Episode Title: "Valar Morghulis"
Writers: David Benioff & D. B. Weiss
Director: Alan Taylor
Previously on "Game of Thrones":
Sometime after the Battle of Blackwater, Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) awakens to find himself badly injured and in much smaller quarters while Grand Maester Pycelle (Julian Glover) gleefully tells him that he is no longer the Hand of the King. Meanwhile in the throne room, King Joffrey Baratheon (Jack Gleeson) declares his grandfather, Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance) to be the new Hand and also proclaims that he is the savior of King's Landing. Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish (Aidan Gillen) is then elevated to Lord and given Harrenhal while Ser Loras Tyrell (Finn Jones) asks that his sister, Lady Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer) be allowed to marry Joffrey.
To the surprise and delight of Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner), the Queen Regent Cersei (Lena Headey) and the Small Council urge Joffrey to free himself from his vow to Sansa and wed Margaery instead. However, Littlefinger tells Sansa that Joffrey will probably keep her around just to rape and abuse her before offering to bring Sansa home out of affection for her mother, Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley). Later, Lord Varys (Conleth Hill) aka The Spider visits Ros (Esme Bianco) at the brothel and he offers her a position in his employ. On the way to King's Landing, Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) escorts the captive Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) when they come across three women who were murdered by Stark bannermen for sleeping with Lannisters.
When Brienne stops to bury the women, they are accosted by three Stark bannermen who admit that they gave quick deaths to only two of the women. When one of the bannermen recognizes Jamie, Brienne kills two of them quickly and skewers the third before burying the girls herself. Elsewhere, King Robb Stark (Richard Madden) confesses to his mother that he has fallen in love with Lady Talisa (Oona Chaplin) and no longer wants to marry one of Lord Frey's daughters. Catelyn warns him not to cross Frey, but Robb ignores her advice and she remains under guard. At Dragonstone, Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane) is livid about his defeat and he blames the predictions of his priestess, Melisandre (Carice van Houten).
Melisandre allows Stannis to choke her before telling him that her god is in him. Melisandre also bids Stannis to look into the fire to see a vision of the future that predicts his victory in a war that will last for years and cause him to betray everything that he believes in. To his surprise, Stannis can apparently see what she sees. At Winterfell, Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen) is agitated as a force of 500 men surround the walls and constantly beat a drum during the siege. Maester Luwin (Donald Sumpter) suggests that Theon escape through hidden tunnels and join the Night's Watch to redeem himself for his crimes.
In the morning, Theon ignores Luwin's advice and he gives a rousing speech to his men before they battle the Northern forces to the death. But Theon's first mate, Dagmer Cleftjaw (Ralph Ineson) knocks Theon out before his men put a bag over his head and bind him. When Luwin tries to interfere, Dagmer stabs him with a spear. Back at King's Landing, Varys tells Tyrion that his sister, Cersei was behind the attempt on his life; which Tyrion owes to his squire, Podrick Payne (Daniel Portman). Further, Tyrion is told that Bronn (Jerome Flynn) has been relieved of command and Tyrion's Hill Tribesmen dismissed.
Varys also brings Shae (Sibel Kekilli) into the room and he thanks Tyrion for saving King's Landing even if Joffrey and the official history will deny him the credit that he deserves. In private, Tyrion curtly tells Shae that it was good of her to come, as he assumes that their relationship was simply built on what he paid her. Shae takes Tyrion's bandage off his head and sees the scar on his face, but she remains undisturbed by it. Shae even offers to run away with Tyrion, but he admits that he wants to stay in King's Landing and continue out-thinking "the bad people." Shae then reaffirms her love for Tyrion; which brings him to tears.
Elsewhere, Robb and Talisa are wed in secret. In Qarth, Ser Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen) escorts Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) to the House of the Undying to reclaim her stolen dragons. But when Daenerys stumbles across the entrance to the tower, Jorah loses sight of her. A short distance from Harrenhal, Arya Stark (Maisie Williams), Gendry (Joe Dempsie) and Hot Pie (Ben Hawkley) are startled by Jaqen H'ghar (Tom Wlaschiha). Privately, Jaqen offers to take Arya to Braavos to teach her how to kill, but she declines so that she can find her family. Jaqen gives Arya a coin which can supposedly summon him if she gives it to any man from Braavos and repeats the words "Valar Morghulis."
Before he leaves, Jaqen completely changes his face and addresses Arya by her full name. At Winterfell, Rickon (Art Parkinson) and Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) emerge from the Stark family crypt with Osha (Natalia Tena) and Hodor (Kristian Nairn) only to find Winterfell burning and devoid of life. At the Heart Tree, they find Luwin mortally wounded. He urges Osha to protect the children and to bring them to Jon Snow at the Wall. Luwin also asks Osha to end his life quickly. As Osha leads her group away, Winterfell burns in the distance. At the House of the Undying, Daenerys finds a vision of her dead husband, Khal Drogo (Jason Momoa) and their stillborn son Rhaego.
Despite a very convincing illusion and her own desires, Daenerys tears herself away from her imagined loved ones to find her dragons. She ultimately discovers the dragons in chains before the warlock, Pyat Pree (Ian Hanmore) appears and chains her as well. However, Daenerys signals her dragons to breath fire, incinerating Pyat and melting the chains. Beyond the Wall, Ygritte (Rose Leslie) escorts Jon Snow (Kit Harington) with his own sword when Qhorin Halfhand (Simon Armstrong) uses the opportunity to start a sword fight with Jon. Halfhand goads Jon into killing him, which impresses Rattleshirt (Edward Dogliani) into freeing Jon's hands before Ygritte takes Jon to meet the King-Beyond-The-Wall, Mance Rayder.
