Five Essay Prompts for Game of Thrones Season 3 Finale: ‘Mhysa’

Drop the mic. (Alex Bedder)

Drop the mic. (Alex Bedder)

These questions regard last night’s episode of HBO’s Game of Thrones. Please answer the prompts with specific examples from LAST NIGHT’S EPISODE, though supplementary material will be accepted as a secondary source. Please write legibly. No. 2 pencils only. You have an hour to finish this test. See below for questions and sample responses.

1. Dads … right? For a show that has shown us how powerful a mother’s love for her children can be–Dany and her dragons, Cersei and her son, Catelyn and her children–this week’s finale bludgeoned us over the head with the opposite. Apparently all dads hate their sons, to the point where getting the LITERAL “dick in a box” of your only male offspring can’t sway you to pull out of a losing battle. From the rat lord to Tywin’s admission to Tyrion to the revelation of the identity of Theon’s torturer as the bastard of Roose Bolton, is there such a thing as a positive male parental figure on this show?

Well, leaving aside the whole situation of the vengeful Starks and their Cult of the Dead Dad, the return of Jaime Lannister this week reminds us of the essential point that, unlike motherhood, the question of who is your real father will always be an open one in this world without paternity tests or a Montel Williams to force dads to undergo them. So accepting a son as your own is always something of an act of faith, not to mention a gamble, for these characters. Balon and Tywin seem to think they have backed losing horses. The saving grace in such a fluid paternal situation is that adoptive fathers and similar father figures have a huge role to play here, stepping in to commit this act of faith where real dads continue to fail. So we have Davos, who has lost his own son, playing the fatherly role to both the fatherless Gendry and the might-as-well-be-fatherless Shireen, Sam forced to deny his paternity of the newly named Sam Jr. while clearly being a better father to him than Craster (not that this was much of a challenge, all things considered) and the Hound edging his clumsy way into a definite parental role vis-a-vis Arya, even if it is one that condones killing as long as they do it as a team. Fathers are those who act like fathers; imagine how much happier Tyrion would be (and Theon would have been) if he just stopped trying to satisfy this man who is nothing to him but biology.

2. Tywin’s argument–that the “dishonor” of killing the Starks at a wedding is outweighed by the fact that it means fewer bodies on the ground–is totally disingenuous (the real reason is that he wasn’t able to beat Robb in battle), but it rings eerily similar to the reasons given by our government for “lightweight war” and the use of drone attacks. I really thought there’d be a better PRISM analogy to use tonight, as almost every episode of Game of Thrones has some sort of “leak” of information, but are there other resemblances to the current administration’s foreign policy to be found in this magical, medieval landscape?

As long as there have been governments, there have been spies, so a leak of information is not itself a surprising element or theme of any story that involves statecraft. Of course, the governments of Westeros have no technology that compares to our unimaginably vast surveillance networks–these are people who communicate by bird, after all, and who can cut a city off from the grid through a simple raven genocide. Stannis seems to suggest that dragons and other kinds of magic are the military-support technology of their world, and if so, and if the gods real, then Tywin has made a crucial misstep. Bran reminds us how poorly their gods, similar to those of the Greeks, take violations of hospitality, a much worse sin than, say, murder and forced cannibalism. Much like our United Nations, however, they don’t seem to intervene, so maybe Tywin has it all in hand. After all, there are no laws constraining him, as there are supposed to be constraining our government, no Geneva convention, and no free press to cry him foul. In his world, the victors really do get to write the history books, in the most literal sense, not to mention the songs that the minstrels of the future will play.

3. It’s the return of Tyrion’s one-liners! Between his mocking of Walder Frey’s cryptic note (“Is this bad poetry?) to his wisdom to Podrick (“It’s not easy being drunk all the time. If it was easy, everyone would do it.”) to his slam-dunk on Cersei (“There’s nothing worse than a late-blooming philospher”), the half man is back in full form and better than ever. I’d like to say he’s Westeros’s answer to Mark Twain or Oscar Wilde, but he’s got a little too much of the Byronic thing going on to be as glib as he pretends. But there are certain similarities to Tyrion’s life and that of our most celebrated writers (rich parents, the black sheep of the family, an alcoholic), and we can all agree that if he chose to write a book, it would be an instant classic.

As Jonathan Franzen (or one of those other oft-quoted novelists who always do these things), write a back page blurb for Tyrion’s debut book. You may not use the following phrases: “promising,” “young,” or “voice of his generation.”

