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(Spoilers for Game of Thrones Season Three finale are below).
The Game of Thrones season finale was largely there to wrap up loose ends, and to provide comfort to viewers that survived watching the traumatizing Red Wedding. After all hope seemed lost last week, this week, the episode Mhysa ends on a light and positive note.
It’s an episode that focuses on everyone’s reactions to the Red Wedding (or acknowledges their roles in it). This is a recovery episode, it allows people to begin picking up the pieces of the devastating War of Five Kings which has largely concluded itself now that the major threats have been eliminated or greatly weakened.
Through the healing process, Mhysa takes a closer look at the powerful families of Westeros, making it a unifying theme throughout the episode. Game of Thrones explores the family as a beacon of power in this episode, while it also explores the meaningful relationships that are traditionally associated with being in a family, and what the significance of those relationships are.
Game of Thrones Families
The major families in Game of Thrones are more than just families tied together by blood. They are powerful institutions that command respect, wealth, and power. Because families function as both sacred relationships and powerful institutions, their ideologies inherently come into conflict with one another.
Certain characters within the powerful Westerosi families believe in following their own personal interests and that their family’s will support them. However, just having your family’s support in Westeros isn’t enough; the characters from powerful families need the support of society when they make their decisions, too. Robb learns this the hard way, as his mother eventually learns to support Talissa, but his closest banner men do not. The point being, Robb’s failure to recognize the family as an institution helped to lead to his downfall.
On the other end of the spectrum, there are characters who put their personal interests aside in order to further their family name as an institution, or as a powerful force. Roose Bolton is an excellent example of this. In the previous episode, he mentioned he married one of the Frey’s fattest women in order to get her dowry, which was paid in silver by how much she weighed. It could also be assumed that Bolton did this to seal his lot in with the Lannisters and the Freys at the Red Wedding. Bolton’s casual indifference towards his new wife suggests that in his case, the interest of power and the Bolton’s family name came before the interest of love.
There are plenty of characters that seem to fall in-between fighting for their personal interests while simultaneously fighting for their family interests. The Lannisters, especially Tywin’s children, seem to showcase this struggle more than any other group of characters.
It’s interesting to note that fighting for your personal interests and fighting for your family name doesn’t divide along the boundaries of good vs. evil. These sources of conflict showcase both good and evil interests, which make the show and the characters all the more complicated.
Game of Thrones Personal Interests
Robb showed viewers the cost of acting in his personal interest rather than his families last week, but other characters made personal decisions in this final episode that were not in the interest of their families.
Shae rejected Varys’ offer to leave Kings Landing and cross the Narrow Sea to live a life of modest wealth. Instead she chooses to stay with Tyrion in Kings Landing. Although Shae doesn’t belong to the upper classes; she is making a personal decision to attach herself to a very powerful and wealthy family. Shae has genuine feelings for Tyrion, and because of that, she makes a choice where she sacrifices the potential well being for the realm, as Varys puts it, for herself and for Tyrion by staying in Kings Landing.
In a sick twisted way, Ramsay Snow, Theon’s now named torturer, is torturing Theon for his own personal benefit. Ramsay doesn’t need to make Theon suffer as much as he does. Even though Ramsay does threaten Balon Greyjoy’s newly conquered lands, which would be in the interest of House Bolton; the focus this season on Ramsay has been on his unnecessary torturing of Theon Greyjoy. Ramsay enjoys torture, and it is a personal interest that even Roose Bolton alludes to in this episode, that is strictly meant to be enjoyed by Ramsay. In other words, torturing Theon to the extent he’s being tortured serves no purpose to the Bolton’s family interests, which is why it is personal.
Yara Greyjoy also makes a personal decision in this episode to rescue Theon from his captors at the Dreadfort. She disobeys her father and takes fifty men to presumably battle the crafty Ramsay Snow. This is the riskiest personal decision that occurs in this episode, as Yara is now the only heir to Pyke (Balon’s line specifically) that can have children, and she is putting herself and her family’s legacy in a very dangerous situation.
Game of Thrones Powerful and Non-Personal Interests
Not supporting Theon’s rescue is his own father. Balon doesn’t care that his son is being tortured, and he doesn’t care that he will likely die a horrible death in Ramsay’s hands if he doesn’t do something about it. Balon chooses the interests of his family over whatever personal feelings he might have for his son.
Also putting their personal interests behind in favor of their families is Jon Snow. Jon’s new family, at least since the first season, has been the Night’s Watch. To put a stamp on Jon’s loyalty to the Night’s Watch, he has one last confrontation with Ygritte where he explains his actions. Jon declares his love for Ygritte, but says he is sworn to his duty and that’s why he must leave her. Ygritte shoots Jon with multiple arrows and the two lovers have now symbolically become enemies. Jon puts his family, the Night’s Watch, before his first love, Ygritte.
Stannis Baratheon and Melisandre give up on sacrificing Gendry after he is set free, which was a personal interest they shared. They eventually decide not to execute Davos (another personal interest) for helping Gendry escape, and instead they turn their focus to the non-personal issue, which is the crisis that is unfolding north of the Wall. Stannis and Melisandre flip-flop over the course of the episode from working on personal interests to actually working on a larger issue that is a non-personal interest.
