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Game of Thrones Recap: "Mhysa" or Wolf Head by Donald McCarthy

 I was fifteen when I first read the Game of Thrones book series. At the time there were only three novels out: A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, and A Storm of Swords. I read all three in my sophomore year of high school and eagerly read A Feast for Crows when it came out in the autumn of my junior year. It wasn’t until the summer after my undergrad that the fifth book, A Dance of Dragons, was released. By this point the first season of HBO’s show had aired and the release of A Dance of Dragons was greeted with a lot more press than A Feast for Crows was (although AFFC did hit number one on the New York Times bestseller list) thanks in large part to the success of the show.

What’s impressive is when you read that the season finale for the first season had 3.04 million viewers and last week’s episode had 5.22 million (hopefully all these viewers aren’t here just to see the breasts of Melisandre and Daenarys or shirtless Robb and Jon- I certainly never imagined there was so much nudity when I first read the books but on reread it was all there although I don’t know if it translates well to screen because once it’s on screen it becomes titillating as opposed to ordinary as it’s presented in the books). When I was in my bed, reading about Eddard Stark’s execution for the first time I had no one to run to and say, “Holy shit! I can’t believe what just happened!” At the time, I didn’t know anyone who had read the books and had to go online to find likeminded people.

Last week’s episode sent the internet into flames but I can still remember reading the deaths of Robb and Catelyn, being shocked but having no one to talk to about it. To see how much of a phenomenon it’s become and to see so many people talk about it has made watching the show all the more rewarding for me. I know there are some book readers who complain and moan every time there’s a change or whenever a fan of the show says they haven’t read the books but I think that’s annoying fan bullshit, like something an anal retentive Trekkie would say. For a long time fan of George R. R. Martin’s, seeing his world brought to screen in such a talented way has been immensely exciting. Last week’s episode, that you’ll recall left me pretty much speechless, showed once more what command Daniel Benioff and D.B. Weiss have over the writing on the show. Also unsurprisingly, the direction was superb; director Dan Nutter has been a long time director whose credits include one of the best episodes of The Sopranos: Join the Club.

So, yeah, as a fan it’s been a hell of a ride.

That brings us to tonight’s episode which wraps up the third season but in book time we’re only two-thirds finished with book three and the last third of that book is so packed that I can see it taking up most of next season. Last year they tried to fit in all of book two into one season and that was barely doable; stretching this book out to one and a half (or more) seasons was definitely the right move as it gives us time to breathe and time to have small moments or moments that weren’t in the books.

All that praise said, this episode wasn’t the season’s greatest or even second greatest. The episode more acted as an epilogue that catches up with everyone, including characters that we haven’t seen for much of the season like Davos and Stannis. Oddly enough, the Stannis and Davos scenes were a highlight of the episode as the show is starting to bring plots together. With Stannis heading to the wall, sure to meet Jon Snow and the rest of the Night’s Watch, we’re seeing various elements come together as we head towards the second act of A Song of Ice and Fire. We get this when Bran meets Sam, too. It’s a small, relatively non-important plot outside of the dragonglass but it acts as almost a promise that we’ll soon be seeing separate stories converge.

The show likes to hop around a lot to begin with so that in itself is not a problem. It’s just that in this episode our final moments with each character tend to be somewhat underwhelming. Tyrion vanishes halfway through without much to do other than insult Joffrey, Tywin disappears after the initial scene, Theon gets only one moment which would’ve been more powerful had we not seen him tortured countless times already, and the Greyjoys get only a solitary scene after not having been in the show for ages. We didn’t have to end with cliffhangers for these characters but few of the scenes acted as much in the way of payoff and I think you need that when there are so many characters lest the stories fade into the background.

The most problematic issue comes at the end, though. The episode’s payoff is a scene with Daenarys who we haven’t seen until that last scene. Granted, a similar situation happened in “And Now His Watch Is Ended” but there it was more visceral and something we haven’t seen before. As cool as the ending shot of this episode was, we’ve seen Daenarys free slaves before and we’ve seen her dragons fly. Compare that to the endings of the first and second seasons, both of which offered a glimpse at the increasing amount of magic in Westeros. All of a sudden “Mhysa”’s last moment comes up lacking.

And yet, I can see why they did it. It’s a victorious moment and I’m sure a lot of viewers wanted such a moment after the slaughter that took place in the previous episode and the sight of Robb’s corpse wearing Grey Wind’s head. Perhaps I’m just too much of a cynic and want all my episodes to end in insane, dark fashions. Even I felt moved by the end but thought that the showrunners could’ve picked a better plot point to end the season on. I have just the one in mind, too, but I think it’ll have to wait until next season.

That next season is far off, too. It’s very sad, isn’t it? Nine freaking months until we get to see Tryion be sarcastic, Jon Snow make a fool of himself, Varys scheme, Melisandre get nude (I never tire of Melisandre’s creepy nudity in the way that I find some of the other nudity unnecessary; there’s something creepy about her even when she’s having sex), and Stannis brood. Even though I found this episode to be a little bit of a letdown, and some of that is part of my own fault as I had certain expectations of what would happen and they did not, I can’t deny the show’s power to keep me hooked even when it’s not firing on all cylinders and knowing I won’t be writing about it next week saddens me. It’s a long ways off until we’ll be back in Westeros but look outside. It’s a summery night which means that before long winter will be coming.

Donald McCarthy is a teacher and writer. His fiction has appeared with KZine, Cover of Darkness, and The Washington Pastime. His non-fiction has been featured in The Progressive Populist, Screen Spy, and AOL Patch News. And here, too, but that was probably obvious. His twitter is @donaldtmccarthy and his website is