The third season finale of HBO's Game of Thrones should have sent me into a bloodlustful tizzy, but once again the show’s writers chose to place the juiciest and most shocking moments from George R.R. Martin's third novel A Storm of Swords from the sweeping medieval fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire into the penultimate episode last week, leaving the finale to mop up all of the gory mess after “The Red Wedding.” As a standalone episode the final installment of season three lacked some of the grit and sensuality that has made the series so popular, but followed the book faithfully and placed a nice little digital bookmark at the halfway point to set the stage for next season.
Apart from the premiere, each season three episode followed a handful of characters. With nearly 30 major characters to account for this season, the finale was used to figuratively sheath each characters story to set the series up for what promises to be an AMAZING season four (OMG-OMG-OMG-OMG!). The finale opened with the slaughter of Robb Stark's (Richard Madden) army post "Red Wedding" and ends on Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) surrounded by an army of freed slaves, wondering how she is going to take care of the now liberated masses. In between, nothing awe inspiring occurs save for Jon Snow’s (Kit Harington) turning on the Wildlings and abandoning Ygritte (Rose Leslie) only to be hunted down by her later (probably the only part that was less dramatic in the books). In addition to capping off major characters’ arcs, the episode set the stage for ancillary characters stepping up into more major roles. Minor characters like Daario Naharis (Ed Skrein), Roose Bolton (Michael McElhatton), and Yara Greyjoy (Gemma Whelan) are all destined to have a larger impact on the story in the next few seasons.
Finding a stopping point for 30-plus characters’ arcs must have been a daunting task for episode writers David Benioff (Troy, Brothers, The Kite Runner) and D.B. Weiss. Weaving so many storylines into one episode (there's an A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, and counting storyline) is borderline madness. My mind was racing as the story jumped around Westeros from snow to desert, forest to ocean, castle to castle. Some central characters like Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) had a mere minute or two of total screen time in an extended finale. Had I not read the series thus far, I might have found this episode confusing and somewhat dull in comparison to the past few. A good season finale satisfies the story arcs for the current season, while exciting the viewers with cliffhangers for the next. While this chapter left few significant cliffhangers, it posed a few questions for those non-readers following the show:
What will happen with Jon and Ygritte?
How will the North cope with the death of Robb and Catelyn (Michelle Fairely)?
How will Daenerys deal with the army of slaves?
Will Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) ever get out of the shadow of his family?
Game of Thrones season three’s closer failed to entice my emotions as much as previous installments, but managed to satiate the dramatic appetite enough for the time being. The screenwriters themselves cannot take much criticism on this one, because their script appears mechanically flawless. It baffles me when I hear criticism of choices made by the screenwriters, as if the books do not exist. They are largely beholden to the source material, which has not yet been completed. Fortunately for fans, the blueprint for the entire series has already been laid with all of the yet to be written major plot points having been shared with the show’s producers in the event that Martin is…err…unable to continue (he’s 63 and quite robust). In an Entertainment Weekly interview Martin stated “…the ending and the main characters, yeah. And David Benioff and Dan Weiss know some of that too, which the fans are very worried about in case I get hit by a truck."That being said, it was surprising that the finale didn’t have any major events that would make a viewer who is on the fence about the series salivate for another. The show follows the books fairly closely with little deviation; and the books themselves have a few extended lulls in action. For the writers to choose one of those lulls as the stopping point for a season seemed unusual for a normal show, but not as much in the grand scheme of this series. HBO has already committed long term, and the series is well established as a hit. The show’s staff can breathe easily, as their paychecks are all but guaranteed for at least three more years. I was surprised by season three’s conclusion only because so much of the third book’s major storylines will now occur in season four. None of these “Major Plot Twists” seemed to even be teased in the finale to excite fans for next season. I suppose HBO isn’t worried about its “rabid like direwolves” fan base, but a couple of teases would excite those of us whom have read the books as well.
The expectations for season finales are often very high, but I urge critics to curb their expectations for a series like Game of Thrones. The writers have shown in seasons one and two that the climactic episodes are saved for the ninth and the tenth is used to sort everything out. Having reviewed both the season three premiere as well as finale, I can confidently write that the show runners have dutifully followed A Storm of Swords while setting the stage for what promises to be an action packed season four. Winter is coming… eventually…in like three years…maybe four…or five.