Previous Game of Thrones Season 2 episode recaps:
Ep. 11: "The North Remembers."
Ep. 12: "The Night Lands."
Ep. 13: "What Is Dead May Never Die."
Ep. 14: "Garden of Bones."
Ep. 15: "The Ghost of Harrenhal."
Ep. 16: "The Old Gods and the New."
Ep. 17: "A Man Without Honor."
Ep. 18: "The Prince of Winterfell."
Ep. 19: "Blackwater."
Episode 20: "Valar Morghulis"
Original Air Date: June 3, 2012.
Directed by: Alan Taylor.
Written by: David Benioff & D.B. Weiss.
Tonight, as befitting, we close out what ended up being a fantastic Season 2 with the showrunners themselves returning to pen the final episode. And what would a Benioff & Weiss episode be without Alan Taylor directing? Also, after last week's masterpiece, how would the season finale fare by comparison? These questions and more will be answered . . .
. . . Now!
Tyrion wakes up in bed, surprised to still be alive after nearly having his face chopped off at the tail end of last week's episode. But his elation is short-lived when he discovers Maester Pycelle's ghoulishly smirking face hovering over him. After being thrown into the Black Cells by the Halfman, no doubt Pycelle's all too happy to be let out and about the castle once more. The old man all but cackles with glee as he informs the Imp that he's been downgraded to economy class at the Red Keep. Oh, and he's no longer Hand of the King, either. Now ain't that a kick in the head? Luckily Tyrion still has his trusty squire, Podrick Payne, who ushers Lord Varys into the former Hand's cramped new room. The Spider informs him that it was Cersei herself who ordered one of Joffrey's Kingsguard, Ser Mandon Moore, to make an attempt on his life. If not for Pod's bravery and quick action, the dwarf would be suffering from a serious case of sword through skull right about now. Ouch! And this is before the advent of Tylenol rapid release capsules, mind you.
Tyrion: "Why should I believe you?"
Varys: "Why would I lie about it?"
Tyrion: "To create strife between my sister and me."
Varys: "Where before there was nothing but love."
Alarmed, Tyrion tells Pod to have Bronn station four of his City Guard at the door. But Varys informs him that Bronn has been relived of his duties. The Gold Cloaks are now under the control of Cersei and Tywin. And what about the dwarf's barbarian buddies? Paid off by his father to return back to their hill tribes. D'oh! What is a Halfman to do? Seems his money can no longer buy him friends. Except for one, that is. Shae the Funny Whore comes to the little man's rescue. She steadfastly stands by her man, despite the garish diagonal wound across his face. Ain't no loyalty stronger than between a pIMP and his ho!
Varys gives the besotted Lannister some parting words of comfort. Despite his father taking all the credit for saving King's Landing, there are many who know of the city's true hero. And they will not forget. The eunuch then leaves him to Shae's ministrations, and heads off to find another pussycat of a different stripe. Ros, the former hardest working whore in all the North, thinks the Master of Whisperers is there to sample her special skill set, but when she reaches for his knob she realizes that this particular door has no handle. For his part, the junkless spymaster sees more value in her than just a "collection of profitable holes." He wants her to work for him, and report back everything she can concerning her current pimp daddy, Lord Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish. Will Varys play the Bosley to her Angel? Time will tell, but unfortunately not this season.
Over in the throne room, King Joffrey is playing court. His grandpappy, Tywin Lannister, rides in on his high horse, caring not a whit that his steed just dropped a big steaming pile of ploppy goodness before the august assemblage. Perhaps this is an apt metaphor for the King's shitty rule, in which case the horse knows his theatrics! Joffrey names Tywin the "Savior of the City," and announces that he is the rightful Hand of the King.
Next, the psychopath rewards Littlefinger with Harrenhal--the same haunted ruin of a castle Arya and friends just recently escaped from! And lastly, honors are bestowed upon the Tyrells of Highgarden for allying with the Lannisters in defense of King's Landing. As a reward, he agrees to join their houses for good by marrying the recently widowed Margaery. It appears this was all part of the secret deal brokered by Lord Baelish, so none of it really comes as a surprise to either of the parties involved.
But it does mean that Sansa is finally free of her tiresome betrothal at last. Or is she? Littfinger, that perpetual party pooper, reminds the young lady that so long as she remains at the Red Keep, she will always be an available victim to her Grace's terrible melancholies.
What? No rose ceremony? Time to fire your agent, girl!
