Valar Morghulis, the finale to Season 2 of Game Of Thrones, had a lot to live up to, following on from the epic Battle Of Blackwater, and trying to live up to the expertly-executed revelation at the end of Season 1. There was also plenty of plot threads to pick up from this very wide-ranging season, especially as the previous episode had focused on just one battle, so it’s no surprise that this was a finale packed with little vignettes as well as big moments of drama.
One of my favourite of these moments involved poor Theon Greyjoy, who spends the first few minutes trying to work out how he can get out of Winterfell alive, before deciding to die a hero’s death and delivering a stirring speech to his men. Unfortunately, even that wasn’t enough to make them respect him, so his speech was cut short by being clobbered over the head and bagged up ready to be used as a bargaining tool to save their lives. Bran and Rickon then emerged to find Winterfell in flaming ruins and and loyal Luwin bleeding to death.
What makes Game Of Thrones such a good show is moments like Theon’s abruptly-ended speech. In lesser films and TV shows, his rallying cry would have been met with enthusiastic cheers, with all cynicism washed away, rather than a few cheers followed by a whack to the head with a two-by-four. Similarly, you’d have expected Tyrion Lannister’s heroics at the Battle last week to be rewarded, whereas he has lost his job, discovered that his sister tried to kill him and finds himself stuck in a dank little room with a great big scar across his face. Some reward for saving the city. But he’s found his purpose and won’t be quitting King’s Landing, so there’s hope yet for all of us who love him so dearly.
Also refusing to leave town, somewhat inexplicably, is Sansa, who should have gone with the Hound last week and this week turns down an offer from Littlefinger (the newly-lauded hero of the battle after bringing the Tyrells and Lannisters together – his reward: Harrenhal. Lovely.) even though she’s found herself deposed as the Queen-in-waiting by Margarey Tyrell. Briefly, you see some joy on her face when she thinks that she’s free of Joffrey, but Littlefinger points out that she’s going to suffer all of the indignities that she would have done before, just without the benefits of being Queen. Joffrey, meanwhile, may have gained a beautiful new Queen-to-be, but you sense that his grandfather with be a very hands-on Hand who won’t take any of his nonsense.
Elsewhere, there was plenty going on, with Robb ignoring his mum’s advice to get married, while Brienne and Jaime continued their amusing double-act at the expense of some lousy murderous Stark men. There’s something of Edward Scissorhands about Brienne’s awkwardness and it works really well. Ayra, meanwhile meets up with Jaqen, who offers her the chance to go to Braavos to learn his skills in killing, but vengence, for once, comes second to family for her, and she’ll go find the rest of the Starks first. You sense that she wants to become a ‘faceless’ killer though, especially after seeing his neat trick of changing his face in a matter of seconds.
But what a season finale in Game Of Thrones needs is something game-changing, like the birth of the Khaleesi’s dragons last time. This time, she’s still trying to find them, so goes hunting in the creepy House Of The Undying, where Pyat Pree is waiting for her. After a dreamlike reunion with her dead husband and unborn son, she shows a bit more grit and determination than we’ve seen for a while to move on from that illusion and find those dragons. Instead she gets captured and chained up by the warlock, although his plan seemed rather flawed. If you’re going to capture the Queen Of Dragons, don’t keep her right next to them so that she can tell them to burn you. Sadly for him, not a lesson he’ll be able to learn much from.
After finding her former handmaiden literally in bed with Xaro, Daenerys goes to see what wonders are in his vault. Nothing, it’s all lies, like everything else in the complicated world of Qarth. To make amends, she deposits Xaro and Doreah in there to gather interest and collects up the gold in his home to fund the ship to FINALLY take her to Westeros, and with some dragons that can actually now burn people. It’s taken an entire season to build on the promise of that last finale, but it looks like we’re going to start to see some real dragon action next time out. Unless she gets stuck in another desert.
And, last, but not least, Jon Snow. Like Daenerys, his storyline had promised much at the end of the first season, but has delivered mostly aimless wandering in big open expanses, but the closing image of Season Two brought another game-changer Beyond The Wall. After earning the trust of the Wildlings by killing his fellow prisoner, Jon is off to meet their king, but as Sam finds out, there’s also a large army of White Walkers on the way. Perhaps it didn’t have the impact of the birth of the dragons, but it was an impressive taste of what’s to come, seeing the undead monsters en masse for the first time.
So, what of Season Two then? I think it’s been a real success, mixing great lines and ‘talkie’ action (mostly involving Tyrion of course, it’s been a great series for Peter Dinklage) with amazing visuals for a TV budget and reaching an incredible climax with the Battle Of Blackwater last week. The more I think about it, the more I think it was one of the best TV episodes of anything ever, and better than most films. What Game Of Thrones manages so well is keeping up these multiple plot-lines and characters and making us care about them all, while perhaps not liking most of them particularly. Can’t we start Season Three now?