Thursday, June 7, 2012

Review: Game of Thrones "Valar Morghulis"

Non Spoiler Review:
The season finale of Game of Thrones is an exhausting hour, leaving the state of Westeros even more dire than it was in season one. Coming off of last week's sole focus, Valar Morghulis plays catch up with the rest of the characters and storylines.

Theon's reckoning finally arrives as Ramsay Snow lays siege to Winterfell, but the end result is likely not what Robb anticipated. Daenerys enters the House of the Undying to find her dragons, but she sees a lot more of what might lie ahead. North of the Wall, Jon makes a fateful decision, but there's more going on than even Mance Rayder might be aware of. House Lannister is firmly in control of King's Landing, but that does not bode well for Tyrion as the political situation gets a serious shake up.

Several characters are offered a choice to escape the bad times ahead, yet chose not too. This was quite a gloomy episode, and despite all the jumping around to bring us up to date on everyone, it really kept a healthy pace and furthered the sense of impending doom over this entire continent. The season has brought an epic clash of families which appears to be only just beginning, and it will be a long year's wait for season three.

Spoilers Now!
A bandaged Tyrion awakes to a pleased Pycelle standing over him. He calls for Pod, who rushes in to the tiny quarters where he's convalescing. Tyrion instructs him to alert Varys and Bronn he's very much alive. Pycelle explains Stannis suffered a stunning defeat at the hands of Tywin, and he's no longer Hand of the King now that his father is back. Pycelle tosses him a coin for his trouble.

Tywin marches his horse into the throne room as Joffrey declares him the savior of the city and Hand of the King. His grandfather thanks him and rides his horse out. Baelish is called forth next and rewarded for uniting Houses Lannister and Tyrell, and is granted Harrenhal. Joffrey gives Loras a wish, who asks that he find Margaery a husband to join their houses. Margaery steps forward to tell the king she's come to love him from afar. Joffrey says it will be an honor to return her love but he's promised to another. Cersei steps in to explain that for the good of the realm his councillors beg him to set Sansa aside given her brother is raised in rebellion against him. Joffrey protests (for the audience) that he took a holy vow, so Pycelle details that Robert made the pact before the Starks revealed their treachery, and the priests say he is free of any promise in the sight of the gods. Joffrey says he will gladly wed Margaery.

Sansa witnesses all that from the gallery, then walks away and begins to smile. However, Baelish comes upon her and dampens her joy by telling her Joffrey will still enjoy making her his toy in other ways, as well. He won't be letting her go home. But Baelish sees her mother in her, and for her sake he will help get her home. Sansa replies coldly that King's Landing is her home now. Baelish tells her he's a better liar than her.

Ros is covering up a black eye as she receives a visitor. It's Varys, and she realizes who he is. He asks if working for Baelish has been all she hoped it would be. Her true talents are wasted on men, but he would protect those who work for him, unlike Baelish. Her employer is a dangerous man, but he still has weaknesses.

Brienne and Jaime come ashore as he continues to taunt her lack of femininity. They spy three hanging women who served the Lannisters and were killed by northerners. She insists on burying them, but the men abruptly return. They gloat that they killed the women quickly, except one of them. Jaime poses as a simple thief. She explains she's taking him to Riverrun to be dealt with by the Tullys. One of the men recognizes Jaime, and Brienne realizes their lie is caught so she kills all three in seconds, except for the last which she kills slowly. Jaime reminds her those were Stark men and she counters she serves Lady Catelyn and will take him to King's Landing as she promised. Then she resumes taking down the bodies of the women to give them a proper burial.

At Robb's camp Catelyn advises her son Frey is a dangerous man to cross if he should love Talisa. Catelyn explains she hardly knew his father when they married. Love was built slowly over the years. Treat his oaths recklessly and his people will do the same, she warns. But he retorts that she has no right to call anyone reckless. Later on, he marries Talisa.

A bitter Stannis tells Melisandre her god lied about his victory and he led his men to death for nothing. He moves to strangle her, daring her to show him if she really knows how to fight given she advised him so much in battle. Her god is inside him, she replies. He lets her go. He's slowly coming to terms with the realization he murdered his brother. They did it together, she says, and the war is just beginning. It will last for years. He will betray the men serving him, his family and everything he once held dear, and it will all be worth it. Because he is the son of fire. Melisandre has him look into the fire, and after a moment he admits he does see his future.

