit!
It was fun seeing British “character actors” like Clive Russell, Paul Kaye, Iwan Rheon and Mackenzie Crook LARP-ing their hearts out this season, while the legendary Diana Rigg was “keeping it real” as ‘Olenna Tyrell’… but my favourite new cast member has to be Ellie Kendrick as ‘Meera Reed’, another feisty tomboy to cheer on and crush on (while trying not to get too attached, because you never know when she’ll cash out…). I particularly liked her line about helping the weak and the meek: “Some people will always need help. That doesn’t mean they’re not worth helping.” Take that, Ayn Rand! I have to say though, seeing her hiding out in the mill with Bran and company, trying to stay quiet so as not to alert the nearby Wildlings to their presence, did make me wonder if she felt a little déjà vu after playing Anne Frank in the BBC adaptation of her diaries!
Meanwhile, ‘Yara Greyjoy’ (Gemma Whelan) was benched for most of this season, but came back strong in the finale… ‘Ygritte’ (Rose Leslie) got rather brutally dumped, but didn’t go down without a fight (yes, that was an oral sex joke)… I’ve already praised Natalie Dormer’s fine work as ‘Margaery Tyrell’, of course… and Brienne’s wacky “road trip” with Jaime more than lived up to its promise, and delivered a strangely satisfying resolution-of-sorts as they finally found their weary, wounded way to King’s Landing. Lord knows what’s going to happen with them after this, but at least it should give Cersei someone else to say mean things about! Fun!
* Aka: Daenerys Stormborn of House Targaryen, the First of Her Name, Silver Queen of the Andals and the First Men, Lady Regnant of the Seven Kingdoms, Protector of the Realm, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, The Unburnt, Breaker of Chains, and Mother of Dragons!