As HBO’s “Previously on Game of Thrones” reel runs to its completion and the theme rises, it’s hard not to be wistful upon the closing of the second season of this cult hit of a show. For those of you who’ve been following along as I blog my way through season two, you’ll surely find a bit of sadness in this being the last entry into the Blog of Thrones series for the year. And even though it’s coming a few days later than usual, there’s still plenty to talk about. So don’t be too sad when it’s all said and done. Besides, this has been so much fun to write that I wouldn’t be surprised (if I were you) to see Blog of Thrones pop up periodically in between seasons two and three. With reflections on season two, thoughts on season three, thoughts on my readings of the books, thoughts on casting, thoughts on life in Westeros, and many other thoughts brewing around this fine series of stories, there may just be enough to keep Blog of Thrones going on a monthly basis in between now and early 2013, when the show will return for an undoubtedly epic third season. But for now, lets talk about “Valar Morghulis.”
As always, Blog of Thrones is written from the perspective of a relative novice to George R.R. Martin’s books. It focuses solely on Game of Thrones the show and assumes that you’ve seen everything up to the latest episode. If you travel down this Kingsroad and find yourself spoiled, the king will know the reason why.
Beyond the Blackwater
After the focused brilliance of last week’s episode, it’s hard to imagine that even an extended 64-minute finale is enough time to bring together all of the storylines set forth in season two. As we’ve noted time and time again, many a season two episode was found to be nothing less than furiously busy. But “Valar Morghulis,” in a stroke of its own brilliance, doesn’t feel the need to tie up everything in a nice little package. Echoing the feelings of fans and studio executives alike, it seems content with providing just enough closure to make our time feel unwasted and just enough intrigue to fuel our desire for this show to go on forever. As it opens, season two’s finale descends upon King’s Landing and sets to rights one of the great cliffhanger’s of “Blackwater.” Yes, Tyrion Lannister lives! But more on that later…
Our time spent in the wake of the battle of Blackwater finds a number of nice little character moments. From Maester Pycelle leaving the coin with Tyrion to show that he had a hand in the bandages that now encase the Imp’s head to Lord Tywin (the increasingly regal presence of Charles Dance) entering the Red Keep just as his horse takes a shit on the floor, there is comeuppance in the air. None so wicked as the glance Tywin gives his daughter upon being renamed Hand of the King. “Daddy is home,” his eyes say in no uncertain terms. “Playtime is over.”
And of course, the Game must go on. Tywin returning on his white steed to (hopefully) smack his children around isn’t the only plot afoot in King’s Landing. There is to be a new queen and a brokerage between House Lannister/Baratheon and House Tyrell. Readers of this column will note that there was a time before the death of Renly that we all saw clearly just how much of a player Margaery Tyrell can be. She’s a dangerous new piece in this Game of Thrones, that girl in the low-cut dress. Hers is a storyline that will no doubt get some flesh in season three, as King Joffrey is in desperate need of a worthy adversary.
There are other, smaller moments as well. Littlefinger swoops in to console Sansa Stark, whose elation over being relieved of her betrothal to Joffrey is snatched away by his sharp realism. She’s still in trouble, that Stark girl. How much can she trust that Lord Littlefinger will come through on his promise to help her escape King’s Landing, only season three will tell. In the end, it’s all proof that even though the battle of Blackwater is won, in King’s Landing, the game is played on.
“This war has just begun. It will last for years.”
Elsewhere, Brienne the Badass kills a man who looks like Sean Bean. This show must kill at least one man who looks like Sean Bean at the end of each season. Robb Stark marries the hot field nurse. Something about this does not feel right. Something about crossing Walder Frey won’t end well for the young Wolf King. Stannis looks into the flames and continues to drink Melisandre’s fiery Kool-Aid. What does the iron-jawed, good King Stannis see in those flames? He sees season three, and for that we should all be jealous.
Theon Greyjoy may have spent most of the season acting like a whiney baby, and he may have ultimately gone down like a whiney baby, but he does get some of the episode’s best character work. Watching him come to the decision of standing and fighting reveals years of angst and a desire to live up to a father’s unyielding expectations. Then to see his big speech, we’re almost seeing Theon become a leader. He comes a hair shy of rousing the troops with his big speech. But as Maester Luwin points out, he’s not yet the man he’s pretending to be. And the Iron men know this. They’d much rather just give him up and go home. Sad times for Theon Greyjoy.
