If all season has been a treatise on betrayal, then last week was the big lesson. This means, this week is the denouement; the application of that lesson. We saw how the powers that be repositioned themselves after the betrayal of King Robb and the destruction of the Army of the North. We saw how the Freys and the Boltons massacred that aforementioned army and desecrated the body of their former king by sticking upon it the head of his dead direwolf. But we also got the revelation of the architect for the Red Wedding: Lord Tywin Lannister.
It should have been no surprise. As Tyrion points out, Walder Frey is a man prickly about his honor and he wouldn’t have violated guest right without assurances from the King in the Iron Throne. Assurances that came not from the King, but from the most powerful man in the Kingdoms – his grandfather and Hand. It’s amusing to see Joffrey bluster at his grandfather and be sent, like a little boy, grounded to his rooms for talking while grown folks was talking. It would be even more if Tyrion wasn’t certain of Joffrey’s growing bloodlust. Tywin thinks there’s still time to fix that.
But it’s not surprising to see that Tywin has planned all of this out. With Robb dead and Bran and Rickon presumed murdered at the hands of Theon Greyjoy, the male heirs to the Stark line are all removed. The North will go to Lord Roose Bolton, whose bastard son, Ramsay, is finally revealed as Theon Greyjoy’s torturer. Tyrion will arrive in a few years’ time to Winterfell as husband to the eldest female heir, Sansa, and father to the new Lord of Winterfell. The Northerners will, by that point, be glad to be rid of the treacherous Lord Bolton and his bloodthirsty son and will welcome home a true Stark. Thus, the Lannisters will have conquered the North without having spilled a drop of Stark blood themselves. That is, if Tyrion is willing to debase himself and rape the grieving Sansa Stark – a task that is way beyond him. Tywin reveals to Tyrion that he’s done things he’s found disgusting for the good of his family — most notably, allowing Tyrion to live when all he wanted to do was kill him.
Varys sees potential greatness and more in Tyrion, but he also knows that Tyrion remains bound by love to Shae. And he knows that Shae will not leave. So he sets about removing Shae from Tyrion’s life. He offers her a chance to leave Westeros. A bagful of choice gems will buy her a trip across the Narrow Sea, a home and servants and a chance at a life as a lady. She rejects it out of love and out of spite – she thinks Varys is doing Tyrion’s dirty work for him. Varys was trying to liberate Shae from the reckoning that is coming, but she could not see that.
Someone who cannot see during this episode is Arya. She is lost in the grief and the pain of having lost her mother and brother; of having come so close once again to being reunited with her family and having that snatched away by the hands of others. So she does the only thing she can do at that moment – she lashes out at the laughing soldiers from The Twins. She uses the training and skills she has gained from both her masters and from her journey in order to lull the soldiers into thinking she’s no threat and, when the opening presents itself, she takes bloody retribution. The rest of the soldiers are easily dispatched by one of Westeros’ best killers, Sandor Clegane. She will ride with him still, but she is beginning to take charge over her life – liberating her own self, so to speak. But she’s also giving in to her darker nature. What will the rebel daughter of Ned Stark be now?
Speaking of betrayers, we get a neat little scene that juxtaposes its effects in the hall of King Balon Greyjoy and his daughter, Yara. They have received Theon’s castrated penis in a nice box and a warning from Ramsay Snow, son of Roose Bolton, telling them that, unless they withdraw their forces from the North, they’ll get more shipments of Theon in the mail. We also finally find the fate of the Ironborn who betrayed Theon in Winterfell. They were brutally killed by Ramsay. Yara is aghast at the idea and proposes to free Theon, but Balon will not hear it. His conquest is far more important than the fate of the son he never loved and whose foolish attempt to please him have left him a mutilated, tortured prisoner of a sadistic killer. Balon prefers to abandon and betray his son once more. His daughter is not so cruel. Yara opts to sail by herself to his rescue – a single ship, a small crew of the best killers and a determined sister bent on freeing her little brother.
