As I more or less expected, that amazingly epic second-to-last episode of ‘Game of Thrones’ turned out to be the climax of the season. While it has become a modern convention for serialized TV shows to save the climax for a season finale episode (if not the very last scene in the finale), ‘Game of Thrones’ instead follows a literary structure (patterned closely on the George R.R. Martin books, I presume) by winding down its second season with a slow-burning dénouement.
This isn’t a complaint, mind you. It’s not like we’re talking about ‘True Blood’, which has notoriously awful season premieres and finales. However, those viewers expecting episode ‘Valar Morghulis’ to contain a lot of major action or mind-blowing plot twists might come out a little underwhelmed. This is more of a housekeeping episode that ties up some loose ends and sets the stage for next year’s plot.
A lot happens in this episode. Let’s break it down by location.
First off, Tyrion survived the siege on King’s Landing, albeit with a nasty scar directly across his face. (I’m given to understand that the character lost his nose in the book, but his injuries aren’t quite that bad here.) As we cleared up in the Comments to last week’s post, Tyrion recognized that he was assaulted by one of his own soldiers, and realizes that this means that Cersei ordered his assassination. He has been demoted from his position as the Hand, and is currently being hidden away to recuperate by unlikely allies Pycelle (who he’d previously imprisoned) and Varys. He’s visited by Shae, who begs him to flee to Pentos with her, but Tyrion explains that he enjoys the game he’s been playing too much to walk away. He expects her to leave without him, but she stands by her man.
Proclaimed as the savior of the city, Tywin Lannister accepts the role of Hand. (Technically, Joffrey had originally named him Hand, but Tywin instructed Tyrion to act in his place.) In a perfectly symbolic moment early in the episode, Tywin’s horse shits right in the middle of the throne room.
For his part in brokering a partnership with the Tyrell family, Baelish is awarded the castle of Harrenhal. Given its current state of ruin and history of poor fortune, this doesn’t seem like much of a prize.
Ser Loras Tyrell the gay knight offers his sister Margaery up for marriage to Joffrey as a political alliance. Margaery declares that she has fallen in love with the king’s courageous character during the war. (She’s a very good actress.) Joffrey puts on a show of honoring his commitment to Sansa, until Cersei publicly informs him (for the benefit of the crowd) that he has no obligations to the daughter of a traitor, and implores him to accept Margaery as his queen. Of course, the little twat does.
Sansa apparently did not take the Hound up on his offer to ferry her out of the city. Is this because she’s still afraid of him, or that she honestly thought she’d be safer standing by Joffrey? In either case, upon witnessing her very public dumping, Sansa runs out of the room and secretly smiles, believing herself off the hook. Baelish bursts her bubble by informing her that this just means that Joffrey will keep her as a mistress. He also offers to take her home to Winterfell, but again she declines. What game does Sansa think she’s playing?
With Winterfell surrounded and no help coming from his own family, dumbass Theon Greyjoy recognizes that he’s reached the end of his line. Maester Luwin recommends that he sneak out of the kingdom and run to join the Night’s Watch, where his indiscretions will be forgiven. Theon, however, chooses to go out in a blaze of glory. He rallies his mere twenty men with an inspirational speech, shouting “We die today, brothers!” and “What is dead may never die!” The moment is hilariously undercut when one of his own men conks Theon over the head, knocking him unconscious. His troops then put a bag over his head and drag him away. It’s not clear what they plan to do with him. Will they bring him back to the Iron Islands, turn him over to the Starks for amnesty, or something else entirely?
Later, Bran, Rickon, Hodor and Osha come out of hiding to find Winterfell mostly in ashes. They discover Luwin, who was stabbed by one of Theon’s men. He tells them to run north to the Wall to find Jon Snow. He also begs Osha to protect the boys from her own kind, and asks her to put him out of his misery.
On their way to King’s Landing, Brienne and Jaime are accosted by three surly Stark knights, one of whom causes trouble when he recognizes Jaime. Brienne slaughters all three. This is the first that Jaime has seen of her fighting, and he seems impressed.
