This is it, friends: the epic conclusion of the second season of HBO’s Game Of Thrones. After last week’s single location, all action Battle of Blackwater Bay, would the final episode excite or would it falter under extreme expectations?
Let’s bitch it out…Last year’s tenth and final episode set the standard for Game Of Thrones: the last episode of the season establishes a number of pseudo-quasi cliffhangers that will take our characters into the next season. As far as finale formats go, it’s not original, but due to the sheer size of the Game Of Thrones cast (the largest on television), this can be quite the feat.
It’s a testament to the show that it manages to give everyone a piece of the pie and still satisfy each of the storylines. There’s also a certain amount of payoff to a second season that has – at times – felt unwieldy, as though overwhelmed by the sheer size and volume of its storytelling requirements. It’s a relief to know that the next season will comprise only half of A Storm of Crows, book three of George RR. Martin’s (season two covered the entirety of book two, A Clash Of Kings). Although showrunners Benioff and Weiss deserve some serious accolades (and awards hardware), season two has been a much larger effort and the seams have, at times, shown.
What have we learned from ten episodes with this macabre band of characters? Quite a bit about sex, gender relations, power, responsibility and the power of a pledge. One of the things I most appreciate about ‘Valar Morghulis’ is that it manages to raise the majority of these themes again. I’ve learned the hard way over the last two and a half months that it is a fool’s errand to try and dissect the “theme of the week” because Game Of Thrones simply doesn’t operate that way. The show is rarely content to simply address one issue and its morally ambivalent cast are a group of complex, dangerous, “shades of grey” people who are not easily pigeonholed into black or white characterizations.
Take for example one of my favourite scenes of the finale: Joffrey’s (Jack Gleeson) dismissal of Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) in favour of “flavour of the week” Margaery Tyrell (a welcome Natalie Dormer). This is the only time we spend with these characters this week, but the scene aptly demonstrates Cersei’s (Lena Headey) manipulation of events and people, including Grand Maester Pycelle (Julian Glover), Margaery’s lust for power and Sansa’s continued inability to play the lying game, despite her best efforts.
We can only speculate whether Cersei sees an easier opponent in Margaery or if she is looking to remove Sansa from the equation after confessing so much to her under the influence last week, but the decision to shift Joff’s marriage to the Tyrell girl is hardly a “happy” incident. On one hand it’s clear that Margaery is following through on the ambitions she expressed to Baelish (Aidan Gillen) in the aftermath of Renly’s death in 2×05 ‘Ghosts of Harrenhal’; on the other hand, she has no idea what she’s getting herself into (we do since we can see the glee in Joffrey’s face). I particularly liked Sansa’s reaction: she can barely control an inappropriate smile as she leaves court, only to be reminded by Baelish that Joffrey will not relinquish her as a play toy simply because he is no longer taking her as his wife. It’s a reminder that (if I do try to do a themed analysis) reflects ‘Valar Morghulis”s interest in exploring the responsibility of living up to your oaths.
In effect, what we’ve seen throughout season two is a series of oaths: promised and broken. Xaro (Nonso Anozie) and Pyat Pree (Ian Hanmore) both promise Dany (Emilia Clarke) their support in her quest to reclaim the Irone Throne, but when she discovers their deception, she repays their broken pledges with death and imprisonment (Side Note: These scenes are a brave departure from the book and – I would argue – reflect Benioff and Weiss’ decision to make the series their own instead of diligently replicating the book). It’s immensely satisfying after a season of watching the self-proclaimed “young girl” struggle to gain traction in Qarth, a strange and mysterious city whose rules were never fully clear. Dany’s struggle to assert herself reflects Game Of Thrones continued exploration of gender, sex and power (I explored this in my recap of episode two) and the finale offers this up in spades. Whether it is a scene of Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) kicking ass and slaying dbags or Ros (Esme Bianco) reclaiming her individuality at the behest of the spider Varys (a great Conleth Hill), the means of women to hold and wield power has been a central question in this second season.If the first season excelled at introducing the Stark family and positioning them in the world of Westeros, the second season has admirably introduced a wealth of female characters who have explored the boundaries of power and influence. Even Ygritte (Rose Leslie) and Yara Greyjoy (Gemma Whelan) – storylines I haven’t particularly enjoyed or who have had limited screentime – have created memorable impressions with significant opportunities to expand in the future.
