Another year, another season of Game Of Thrones in the can - and yet, it feels like it's all over too quickly. I don't just mean in the sense that ten episodes isn't enough (even though ten episodes isn't enough). But last night's finale simply hammered home to me just how little time we've spent with some characters, and how much story remains untold.
(Warning: spoilers from Game Of Thrones' entire third season follow.)
As with seasons' past, the finale was used to wrap up a few lingering storylines - much of the hour was spent dealing with the fallout from last week's Red Wedding (the opening scene, with Grey Wind's head roughly sewn onto Robb Starks body and paraded around the camp, being the most affecting), and the final scene showed us the aftermath of Daenerys' raid on Yunkai - while laying out a few plans for next season.
But it was a finale that lacked any impacting dramatic moments. The closest came between Jon Snow (Kit Harington) and Ygritte (Rose Leslie), who put three arrows into our favourite bastard for ditching her outside the windmill last week, even after he professed his love for the wild woman.
A pair of conversations between the Lannisters - one between Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) and Tywin (Charles Dance), the other between Tyrion and his sister Cersei (Lena Headey) - and the return of lost son Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau)* were interesting character moments, and formed the core of the episode, but they didn't really pack the emotional punch that has been a staple of the show this year.
Even last year's finale had those heartbreaking scenes with Tyrion waking in his tiny room and realising he had been undermined by his own family, or Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) hallucinating a reunion with her late husband and son. This year's finale had nothing to rival those moments. It made for one of the least enjoyable hours of the season.
We did get a good look at where the show is going next, though.
Bran (Isaac Hampstead-Wright) meeting up with Sam (John Bradley) at the Nightfort was nice, and a good example of previously unconnected characters meeting up under interesting circumstances. But it did seem like just another stop on Bran's way to the north with Jojen (Thomas Brodie-Sangster), Meera (Ellie Kendrick) and Hodor (Kristian Nairn). Or should that be "Hodorrrrr ... odorrrr ... dorrr ... orr".
Jon Snow arrived at Castle Black, a familiar locale in its first appearance this season. I had thought that perhaps a wildling siege on the Night's Watch headquarters was on its way this week. Instead, we have to wait another year for the biggest fire the north has ever seen. Somehow the wildlings made their way through the worst terrain imaginable, and up over the wall, in the space of six episodes, but have taken a month to cover a few miles of rolling, grassy hills. And I'm left feeling like more of this story could have been explored before we took a year off.
Arya (Maisie Williams) vented a little of her anger on a Frey henchman. Look, I like the pairing of Arya and The Hound (Rory McCann). And I like the idea of Arya allowing her rage to take her into a dark place. But I think that side of her character could have been explored more this season. We could have had a little more insight into her psyche, instead of the sassy one-liners we normally get from the girl who has been let down by nearly everybody she has come across.
We found out who is torturing poor Theon (Alfie Allen) - it's Ramsay Snow (Iwan Rheon), the unruly son of Roose Bolton, who makes it clear (again) that there is no happy ending for the lowly Greyjoy, now named Reek. Fortunately, incensed by a peculiar gift to her father (I'll let the Lonely Island explain; NSFW), Theon's older sister is on her way to the rescue. Given Theon's luck this season, I'm sure that'll go well for him. By which I mean that things will probably get worse.
Perhaps the most frustrating scenes of all involved Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane). The amount of Stannis jammed into the finale was laughable. In order: Davos (Liam Cunningham) befriended Gendry, Davos read a few birthday invites, Melisandre (Carice Van Houten) implored Stannis to kill Gendry as a sacrifice, Davos freed Gendry and sent him off on a rowboat, Stannis sentenced Davos to death, then Davos and Melisandre convinced Stannis to give up the War Of Five Kings and head north to support the Night's Watch.
Really? They couldn't have been telling this story over the last few weeks?! My incredibly flawed theory is that the editors got to the end of the season and went "crap, we've got all this Stannis stuff we forgot to use." Even George RR Martin doesn't know how to keep Stannis involved in the race for the throne. "Just send him north," you can imagine him muttering to himself as he wrote the third book.
Don't get me wrong, though. This was another good episode of the show. Any hour spent with Game Of Thrones is an hour spent wisely, I reckon. But unlike years past, where the finale has left me hungering for new episodes, this one has left me feeling a little ripped off by how much more could have been covered this year.
Perhaps that is a side effect of telling a single book over two seasons; the fourth season of the show will tell the remainder of the third book. Perhaps it comes down to bad writing. I don't know. All I do know is that I'm not buzzing the way I was after the past two season finales. I want more not because I'm excited, but because I think I'm owed it.
What did you think of last night's Game Of Thrones finale? And of the third season as a whole? Share your thoughts in the comments section below - and remember: please don't share spoilers from the books.
(*) The biggest missed opportunity this season: more road-tripping with Jaime, Brienne and the Stump Doctor.
Shakespeare play causes scores to faint (graphic content)