GOT- “Valar Morghulis”

Another Sunday, and the last episode of Game of Thrones–for all seasons must end. After last week’s epic Battle of the Blackwater, it was time for the writers to wrap up all the loose plot lines and leave us with a bevy of brand new cliffhangers. Some of these were completed quite well–fantastically, chillingly well! Others…not so much. As usual, minor SPOILERS to follow.

We start off in King’s Landing. Tyrion awakens from near-death to find the world has changed. For one, a smugly grinning Maester Pycelle–the old guy he’d imprisoned–is walking free and staring down at him. Pycelle informs Tyrion, quite happily, that the battle against Stannis has been won and his father Lord Tywin is now in the city. What’s more, Tyrion’s been relieved as Hand of the King and spirited away to some cramped quarters, left to live or die from his wounds–wounds inflicted through a plot of his sister Cersei to see him dead on the battlefield. When Tyrion tries to gather his allies, he learns that the sell-sword Bronn has also been relieved as head of the King’s Guard and the Hill Tribes have been handsomely paid off to head home. In effect, his carefully built-up allies are gone. Maester Pycelle, in a bit of pay-back, tosses Tyrion a coin (as Tyrion once did the lady-of-the-evening used to earlier entrap him) and says “For your troubles”–before leaving with the smirk of a school girl giggling at some private joke. Varys the Whisperer pops in, mostly to warn Tyrion of the low status he nows holds in King’s Landing. In the end, only Shae and Podrick have remained loyal. When the bandage around his face is removed, we learn Tyrion’s been grotesquely disfigured (though no where as bad as in the book) and is sliding into an emotional morass of bitterness as he realizes his power is gone, his enemies are in control and that he will get little no praise for his role in saving the city. When Shae pleads with him to flee, he refuses–saying he’s gotten to like the conniving, lying and games of power of King’s Landing, where for once in his life he felt relevant. He’s going to stay, and Shae, in a touching scene, decides to stay with him. Thus begins the slow hard-to-watch fall of Tyrion Lannister. It’ll be a rough Season 3 for fans of the Halfman.

But other Lannisters are doing just fine. He-who-sh*ts-gold rides in triumphantly into the main hall of the palace on a white horse who just…well…sh*ts…to receive accolades and praise from his grandson–the Monster Joffrey who sits pompously on the Iron Throne. In what is obviously a scripted performance, he installs his father as the new Hand of the King and (through the supporting rehearsed performances of his mother and Maester Pycelle) manages to undo his betrothal to Sansa Stark and pledge his love to Margaery Tyrell, who has arrived with her brother Loras as their House has switched sides from the now dead Renly Baratheon to that of Lannister. No one seems happier about all this than Sansa Stark, believing herself finally freed from the Monster. Her momentary giddiness is interrupted by Petyr Baelish, who we learn was instrumental in the House Tyrell-Lannister alliance, and has been granted both favor and lands (the dismal Harrenhall) by the Monster. Littlefinger warns Sansa that she’s actually in more danger than ever, as the Monster is unlikely to let her go. He confides that because of his relationship with her mother, Catelyn Stark, he will do his best to get her out of King’s Landing. When Sansa, reverting back to her rote dissembling, claims she wants to stay, he informs her that she is in a den of liars–all of them much better at it than her.

The only other scene we get in King’s Landing is that of Varys, who finds a lady-of-the-evening who has been playing spy for Petyr Baelish. With Littlefinger back, and in the Lannister’s good graces, the eunuch realizes things don’t bode well for his side of their eternal Spy-Vs-Spy competition. He thus sets out to convince the good lady to turn informant for him…

Back at King Robb camp, the eldest Stark boy has decided to break his oath to the Tullys and marry not-Jeyne-but-is-Jeyne Westerling. His mother implores him not to do so, warning that he’s taken an oath. Their frayed relationship since her release of the Kingslayer hasn’t improved however, and he’s a petulant teenager, so that conversation goes downhill–fast. He ends up marrying the love of his life in a private ceremony, setting into motion a series of events that will likely leave people stunned to their core come Season 3.

