Warning: Full spoilers for the episode follow…
Such a big, sprawling season ender. Where to begin?
Oh, I know. ZOMBIE HORSE! ZOMBIE HORSE! ZOMBIE HORSE! How about that? Yeah, three blasts of the signal horn really does suck, doesn’t it? And even though we’ve all gotten our fill of roaming zombie hordes on AMC’s The Walking Dead, there’s something to be said about the undead slowly marching through the stark, white blizzard-y conditions that lie beyond the wall. It really does make them seem more ghoulish. Plus, at the heart of the White Walkers (which we also got to finally see atop the mangled horse) and their undead legions is dark magic. Which seems a bit more sinister than a biological plague. And seeing the bone brigade slowly close in on the Fist of the First Men made for a very powerful image to leave us with until next year.
“Valar Morghulis,” named after the words Jaqen imparts to Arya, was a great way to close out the season. And much of the finale’s format mirrored the Season 1 finale, “Fire and Blood” – with a ton of fallout scenes that dealt with the aftermath of a big penultimate episode, coupled with a big moment from Daenerys. Yes, so far it seems that the big King’s Landing stuff goes down in episode nine, leaving Dany to finish off her story, with her biggest moments, in the final chapter. Which is fine. And the Dany bits of “Valar Morghulis” were great. The best of the entire season for her, in fact. Her trek into the House of the Undying, including her unexpected reunion with Drogo and Rhaego, was fantastic. It really helped remind us of the woman she was back in Season 1, which I think is important given how strong and boastful, to a fault, she’s had to be this year. Watching her walk away from the two of them, towards the shrieks of her baby dragons, made a powerful statement. Plus, who doesn’t love watching three dragons spit fireballs at a creepy old Warlock?
But just because Dany now realizes that Jorah was right, and that Xaro’s empty vault was a perfectly-timed metaphor for all his empty promises, that doesn’t mean she’s gone soft. Locking Xaro and, of all people, Doreah, inside the fault was proof positive that she won’t suffer traitors – even ones who merely sleep with the enemy. Oh, and watching Dany and her horde steal all the gold and jewels, like they wanted to do when they first arrived, was a nice touch.
One of the Game of Thrones pairings that I was hoping wouldn’t get short-sheeted this year was Jaime and Brienne, who only had one brief scene back in “The Prince of Winterfell.” But their scene here, as they ran into three Northern soldiers, was great; antagonistic, yet supportive. With both of them willing to protect the other in order to survive the trek to King’s Landing. And while Brienne claims to be “no lady,” you can see that she does have a soft spot when it comes to violence against women. Which I suspect, seeing as how she lives in freakin’ cruel-ass Westeros, has made her an extremely angry, unfulfilled person. Her slow, brutal kill of the third soldier (“Two quick deaths” for the others, like the hanged girls) showed us just how vengeful she can be. And it was great to watch Jaime see her do it. Wonder how much sass he’ll want to dish out after seeing her do that?
Given the scope and scale of an episode like “Blackwater,” you had to wonder just how big things would get in the finale. And so when Theon, surrounded by Northern forces, began to speechify his men into what seemed to be a suicide mission, it seemed unlikely we’d see another battle. Especially given the fact that we haven’t even been introduced to Lord Bolton’s bastard, come down from The Dreadfort, on the other side of the Winterfell walls. So to see Dagmar knock out Theon, right at the peak of his fervor, was fitting. And yes, it was a good speech.
And while that scene was great, the one between Theon and Maester Luwin that came right before it was even better, as it did a great job of creating even more sympathy for Theon (“Do you know what it’s like to be told how lucky you are to be someone’s prisoner?”) and acted as a great swan song for Luwin. Luwin, who after all that had happened, was doing his best to help Theon escape and find a new life in the Night’s Watch. (“You’re not the man you’re pretending to be.”)
There were many heartfelt moments in “Valar Morghulis,” but Luwin’s death was the one that got me. This show did a great job of building up this man’s relationship to Bran and ever since Ned and Cat left Winterfell, Luwin had become “the one who stayed.” It was very sad to watch him slowly die in the Godswood and his death, eventually at the merciful hands of Osha, personified the destruction of Winterfell itself. A place that, as it turns out, Theon worshiped and identified as being a home to honorable and beloved men.
I’m sure it was a great relief to many of you who haven’t read the books that Tyrion was still alive after “Blackwater,” even though he’s been handed a bit of a demotion. Oh, and his father’s getting all the credit for defeating Stannis. Oh oh, and he’s now got a nasty diagonal sword slash running across his face. And even though Varys said that the two of them can no longer be seen together, it was still tremendous to hear him tell Tyrion “There are many who know that without you this city would have faced certain defeat.” Still, as low as Tyrion is right now, his scene with Shae was the first time that I really felt like the two of them were in love. And maybe it was good to save this kind of emotional clarification for a time like this, when he’s hit rock bottom and has no Bronn, or Hill Tribes, to protect him. Because even though he tried to, in his grief, push Shae away, she chose to stay. Even though they’re both still in danger.
On the other side of the war, and in keeping with the flames-reflected-in-eyeball motif, Stannis almost strangled Melisandre to death (“Where’s your God now?”) for what he believed to be false visions. And while he eventually became entranced by a flame, and maybe saw some visions of his own, the thing I remembered most about the scene was the regret and guilt Stannis felt, finally setting in, over killing Renly.
Meanwhile, Sansa, thanks to Magaery Tyrell’s queenly ambitions, is off the hook and Joffrey, at least in public, is acting fairly King-like. Oh, don’t get me wrong. He’s still a monster through and through, but it looks like he at least now knows how to act the part in court. Maybe Tywin’s presence has something to do with it. And as for the Stark girl who managed to escape Winterfell? Well, Arya’s now out and about with Gendry and Hot Pie, taking a mysterious coin from Jaqen – who finally revealed himself to be a “Faceless Man.” Which is a person from Braavos that is apparently even more lethal that Arya’s old “dancing teacher” Syrio Forel. And with that, Jaqen was no more; magically creating a new face for himself.
“Valar Morghulis” nicely set us up for next season – Jon Snow, now “The Man who killed Quorin Halfhand,” seeing Mance Rayder’s enormous army; Littlefinger vowing to help Sansa escape; Brienne and Jaime headed to King’s Landing; Bran and Rickon headed to the Wall. But it also gave us a cliffhanger with a certain amount of immediacy – the zombie attack on the Night’s Watch. And because of that, I believe, the long wait until next spring will be even more excruciating than is was after last year’s finale. The one tiny thing (and this isn’t from the books) that I wished had happened was a small scene where Tywin had come to some sort of realization that his cup-bearer girl had been Arya Stark. And then maybe even a small smile could have curled across his lips. I guess I was just looking for something to put a stamp on all those great scenes they had together.
Warning: No BOOK SPOILERS on the comment sections for our Game of Thrones reviews. Please do not post anything that will ruin the series for others. You will be banned. And for everyone else, beware of trolling jerks.
For those who want to talk about the books, with regards to the TV series, why don’t you head over to section of IGN’s Game of Thrones Wiki Guide focused on the book and TV show differences. Feel free to add to the Wiki while you at it!