The Changing Face of 'Game of Thrones'

And now our watch has ended. For the time being, anyway. Game of Thrones's marvelous, sprawling third season concluded its run last night, a somewhat low-key evening following a penultimate episode that shocked the nation.

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And now our watch has ended. For the time being, anyway. Game of Thrones's marvelous, sprawling third season concluded its run last night, a somewhat low-key evening following a penultimate episode that shocked the nation. Or at least the portion of the nation that watches this captivating series. Are we happy with where it ended up? I'd say yes, though with a major caveat: From this point on, everything's going to be different.

Yes it's me the annoying "I read the books" guy again, here to tell you that what follows the infamous Red Wedding is a major narrative shift. Obviously with the war of northern aggression over, Westeros is going to become a different place. We saw hints of that change last night, in ways large and small. Arya's grown harder and angrier, butchering a group of soldiers for talking bad about her dead mom and brother. (She got some help from the Hound.) Both gnarled old Lord Frey and regal menace Lord Tywin spoke about the future of a Stark-less nation, the series looking forward as its major military conflict has now, sort of, come to an end. Stannis could be headed north to see what he can do about the dark business going on Beyond the Wall, a development that brings together two plotlines and pulls attention back to the fact that, oh right, a bunch of frozen ghouls are headed for the warmer parts of Westeros with clearly no good intentions.

Last night's episode, titled "Mhysa," wasn't all just set-up, there were cliffhangers too. Jon is injured! (That didn't happen in the books.) Will Jon survive? What do you think? Jaime is back in King's Landing! We do know how that ends up in the books, and I'm eager to see that knot of King's Landing drama tie itself in intricate ways in the coming seasons. We've barely seen Jaime and Cersei together at this point in the series, so hopefully Lena Headey and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau will prove to have the curious chemistry that the Jaime/Cersei dynamic requires. Headey especially is going to have a lot to do next season and the one after, and I'm eager to spend some more time with her. Cersei had her moments here and there this season, but she was overshadowed by other King's Landing schemers. Speaking of Margaery Tyrell, I was bummed we didn't get to see her or her fabulous grandmother one last time before the season concluded, but I'm comforted by the fact that they will be major players next season. I can't wait to see them really jump into the game.

Across the sea, the narrative is shifting too. Well, settling might be a more accurate word. As I've warned in the past, Dany's story is about to get a little slow, her heretofore swift momentum reduced to a crawl as she gets mired in a pile of political tribulations as the new leader of a free city. The show has so far done a nice job of making Dany's adventures in the East appealing and TV-worthy, but I worry that the muddle that George R.R. Martin created while trying to figure out how to get Dany back to Westeros might be too dense and ultimately unsatisfying for even these talented show runners to polish.

There's also the matter of the story's continued growth to worry about. Yes, though some major characters are now dead, that does not mean that the show's scope is shrinking. Haha, no no, it is not in any way. It was telling that we traveled back to the Iron Islands last night, where we're likely to spend some time in the coming seasons, if they adhere to the books, at least. We'll also be heading to a whole new place next season or the one after, an entirely new cast of characters awaiting us in the way southern reaches of Westeros, characters who will come to have a certain significance in the ever-evolving post-Robb Stark world. It's important to remember that we're not even halfway through Martin's saga, and we've still lots of geography to explore. Nothing in Westeros will be the same after the Red Wedding, and last night's episode, while a little underwhelming, at least started the work of introducing us to the often bittersweet hereafter.

I don't doubt that fans are still on board with the show after last nigh, but I am curious to see how they'll react as the story takes us in some seriously different directions. Obviously Robb's death was the most jolting twist yet, but there are still some shockers to come, ones that further alter the story's fundamental DNA. The show has so far proven nimble in handling those curves, but in a season or two when everyone's scattered and the show looks completely different, it will be interesting to take the audience's temperature and see how invested they are. It will still be Game of Thrones, but as Arya's friend Jaqen H'ghar proved to us last season, the entire look of  a thing can change in an instant.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.