The youngest Stark girl has left Harrenhal with Gendry and Hot Pie, and run into none other than Jaqen H’ghar. He informs Arya that he knows of her death list, and offers to take her with him back to Braavos to become a death-dealing Faceless Man like himself. Though seriously tempted, Arya says instead she has to stay and find her family. Jaqen gives her a coin and says if she ever changes her mind, give it to anyone from Braavos and utter the words “Valar Morghulis.” When Arya in the end breaks down and pleads that for him to help them, in one heck of a subtle cool-ass-cucumber scene, he says Jaqen is dead and turns back to reveal a brand new face. What? You thought it was just a metaphor?

And then there’s Theon…oh, Theon, Theon, Theon. As promised, the youngest Greyjoy boy has been abandoned by his sister and father, and sits in Winterfell surrounded by several hundred Northmen–with only about twenty men within its walls to defend it. That night, as the horns of his enemies sound about him, Theon sits brooding at his fate. Maester Luwin attempts to reason with him, telling him there’s still a way out (a secret passage beneath Winterfell), and that he’ll even help Theon escape–where he can then go to The Wall, have his sins absolved and take the Black. For a moment Theon seems to consider it, and there’s a touching bit of self-reflection obviously constructed to induce sympathy for the hapless Greyjoy. The next morning however, Theon has gone fully Iron Born. In a rousing speech, he declares to his twenty cheering men that they’ll go valiantly into death against greater odds and show the Northmen–even in defeat–what men of the Iron Isles are made of! The men cheer and Theon howls–until he’s knocked senseless by his own troops and has a sack put over his head. It seems the men of the Iron Isles are going home after all and don’t plan on marching to their death. The question is, where’s Theon going…? You know what rhymes with Reek? Meek.

Its a while later that Hodor, Osha, Bran, Rickon and two dire wolves emerge from where they’d been hiding in the catacombs–only to find Winterfell razed to the ground and its inhabitants slain. (Have you asked yourself–why would Northmen sworn to House Stark burn down the House of Stark? You should…) They run across a mortally wouded Maester Luwin, who tells them they have to flee to the Wall and find Jon for safety. He then secretly has Osha mercy-kill him with her knife, as the two young Stark boys begin their long journey. Meera and Jojen Reed to enter this story sometime soon? One hopes.

In more-Stark related action… Brienne of Tarth and the Kingslayer run into some Stark men who’ve been out rapin and hanging the local womenfolk. They try to go on their way, passing themselves off as other-than-they-really-are. But when one of them recognizes Jaime Lannister however, Brienne is forced to go all…well…Brienne. She slays the bunch, seeming to impress–or at least momentarily daze–the Kingslayer. Not a scene from the book, but I’m really liking how the series is staying true to her character and hope this continues into the next season.

In some non-Stark related action, the would-be-King Stannis is pissssed. He gives Melisandre a mouthful about her Red God after losing at the Battle of the Blackwater. When she tries to make excuses, he damn near almost chokes her to death. In a rare bit of emotion, Stannis seems to show some remorse for the death of Renly–acknowledging that through dark magic, he killed his own brother. But, the Red Lady manages to appeal to his power hungry core and entices him to look into a fire–where she shows him a future he finds quite appealing. Stay tuned…more to come…

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, Daenaerys is finally set to get those dragons back. She enters the House of the Undying and finds herself in a series of false visions. One of them takes her to King’s Landing, seat of the Iron Throne–but the palace is empty, its roof destroyed and blanketed in snow. The second vision takes her to a tent, where none other than Khal Drogo waits inside with their child. Though both visions are tempting, she ultimately refuses to be seduced by them, and is transported back to the House of the Undying where she finds her dragons chained and the sorcerer Pyat Pree waiting. He informs her that since dragons have returned to the world, the sorcerers’ magic has grown stronger, and hence she nor they can ever leave–and Dany soon ends up in chains of her own. Undeterred, she calls to her dragons who respond with fire and burn Pyat Pree to ashes. Next stop, the house of Xaro Xhoan Daxos who they find sleeping with none other than her old handmaiden Doreah–doubtle betrayal! They steal Xaro’s magic key, unlock his secret vault and open it wide to find–nothing. All the claimed wealth Xaro boasted of didn’t exist. He was a fraud. For all their troubles and conniving, both Xaro and Doreah are imprisoned in the vault to die while Dany and the Dothraki plunder his household for gold and jewels.

