There's a clear formula at work on Game of Thrones: Hit viewers with the big death-blow during the respective season's penultimate episode, and then slightly pump the brakes for the finale. In the show's 2011 debut run, the ninth hour, "Baelor," saw main character Ned Stark (Sean Bean) get decapitated, the first of many signs that Game of Thrones wasn't adhering to any previous codes of storytelling conduct. Last year, the second season reached its exploding point in the staggering "Blackwater," the ninth episode that featured what's still inarguably one of the grandest spectacles ever to take place on a television show—the blockbuster-movie-level, titular battle sequence.

Keeping the tradition alive, last week's season 3 penultimate episode, "The Rains of Castamere," shocked the world via "The Red Wedding," where (warning for anyone who hasn't signed online anytime during the past week) Robb Stark, mama Catelyn, and pregnant wife Talisa, along with Robb's entire army, were brutally slaughtered by Walder Frey and his men, the consequence of Robb's betraying Walder's plan to have the Stark king marry one of his daughters. Knowing how Game of Thrones operates, there was little doubt leading into last night's season 3 finale, titled "Mhysa,"that nothing even close to the Red Wedding would go down.

That's not to say that "Mhysa" was a snooze by any means—despite the lack of fresh corpses on display, the episode (written by series co-creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss) did a fine job of both resolving several plot-lines and hinting at where Game of Thrones is heading come next spring, when season 4 begins.

And, first off, it's not looking good for Jon Snow. His season-long romance with Wildling cutie Ygritte—which was, let's be honest here, doomed from the start—was capped off by one of the more violent breakup scenes in recent memory, with a teary-eyed Ygritte shooting three arrows into an equally wet-lashed Jon Snow, leaving him near death before good old Samwell Tarly comes to his aid. Arya Stark, having just indirectly bared witness to her brother Robb's and mother Catelyn's deaths, isn't in a much better place than her illegitimate brother Jon—no longer just a ball of pent-up rage, she's officially killed a man, and the look of simultaneous horror and empowerment in her eyes doesn't bode well for much happiness in her future (not that any seemed likely to begin with). The same goes for Theon Greyjoy, who still doesn't know who's torturing him and, now, making him only respond to the name "Reek," or else receive further pain (we, the audience, however, now know that his punisher is Roose Bolton's bastard, Ramsay).

Over at King's Landing, there's a smidgen of hope: Jaime Lannister has finally returned home, minus on one hand yet ready to embrace his sister, Cersei, though any hopes of once again consummating their brother-sister relationship (gross, indeed) won't be without any challenges, now that she's engaged to Loras Tyrell. Cersei will gladly take any kind of good news, though, since her son, King Joffrey, keeps sinking deeper and deeper into joke-land—Tywin and Tyrion each take turns bluntly, and hilariously, bitching him out, to where he's damn near on the verge of anger crying.

Unsurprisingly, the only Game of Thrones character who has no reason to fret is Daenerys, season 3's undisputed queen of good fortune. With all of Yunkai's rulers dead, at the hands of her righthand men Daario, Jorah, and Grey Worm, Ms. Targaryen frees all of the city's previously enslaved citizens, all of whom loudly chant, in their native tongue, "Mother," and hoist her onto their shoulders. Name one other Iron Throne contender who could elicit such a response by walking amongst his or her underlings.

Because of that, Daenerys emerges victorious in regards to this season's Watching the Throne competition, though she's a co-champion—Dany must share the crown, for now, with Tywin Lannister, the series' very own Sun Tzu. Together, Daenerys and Tywin represent two of the third season's strongest components, but they're not alone in the good will, nor are they free of any negative counterparts. For a complete assessment of the HBO smash's 2013 go-round, here are the best and worst things about Game of Thrones season 3.

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Written by Matt Barone (@MBarone)