In Qarth, Daenerys gets her revenge on Xaro Xhoan Daxos (Nonso Anozie) and her treacherous hand maiden, Doreah (Roxanne McKee) by locking them in Xaro's empty vault. She then allows her surviving Dothraki followers to loot Xaro's home so that they can buy a ship. Beyond the Wall, Sam (John Bradley-West), Grenn (Mark Stanley) and Edd (Ben Crompton) are gathering material to burn when they hear three horn blasts… which means that White Walkers are approaching. Grenn and Edd flee for their lives, but Sam is left behind as an army of the undead marches by. One of the White Walkers sees Sam while it rides a dead horse. But the Walker ultimately ignores Sam as it leads its horde south.
The first season finale of "Game of Thrones' closed with the rebirth of dragons and magic into the world while the second season finale closed on a much darker note and the reveal of the White Walkers. The bulk of the Beyond the Wall storyline this season has been so focused on the Wildings that I forgot about the White Walkers until they showed up again here. I was also convinced that Sam was going to die horribly, but presumably the Walker let him live because it didn't see him as a threat. That may ultimately lead to their downfall. Keep in mind, Sam may be one of the few people alive who has read the old books about the White Walkers. If there's a way to stop them in those pages, then Sam may have critical information and not even realize it yet.
But as always, the heart and soul of this series is Peter Dinklage's Tyrion; who lost nearly everything despite his role in saving King's Landing. Dinklage is always great in the role, but a broken Tyrion was even more compelling than usual. Tyrion's scenes with Shae were especially moving as he tried to dismiss her and he was eventually overcome by her declaration of love. On some level, Tyrion must have doubted Shae's feelings for him because all of his best friends are people that he pays. Note that Bronn doesn't show up by his friend's bedside. But Shae's love is real and Tyrion unexpectedly let his guard down and wept when he realized it.
Even Varys seems to have some genuine affection for Tyrion, or at least more than Tywin or any of the other Lannisters in King's Landing. Tyrion really got screwed by the people that should have been falling all over themselves to thank him. But there's a very basic reason why it had to play out this way. The audience loves Tyrion and hates the Lannisters. If Tyrion was well treated and beloved by his family then he truly would be one of them. By keeping Tyrion on the outskirts of the Lannisters, it allows us to keep rooting for him and it could potentially plant the seeds of his own rebellion against Joffrey and House Lannister.
Joffrey's public acceptance of marriage to Lady Margaery was a hilariously scripted piece of theater within the show itself that allowed Joffrey to dump Sansa and save face. It was also amusing to see Jack Gleeson portray Joffrey as a terrible actor while reciting his love for Margaery. As shown during her brief marriage to Renly, Margaery is pretty sharp when it comes to royal politics. I just wonder how long it will take before she realizes what a monster Joffrey is and when he will turn his abuse towards her. Earlier this season, Joffrey mentioned that he believes the Starks to be weak because they value their women too highly. And yet one of Joffrey's greatest weaknesses is that he doesn't value or respect women at all. If Sansa was able to eventually manipulate Joffrey through feigned affection then imagine what someone like Margaery will be able to do if given enough time.
The surprise reunion between Daenerys and Khal Drogo was well scripted and acted, but the resolution to the House of the Undying story was way too easy. Daenerys' vision quest through the tower had some good moments and yet Pyat Pree died so quickly that he barely seemed like a real threat. It was satisfying to see Daenerys lock Xaro in his own empty vault, but the sooner she gets to Westros the better. Besides, can you think of a better weapon to use against an undead army vulnerable to fire than a trio of dragons? That's the kind of thing that would win over the people of Westros pretty quickly.
Jon Snow's fake turn Beyond the Wall also felt a little rushed and forced. I had assumed that Jon and Halfhand were planning something like a mock duel to the death so that Jon could win the Wildings' trust. But Jon seemed more surprised than anyone that he had to kill Halfhand. I expected more from Jon's story this year and it just didn't appear to go very far. At this rate, it's going to be a long time before the Night's Watch gets back to Castle Black.
Speaking of which, it can't be a coincidence that Bran and Rickon are being led to the Wall; which will probably soon be overrun by the undead. That's an interesting way to bring that story to the forefront. The sack of Winterfell felt like "Game of Thrones" resorting to its old trick of not showing something significant onscreen out of budgetary concerns. The cut from the departure of the Iron Born to Osha's emergence was so jarring that it seemed like there were many scenes in-between that we simply didn't see. It's not clear who torched Winterfell, but the main reason that was so hard to buy into was the complete lack of other living people in the aftermath. Or at least a lot more bodies on the ground. Sometimes "Game of Thrones" is able to get away with going cheap, but not this time.
Before his uncertain fate, Theon managed to get at least a tiny sliver of sympathy back when he was betrayed by his own men. Despite everything that he's done and the people he's killed, Theon has become a tragic figure who is loved by no one and ridiculed even by his own men. Theon truly would have been better off staying with Robb, but he was never a Stark at heart. Even Luwin's advice about joining the Night's Watch probably wouldn't have worked simply because Jon Snow would never forgive Theon for what he did. It was more telling that Luwin still cared about Theon's well being enough to even suggest it to him in addition to Luwin's attempt to intervene when Theon's followers attacked him. There must be an unwritten rule that the kindest characters get killed off first on this show. Again, that's why I was amazed that Sam lived through the cliffhanger.
I was hoping that Arya would head off with Jaqen, but she was true to herself when she committed to finding her family… even Sansa. Jaqen's face changing ability was also an interesting angle to introduce to the story. I just hope it doesn't mean the end of Tom Wlaschiha's time on this series. His Jaqen-isms have been some of the comedic high points of the season.
"Valar Morghulis" was a highly effective season finale that seemed to offer more closure than the first season finale did last year. And there are plenty of intriguing storylines ready to be explored when the third season arrives next year.