This was probably, in my opinion, one of the more disappointing of the storylines. For one, it seemed rather lackluster after making us wait so long. And after Dany’s great Season 1 finale, I was hoping for something more. For one, in the book it’s not one measley sorcerer set on fire–it’s the whole damn House of the Undying! Given all the build up, I was really hoping for a better conclusion. This one was almost *yawn.* Next up, I worried that the whole changed Xaro plotline was going to go nowhere–and that’s what ended up happening it seems. Xaro having no wealth, being imprisoned in his vault–nothing to do with the book, and wholly spun out of cloth for the series. That’s fine, except I don’t see why–as Xaro shows up later on in the books, and it seems he has quite a bit of wealth. These changes and diversions didn’t add anything to the main plot, or make Dany seem any stronger. A C- on this plot line… fortunately the writers will have more than enough to work with in Season 3 to improve their grade, because there’s just no way one can screw up the Unsullied. I hope….

But… the writers do manage to leave us with a lil’ bit of something. Beyond The Wall, Jon Snow is still a captive of the Wildlings. Qhorin Halfhand entices Jon to a battle–calling him a traitor and a bastard and insulting the memory of Ned Stark. Jon obliges, and in a fit of rage runs him through with a sword. All of this was a self-sacrifice to place Jon in the good graces of the Wildlings–which works. He is then led by Ygritte to see Mance Rayder’s forces–which it turns out is an entire army. Quite a bit of deviation here from the book again, as his intentional death is much more pre-planned and rehearsed with a reluctant and remorseful Jon. I’m not certain the full impact of what happened was conveyed to viewers through this version. But whatever… because that’s hardly the best part.

The season finale wraps up with Samwell Tarly, who along with Grenn and the ever Debbie-downer Dolorous Edd, are out foraging for ofal to burn. During their duties, Sam’s bantering on about Gilly (one of Craster the Molester’s daughter-wives) when the three suddenly hear a horn blast. Ah, they think. One horn for the return of Rangers–Qorhin and Jon must be back. Then comes a second horn blast. Damn! Two horns for Wildlings! The other men of the Black are under attack! Grenn and Edd draw swords and prepare for battle. Then comes the third horn blast, which momentarily stops them dead in their tracks. Because we all know what the third horn blast means. Sam’s two companions look at each other and then speed off. The less-in-shape Samwell, can’t keep up. In moments he’s caught in a blinding snowstorm that seems to appear out of nowhere. And he soon realizes he’s not alone. Unable to flee, Sam takes cover behind a rock as all about him a horde of Wights–the walking dead–emerge from the storm, rotting with weapons in tow. Worse still, is the figure leading them–a very otherwordly, inhuman being with ice white skin and cold burning blue eyes who rides atop a dead decaying horse. As Sam whimpers in terror, the White Walker lifts an ice spear and urges his zombie army on with a piercing cry. It’s picked up by others of his kind, for as the camera pans out we realize it’s not just a horde–but an army.

Damn! I know right?? So my thoughts on this second season are mixed. There are lots of changes here from the book. Most noticeable is that many events from book 3 (Brienne fleeing with the Kingslayer, the White Walkers) have been plucked out and merged with the second book of the series. And I suppose since A Storm of Swords is a full 1,200+ pages, the writers felt the need to jump ahead just to make room for the third season. This wasn’t really a problem. Some changes were interesting–such as the increased role of Jeyne Westerling and Arya Stark meeting Tywin Lannister. Others, like the afore-mentioned plotline of Dany and her dragons, I wasn’t really feeling. And a few absences–namely of Jojen and Meera Reed and Ramsay Snow–were puzzling. But overall, the series told a good story and remained mostly faithful to the essence of the books.

So, till next season. Look out for your invitation to the Red Wedding in the mail!

2 thoughts on “GOT- “Valar Morghulis”

  1. Dude, the White Walkers and the Battle of Blackwater made-up for such a slow winding season. That last shot of the wights(zombies) shuffling through the snow storm armed for battle and the White Walkers riding high in the wind made my heart burst. If anything I’m just as excited to see season 3 as I was to see season 2.

    FYI- the Starks are on the list of the most tragic families in fantasy.

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