4
Jun
2012
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 10
Valor Moghulis
Michael Richardson
"Valar Morghulis" made me forget over and over that this was supposed to be the season finale, such is the momentum of the storyline so far. That's not necessarily a good thing, but I can get to that in a bit. In the meantime, let's talk about a very good episode of television.

After the Battle of the Blackwater in last week's episode, King's Landing is already getting back into place. Tywin Lannister, the "savior" of the battle, is named Hand of the King as he gallops into the hall on a white horse. The Lannisters, you see, have style, even if the horse has some bowel troubles. Joffrey is cleaning house now that his grandfather is back. On top of his new hand, he has a new wife-to-be. Poor Maergery - her family must be deep in debt because of the war, because she can't even afford the material for a whole shirt. But the new alliance between Tyrell and Lannister is far better than having a Stark on your elbow, so Sansa is tossed aside. She can't hide her glee at this fact, until Baelish gives her a dressing down, reminding her that she may be in more trouble now that she doesn't have the protections of marriage. Does the court's most cunning mind have a thing for the court's least cunning mind? Well, he does compare young Sansa to her mother, and we know how that relationship works.

If the set-aside queen is a bit happy about her departure from royal life, the acting Hand is not. Tyrion is healing from his wounds in some tiny room no doubt in the bottom of the keep. He has his enemy Pycelle watching over him, Bronn has been demoted from his position in the Gold Cloaks so he can't muster up an armed guard, and only Podrick is left to take care of him. Well, Podrick and Shae. Varys is also there, although saying Varys is taking care of you is probably a hell of a misstatement. Tyrion aches for some recognition, even if he knows that everybody will forget what he did in battle. Varys agrees, claiming that the great-man theory of history has many holes that a small-but-important man might fall into. It's an important conversation, especially at the end of a season that has been preoccupied with how the lords and kings affect the smallfolk without even thinking of them. Though he is a lord, Tyrion's role in the history books will be reduced to the same role as a common soldier who has his gangrenous leg sawed off by his king. All that he has left after his great victory is Shae. She suggests they go find somewhere they can eat and fuck until they die, but Tyrion knows that this is what he is meant for.

In the North, Robb gets married to that nurse. I bet that won't have any repercussions next year. The new situation there doesn't seem to have registered. With one king's army smashed and a combined Tyrell-Lannister Force facing them, the war is about to become much tougher for the Northmen. And they've released their bargaining chip. Jaime Lannister is still traveling south with Brienne, when they're accosted by three Northmen. They've strung up three women who had "laid with lions," and it doesn't sit well with our heroine. So when the men realize who Jaime Lannister is, she gives them the same treatment - two quick deaths and one slow death. It's a brutal scene but it's over quickly. It seems that's Brienne's M.O. in the show - somebody doubts her, she kills them incredibly quickly. Even Jaime is left a bit agog. Meanwhile, Arya is escaping with Hot Pie and Gendry, only to be tracked down by Jaquen, who leaves by changing his face. Arya is really good at charming murderers, eh?

Theon Greyjoy's rule over Winterfell comes to a quick end tonight. After a surprisingly touching monologue and a rousing pre-battle speech, he's knocked unconscious by his own men and left for the northern forces. As they leave the reavers burn Winterfell down and leave Maester Luwin dying in the Godswood. He's given his last opportunity to see the younger Starks, ordering them northward to Jon for protection, before asking Osha to put him out of his misery. Winterfell has hosted a surprising amount of action this season. Theon's characterization has been very strong, plotting the rise and fall of his reign in a sympathetic and unflinching manner. And much like Cersei, they've done a lot to make him more three-dimensional while still being a hateful creature. Similarly, the death of Luwin has a greater significance in the show because he's been so integral to Theon's story and to the boys'. They're off to the North without him, though they don't know what they're heading for.