Stannis Baratheon escaped King’s Landing and is mad at his priestess Melisandre for misleading him into believing that he was destined to win the war. She tells him that the war still has years to go. She convinces him to look with her into a flaming torch, where he apparently sees a vision that puts him back under her spell.
Robb Stark secretly marries his pretty nurse. This is probably not Robb’s wisest move, because it will turn Walder Frey against him.
Jaqen H’ghar catches up with Arya and her friends. He gives Arya a coin that he says can summon him when in need. All she has to do is give it to a man from Braavos and repeat the phrase “Valar Morghulis.” He calls himself a “Faceless Man” and says that, “Jaqen is dead.” He then turns away from her briefly and turns back with a completely different face. That’s a neat trick.
Daenerys attempts to enter the House of the Undying to find her dragons. She walks a few feet ahead of Jorah and vanishes from his sight. She somehow appears inside the maze-like building, and wanders around until encountering what must be magically-derived visions. First, she comes to what appears to be the throne room in King’s Landing, in complete disrepair, snow pouring in from holes in the ceiling. She walks through a door and winds up outside the Wall in the north, near which is a tent where she finds her dead husband Drogo and baby. They share a moment, and Drogo tells her, “If this is a dream, I will kill the man who tries to wake me.” Dany is very nearly overcome with emotion, but remains strong and pulls herself away.
Eventually, Dany locates her dragons chained to a stone altar. She’s quickly captured and shackled by the warlock, who tells her that he needs her for the dragons to grow strong. What he realizes too late is that Dany and her own magic are much stronger than he anticipated. Obeying her command, the dragons destroy their chains and set the warlock on fire.
Having defeated the warlock, Dany’s next order of business is to confront Xaro Xhoan Daxos. She steals his locket and opens his vault, to find it completely empty. His riches were entirely a sham. Dany locks Xaro in the vault and has her remaining Dothraki raid his home in order to scrounge together enough money to buy a ship.
North of the Wall
Still in Wildling custody, Jon Snow and Qhorin Halfhand stage a fight, during which Snow eventually has to kill Halfhand, in order to seal the deal on their plan for Snow to be accepted by the Wildlings as a defector. The Wildlings fall for this pretty easily. They don’t seem like the brightest bunch. Snow then catches a glimpse of the Wildling camp, which is much more massive than he ever imagined and extends as far as he can see. This moment is a little underwhelming, because we only see the camp as a visual effect in the far distance. I feel like the moment would have more impact if Snow were actually taken there, but I realize that budgetary concerns must have dictated that to be saved for next season.
Elsewhere, Samwell and two other Night’s Watch peons are off searching for animal dung (to use as fire fuel) when they’re beset by White Walkers. The other two run off, leaving tubby, clumsy Sam to fend for himself. The best he can do is hide behind a rock. The episode then ends on a cliffhanger as a huge horde of White Walkers lumber past on their way… somewhere. I’m not sure if they’re heading north to the Wildling camp or south to the Wall.
This is our first really good look at the White Walkers. Unfortunately, beyond the fact that they’re mostly CG, they look like bog-standard ‘Walking Dead’-style zombies. I kind of expected something a little more interesting. The main difference is that these zombies seem to be organized, and have a zombie leader who rides a zombie horse. He has glowing blue eyes, with which he stares directly at Sam. The way the scene plays seems to imply that the zombie leader decides to ignore Sam and carry on with his business. I don’t know what that’s about.
Overall, this is a decent finale that has a lot of good character moments and sets up some interesting directions for the next season. However, the cliffhanger didn’t do much for me and I still feel like the Daenerys storyline (although finally given a decent payoff) has been far too disconnected from the rest of the narrative. I’m also a little disappointed that the season dropped the ball on a few characters – such as the colorful pirate Salladhor Saan, who was introduced with fanfare that suggested he’d play an important role in the battle of King’s Landing, but was then never referenced again.
Regardless, I’m already salivating for next season. From what I’ve gathered, the third book in the series will be split into two separate seasons. Most fans also seem to agree that the third book is the best. I can’t wait to see what’s in store.