The last scene of a season finale, ideally, should be a strong, clear note – something that resonates, to hold the viewer throughout the long dry spell until the next premiere. “Game of Thrones'" first season ended with Daenerys, at her lowest point, reborn in the ashes of her husband’s funeral pyre, with three newly hatched dragons; season two ended with our first good look at the ethereal White Walkers that threatened the realms of men. Season three ends with Daenerys borne aloft on the shoulders of slaves, proclaiming her “mhysa,” or mother, with uplifting choral music swelling. It doesn’t quite have the same chill that the first two seasons closed out with. (This viewer may also just be sore that a certain scene wasn't included yet. More on that later.)
“Mhysa” opens with the immediate aftermath of the Red Wedding. Roose Bolton is atop the battlements of the Twins, surveying his men and the Freys slaughtering the drunk Stark forces. Below, the Hound sneaks Arya away, but not before she regains consciousness to see the mockery the Freys have made of her brother’s corpse. Robb’s body is paraded around, tied to a horse, with his wolf’s head sewn on top of it, while the Frey men mockingly chant “The King in the North!”
The next morning, life goes on: the washerwomen are cleaning the bloodstains of of the banquet hall at the twins, as Walder Frey gloats. He was never a well-respected man by the Starks or the Tullys, and now he’s bested them for good. But perhaps not completely – Bolton delivers the news that Catelyn’s uncle, the Blackfish, has escaped. We also find out that the boy who's been torturing Theon all this time is Bolton's bastard son, Ramsay Snow.
In the torture chamber, Ramsay taunts Theon about his emasculation. Then he forces Theon to answer to a new name: Reek. Back on the Iron Islands, the Greyjoys receive a present from Ramsay -- a piece of Theon, and an order to withdraw from the north, which now (by King Joffrey's decree) is Roose Bolton's. Balon is content to leave his son to rot, but Yara doesn't want to leave her brother to torture. She raises a ship and men to go out and rescue Theon.
At the Nightfort on the Wall, Bran tells Hodor and the Reeds the story of the Rat Cook. Long ago, a lowborn cook hated the king so much that he killed the king’s son while the court was visiting the wall. Then he cooked the king’s son into a pie and served it. For his crime – not of murder, but for killing a guest beneath his roof – the gods transformed the cook into a giant white rat and cursed him to eat his own young forever.
Later, the story seems to come to life when a large furry shape appears in the tower where the kids are sleeping – but it’s actually just Sam and Gilly, who’ve passed through the tunnel from the other side. Sam urges the kids to come with them to Castle Black, but Jojen says the Night’s Watch can’t stop the White Walkers and the dead men; for that, Bran has to go north to find the three-eyed raven. Sam shows them the way through the passage.
Arya Stark isn’t waiting for the gods to punish the Freys. While she and the Hound are out riding, they come across a party of Frey men laughing about sewing the wolf head to Robb’s corpse. Arya offers one of them a coin – the coin given to her by the assassin Jaqen H’ghar last season -- in exchange for food and fire, and distracts him long enough to stab him to death.
Back at Castle Black, Maester Aemon receives Sam and offers Gilly the protection of the Night’s Watch. Then he sets Sam to work writing out letters to inform the realm of the threat of the Others.
In King’s Landing, Tyrion is finally having a nice moment with Sansa – joking about stuffing sheep dung into the bed of some nobleman who laughed at them – but is soon called to a meeting with the Small Council. Word of the Red Wedding has flown south. Joffrey gloats, and wants to serve Robb’s head to Sansa at his own wedding feast. Tyrion snaps at him, telling him Sansa isn’t his to torture anymore, and he best watch his step, because “kings are dropping like flies.” Joffrey, as you might imagine, doesn’t take kindly to that, but Tywin cuts him off and implies he needs to leave. The little king mouths off to his grandfather too, reminding him that King Robert fought Rhaegar Targaryen in the Trident while Tywin hunkered down at Casterly Rock.
Later, after everyone clears out, Tyrion asks Tywin exactly how he’s supposed to win Sansa over when she’s about to find out they had a hand in slaughtering her mother and brother. Tywin tells Tyrion that family has to come before personal desires – like the desire to kill your own infant dwarf son after your wife dies in childbirth.
Varys offers Shae a fistful of diamonds to leave King’s Landing. As a lowborn whore, she can never truly be with Tyrion, Varys points out -- and her presence is painful. It appears the scheming eunuch really does care for our favorite dwarf. But Shae rejects the offer.
Cersei interrupts Tyrion in the process of getting well and truly drunk, and advises him to impregnate Sansa. A baby will make her happy, she says – even if he turns out to be a monster like Joffrey.
Jamie and Brienne are back in King’s Landing, but we don’t really hear much from them. No one recognizes Jaime with the missing hand and beard. When he returns to Cersei, the reception isn’t exactly warm. Jon Snow is on the run when he’s confronted by Ygritte. There’s some heartfelt declarations of love that are only slightly undercut by her shooting three arrows into his body. But Jon manages to make it back to Castle Black alive.
On Dragonstone, one of the letters from the Night’s Watch reaches Davos, who decides to bring it to Stannis’ attention – but not before his conscience gets the better of him, and he frees Gendry from the prison. Stannis nearly executes him for treason, but Melisandre stops him. Stannis will need Davos on their journey north –the real war is on the Wall, she says.
Outside the gates of Yunkai, Daenerys waits with the armies to receive any of the slaves willing to join her. A crowd emerges from the city, and she tells them their freedom isn't hers to give, but something they can take for themselves. They start crying out, calling “mhysa! Mhysa!” which in the local language means “mother!” Daenerys goes out among them and is lifted by a cheering crowd.
And that’s all for season three! Now, it’s just one year of waiting. A few stray thoughts below:
[Book-related spoilers ahead]
What with all the talk of family and motherhood (the name of the episode is “mother,” after all) this recapper was fully expecting the season to close with the revelation of Lady Stoneheart, the murderous resurrected corpse of Catelyn Stark. Also, did we really need to have Ramsay Snow’s identity be kept a mystery throughout the whole season? It seems like the place to unveil him as Roose Bolton’s bastard son was when he led Theon back to the torture chamber after promising to help him escape. But these minor gripes come from a place of love -- overall, the third season of "Game of Thrones" has been one of the best yet.