After suffering a stunning defeat at the hands of the combined forces of Houses Lannister and Tyrell, Stannis Baratheon has retreated to his stronghold at Dragonstone to lick his wounds. There he berates his advisor, Melisandre the Red Priestess, over her false prophecy that he would become king of Westeros. But Mel sticks to her guns, proclaiming that the prophecy is still true. He may have lost the battle, but not the war. Stannins thinks she's full of it and attempts to strangle her, but has second thoughts when she proclaims the Red God is within him. She still believes he is the fabled Azor Ahai reborn after 8,000 years, see, and that he will save the world from the Darkness approaching in the Winter to come. She guides Stannis to a burning brazier, and there shows him the truth of her visions in the flames.
Meanwhile the King in the North has some s'plainin' to do to his mum, Catelyn Stark, regarding his secret marriage in the woods to Lady "Talisa" of "Volantis."
Cat worries that this union will cause problems when Lord Walder Frey finds out that he's reneged on his promise to marry one of the Frey's many daughters. But Robb doesn't seem to care. Although his parents had married not out of love but of duty, he cannot deny what he feels in his heart for his new bride.
Catelyn: "You gave him your word. Treat your oath recklessly and your people will do the same. If your father lived his life for one thing--"
Robb: "My father is dead! And the only parent I have left has no right to call anyone reckless."
Oh, snap! The son becomes a man!
On The Road . . .
Brienne's been rowing for a long time. She finally tires and decides to take to the roads in order to reach King's Landing, pushing a tied-up Kingslayer before her. As usual, Jaime tries to trip her up in wordplay, but the Maid of Tarth is having none of it. When they come across a trio of lifeless female corpses hanging from the trees, however, she stops long enough to give them a proper burial. According to the sign hanging around one of the unfortunates' neck, these three were found guilty because they "lay with lions." In other words, with Lannisters. Which would mean the perpetrators of the gruesome deed were probably Stark men. Or Northerners at the very least. Most troubling. But when the men themselves round the bend and spy Brienne with her prisoner, the trouble becomes very real. She tries to fool them by stating that she is transporting a common thief. Jaime, recognizing that now is not the time for acting cute--especially around Stark men!--affects a lowborn accent to help bolster the Lady's tale. But one of the men recognizes the Kingslayer and that's when all hells break loose. Luckily, Brienne is not just a suit of walking armor. She actually knows how to kick ass, and proceeds to do just that!
After the carnage is over, Jaime sees his captor in a new light and with something approaching respect in his eyes.
Arya and the boys have managed to escape the dragon's fire-blasted great keep and are on the road alone. They have no idea where Jaqen H'ghar has gone when Arya spots the man standing alone atop a cliff. She wanders off and suddenly runs into the enigmatic assassin on the road. How does he do that? Jaqen H'ghar reveals that he is a Faceless Man from Braavos, which Arya recognizes as being the same hometown her beloved Dancing Master, Syrio Forel, was from. Jaqen seems to have some measure of respect for Dancing Masters, but mentions that Faceless Men are a whole order of kick-assery higher. Hells, he doesn't need to tell us!
He offers to take Arya with him across the Narrow Sea to Braavos--to teach her the ways of the Faceless Men, in fact--but the young girl decides to stay in Westeros and seek out her family for the time being. Unperturbed, Jaqen hands her a coin and instructs her to give it to any Braavosi while uttering the words valar morghulis in time of great need, and any such man will be obliged to assist her. Sweet! A get out of jail free card . . . if she's ever in Braavos. The Faceless Man then informs her that Jaqen H'ghar is now dead. He turns away from her, does something with his hands, and then suddenly turns back wearing the face of a different man! "Farewell, Arya Stark," the new face says, and the stranger who used to be Jaqen H'ghar saunters off and out of her life. Will they ever meet again?
Lord Roose Bolton's bastard from the Dreadfort has finally arrived and surrounded the Starks' ancestral home, much to the chagrin of that punk bastard, Theon. He's left wondering why his father has not sent word to him and demands of Maester Luwin to send another raven out to Pyke. The old gent kindly reminds the fool that he had all his ravens destroyed two episodes ago. Sucks to be you, kid. Being the whiny ingrate that he is, Theon tries to cry his sob story but to deaf ears. Luwin tells him that Ned did him a great favor by taking him in to live with his own family. Theon, of course, doesn't see it that way:
Theon: "Yes, my captors were so very kind to me--you love reminding me of that. Everyone in this frozen pile of shit has always loved reminding me of that! Know what it's like to be told how lucky you are to be someone's prisoner? To be told how much you owe them?"