Winterfell is surrounded. The horns blowing from the northerners are driving Theon crazy, and he has received no word from his father. He's killed all the ravens anyway, so can't send out any messages. He muses to Luwin that the first time he saw Winterfell it looked as though it was eternal. They've always loved reminding him how well he was treated, how much he owed them.

Luwin is bound by oath to serve him and he counsels him to run. He has 20 men against 500 northmen. But there's nowhere to run, and he would be a coward in his father's eyes if he made it home. Luwin suggests he join the Night's Watch where he will be beyond reach of the law. Luwin says there are hidden passageways that could help his escape. It would be dangerous but with luck he would make it. An opportunity to make amends. Luwin tells him he's not the man he's pretending to be yet. Theon replies he's gone too far to pretend to be anything else.

Theon later addresses his men to spur them to battle against the northerners, despite it meaning certain death. They will sing about the battle of Winterfell, he yells, and he seems to encourage the soldiers. Dagmer waits until he's finished and knocks him out, then pulls a sack over his head to secure their own release from the northerners. Luwin comes out to stop them and is speared.

Varys visits Tyrion explaining he won't be seeing him for some time given Joffrey has won and is consolidating his power. It was Cersei who had Joffrey's guard attempt to kill him. Bronn is no longer head of the city guard and his Hill Tribesmen are gone. But Varys promises he will not forget that he was responsible for saving the city. He leaves Shae with him. She wants to look beneath his bandages at his scars. Shae suggests they leave King's Landing for Pentos, given he's terrible at fighting wars. He wants to go but can't. He belongs there and he likes playing the game because he's good at it, but suggests she leave given he's now a monster as well as a dwarf. Shae doesn't let him feel sorry for himself and affirms her love for him.

Daenerys, Jorah and Kovarro arrive at the tower of the House of the Undying, but there doesn't appear to be an entrance. The moment she's out of sight he finds she's disappeared. Daenerys finds herself inside and hears her dragons. She enters a circular chamber and goes through a door to  a version of the ruined palace where it's snowing. The Iron Throne is empty and she pauses before she touches it and instead follows the cries of her dragons, stepping out through another door, which becomes the gate at the Wall. She sees a fire in the distance coming from a tent. Inside it becomes Drogo's tent and he's holding their child. They share a bittersweet reunion, wondering if it's all a dream or if she's dead, as well. She sits with them until her dragons call for her again.

She leaves her dead husband and walks back into the circular room. All three dragons are chained to the rock in the center. Pyat tells her they miss her. When her dragons were born their magic was born again, and it is strongest in their presence, as they are strongest in hers. She will be with them until time comes to an end. Then she finds herself chained to the walls too. Daenerys utters the word dracarys, and the first dragon breathes a puff of fire that sets Pyat's arm aflame. The others join in and burn him alive. When he's dead their chains dissolve.

Arya, Hot Pie and Gendry find Jaqen on the trail waiting for them. She wants to know how to kill like he does, but she must come with him across the Narrow Sea (where her dancing master was from) to the city of Braavos. She has many names on her lips and she could offer them all to the red god then. Arya wants to go but realizes she must first find her family. So they must part, given he has his own duties, and he offers her a coin of great value. He instructs her if the day comes when she must find him, give the coin to any man from Braavos and say Valar Morghulis. Jaqen is dead, he explains and tells her to say it again. She does. And when he turns his face back it's someone else. He says farewell.

In Winterfell, Osha and Hodor sneak outside to find the castle has been sacked and burned. The wolves lead them to the godswood where Luwin is lying, and Rickon rushes to him. He's still alive. They have to go north because they may come back, he says. Osha protests it's the wrong way. Luwin tells them to go to the Wall where Jon will see they are safe. They leave him, but he pleads with Osha to protect the children. She's the only one who can, and she may have to do it against her own kind. He asks her to put him out of his misery quickly, so she draws her dagger. They leave Winterfell as it burns in the distance.