Act two ends with a trip back to King’s Landing, where Peter Dinklage rounds out a stellar year of acting by placing an exclamation point on his Golden Globe resume. As he pours tears over his big, beautiful battle scar, we see that the Imp is quite broken, and there’s nowhere else for him to go. Even though he’s broken at the moment, his monologue reveals that there’s plenty of the game left in Tyrion Lannister. His role in the game of thrones is not yet done. His war will last for years and years.
And what of her magic…
In its third act, “Valar Morghulis” reveals its magic. Because beyond the practical battles of men around King’s Landing, there is a great deal of magic and mystery still abound. And in this third act, Game of Thrones shows off some truly breathtaking visuals. From the burning of Winterfell as Bran and Rickon flee to the trip that Daenarys takes through the house of the undying, it’s clear that the Thrones production team didn’t spend all of their money on last week’s explosion.
Despite not having much to do throughout the second season, Daenarys does get her time in this episode. As she wanders through the House of the Undying, we see her transported across Westeros, from the Red Keep to The Wall, envisioning alternate versions of her own future. A snowy, burnt Red Keep houses the Iron Throne that awaits her if she decides to burn her way back into power. Khal Drogo (Jason Momoa) makes a nice little cameo with their son, who looks far better than he was described at the end of season one. But it’s all a ruse, a bit of trickery by that malnourished creep. But flames are enough to extinguish the captivity that the evil cousin of Dean Pelton attempts to inflict on the Mother of Dragons. And lo, the big reveal of season one finally pays off in the “please mother, may we burn the bad man” look that her dragons give her. And then to the flames. As she loots Qarth and sets her situation with Zorro Zohan Ducksauce to rights, it’s hard not to look forward to the future of the last Targaryen. The fire cannot burn her, perhaps because her heart is ice cold. In these moments, it’s the stone-faced poise of Emilia Clarke that provides the most promise. As with many others, her part in the game has just begun.
Meanwhile, beyond The Wall
“Valar Morghulis” brings to a close a number of storylines — from telling us that Tyrion lives to seeing Daenarys’ dragons breath fire (finally) — but one of the most interesting of the season has been the travels of Jon Snow and the men of the Night’s Watch. As we saw two episodes ago, Jon Snow has been commanded by Qhorin Halfhand to do whatever is necessary to show the wildlings that he’s a true turncloak, to get among them and become a double agent. Little did Jon know at the time that such a task would require slaying the Night’s Watch’s most storied warrior, but Halfhand knew the way. And as we see him fall, the bond between Jon Snow and his new wildling family is sealed. Now he moves on to meet Mance Rayder, The King Beyond the Wall, a character we’ll undoubtedly see plenty of in season three, as soon as they cast him.
A lot will be said about the way Game of Thrones played out its epic second season, but much of where it succeeds is in opening as many doors as it closes. Even though “Valar Morghulis” pulls together a number of storylines that have been running amok throughout the year, it flings open several far more interesting storylines that promise a great deal agony for fans who will now have to wait until next year to see how it all shakes out. No single shot is as exemplary of this as the final one, with an army of wight walkers headed for the camp of the Night’s Watch. This will undoubtedly be a scene that pays off far earlier in season three than last year’s big reveal (it took ten episodes for Daenerys’ dragons to do anything cool), but it’s not the only big reveal. Robb Stark’s wedding will have reverberations across the North. Tywin Lannister in King’s Landing will play all kinds of havoc for Cersei and Tyrion. Stannis is not done fighting. Brienne and the Kingslayer are bound to have the most humorous medieval buddy road trip story of all-time. And the little princes of Winterfell are out alone in the woods. Hodor, hodor! This is exciting stuff. There is much more big picture discussion to be had about season two and where it may take us — perhaps we’ll save that for another entry in another week sometime in between now and next year — but for now it’s not hard to be thankful that David Benioff and D.B. Weiss are playing the long game.
This Week’s Final Thought: Zombie horses! Also, did you know that you can buy a life-sized replica of the Iron Throne? Only $30k.
Next Week: Season three may not start for another year or so, but that doesn’t mean Blog of Thrones must end. Perhaps we’ll come back next week with some thoughts on the big picture.