The big question, going into the Game of Thrones finale, was whether or not “Valar Morghulis” would be able to top last week’s epic “Blackwater”. The answer as far as I’m concerned was a decisive NO. Admittedly, “Valar Morghulis” wasn’t meant to be a ‘big bang’ episode. The writers had to revisit 8 different storylines and plant enough intrigue in each one to carry us forward into Season 3. That’s a fairly tall order and they did a decent job, but it still felt as if the show limped across the finish line a little.
Tyrion wakes up in an unfamiliar sick bed to find that he has been dismissed as King’s Hand, and unceremoniously removed from his lavish quarters. His brush with death – and the blade of a sword – has left him disfigured and disheartened. His father Tywin has replaced him as Hand and been declared “savior of the city”, Littlefinger has been given Harrenhal for his role in bringing the Tyrells and Lannisters together, and Loras Tyrell is being hailed as a hero. But for Tyrion, whose shrewd judgment kept the chaos at bay for weeks, whose risky wildfire scheme struck a massive blow and bought precious time, there are no rewards. No one is singing the praises of the dwarf who stood up and fought when everyone else had fled, who led his men in a heroic charge that those twice his size would cower from. It’s inevitable, but utterly frustrating!
The cherry on poor Tyrion’s turd of a week is the news that his injuries were at the hands of his own sister. Varys warns him that Cersei ordered one of the Kingsguard to assassinate him on the battlefield. Only through Pod’s intervention was Tyrion able to escape with his life. But Bronn has been relieved of his City Watch command, the Hill Tribes have been ushered on their way, and Varys needs to keep his distance. Tyrion is truly alone, except of course for his amorous whore who is still by his side.
Now that the Lannisters and Tyrells have come together as allies, new propositions are made. Loras pleads with King Joffrey to take his sister’s hand in marriage. She is after all still ‘innocent’, as Renly was taken from her before he could force himself to … err … had the time to, get it up. Margaery smolders from the sidelines, showing off yet another plunging neckline – one that would be scandalous even on the Red Carpet! There are a lot of adjectives to describe Margaery, but demure would not be one of them. She coos that tales of Joffrey’s courage and wisdom have taken root ‘deep inside’ of her. Congratulations on somehow making Joffrey’s non-existent character traits sound like a huge penis, Margaery!
Joffrey sizes up his new admirer with a lecherous gaze, but we all know he was just fantasizing about what she’d look like in various shades of black and blue. Joffrey points out that he is betrothed to another and there is some back and forth between Cersei and Grand Maester Pycelle (speaking for the God naturally) about whether he should cast Sansa Stark aside. Sansa practically jumps over the balcony screaming ‘take him, TAKE HIM!’ Joffrey announces that he will marry Margaery, the court goes wild with excitement and Sansa practically passes out with relief. But her celebration is short-lived when Littlefinger reminds her that just because she won’t be marrying the king, it doesn’t mean he’ll stop torturing her. “Joffrey isn’t the sort of boy to give away his toys.”
Robb makes an honest woman out of his lover, marrying Talisa in a simple forest ceremony. Catelyn tries to talk him out of it, pleading with him to honour his deal with Walder Frey and marry one of his daughters. Marriage isn’t about love and passion! It’s about honour, duty and the affection that grows out of commitment. It’s not like she and Ned were sweethearts before she became the Lady of Winterfell, but Robb won’t be deterred.
Winterfell, and Theon’s tiny army of 20 men, are surrounded by 500 Northmen. With no chance in hell of winning the battle, Theon is quickly going crazy. Maester Luwin tries to convince him to run while he still can – to sneak out of the castle and head North to the Nightswatch where all his sins will be forgiven, but Theon is persistent past the point of stupidity and he can’t turn back now. He gives an impassioned speech to his men, rallying them to fight against their foes. They cheer and whoop … then knock him out cold and drag him out of Winterfell. Why should they suffer and die when Theon’s the only one with a target on his back? They’re going home! But not before they skewer Maester Luwin through the gut and burn Winterfell to the ground.
I’m actually a little confused by their actions. Presumably they decided to turn on Theon because Robb made it clear that any Ironborn who surrendered could return home except the treacherous ‘Prince of Winterfell”. Otherwise why would they assume they could just waltz by the Northern force and head back to Pyke? But if they want their freedom, why would they risk it by torching Winterfell? Surely that would put the Northmen in a pretty foul mood!
Bran, Rickon, Osha and Hodor emerge from the crypts and into the smoking ashes of their home. They find Maester Luwin dying beneath the heart tree. He warns them not to risk traveling South; to head towards the wall and find Jon Snow. Osha offers him a quick death at the hilt of her dagger.