North of the Wall Jon is being led to Mance Rayder's camp. Jon taunts Ygritte and Qhorin manages to get his sword free, lunging after him while declaring him a traitor. Rattleshirt lets them fight. Jon disarms Qhorin and runs him through with this sword. Qhorin whispers we are the watchers on the wall and falls dead. Ygritte says they can tell Mance Jon's the man who killed the infamous Qhorin Halfhand. Rattleshirt unties him and instructs them to burn the body, given Jon won't want that one coming back for him. Ygritte leads him to a ridge where they look over a vast army camp. Time to meet the king beyond the wall.

Xaro lies in bed with Doreah as Daenerys and her followers arrive to wake him. Jorah takes the key to the vault and they open it. It's empty. But she thanks Xaro for teaching her this lesson, and has both him and Doreah sealed in the vault. They set about taking what valuables they find. They're going to have to buy a ship, Daenerys tells Jorah, and she walks off with her dragons as her followers gather their treasure.

Grenn, Edd and Sam hear horns blowing, which should be a sign Qhorin is returned. However, there are three blasts, which signals White Walkers. They run and leave Sam behind who can't catch up. In the snow he sees figures approaching so he takes cover behind a rock. He watches the undead move passed him, including a dead horse with a White Walker who looks right at him. It appears to ignore him and signals its army to march forward.

The Verdict:
The fall of Winterfell was a surprise (no doubt to Robb when he finds out, as well). I find it hard to believe Dagmer and his 20 men could have done it, so I'm assuming they turned Theon over to Ramsay Snow, and it was Roose's bastard that attacked the city? But for what purpose, because it would certainly bring down Robb's wrath when he finds out. Unless it was Roose Bolton himself who has been conspiring against Robb all this time. And where is the bulk of the population of Winterfell? They can't all be dead. 

So many characters were offered a chance to flee—Theon, Tyrion and Arya, but all of them decided to remain where they were and give up a hope of a more peaceful life. Even Daenerys turned down the temptation of the Iron Throne and her family with Drogo to find her children. And in the copious amount of danger and despair there were some glimmers of hope—Shae and Tyrion, Talisa and Robb, and Daenerys' triumph.

Daenerys' storyline, while never the strongest of them this season, did advance her arc towards getting to Westeros, but it also gave us a clearer insight into the growth of her strength as a future queen. If there was any doubt that she might possibly rule, it's been dispelled with the way she's taken her subjects out of the Red Wastes and achieved her goals. Though I have to say that Pyat's death was just a tad quick and easy. One would think someone of his power could dodge that first fireball.

The return of magic to the realm also got some needed explanation. Since we first saw the comet, it was apparent the return of the dragons was heralding something momentous—the House of the Undying finding their own magics growing, and quite possibly Melisandre, as well. Does it all tie in with the White Walkers too?

Baelish's grand scheme bore its fruit with Margaery becoming Joffrey's new betrothed (something I'm sure will not be as compelling for her now that she has it), and the alliance with House Tyrell. Does this mean Tywin can now strike against Robb in force? How strong is this family alliance, given Loras was firmly supporting Renly's claim to the thrown, and Tywin seems to want revenge on their family at some point? Why did Tywin remove Tyrion as Hand of the King, unless he's firmly in Cersei's opinion to be rid of his son. There certainly needs to me a scene to address this next year because Tywin has recognized the value of his son's intellect and it's unusual that he would cast it aside now for Joffrey's unstable rule.

Jon's story unfolded as expected, but it all came off rather easy to get him in the Wildings' good books with Qhorin sacrificing himself. It wasn't so unbelievable that Qhorin would act in the greater good, but the fact that Rattleshirt was so easily convinced to let them fight and then let Jon free did stretch credibility a bit.

Finally, the zombie army looks to be closing in on the Night's Watch, but who blew the three horns? Was it the Night's Watch scouts who already spotted them? Does Mance Rayder know that there's an additional army of the undead moving through the north?

Perhaps the most chilling scene was Daenerys walking among the gutted palace and the snow covered Iron Throne. Is this a premonition of what will eventually befall Westeros? There are simply way too many questions to ramble on and on about, but at least we're guaranteed another season which promises to be even more epic than this one. Even if some events appeared contrived, there's little to critique given the enormous success in bringing such a rich series of novels to the screen on a limited budget. Thankfully the ratings continue to break records for HBO and ensure its continued faith in the series.

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