Later, realizing that he has no way out, Theon attempts to marshal his pitiful force of twenty Ironborn marauders to go up against some five hundred Northmen and give up their lives in a glorious death, Klingon style. But unfortunately his men are Star Wars fans and hate Trekkers, so while Theon stands there giving an impassioned speech ala William Wallace, his First Mate Dagmer Cleftjaw bonks him kindly on the head, knocking the dork out cold. His men breathe a collective sigh of relief, bag him, and drag their fool prince off to barter with Bolton's bastard. When Maester Luwin demands to know what is going on, he gets a spear to the gut courtesy of the Cleftjaw, may he rot in the lowest of the Seven Hells!
Winterfell, unfortunately, suffers greatly and is burned to its foundations. Bran and Rickon Stark, along with the wildling Osha and the lumbering oaf Hodor, emerge from the crypts beneath the ruins to a world gone wrong. The direwolves find Maester Luwin breathing his last breaths beneath the weirwood tree in the Godswood. He cautions the kids to escape while they can and head North to the Wall, where their brother Jon will be able to ensure their safety among the men of the Night's Watch.
When the boys leave to gather provisions, Maester Luwin looks to Osha to use her dagger and speed him along his way.
After languishing for what seems like days in the secret places of this great city, at last Dany seems ready to heed the warlock Pyat Pree's invitation and enter the mysterious House of the Undying to find her dragons. Once inside the forbidding tower, hower, she quickly loses her way and ends up experiencing a series of bizarre visions. The first one finds her suddenly at the Red Keep, in the ruined remains of the once majestic hall of the Iron Throne. The ceiling's been gutted and the famous stained glass windows shattered. A fine blanket of snow covers everything, and the throne of swords itself is white with frost. Since Daenerys was not even born yet when her family fled Westeros for Dragonstone, there's no way for her to know that this is the very throne she seeks to wrest back from the Usurper. So she continues on and now finds her self exiting the Wall of all places, another location she's not familiar with. But then she spies a sight she can recognize: a Dothraki tent, and one she knows very well!
Inside the tent she discovers a most beauteous delight: her sun and stars, Khal Drogo, sitting on a pile of furs with their unborn son in his arms. The khaleesi staggers at the thought that such a thing could be possible, and a part of her wants so much to stay in this fantasy forever. But deep down she knows that the scene is not right, and when her dragons' cries cut through the illusion, she knows that she cannot stay. Reluctantly she leaves the make-believe life she might have enjoyed and soldiers on to find her real babies.
Eventually she ends up back in the tower once more, but this time she finds her dragons chained to a stone pedestal. Pyat Pree splits himself and imprisons the khaleesi in chains as well, claiming that the dragons represent magic awakened in the world once more. Magic which makes his Order of warlocks all the more strong. Magic which will die with the dragons if their mother is not there to keep them healthy and viable. She's to be their in-house guest at the House of the Undying . . . until the end of time.
Pyat Pree: "Welcome home, Daenerys Stormborn."
Daenerys: "This is not my home! My home is across the sea where my people are waiting for me."
Pyat Pree: "They will be waiting a long time."
Foolish warlock. To recognize that dragons are the pure embodiment of magic, but yet remain completely blind to the fact that dragons are the pure embodiment of magic. And if you place the source of their strength within harm's way . . .
Dany utters a single word, a word she's been training her dragons on for weeks: Dracarys!
Her dragons hear the word and comply, setting the warlock on fire under triple geysers of flame! The chains imprisoning them burn to ashes, too, and the Mother of Dragons is reunited with her children at long last.
What is a scorned and tricked khaleesi to do next? Why, get revenge, of course! She and her loyal men invade the palatial estate of Xaro Xhoan Daxos, where Dany discovers one final betrayal as the seer, Quaithe, prophesied. Turns out that her handmaid, Doreah, has been sleeping with the self-proclaimed "King of Qarth" the entire time. Oh, hells hath no fury! Ser Jorah retrieves the key from around his neck and opens up the fabled vault containing all the merchant's wealth--but finds it empty! Just as with the warlock Pyat Pree, it seems Xaro's power is all based on illusion.
Daenerys: "Thank you, Xaro Xhoan Daxos. Thank you for teaching me this lesson."
Indeed, the Mother of Dragons has learned all she needs to know now in order to deal with the real world out there beyond the walls of Qarth. Her path to the Iron Throne will not rely on the generosity of others, but must be achieved through force by her own hands. It's a valuable lesson, and she puts this newfound and hard wisdom to immediate use. On her orders, Xaro and his traitorous mistress are locked inside the impenetrable vault. With Dany possessing the only key, it looks like Ebony and Ivory will last in perfect harmony forever after all.
