“Game of Thrones” styles itself after “The Wire” in numerous ways, but few are as prominent as the way both shows save their climactic moments for the penultimate episode of a season and fill a finale entirely with falling action. In doing so, the show gains a more heady, literary feel. More than a few critics consider “The Wire” to be TV’s greatest novel, and “Game of Thrones” has similar, lofty aspirations with its source material. But “Mhysa” falls flat in its attempt to ape “The Wire” (and previous seasons of “Thrones”). What should provide closure to a season of labyrinthine plotlines ends up being little more than an hour-long preview for the next season.
One of the biggest difficulties in “Game of Thrones” is the sheer breadth of the story. So many characters and stories are playing out at once that a single episode can’t manage to advance them all. This was an enormous crutch in earlier seasons, but by now the show has become streamlined enough that each hour spent in Westeros (and the lands beyond) no longer drags or flits awkwardly from region to region. Like “The Wire,” characters are afforded little screen time but use what they’re given masterfully, and the story clicks on at an even pace. “Mhysa” is tripped up by these long forgotten pitfalls. It ensures that we see each character off before ten months spent without them, but in doing so it crams too much into one hour, and little is given the chance to shine. Arya seems to be developing a violent streak, Roose Bolton and Walder Frey gloat over their bloody victory, and Shae rebuffs an offer to flee King’s Landing forever, but these moments neither provide serious development nor a satisfying capstone to the season. The only thing they really offer is a last glance at our various heroes and villains; moments we are supposed to remember when season four starts to unfold next year, yet moments that are completely unmemorable in their own right.
Yet there are a few pieces here that would be vastly more entertaining, were they housed in a different episode. Every moment Sam touches feels like genuine finale material. In his dealings with Bran and Jon he is finally given a chance to blossom into a hero, someone with vast knowledge who can offer aid and protection. “Mhysa” portrays a Samwell Tarly that has made the most of the little time he spends onscreen: the man who cowered before White Walkers ten episodes ago now confidently councils others on how to destroy them. And Bran’s walk away from the camera and into the wild unknown provides a nice visual parallel from last season’s ender. Bran is still on the move, but now he does so with purpose. Theon’s tale finally grows interesting after a season’s worth of repetitive material that tortured the viewer as much as it did Theon, but even then the story only comes alive when Theon isn’t on screen. When we lay eyes on Theon, all we see is more violence, more screaming, and more material that would not seem out of place in a torture porn flick. When Theon is merely the topic of conversation among others, we discover the identity of his torturer and get a stirring buildup to a rescue that’s sure to come next year.
The season’s final moments offer up the biggest offense in showing us material we simply don’t have the time to sit through. Visually, an entire city’s worth of slaves reaching out to touch Dany is terrific stuff, but it’s something we’ve seen time and time again. She’s been welcomed by the remnants of Khal Drogo’s Khalasar, by the Unsullied and by the Second Sons, previously. The “will they or won’t they” tension we get with the slaves of Yunkai is the exact same thing we felt before the Unsullied agreed to fight in Dany’s name. In the middle of a season this would be ideal, but as the last breath of the season it is little besides uninspiring. The previous two seasons of “Game of Thrones” introduced something a new element that promised to change the titular game forever. “Mhysa” introduces little twists here and there, but an episode full of piddling cliffhangers will never compare to the scream of a dragon or a White Walker. As an adaptation of half a book, there simply might not be enough material at the halfway point to offer up a suitable finale. But “Game of Thrones” should be able to thrive as its own entity, and “Mhysa” is a stumbling point after a sure-footed season.