As refreshingly awesome as it was to have the action centered on one location in last week's "Blackwater," last night's season finale felt necessarily rushed. David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have split up four major narratives into twice that, and with most of those demanding some sort of end point, even the extra ten minutes of "Valar Morghulis" flew by.
Some of the series' principals are coming to grips with the aftermath of the Battle of the Blackwater, while others deal with other crises, all within the larger framework of the war. To say nothing is resolved would be a lie, but it's clear that actions taken in the most recent installment are going to have far-reaching implications.
Also, did you hear Khal Drogo was back? Well, sort of.
First of all, I'm happy to report that Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) survived the battle, not that anyone was surprised. Let's be honest, if people were incensed when Ned Stark lost his head last season, they'd put HBO headquarters to the torch if they dared to kill Tyrion. That said, it may have been a close thing. He wakes to find an unfriendly Maester Pycelle (Julian Glover) hovering over him and only too happy to inform him he's no longer Hand of the King.
That honor belongs to the "savior of the city," Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance). I'm not sure of the point of showing Tywin's horse taking a dump before he entered the throne room...or why he had to ride a horse in there to begin with. Whatever the case, Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) proclaims Tywin savior and the new Hand for arranging the Lannister/Highgarden alliance, Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen) gets Harrenhal, and Ser Loras asks Joffrey to marry his sister Margaery (Natalie Dormer). She wants to be "The" Queen, after all. A little farce takes place that's not at all a premeditated effort to set aside Joffey's betrothal to Sansa (Sophie Turner).
The good news: Sansa is free of the rotten twerp. The bad? Littlefinger is quick to point out that Joffrey is still free to "utilize" her in whatever way he wishes. She can't win for losing,
A brief, irrelevant aside: I erroneously wrote Kings Landing as "Knots Landing" while I was typing this up, leading me to come up with an entire plot about how Gary and Val Ewing were actually brother and sister, à la Jaime and Cersei. Clearly I need to drink less.
Hey, does anyone think it's weird that Ros (Esme Bianco) and Varys (Conleth Hill) haven't met yet? Well, we clear that up this episode, as the eunuch has a proposition for our Sexpositioner which involves her leaving Littlefinger's employ. A shrewd maneuver, considering her access to high-profile clientele.
Varys also confirms to Tyrion that Cersei had Ser Mandon Moore of the Kingsguard try to kill him, and that Bronn has been relieved of his duties as Commander of the City Watch. Oh, and the hill tribesmen have gone home. Nonetheless, the city "will not forget him." Shae (Sibel Kekilli) also pays him a visit and notes Ser Mandon left quite a scar. She's amusingly dismissive of his attempts to get rid of her, and suggests that they leave the city. It's a tender moment, and it's obvious Cersei is arraying her forces against him. He'd be wise to take Shae's advice.
Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) still has her hands full with Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), who gains new respect for his escort when she disposes of three Northmen who recognize the Kingslayer. It remains to be seen how wise Catelyn was to place a person with obviously unresolved childhood issues in charge of escorting one of the most dangerous men in Westeros back to Kings Landing. Still, we finally get a chance to see how good she is in combat, and...she's pretty damn good.
In the Riverlands, Catelyn (Michelle Fairley) wants Robb (Richard Madden) to honor his promise to the Freys, rather than marry Talisa (Oona Chaplin). He responds by throwing Jaime in her face. The young lovers wed in the woods in the names of...the Seven? Robb's a Stark of Winterfell, dammit; he worships the Old Gods. Between this and his breaking his deal with Walder Frey, he's hardly behaving in a kingly fashion.
Actually, adultery and oathbreaking is pretty regal, when you think about it. Hail King Robb.
Back on Dragonstone, the defeated Stannis (Stephen Dillane) is...displeased with Melisandre (Carice van Houten), who allegedly saw his victory at the Blackwater. Or maybe he's got buyer's remorse over killing Renly. Cutting to the chase: according to her, he's going to betray everything he holds dear because he's the Warrior of Light. Even worse, he sees the truth of her words in the flames.
Theon (Alfie Allen) also looks into the flames, the difference being he doesn't like what he sees. Winterfell is under siege, and Luwin (Donald Sumpter) counsels him to flee and join the Nights Watch, which is apparently the Westerosi version of the French Foreign Legion. Luwin plays the "honorable" card, to no avail. "I've come too far to pretend to be anything else," Theon says. And so we get a tortured decision and a rousing battlefield speech cut short when Dagmer cold cocks him, apparently in response to the offer Robb made to any Ironman who turned Theon over. The "Prince of Winterfell" is now assumedly in the hands of the Bastard of the Dreadfort, and the Ironmen have returned to Pyke.
Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) finally makes an appearance, even though she hasn't been given a hell of a lot to do this season. She enters the House of the Undying and sees visions of stuff far more interesting than anything she's personally experienced this season: a ruined Iron Throne room, Khal Drogo (Jason Momoa) and her son. Pyat Pree shows up to attempt the requisite intimidation, though it doesn't look like he can do anything but clone himself. More to the point, the plan to incarcerate Dany and her dragons to augment the warlocks' power sort of falls by the wayside when the beasts can now burn through iron and turn you into a human flank steak. And for good measure, she sends Xaro and her ex-handmaiden to die, à la Dietrich from Raiders of the Lost Ark, in his cavernous (and empty) vault.
She gets to loot it, at least. Small reward for the time wasted in Qarth, or for us, who've been bored to tears of Lys by her season 2 plot.
Arya (Maisie Williams) and crew have escaped Harrenhal, but there are still some loose ends to wrap up. Jaqen H'ghar (Tom Wlaschiha) wants her to join him, but when she balks he gives her a coin that will secure her passage to Braavos (Syrio Forel was from there). Jaqen obviously sees Arya's potential as a Faceless Man, and then he COMPLETELY CHANGES HIS FACE. Shit, who wouldn't want to be able to do that? For the nonce, however, it appears Arya (and Gendry, and Hot Pie) will be stuck wandering the Riverlands in season three.
Osha (Natalia Tena) leads the Stark boys out of the catacombs after Roose Bolton's son has taken over, burning out the castle entirely. Wait a minute; I'm pretty sure Robb's orders didn't include destroying freaking Winterfell. Roose Bolton's son has some 'splaining to do, unless this was Bolton's plan all along. You don't suppose...?
In any event, Maester Luwin is dying from Dagmer's spear thrust, and tells the foursome to go to the Wall and find Jon for protections.
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Speaking of Jon, he acts out his part of Qhorin Halfhand's plan to spy on the wildlings by...killing Qhorin. Interesting theory, but it works, insofar as now he's sure to meet the "King Beyond the Wall." He also gets his (and our) first look at the wildling forces, and it's impressive. And seemingly too much for the sparse forces of the Night's Watch.
And unfortunately for Sam and the other men of the Watch, they've got bigger fish to fry. The White Walkers have finally decided to join the party and our last shot of Sam him being surrounded by the Walkers and their army of wights as they march on the Fist of the First Men.
Thus endeth season two of Game of Thrones, with most of our characters left in suitably precarious situations and the forces of ice (the Walkers) and fire (the dragons) still whole continents apart. Not to worry, we still have five books to get through.
See you in 2013.