Bran, like Stannis and Jon, is also working on dealing with the army of wight walkers. He believes that he has a significant role to play in defeating the undead army, but he can only defeat them if he heads north of the Wall to find the Three-Eyed Crow. Although pursuing this quest is not in the best interests for the Starks as Bran is now the true heir to Winterfell; it’s in the best nature for everyone living in Westeros since the game of thrones won’t matter if the wight walkers get past the wall. Bran’s decision to head north of the wall is not a personal interest but a self sacrificing one.
Daenerys has a personal interest to avenge her family’s deaths and to retake the throne she believes belongs to her by divine right. However, she has put this personal interest aside to free enslaved people from Yunkai. Daenerys actions show her willingness to help those in need, and they show her desire to sacrifice her needs for the common good of others.
Sacrificing for non-personal interests, and particularly sacrificing for the family’s name, is personified by Tywin Lannister. Tywin frequently orders the other members of the Lannister family to sacrifice their personal interests in order to help cement the family’s future place in history. He does this while ignoring the protests of his children, and by forcing them into marriages they don’t want to be in. He also puts his children into positions of power so that they may work to secure the family’s legacy.
The whole arc in the third season in Kings Landing has run around Tywin’s protecting of the Lannsiter family name. When finally asked by Tyrion what personal interest he has sacrificed? Tywin responds with: not killing Tyrion as a baby and raising him as his own son. Tywin’s coldness to Tyrion represents Tywin’s personal belief that family is a historical relic or a significant legacy, rather than a meaningful relationship based upon love and companionship. Tywin personifies the evil that can come with sacrificing personal interests for greater causes.
Game of Thrones Conflicted Interests
Some characters on Game of Thrones seem to switch back and forth between working towards their personal interests and working between their interests in power. It can be argued that all characters tend to shift back and forth between these two sides of the spectrum, but there are characters (most notably Tywin’s children) where this conflict seems to personify their existence.
Tyrion marries Sansa which is against his own personal interest and desire to marry Shae. On the other hand, he never consummates his relationship with Sansa, which is against his family’s interests in securing the North. Tyrion’s empathy for all people, especially those who regularly face the scorn of society, allows him to make conscionable decisions. His desire to make morally correct decisions while not relinquishing the power the Lannister name provides causes great inner conflict for him. Tyrion wants to help his family’s legacy survive, which is why he never leaves Kings Landing with Shae, despite her numerous requests.
Cersei also struggles with her desire for power and the family name along with her personal interest in making sure her children lead happy meaningful lives. Cersei agrees to marry Robert at her father’s request and is presumably going to marry Loras, although she denies this marriage is happening in this episode. Cersei’s marriage to Robert was a disaster that saw her suffer for nearly two decades, and her presumed engagement to Loras, who is gay, doesn’t appear to bode well either.
Although it’s for different reasons than Tyrion, Cersei is also struggling with doing whats right for herself and whats right for family. This struggle leads to one of the few friendly conversations she has with Tyrion in the entire series this episode when they discuss having children. It’s the conflict between personal desire and family legacy that brings both of these characters to act humane towards one another.
The Cost of Power and Meaningful Relationships
The quest for power can have a significant cost on people. Two characters, Jaime and Arya, come to significantly different character transformations in this episode, and those transformations are largely caused indirectly by people in power.
Arya witnesses her brother’s headless body being paraded around the Twins with Grey Wind’s head in its place. Arya’s final scene of the season sees her killing the man that claimed to have sewn the wolf’s head on to Robb’s body. It’s a chilling scene as she goads him into picking up a coin off the ground only to brutally stab the man to death seconds later. An important transformation has taken place; Arya’s childhood innocence dies with that Frey and with seeing Robb’s headless corpse. The Frey/Bolton/Lannister quest for more power has directly led to the corruption of Arya, and a very dark future looks to be rolling into place for the youngest Stark daughter. Arya’s transformation is symbolic of the cost the war for power has on innocents. It appears that viewers are beginning to see one of the most likeable characters slowly be turned into a monster.
The inverse of the innocent to monster story arc is Jaime, who was previously viewed as an evil character, until his prisoner of war experiences significantly humbled him. As the season progresses Jaime garners more and more sympathy from viewers as he begins to build a genuine and meaningful friendship with Brienne, and as he endures cruel treatment from his captors. The cocky Jaime is eventually subdued by a more caring Jaime. His brief one word meeting with Cersei this episode shows how far and how much change has occurred to each of these characters since they last saw one another.
Nearly all of the characters have undergone significant changes since the show started, but Jaime and Arya show an interesting inversion of character morals in this season. The cost of power and meaningful relationships are frequently explored ideas in this series. This episode takes the time to explore the significance of those relationships and how important they are, especially in regards to family, and in regards to making decisions for personal interests or non-personal interests. When these relationships get destroyed or these interests become corrupted, it can lead to terrible things for these characters and to terrible things for the society of Westeros.