Because shit in the North is fucked. Jon Snow has proven himself to the Wildlings by killing the Halfhand, just in time to join their massive army that is marching on the wall. And that's only one of two armies: the white-walkers and their wights are attacking the Night's Watch strikeforce as the episode ends. I've given the Jon Snow storyline this season a lot of flak, but it had to carry a lot of narrative weight to get him this far. I'm hoping that next season will allow the character a little bit more room than just blankly staring and acting dumb, as he's set up as one of the most important characters in the series, but that might be wishful thinking. But we know that the rest of the black brothers are in for a struggle.

Lastly, I need to address Daenerys. After a season of general shittiness and a lot of yelling, something finally happens. Dany enters the House of the Undying to find her dragons, but instead we're treated to a series of haunting images. There are three ways her life might have gone or could still go. There's the ruined Red Keep and an empty Iron Throne for the taking, even as snow drifts inside and the winds of winter howl. She reaches out to take it, but then skrinks away. She progresses to the next room, beyond the wall where a small yurt lies. Inside is Khal Drogo and their prophesized son. Khal Drogo is his same coarse, lovable self, telling his god to fuck off so he could wait for her. If there's a serious, sustaining criticism to Game of Thrones, it's the fact that most of the emotion is stripped away. Other than a few key scenes, the show treats its characters like pawns in a chess game. Luckily, tonight we got a number of scenes that pulled at our actual heartstrings, like Theon talking to Master Luwin about what it's like to be told you should be happy to be a hostage. But Dany and the Khal stood above the rest. She has to leave him behind as well, of course, to reclaim her dragons. And when she finds them, she is captured by the sorcerer Pyatt Pree. Apparently he forgets that A) Dragons breathe fire and B) he is very flammable, because our Khaleesi makes short work of the little man. Then it's off to lock her betrayer in an empty vault and ransack a palace, and we can call it a night.

There. I just summarized the story lines behind all of the major characters on the show, and only a handful of the minor ones, and it only took, oh, roughly 1100 words. And there's so much subtext here that I glossed over what makes Game of Thrones truly an enjoyable series. After last week's practically austere specificity, we see the scope of everything again. We see the magic of the eastern continent, the horrors beyond the wall, the petty politicking in between. We've had less than 10 hours this season to get through enough material for at least another 10 hours. And yet all the big stuff obscures how good the show is at the small stuff. Even the most minor of characters leaps off the screen with actual motivations and hopes and fears. Underneath all the titillating details is a story that works because of its characters more than its plot. Martin is a great world-builder, but his series is at it's most compelling when the plot falls away and the conversations begin. It allows some of us to go back and rewatch the whole season, looking for little moments and gestures to pick apart and analyze. In the trappings of genre fare, it's literary qualities lay hidden but are ever present.

I'm sad the season is already over. Even in a golden age of television, there just isn't anything quite like Game of Thrones. Even where it falters, it does so running at full speed. And at its best, it operates on a whole different level. I'll be soaking up all the rumors and casting decisions until it comes back, and I'll hope you'll join us again next season.

Grade: A

Miscellaneous:

Oh, hey, Ros is back! I don't know what I would have done if her thrilling story wasn't addressed in the final episode of the season.

I didn't read any news about casting, and I admittedly didn't pay much attention to the credits, so the appearance of Khal Drogo was a big surprise for me. A very effective scene.

I have tried to limit the comparisons to the book in this space, but there was one change that actually pissed me off. In the books, it's clear that Jon Snow understands that he needs to kill Halfhand in order to "defect" as a double agent. In the show, the Halfhand just attacks him and he defends himself, always with a look of bewilderment. It just seems weird that in a show where morality and pragmatism are always at odds, and the latter typically wins out, Jon Snow's conscience can remain as white and pure as his name implies. Mostly by being dumb.

For the final episode, I'm bringing back "I sure hope somebody got fired for that blunder": When Robb is getting married, his vows are to the new gods, when the King in the North would surely recite vows to the old gods.

Casting for next season begins now. I'm making a declaration: if Maggie Smith isn't playing the Queen of Thorns, I will be displeased. Very displeased!

Tags: Game of Thrones
comments powered by Disqus