Afterwards, the khaleesi sets her Dothraki loose to loot the merchant's expansive palace of all its treasures. With it, she hopes to hire a ship and sail on to the nearest largest city in search of an army to take back to Westeros. Finally, her story is under way!
Beyond The Wall.
As Rattleshirt and company transport their Ranger prisoners to an audience with the wildling King Beyond the Wall, Ygritte is having a bit of sport tormenting poor Jon Snow. But then things get serious in a hurry when Qhorin Halfhand decides to bump his charade up a notch and attack Jon outright. Rattleshirt allows the two to fight it out, not realizing that he's playing right into the Halfhand's plans. For his part, Jon seems unaware of the plan as well, allowing himself to go into a rage at the master Ranger's words, running him through with his sword. Uh-oh, Lord O' Bones! Let's see you explain that one to Mance Rayder.
But of course, this is exactly what the Halfhand wanted. Better to die quickly on the sword of a brother than to be tortured a slow death at the amusement of a bunch of wildlings. He offers Jon words of parting on his way out of this miserable world:
Qhorin: "We are the Wathchers on the Wall . . ."
Now that's how you make an exit, folks! Jon's display of fierce swordsmanship against one of his own sworn brothers of the Watch--and the legendary Qhorin Halfhand at that!--makes him an instant celebrity among his wildling captors. Even Rattleshirt must begrudge him a little freedom. He's still going to be taken to meet with their King, of course, but is Jon Snow finally one of them? Time will tell. Behind him, the wildlings burn the Halfhand's body. Don't want him coming back as a dreaded wight now, do we?
Speaking of . . .
Over at the Fist of the First Men, Sam and the boys have the envious task of collecting moose dung to fuel the campfires of the Night's Watch. As they dig for the brown gold, Sam can't help but go on and on about his beloved Gilly.
Samwell: "The thing about her that I find so interesting is that, after all that Craster's done to her, she still got hope that life might get better."
Dolorous Edd: "The thing about Gilly that you find so interesting is that she's said six words to ya."
Samwell: "And the thing about you that I find so interesting . . . is absolutely nothing!"
Look at Sam, the big man growing a backbone!
The boys' antics are cut short, however, when a Watchman's horn sounds off suddenly. One blast means a Ranger has returned. Two blasts means an impending attack by wildlings. And, of course, three blasts means that White Walkers are coming. Yeah, like that could ever happen.
Sam becomes excited, believing that the horn signals the return of Qhorin Halfhand and Jon. But then a second blast sounds . . . followed by a third.
The boys do a collective Oh Shit! and suddenly make like bears to honey toward the Fist of the First Men. But, alas, poor tubby Sam cannot keep up and gets left behind. What are friends for, eh? As a wintry gust suddenly surrounds him, whiting out everything from view, Sam takes up a hiding spot behind a particularly large rocky outcropping. Within seconds he's surrounded by shambling hordes of wights, their dessicated reanimated corpses stopping mindlessly before the Fist. But one among them is not a wight. He's a White Walker, a creature of intellect and command. Seated atop the walking corpse of a bloodied destrier, those unsettling glowing blue eyes focus on Sam briefly before turning up toward the Fist where the horde's true quarry is encamped. The fearsome creature cries a bloodcurdling, screeching command--and the wights resume their march.
The camera pulls back revealing hundreds of the undead shuffling toward the rising promontory in the distance. Interspersed between them are more mounted White Walkers screeching commands. A veritable army of nightmares is there to combat the White Walker's ancient foes, the Night's Watch, and poor Sam is stuck smack dab in the middle of it all!
Rating: 4.8 out of 5 Crowns.
Well, this was a very satisfactory ending to the season. In my own opinion, I liked this one more than last season's finale. Yes, I went there. Sue me.
Call me crazy, but this is the first time I felt an episode really gelled despite its disparate parts. Yes, last week's show received a perfect 5 Crowns. But as I admitted back then, this was in much due to the fact that the story that episode was focused on only one location. What this show has always suffered from is having episodes which jumped around too much trying to cover every different plot point and not giving enough screen time to either. But "Valar Morghulis" felt different despite having a LOT of ground to cover. Did the extra 10 minutes added to the running time help? Perhaps a little. But I think the real savior here is a production that has gotten way more confident in its abilities to create a truly epic hour of television for ten consecutive weeks each year.
Also, despite the many departures from the book this episode, I felt for the first time in a long time as if I was seeing the words from George R. R. Martin's sprawling epic actually spring to life. I mean, I actually felt like I was inside the book this episode more than at any other time!
And what did I like so much about it?
