I might indeed be rationalizing how successful last night was based on the awesomeness of some particularly striking images. Last night was the most ambitious episode of all. The sheer number of locations tackled and characters who spoke was overwhelming. If not for a strong hinge of thematic material it could have dissolved into a scattered mess instead of a sprawling glimpse into the aftermath of a pivotal battle.
As Melisandre explains to Stannis, this war will last years, and he will send thousands of men to their deaths and he’ll betray everything he once held dear. Why? Because when it’s all said and done he could have EVERYTHING. And while I’m not sold on her prophetic abilities, Westeros is up for grabs. And while the end of season one strongly hinted that the boy king’s reign would be short-lived, and that our War of Five Kings was imminent, I never suspected that reigning over the Seven Kingdoms was this unmanageable. It’s a post you have to be ruthless enough to seize, sure, but as far as I’m concerned chaos sits on the Iron Throne. It laughs in the face of puny men who scramble to hold onto their power in the night, for fear it will be snatched by the darkness in their sleep.
Don’t believe me? You don’t have a choice. Westeros is being invaded by the magic to the east (Essos) on several fronts. And I can’t shake how my mind nearly imploded three times. The entire dreamscape sequence with Daenerys—baby dragon killers, hell yeah!–was jaw-dropping in it’s revelations and it’s aesthetic wonderment. Let’s not forget that “I cannot believe what I just saw” moment (shoutout to Kirk Gibson). Jaqen the assassin shows why he is so skilled at his craft—because he can CHANGE HIS GODDAM FACE! I understand that may seem like an “easy” solution, but Jaqen carries himself with such a calm, refined swagger—like a Jedi Knight in armor—the reveal of his secret was well-earned. And then there’s the final, horrifying, yet electrifying scene. White Walkers. Lots of them, dragging their feet in the snow past a quivering Samwell who looks into the eyes of a frightening leader-type with piercing blue eyes that rides on an undead horse. I’m about to discard my college education briefly…THAT SH*T WAS TOUGH!
And now we’re back. So, while I understand the complaints of what appears to be a haphazard structure, and while I too was perplexed when Bran and Rickon climbed out of the crypts to see their city charred when Theon’s men had just surrendered to 500 Northern bannermen, I’m in no mood for petty grievances. That was some of the most unadulterated fun I’ve had slumming it in front of a TV screen—to be fair though, I took rigorous notes.
“Valar Morghulis” signaled the return of the soap-operatic format of jumping between locations/characters so as to address all outstanding issues. Some find fault with this structure since it reeks of moving pieces along and truncating character development, or flat-out stunting it. In all fairness, Daenerys specifically was fussing around in Qarth for far too long. She could have easily secured her dragons in The House of the Undying halfway through the season. but the conscious choice to drag it out means that when things happen, matters. In each setting, we get the sense that all these changes are leading somewhere. And I’m thrilled about where it’s headed. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that as Daenerys steals the gold of “the greatest city that ever was” to procure a ship to cross the Narrow Sea with, the snow zombies inch towards The Wall. Unstoppable forces will be meeting immovable objects, and the collisions of Ice and Fire are ready to make violent music. Whether that “Song” is one of victory over the shadows encroaching upon their lands, or a solemn one of when the continent became shrouded in darkness, remains to be seen. However, the harmonies that such juxtapositions have created, whether in their cohesive messages or in their surprising turns toward each other, lead me to trust that the show’s pacing is not just a drag of the feet, but a march toward a deliberate end.
We start with a sick transition from Tyrion’s eye as he’s lying in agony when his father valiantly rides into battle, to his eyes waking up in a shabby recovery room. Turns out that as he’s slept his world has changed. He wipes away the sleep from his eyes to see Grand Maester Pycelle. He informs him that these are his new, crappy quarters. He is no longer Hand to the King. His father, Tywin, has taken back that title. You can see the devastation in Tyrion’s eyes. Not only is he recovering from injury, but he’s been struck by a blow to his heart. Just as he was finding his sweet spot, carving a niche for himself in Westerosi politics, it’s all taken from him.
