A man wishes this season wasn’t over.
These two seasons of “Game Of Thrones” have proven themselves to be truly brilliant television events. They’ve taken a genre that’s usually anathema to modern, popular television and made it not only successful, but great, two things that aren’t always mutually exclusive these days. In keeping with this trend, the season finale, “Valar Morghulis,” was one of the better endings I’ve seen in my TV viewing days.
Interestingly, “Valar Morghulis” wasn’t a huge, blow-you-away explosive finale. It ended with some unanswered questions, to be certain, but it also resolved a great many issues, and for the most part, those resolutions were mightily satisfying. It was in this final episode that we learned about trust. Who you could trust, who would betray you, and when you should trust yourself above all others. Perhaps most intriguing was the renewed emphasis on magic and the supernatural, an element that has been used sparingly up until now, but now we’ve got dragons and dreams and wights and everything in between.
Arya, despite being an absolute delight for most of this second season, had a surprisingly brief appearance, but it was an eminently enjoyable one. Her final meeting with Jaqen H’ghar was short but sweet, and left us wanting more of both characters. The shifting face of Jaqen was a moment that book readers have been waiting for, and while the setting and circumstances were somewhat different from the novels, the final reveal of his secret was a fascinating one. Yet more important was Arya’s determination to find her family, and however tempting the idea of new adventures with H’ghar may have been, her sense of purpose has won out.
Speaking of Starks, Sansa was finally given a moment of happiness as Joffrey abandoned their betrothal in exchange for the cunning, sultry Margaery Tyrell, who along with her brother played Joffrey and his court beautifully. The appearance of Ser Loras was handled somewhat clumsily in the prior episode — he hadn’t been seen in so long that many forgot who he even was, and without actually showing him in battle, the sudden granting of his wish seemed a little jarring. However, a solid performance by Natalie Dormer as Margaery and Jack Gleason as the smarmy, arrogant fool Joffrey salvaged the moment. Yet few things were as heartbreaking as poor Sansa thinking she is finally free, only to have her hopes dashed by the weaselly (and increasingly creepy) Littlefinger. To her credit, Sansa has grown wise over this season (and Sophie Turner’s performance has reflected that), and refuses his offer not because she doesn’t want it, but because she has finally learned that no one — no one — is to be trusted.
Sansa wasn’t the only one with a bittersweet salvation. North of the Wall, Jon Snow earned his freedom with the blood of his fellow Brother of the Night’s Watch, a brutally conniving act of self-sacrifice on the part of Qhorin Halfhand. Allowing himself to be killed for the greater good, so that Jon could enlist with and spy on the wildlings is perhaps the single most terrible act of patriotism the show has seen. Unfortunately, Kit Harrington hasn’t exactly been blowing me away this season, and this episode was no exception. It felt like Simon Armstrong’s Halfhand and Rose Leslie’s Ygritte did the bulk of the heavy lifting, acting-wise. Snow’s role is expanding with each season, and now with him joining the wildlings and the discovery of a very real — and massive — wildling army, Harrington’s going to need to up his game and be more consistent.
In Winterfell, tragedy has struck every single person there. Even Theon, the would-be conqueror, is betrayed by his own men. It was a sad little scene — Theon finally getting to have his Braveheart moment with a genuinely affecting speech, strikingly delivered by Alfie Allen, only to have his most trusted advisor turn on him. It’s an almost fitting end to Theon’s entire sad saga. Maester Luwin was right — he’s not the man he’s pretending to be. And unfortunately, his men realized that before he could become that man. And oh… poor, poor Maester Luwin. His abrupt demise, impaled and cast aside by the Cleftjaw’s spear, was far too ignominious an end for one so kindhearted, but such is the world of “Game Of Thrones.”
Yet the final two moments to discuss are the most fulfilling. It’s no surprise that Peter Dinklage’s Tyrion Lannister is a part of one of them, and his was a moment filled with tragedy, sadness, despair, hope and love. It was an absolutely gut-wrenching few minutes and masterfully played by everyone. Varys’ glum, almost bitter understanding of Tyrion’s true role in the battle that saved King’s Landing, his gentle attempt to console him, was a surprisingly sweet, tender moment that showed yet again what a wonderfully multifaceted character he is. And Shae — I can’t take back what I’ve said about Sibel Kekilli’s earlier performances on the show because she truly has given some awkward, stumbling performances. But like many of the actors on the show, over time she has evolved and grown into a terrific piece of this puzzle, and as a result the character has become much stronger. Tyrion was amazing as usual, but that final moment, where he’s at his most vulnerable, where he shows that he’s determined to stay and fight even though it’s a fight he likely cannot win and one no one wants him for, was simply beautiful. With his voice jagged and shaking with anxiety, Shae’s simple “You have a shit memory. I am yours… and you are mine,”breaks the dam and Tyrion is emotionally undone. It was one of the few moments where I genuinely felt myself choke up a bit, all due to some wonderfully subtle writing and two absolutely perfect performances.
Yet most satisfying was the final resolution of the missing dragon storyline. It was a tired, frustrating plot device for the past few episodes, and it’s been mentioned before that Emilia Clarke’s performances have seemed rather rote and childish. Yet the resolution, filled with dragon fire, deranged sorcerers (is there anyone more frightening looking that Ian Hanmore’s Pyat Pree?) and dream sequences of what could have been, remedied much of the earlier missteps. In actuality, it seems that they weren’t missteps at all, but rather yet another emergence for Danaerys, another leap in her growth as a woman, as a leader, and as a queen. She turned away her dreams of Khal Drogo, was steely and unflinching in her punishment of Xaro Xhoan Daxos, and through all of the betrayals is taught a critical lesson about trust. In those final moments, her whole persona changed and became more purposeful and mature. Everything about her — her tone of voice, the way she walked and carried herself, all became parts of a new person. It was a marvelously subtle performance by Clarke, whose shrill and petulant displays in earlier episodes were shed like snakeskin, and she emerged older, wiser and a far more intriguing character.
And thus, we are done with another season. There were some wild divergences from the novels, yet I found them all quite satisfying and well done enough that they’re actually welcome. It keeps things unpredictable for the experienced reader, and that’s part of what makes the show so successful. In “Valar Morghulis,” many threads were tied up, yet many more remain loose and frayed. We have a newfound strength in the young Danaerys, a new wedding that causes trouble for old alliances with Robb Stark, a new betrothal that promises new alliances for the Baratheons, and wildling armies to be infiltrated. We have a disgraced and disfigured former Hand of the King trying once again to find his way, Stannis Baratheon and the witchery of Melisandre, and perhaps the most important lesson of all: you should not, under any circumstance, mess with Brienne of Tarth. Ever.
Finally, it finished with a closing shot that was absolutely chilling — a massive, terrible, gruesome army of the dead moving purposefully towards the south.
It will be a few months, but Winter is coming.