So in the aftermath of Blackwater, how does ‘Valar Morghulis’ stack up? Obviously the battle was significantly more grand and epic, whereas this finale is more traditional in its treatment of multiple storylines (there are still some expensive looking special effects on display, in particular Dany’s dragons, as well as the army of White Walkers marching on the Wall). It feels odd to return to all of these people after such a long time (I’d forgotten John Bradley’s Sam almost entirely) and even though we spend time with nearly every storyline, there are still a number of people who fail to appear, including the Hound and Bronn. It is great, however, to spend time – however brief – with Jamie Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), Varys, and Jaqen H’ghar (Tom Wlaschiha) whom I hope to see more of when the show returns next summer.
- The White Walker ending may have been the closing “big cliffhanger” shot (paging The Walking Dead), but Dany’s journey in the House of The Undying, including her brief dream interaction with Khal Drogo (Jason Mamoa) and deceased child, was the highlight for me. Not only did I not expect to see Drogo again, but this piece – together with her appraisal of the Iron Throne in a snowy, broken landscape – is one of the best hallucination/dream sequences I’ve seen since Battlestar: Galactica. In order to find her way back to reality and her children, Dany must first reassess what her priorities are and who the casualties are/will be. The broken roof of the throne room is suggestive of the devastation she will bring down on King’s Landing, while Drogo and her son are the price she’s already paid. It also makes the death of Pyat that much sweeter since the Dragons – her “children” and sole remaining family – claim her as their master and follow her commands. Throughout the season Dany has often felt like a small, petulant child. With the dragons now responding to her, she is on her way to assuming the mantle of a true Targaryen…and a formidable opponent in the quest for the crown
- In the grand scheme of bad ideas, Robb (Richard Madden) marrying Nurse Boring, Talisa (Oona Chaplin) despite his mother, Catelyn’s (Michelle Fairley) warning is pretty high up there. Clearly this is a blah storyline that will pay off later. I’ll accept it, but refuse to like it
- The other meh is Jon’s (Kit Harington) murder of Qhorin Halfhand (Simon Armstrong), which feels both obvious (we knew they were planning something along these lines since 2×08 ‘The Prince Of Winterfell’) and poorly executed. It’s a rushed sequence, seemingly designed to include a sword fight in the finale rather than explore the emotional response Jon has to killing a friend/mentor in order to persevere. The Wall sequences have been among my least favourite this season, so I hope that when the show returns this is addressed since the Wildling and White Walker armies don’t appear to be going anywhere but into battle.
- How much did I want Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) to take Jaqen up on his offer to learn his trade across the Narrow Sea? (Answer: A lot). I get that she wants to be reunited with her family, but if I can’t get the Arya/Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance) spin-off, I would have watched the crap out of the Arya/Jaqen show
- Baelish is given Harrenhal for his service to the Lannisters. Yay? Do we care? And what to make of his promise to rescue Sansa? Considering he references how much she looks like Cat, should child protective services be called? Varys complicates this murkiness. His reaction to the news of Littlefinger’s acquisition is amusingly pained, but then suddenly he’s at the whorehouse poaching Ros into his service of little birds. Whom – or either – of these men should we trust?
- Shae (Sibel Kekilli) and Tyrion’s (Peter Dinklage) love: real or no? If the woman is lying, she’s damned good, but I’ll admit that her dedication to the imp, despite his increased disfigurement, is touching
- Finally, everyone shed a quick tear for Maester Luwin (Donald Sumpter). He deserved far better than an unceremonious death at the hands of Theon’s (Alfie Allen) second in command. What should we make of Theon’s men’s mutiny? And how ambivalent is the aftermath of these events? If Winterfell is surrounded by Robb’s bannerman, where are they when Bran (Isaac Hempstead Wright) and co. escape from the burning wreckage of the castle? What exactly happened there? Either this is meant to be confusing, or it was poorly done…
So that’s it for our coverage of Game Of Thrones. What was your favourite scene of the finale? What outstanding questions do you have of the episode/season? Who did you end up liking the most this season (Arya, Tywin, Tyrion) and who surprised you (my shocking nominee: Sansa Stark)? Where do you hope the show will go in the future? Sound off below and we’ll see you next year (unless you’re a True Blood fan – then we’ll see you next week)
Game Of Thrones has finished airing its second season. It will return next Spring on HBO.