Years of sharpening his wit on the whetstone of his familial frustrations have made Tyrion Lannister a rapier-sharp raconteur, and now one of our finest novelists. Everyone, from the prostitutes of Flea Bottom to the High Septon, will find themselves stung, in the most pleasurable of ways, by this, his sparklingly debauched debut. A roman à clef that spares no one, not even the king, in its merciless portrayal of palace life, Knee-High to a Man marks the arrival of a crucial new voice in Westerosi fiction. Small though he may be, Tyrion Lannister is a monstrously huge talent, and I, for one, can’t wait to see what he does next.

4. While the premiere of Game of Thrones began with a scene involving the White Walkers, until now they’ve just been just another narrative thread as part of our “Keeping Up with the Starks (and Lannisters and Dany).” But now Melisandre, one of the biggest manipulators of the game–whose angle has been, as far as we know, to get Stannis on throne so she herself could take power–has done a 180 by claiming that there are now more important wars to be fought. I don’t know what kind of “magic fire” you need to tell you that the upcoming zombie apocalypse is a little more pressing than the bitch-fight over who gets to sit in the world’s most uncomfortable chair, but does Stannis have a point about Melisandre and her sorcery? Could the Onion Knight’s fear of her powers have made him prejudiced?

And more importantly … if characters are finally waking up and realizing that land titles and monarchy mean nothing when faced with the reality that there is some crazy ass supernatural shit going on in their world, does that mean we have to throw everything we’ve learned from the last three seasons out the window?

Have we actually learned anything from the last three seasons? I mean, besides “the world is a horrible place and everyone and everything is trying to kill you and all happiness is a fleeting moment between massive amounts of pain and also winter is coming”? Post-Red Wedding, I think it is fair to say that whatever we thought we knew about whom to root for and why is also out the window like a twincest-spying Bran. The approaching zombie apocalypse is entirely in line with this. If anything, it seems a little too on the nose. Horrible things happen, and also we have an approaching army of horribleness just waiting to illustrate that. But that war seems a ways off, considering there is another army from the North, Mance Rayder’s, between Stannis and the Wall at this point.

If we and Melisandre are to draw any conclusion, it is that Game of Thrones cares much more about the little people (that one’s not a dwarf joke) than it does about the story’s major geopolitical players. As in Lord of the Rings, the armies will range against one another, but it will be the actions of individuals–probably those ignored by kings–who turn the tide. At least that is what I hope, because something has got to make Bran’s story have a point. Otherwise it is just “crippled boy gets carried for miles in the snow,” and that is getting pretty old.

5. So we finally find out who has been keeping Theon captive in this season’s most uncomfortable/unwatchable scenes! And it’s…the bastard son of the most cold-hearted traitor in the North? Seriously? What does it say about Roose Bolton, who betrayed the Starks to win the Lannisters’ affection and get his wife’s weight in silver by marrying a Frey, that he knowingly entrusted his OBVIOUSLY INSANE son with such an important task as defeating the Ironborn invaders?

We can talk about filial cannibalism all we want, but are there other examples where blood IS actually thicker than water? Or at least thicker than Dany’s new Jolie-Pitt model of 3rd world adoption?

Ugh, Roose Bolton. It’s like instead of understanding that we are quickly running out of characters to root for, the show keeps giving us more and worse bad guys, of which we have a surfeit. Bolton really is remarkably odious, though, isn’t he?

Speaking of odious, the obvious reference for actual family-feeling in this episode would be Cersei’s speech (possibly her best yet) painting Joffrey as a sweet little child. But assuming we take her at her word, the clear implication is that psychopaths aren’t born but bred. And who bred that sweet flaxen-haired boy into the whore-killing terror he is today but Cersei? The doting mother who doted too much seems to have literally spoiled her son, ruined him, twisted him into something truly awful. It is enough to make you wish for the Tywin model.

Luckily we do have a couple of blood relations who are showing them all how it’s done, and notably, they are both siblings, not parents. And both sisters, at that. Arya finally puts her dagger where her mouth is and offs a dude—I actually cheered—because he was bragging (and almost certainly lying) about desecrating her brother’s body. And similarly, Yara Greyjoy goes against her father’s wishes to save her brother and take revenge for his own desecrated body. The edge goes to Yara, though, who barely knows her brother, and to the extent that she does, hates his guts. But she does the right thing by him anyway. Leave it to a ship captain to remember what blood is thicker than.