Title: Game of Thrones
Genre: Historical Fantasy
Watched: Episode 20 – June 3, 2012
Title: Valar Morghulis
Summary: Fantastic Wrapup
The season finale has a lot of threads to cover, the extra long “previously on” clip covers no less than eleven major plot lines! Amazingly, the episode manages to do a pretty damn good job with them — even when many only get one scene.
We open with Tyrion — well his eye — suffering at the tender ministrations of the less-senile-than-he-seems Maester Pycelle. Ty learns he’s no longer hand, and we see what he does not, his father receiving the honors that Tyrion had a hand (haha) in earning. Then in a magnificent bit of public theater, Joffery casts down Sansa and takes up with Margaery Tyrell. Could the third marriage be the charm? With Joff? This begins a running thread about oaths that flows through the entire episode. For Joff, despite his lip service, oaths mean nothing. I do also have to give credit to the actor who manages to make every line, every gesture thoroughly loathsome.
Sansa, freed of her engagement, is confronted by Littlefinger. He claims to be an ally, being the second man to offer her a way north. But does she dare? Personally, I would have gone with the Hound.
And speaking of Littlefinger, Varys visits Ros in the interest of plotting against his rival. It’s not entirely clear what the point of this scene is other than an update on everyone’s least favorite hooker and a restatement of the Varys/Littlefinger hostility. I prefered their “manhood” discussion in episode 10.
Jaime and Brienne only get one scene, but it’s a doozy. After the usual banter they run into a bunch of Stark men who recognize the Kingslayer. She totally kicks ass in her lumbering way. But her choices flow from her own oath: to Cat Stark. Her interpretation is literal in the extreme.
Robb and Cat discuss this very topic. He is in love with the nurse, she warns him of his oath, even invoking Ned and his own literal interpretation of said matters. Robb walks a different road.
Stannis broods with the Red Lady, nursing his pride. He tries to strangle her, but cannot. She shows him the secrets of the flames. We, of course, see only some flicking in his eyeballs. Is this hypnotism, or more? Certainly one of the weaker threads, but it has been all along. I guess Davos’ fate will be left to season 3.
Theon is surrounded and in his room with Luwin. The old man honors his own oath and gives Theon solid advice: run for the Night’s Watch. “You are not the man you are pretending to be, at least not yet.” This is a great exchange. “It’s too late to pretend to be anything else,” Theon answers. Then he gives a really nice speech to his troops — only to have them betray him. Poor Luwin is stabbed.
Varys visits Tyrion and delivers news of further humiliations. I swear GRRM looks at every character every chapter and says: “on the way up, take ’em down. On the way down, take ’em up.” The Ty/Varys interaction this season has been great as both actors are spectacular. Shae is next. She removes his bandage. The scar is bad, but nothing like in the book where he has no nose! They couldn’t bring themselves to put Peter Dinklage through that much ugly (and he’s a good looking man anyway, unlike the pre-face-cut novel Tyrion). Shae at least is loyal (so far). Dare I say, honoring her oath? She tries to get him to leave the city with her, but stays when he won’t.
Robb gets married. A nice tiny little ceremony. Oaths oaths oaths. But it is still the second worst thread.
Dany walks through a cool garden to an even cooler tower-like “house of the undying.” She finds a magic entrance. I like these lightly handed mystical moments.
Arya, having escaped, is found by Jaquen. He tries to draw her to Bravos to train as a Faceless Man. She isn’t ready yet, and still seeks her family. He gives her the coin then as I hoped he might, changes his face. “That man is dead.” Awesome scene.
Osha and the boys emerge to a burnt and destroyed Winterfell. If those wolves are CG, they look pretty darn good. They find a dying Luwin and the old man gets a few final words in. Perhaps not realistic, but he’s been very fine in the role and so they’re well deserved. He sends them to Jon. Bran rolls north in a wheelbarrow!
Dany is back in the House of the Undying. She finds a room of doors and wanders through into a sequence of visions that gave me goosebumps. First the Iron Throne, its hall burnt by dragon fire. Then lured by the sound of dragons, through the door in the wall and into the north. There she finds Drogo’s hut and inside the man himself in a surprise reprise of his role. The Dothraki dialog between them brought tears to my eyes. I always liked the way his rumbly voice read the guttural language. But she is not to succumb to the “last temptation of Danerys Stormborn,” instead returning to the house to find her dragons. All three in fact — for the first time in the entire season. The warlock emerges. He uses the plural, but we only see one — before or now. “With the dragons returned our magic.” It’s nice to hear this reiterated. Makes one wonder. Is this true of the Red Lady as well? Not the White Walkers for sure, they showed up in the pilot before the dragons did. Or do they foreshadow coming of the beasts? Anyway, Dany is not one to take captivity lightly, she lights up the warlock like a bonfire. This scene was cool, but felt light on the effects. I would’ve liked to see the three dragons flying around laying waste to the house and it burning down. Sigh. Budgets.
Finally, we return to Jon Snow in the frozen north. Ygritte is marching behind him whacking him on the head with his own sword. That’s got to hurt both the pride and the noggin. The Halfhand grabs a sword and they fight. He forces Jon’s anger and this time, Jon doesn’t hold back and kills him. I’m not sure I bought this important moment 100%. I did, however, like the look Ygritte gives him as she backs him up and then leads him off to see the valley with the Wildling (CGI) camp. This vista looks fantastic as they just painted in the camp in a real Icelandic valley. It felt massive in scale, in contrast with the lightweight troop of a dozen Wildlings in furs marching around in the snow. The Lord of Bones has no presence.
Xaro is sleeping with Doreah. I guess that explains her absence. Dany and her dragons march in and steal his medallion/vault key. But the vault contains nothing. She locks him and the slave girl away. These are both changes from the novels, but while I will miss the girl on girl on girl action that is supposed to occur later (unless they bring it back with different girls) the relationship with Xaro makes more sense. In the books I never really understood what Xaro was up to or why Dany did what she did with him. Here she loads up with enough gold to buy a ship and move on.
I expected that to be the end, but we have an even better setup. Sam and the brother’s black are gathering frozen turds by the Fist of the First Men when the horn sounds three times. An army of zombies pass, lead by zombie horse riding White Walkers. That was pretty cool. It also helps to explain, at least to me, the difference between the wraiths (zombies) and the White Walkers (something more, and often mounted). This peculiar distinction has eluded me for five books.
Sigh again. The ten month wait begins. But in the meantime I’m heading myself to King’s Landing this summer. Well, Dubrovnik at least. It looked so good in the show that I booked a vacation there!
Overall, a brilliant episode. I was worried that with so many threads each be starved of attention, But the producers saved a good percentage of the budget for these last two episodes. And more importantly the writers managed to draw most of the threads, although not all, to a satisfying conclusion. Still, the biggest flaw this season suffered, and it is a big flaw, is the compression of the large scale novel into only ten hours of programming. While a problem last season, A Game of Thrones is shorter than A Clash of Kings and the compression felt less pronounced. Season 2 did mostly address the problems of visual scope and mystical elements that bothered me in season one, but the new problem is even worse. With twelve episodes they could have mitigated it somewhat, but really the scope of the story needed perhaps sixteen. We can hope that by splitting A Storm of Swords into more than one season this can be overcome.