Beyond the Wall
Qhorin Halfhand is determined to sacrifice himself for the fate of the Night’s Watch and forces a confrontation with Jon Snow. They fight to the death, with Jon reluctantly plunging a sword into Qhorin’s heart. Jon is freed from his ropes and allowed to continue on unshackled
Back at the Fist of the First Men, Sam and some other men are interrupted from their chores by a horn blast. At one blast they hope it’s Jon returning … at two blasts they ready their swords to fight incoming wildlings … but at three blasts they freeze in horror. White. Walkers. They run off in a panic, but Sam trips and barely manages to hide himself behind a rock as an army of blue-eyed demons and re-animated wildlings pass by.
I was SO disappointed in this scene. It just wasn’t how I pictured it at all! The white walkers are supposed to be ghostly terrors, but here they were, roaring skeletors on horses. Also – and I hate to be a stickler for details – but should they not be, you know, WALKING! Isn’t that kind of their deal? And their dead army? Too zombified. Yes, I realize they’re dead, but they felt more mystical and creepy in the book, less lumbering and decomposing. The very first scene in Season 1 featured the White Walkers and it was 10 times scarier than this one.
Dany arrives at the House of the Undying and enters a perplexing maze, determined to get her babies back, and frankly the entire series of scenes left me cold. I really thought they were gearing up for a massive showdown in the House of the Undying – something to rival the iconic imagery from Season 1; a naked Dany with her newborn dragons perched upon her shoulder. There was some nice build-up as Dany wandered aimlessly through the building, entering enchanted rooms that presented images from her past and her future. It was touching and bittersweet to see Khal Drogo again, holding their son who might have been. But when she finally found her way to her dragons and encountered the warlock Pyat Pree, the showdown was over before it started. He chained her to the wall and told her she would spend an eternity nurturing her children in the House of the Undying, while her dragon’s kept the warlocks’ magic alive. But Dany immediately Dracarys-ed her way out of trouble when her dragons set fire to Pyat and her chains disintegrated into dust. There was barely a struggle!
Dany’s progress, or lack thereof, has frustrated me this entire season. Her dealings in Qarth have been plodding and pointless. It was easier to read about them than it has been to watch them.
She confronts Xaro for his treachery, reveals him as a fraud and shoves him in his empty vault (along with the traitor Doreah) to die alone. But she does manage to plunder enough valuables to buy a small ship.
Other Odds and Ends
-Brienne puts on an impressive show for Jamie when she slaughters three soldiers who threaten their escape. One man is treated to an agonizingly slow sword through the stomach – as a special reward for bragging about torturing a tavern girl!
-A defeated Stannis aims his rage at Melisandre, whose fire god abandoned him in Blackwater Bay. He nearly strangles her to death, screaming, “Where’s your god now?!” But still she promises him victory. She leads him to the flames and shows him a glimpse of his future as King of Westeros.
-After making their escape from Harrenhal, Arya, Gendry and Hot Pie are traveling across the countryside. Jaqen H’ghar makes a surprise appearance, offering to take Arya across the narrow sea to learn magic in the land of Braavos. She’s itching to go with him, but she needs to find her family. He leaves her with one final parting gift; a coin that she can one day present to any man from Braavos if she needs to find him again. Arya certainly wouldn’t be able to recognize him because he transforms right before her eyes, taking on a stranger’s face.
Most Pointless Scene … perhaps ever!
A close-up shot of a horse taking a dump on the castle floor. Now what on earth was the point of that? Are the writers worried we’ve become so desensitized to sex and gore that they have to shock us with feces? Or perhaps they were going for hyper-realism and felt it necessary to highlight the bowel movements of the noble steeds? I guess people are always complaining that TV characters never go to the bathroom …
Maester Luwin: I’ve known you for many years, Theon Greyjoy. You’re not the man you’re pretending to be. Not yet.
Theon: You may be right. But I’ve gone too far to pretend to be anything else.
Varys: (to Tyrion). There are many who know that without you this city faced certain defeat. The King won’t give you any honours, the histories will not mention you. But we will not forget.
Overall, I found this season much more uneven than the first, which is perhaps a testament to the fragmented storytelling that happens after the first novel. All of the Fire and Ice books are intriguing, but the first one is unique in that the characters are more interconnected. After Game of Thrones, their stories are completely separate, rarely, if ever, intermingling. On paper, it’s expansive and exciting, but on screen it feels more isolating.
Having said that, the individual performances and many of the scenes have been outstanding. The potential is incredible and I think that’s why I hold the show to a higher standard and get a little cranky when it’s not delivering at top level. I’m still completely addicted!
Photo Courtesy of HBO