But what of him will she find? Ramsay Snow has done great work all season in stripping Theon Greyjoy away. He took from him his hope. He took away his freedom. He took away his dignity. He took away his manhood. Now, at last, Ramsay takes away his very name and reduces the former Prince of Winterfell to Reek. (It rhymes with meek.) The boy who dreamed of himself as a mighty conqueror is reduced to a whimpering, bloody, broken mess. His betrayal of his true brother, Robb Stark, as much a reason for Robb’s death as it is his own pain. Such is the price for those who play this game, miscalculate their strength and lose.
Compare Theon’s failures with Danaerys’ triumphs. Her knights – Ser Jorah, Grey Worm and Daario Naharis – had delivered Yunkai to her. But, as someone who has tasted bitter betrayal before, she is not willing to expose herself. She knows better than to ride in as conqueror. She needed the city’s slaves to rise up against their masters – to turn the way of the world on its ear. Her warriors had done as much, but they could not force slaves to not be slaves. That would be on them to accomplish. Even as they approached the Mother of Dragons, the questions were still there. “Would they welcome them as liberators or see them as more conquerors?” Their reaction was to reach out for their “Mhysa”; their “Mother.” They embraced her as someone who has come to free them. What will that do to someone who still has many miles to go before she reclaims her throne? Will she continue to be the liberator or turn to be a conqueror when she gets to Westeros?
This decision lies at the heart of Davos’ pleas to King Stannis, who is deliberating whether or not to sacrifice Gendry to Lady Melisandre’s flames. Davos is a good man who still believes in his king. But he knows that, if Stannis betrays and kills an innocent young man – and his kin no less – he will be no better than his rivals for the Iron Throne. And when he reads the words of warning from The Wall, he chooses to act. At first glance, it seems as if he’s betraying Stannis when he frees Gendry. What he’s done instead is force his king and the king’s priestess to face the reality of their situation: if you are really a king, you wouldn’t cause the Kingdoms to bleed. You’d rally forth to the frozen black brothers and defend your kingdom. It just so happens that this rally is tied to the great war that Melisandre believes is coming – the War against the White Walkers.
And against these foes, two of Ned Stark’s own children will be crucial to the fight. First, there’s Jon Snow. He is finally forced to confront his betrayed lover, Ygritte. His pleas to her that he had no choice and had never betrayed the Night’s Watch cause fell on deaf ears. The young woman, betrayed, angered and unsure of what to do, began to put arrows into her former lover as he tried to get away. Their passion for one another was likely the only reason she didn’t kill him outright. All the same, he arrived at Castle Black barely clinging to life. The same Castle Black where the wildlings are planning to converge.
Finally, there’s Brandon Stark and his quest for the three-eyed raven. There was some irony in his tale of the Rat King in the Night Fort – a man cursed by the gods for daring to violate guest right. There’s even further irony in that it is Sam, Jon’s friend, who stumbles upon them as they seek a passage across The Wall. Sam tries his best to convince Bran to come with him and Gilly to Castle Black. But as Bran says, all of the armies of men in Westeros will fail against the threat of the White Walkers. If he finds the three-eyed raven, he may, however, be able to stop the darkness that is coming.
And so, he, Hodor, Summer and the Reeds quietly march down the tunnel that leads to the Frozen North – a far cry from the Night’s Watch march in Season 1 or the many other armies that we have seen marching so far. These four poor souls may be all that stands between life and death for the peoples of the Seven Kingdoms. They are the defenders of all that is alive – even those who have betrayed their families and caused so much pain and misery. Such is the price for those who wish to be heroes and save the world.
And this is where Season 3 ends. The story from A Storm of Swords is half told. Next season will introduce us to the warriors of Dorne. It will bring us the King Beyond the Wall’s assault on The Wall. It will finally show us the royal union between King Joffrey Baratheon and Lady Margaery Tyrell. And more than likely one or two surprises. See you then.