Well, for starters, I of course enjoyed an increase in the fantastical elements. From Dany's dragons breathing out fire to the chilling sight of hundreds upon hundreds of wights approaching the Fist of the First Men, this episode really made me feel the stakes have risen in Westeros. From now on out, shit's gonna get realz! I had mentioned a few episodes back how dark this show was about to become as we head into the third season . . . and with that bone-chiller of an ending, you get some idea of what I mean.
Next, I'm so happy they included the Jaqen H'ghar face change! I and a few other book readers were worried that they might not due to budget constraints. I like how they got around that, having him turn his head away first rather than show the actual morphing of his features. I also like that if you pause on the scene long enough to truly examine the new face, it's remarkably similar to the old one, yet at the same time completely different. I still cannot tell whether that is an actual casting change, or just extremely good makeup effects.
My money's on the former. But yes, I actually shouted out "valar morghulis!" when that happened. I know, I'm such a dork!
And what did I not like so much?
Well, the big culprit here is Winterfell burning down. Yes, this happens in the book. But there is a reason it happens, and it's spelled out very clearly. Here in this episode? Not so clear at all. Since I've read the books it's no sweat off my back, but I feel sorry for non book readers who are probably left wondering just what the fuck happened there. I mean, one second Theon is being dragged off . . . then the next time we return, Bran and Rickon and company are emerging onto a burnt out ruin. It would have helped if at least one character--especially Maester Luwin--had uttered the question out loud. Or better yet, actually answer it. He should have seen it happening as he crawled to the Godswood, after all. I know why they're holding off on showing exactly how Winterfell burned down (we'll find out next season), but at least let the audience know that they're not supposed to know the answer just yet. Because, why would the Ironborn warriors burn down the place if they want to escape the Northmen's wrath and make it back to Pyke? If you recall, Robb gave his word that they would be able to return if they surrendered and handed Theon over. Which is what happened. But then, who the hell burned down the castle? And why? Like I said, I know who . . . but the episode didn't do a good job of setting it up for new fans. It felt very rushed, and as such detracted from the overall score for me.
Also detracting from the score is the House of the Undying scenes. Well, one in particular. Yes book purists, I know you all hated the drastic change to Dany's "visions" at the House, but I actually liked them. I understood they didn't have the budget to translate it exactly as it was in the book, and can appreciate that they kept the spirit of the scenes if not the actual content. Big deal. No, my problem is with the dragons themselves freeing their mother. I just don't buy that dragons that small can produce that much fire. They should really be much bigger by this point. But you know what? Maybe that's just a nitpick on my part. To be honest, the Winterfell stuff was more important to me, and accounts for much of the overall two tenths of a point deduction. This, on the other hand, was just the spoiled icing on a sagging cake if you will.
But other than these two points, I still thought this was a very fine episode. And a perfect way to close off the season until next year, especially that ending scene. How frickin awesome was that? It was so chilling (no pun intended), and the music was perfectly ominous. I find it funny that so many non book readers can't tell the difference between a wight and a White Walker, though. A wight is a dead human reanimated. A White Walker is an entirely different and living species intent on taking over the world. They can think and strategize, and command legions of the undead.
Wights, on the other hand, are mindless death dealers. Its true that it can get confusing since both have burning blue eyes on this show. But if the thing looks like a human with some rotting, bloodied, or missing flesh, then it is a wight. If it looks like an alien creature capable of full, unimpeded locomotion and thought, then it is a White Walker. Easy, peasy, right? Good.
I love that this show has found its stride this season and gotten so damn GOOD in the process. Yes, the first season was a fantastic set-up, don't get me wrong, but I feel audiences are starting to get really comfortable with this world now. Which is a good thing considering the massive tonnage of shit that's going to be hitting the fan next season. So much that the third book is going to have to be split into two seasons just to contain it all. I'm curious to see on what note they're going to end next season on, considering that some of the most shocking twists occur in the second half of the third novel. I suspect a certain big battle up North is going to cap Season 3, or at least the very start of the battle will. I'm so giddy with excitement, you have no idea! :)
But in the meantime, I would like to thank you all for following me along on these recaps this season. I had a lot of fun writing them, and thanks once again goes out to my guest blogger, Dilking, for filling in for me during Week 4. What a pal!
Have a wonderful year between now and next Spring, everyone. And, on a parting note, I'll leave you with this troubling thought to ponder:
King Joffrey is still alive and as dickish as ever!
I told you all last year not to get too comfortable thinking you know how the story is going to go. Those who deserve to die the most in this world probably won't, while those who don't probably will. Isn't that just like life?
Best line of the episode: "And if this is a dream, I will kill the man who tries to wake me."