In Westeros, no one person can rise to the Iron Throne by his or her lonesome. Some may need legions of armed men, some may need dragons and some may need favors from the gods. However, as the Season 3 finale of "Game of Thrones" shows, family is the strongest asset one can hold on the path to power in the Seven Kingdoms.
The hostility among the Lannister family still lingers after Tyrion's wedding to Sansa Stark. Before Robb Stark's army could finish dying, news of The Red Wedding travels back to King's Landing. The report sends King Joffrey into fits of delight, and he announces to the Small council that he will serve Robb's head to Sansa at his upcoming wedding.
With Sansa now a Lannister in name, the council tries to protect Sansa, but Joffrey grows indignant, hurling insults and reminding his elders that "everyone is mine to torment" and he will do as he pleases.
Tyrion — maybe protective of his new wife, maybe tired of being routinely belittled — tosses a thinly veiled threat on Joffrey's life, which sends the diabolical little despot into a conniption where he reminds the whole room of the power he wields. Tywin Lannister — also seemingly tired of Joffrey's juvenile insanity — advises his grandson that any king who has to remind people of his power really holds no power at all.
This sends Joffrey into a tantrum, where he reminds his grandfather that his Baratheon bloodline spent more time winning wars and holding crowns than any Lannister to date. Clearly repressing a visceral reaction, he commands Joffrey be removed from the room and sent to bed without his supper.
With Joffrey sent to bed, Tywin picks a different thread of family infighting, keeping Tyrion around for a post-council rap session. Tyrion wisely breaks down how his father constructed the events that led to the Red Wedding, but admonishes him for the means by which the events played out.
Apathetic to the brutality, Tywin's justification comes with a Machiavellian twist: The ends will always justify the means if the Lannisters' livelihood is at stake. "A good man does everything in his power to better his family's position," Tywin tells Tyrion, even if that means putting selfish desires aside.
Bewildered by this display of altruism, Tyrion calls out his father, asking how this sentiment is possible despite the mountain of evidence to the contrary. Tywin points to Tyrion's own existence as a shining example of his compassion, confessing that he wanted to kill him shortly after his birth, but couldn't bring himself to do so because he still bore the family name.
Tywin Lannister looks like "Father of the Year" compared to Balon Greyjoy. The lord of the Iron Islands is alerted to the whereabouts of his son, Theon, in a manner that can best be described as a depraved version of a popular Saturday Night Live skit.
Despite the clear threat Ramsay Snow sends Balon, he has no interest in rescuing Theon, brushing the note aside like a piece of junk mail. When Theon's sister, Yara, objects, she takes matters into her own hands, pledging to search every corner of the Seven Kingdoms in order to free her brother from Ramsay Snow.
In one of those dark corners, Davos Seaworth and Gendry are left to rot in Dragonstone's dungeons, commiserating about how the Westeros elite — "the Highborns" — are just the worst. As they lament their fates, they realize they share a common bond: Both grew up in slums of King's Landing, left to fend for themselves among the sewage of the Red Keep.
When later summoned by Stannis Baratheon, Davos implores Stannis not to sacrifice the boy in the name of Melisandre's fire gods. Yet Stannis, convinced of Melisandre's power after her leech ritual led to Robb Stark's demise, remains confident that the only way to capture the Iron Throne is through "dragons and magic." Gendry may be his nephew, but a family sacrifice is the only way Stannis can become the "one, true king."
The last vestiges of the Stark men are left to wander the North, with both attempting to reach The Wall. One Stark has a bit of good luck (for a change), as Bran is found hiding by Samwell Tarly and Gilly. Tarly recognizes Summer, Bran's direwolf, and instantly makes the connection between Bran and Jon Snow.
Tarly promises he can reunite the two until Bran informs him that he has a calling beyond a reunion with his brother. Despite Tarly's warnings of the grave danger that lies beyond the wall, Bran assures Tarly that his task must be accomplished despite the severe risk at hand.
Meanwhile Jon Snow is alone in his quest to return to Castle Black, only to be tracked down by his scorned wildling lover, Ygritte. While she holds him at arrowpoint, Snow confesses that he never planned to fully turn his back on his fellow brothers in the Night's Watch, but his feelings for her have not wavered. He also believes that she feels the same way.
Jon is mistaken, and Ygritte shoots him through the shoulder with an arrow. Overcome with grief, she buries two more arrows in Snow as he flees on horseback. Snow makes it back to Castle Black in the nick of time, with Tarly pulling him off his horse before Jon could succomb to his wounds.
Before rescuing Jon, Tarly meets with Maester Aemon, begging for forgiveness after he deserted his post on The Wall. He infores Aemon that all of the legends and myths about what lies north of The Wall are real, posing an imminent threat to the Seven Kingdoms. Aemon sends every available raven south to warn Westeros's elite that winter is, in fact, coming.
One of those dispatches saves Davos Seaworth's life. As Stannis Baratheon is set to sentence Davos to death for helping Gendry escape and avoid being sacrificed, Davos presents Stannis with a warning from the Night's Watch. While Stannis is stunned enough that Davos has taught himself to read, he defers to Melisandre about what this means for Davos's fate.
Through the "magic" and "sorcery" Davos decried earlier, Melisandre gleans that Stannis will be an integral part in saving Westeros from certain doom. Furthermore, he can only do this with help from Davos, and his life should be spared. Stannis obliges, but not before reminding Davos that the fire gods he earlier decried were the only thing that saved him from an untimely end.
Across the Narrow Sea, Daenerys Targaryen is waiting for what she hopes is an end to her own hostilities. She sits outside Yunkai, waiting to see if she is faced with a violent slave uprising or a new faction of loyal followers. As the gates to Yunkai open, slaves pour out and congregate around Danys, waiting for a decree of freedom.
As she tells the crowd that their freedom is their own hands, they cry out to her in worship, deeming her their "Mhysa," or mother. She is hoisted above the crowd by her new followers, praised as a liberator by her new following. By creating a new bond with Yunkai's slave population, Danys has found that being the mother of dragons pales in comparison to the power of a new familial bond.
-Cersei and Jaime together again! Not the most heartwarming reunion ever.
-I believe Walder Frey didn't move from his feast seat during the entire Red Wedding. Even as his chamber maids rid the hall of the last pools of Stark blood, Frey drinks away like the whole massacre was just another evening's entertainment. He had to have been sitting there for hours, or days, even. What a cretin.
-Thank you for reading along throughout this season. By the looks of it, a wide number of you enjoyed Game of Thrones over the past 10 weeks. Hopefully it will be enough to keep you satisfied for the 10-month layoff between Season 3 and Season 4.