Appropriately, as Tywin Lannister rides into the hall to be received by his grandson, the King, his horse takes a dump on the floor. It’s not subtle, but it’s damn poetic. We’re about to see some horsesh*t go down. Joffrey awards his grandfather with his old job, and the title of Savior of the City. For brokering the alliance between the Tyrells and the Lannisters, Petyr Baelish is awarded Harrenhal, as are his sons and grandsons. Joffrey then spits some lip service to Loras Tyrell, about how he is indebted to his house. He say he’ll grant any request he asks of him. Loras uses his one wish to get his sister—already the Queen of Plunging Necklines—the title of queen that she’s always wanted. Of course, she is widowed after Shadow Baby took her husband. Margery does some of her best ass-kicking yet: “I have come to love you from afar. Tales of your courage and wisdom have never been far from my ears. And the tales have taken root deep inside of me.” Look at her go! It’s sexy, it’s undeservedly flattering. Joffrey would be stupid…wait. Despite his receptiveness, and the creepy way he slouches in his throne for Margery, he’s engaged to Sansa. But as always, the gods’ rules are amenable. Grand Maester Pycelle consulted the High Septon (like a pope, I guess?) and he agrees that his promise to the Starks is null and void because of Ned’s “treachery.” Rejoice King’s Landing. Margery’s cute behind is sitting next to Joffrey’s despicable one!
Sansa, expectedly, is overjoyed. Petyr Baelish brings her back down to earth. Just because she isn’t his fiancee doesn’t mean she can’t be his pet. You know, like a sex toy! Wonderful. Baelish gives her a way out though. Because he still adores her mother, he’s willing to help her escape. Sansa won’t bite though. Her misplaced loyalty to the throne persists and she swears allegiance to Joffrey. Baelish then delivers an awesome line. “Look around you. We’re all liars here, and everyone of us is better than you. BOOM!
Varys then strolls into Baelish’s brothel undetected, and Ros doesn’t recognize him. She starts to striptease for him, but he stops her saying it won’t be necessary. HA! Because he’s a eunuch! Anyway, he offers Ros a job as one of his spies. I like how we’re slowly seeing his influence. He says, “Littlefinger looks at you and sees a collection of valuable holes. I see you as a potential partner. Ros admits she’s scared of Petyr, but Varys assures her that he knows his weakness.
The eunuch then visits his bed-ridden friend Tyrion. He tells him point blank that Sir Manden Moore of the Kingsguard tried to kill him on Cersei’s orders. Despite their ill-will, Tyrion doesn’t want to believe it. He tries to order Bronn to station Goldcloaks outside his chamber, but Bronn’s been relieved of his duties. That might be the most demoralizing part. Without so much as a goodbye? Why you do me like that Bronn? Varys then solemnly states that Tyrion staving off Stannis will never be properly honored, or written about in the histories, but he will never forget. That’s why I love this show. Tyrion is our champion, but the inevitable unruliness of monarchical rule will demolish anyone who gets in the way. I don’t suspect Tyrion with his new tough-guy scar will be out of commission for long, but to see him weak is to see how hopeless Westeros has become with it’s infusion of wartime desperation and mystical uncertainties.
We also get the tender moment where Shae vows to stand by her man. She begs his newly disfigured self to join her in Pentos where they can truly live. However, he’s convinced he belongs in King’s Landing. Out-talking and out-thinking “bad men” is who he is. Furthermore, he likes it. And he’s afraid she’ll leave. Sweetly, she repeats what she said before battle, “I am yours and you are mine.”
Brienne and Jamie
So not much to report abort this dynamic duo. Oh, wait. Except that she savagely murders three soldiers from her own team! Yeah, they were dicks who strung up Lannister women as trophies, but dude! Jamie’s face is priceless, especially since he had insulted her for being a virgin and even propositioned her so she could “feel what it’s like to be a lady.” I love these two. Jamie is quite the wordsmith, just has that way of talking that he might convince you to do something brash. Like…I don’t know…sleep with your brother? Ouch. Also, I need more of Brienne’s resolve and fighting prowess. Thanks.
After some no-doubt, mind-blowing sex with Talisa, dude is SPRUNG! He pleads with his mother to break his arrangement with Walter Frey to marry his daughter. Catelyn tries to convince him that although he loves her, that isn’t what’s important. Though I understand what she’s saying. Her marriage to Ned was strategic, their love grew over time. It was built, “stone by stone.” But Robb can’t see the forest through the trees. He wants more Talisa nookie. Catelyn insists that if he treats his oaths recklessly his people will do the same. Then in a vindictive and harsh reply, Robb insults his mother saying that his father is dead, and his only parent “has no right to call anyone reckless.” I mean, yeah, he’s right. And I like Robb, but…that’s your momma! So, being the defiant child and general he is, Robb marries Talisa anyway. I found the vows they took are awfully elegant. I love that their promises are made in unison instead of as separate people. They are, after all, a union.
Stannis! Back in Dragonstone, I guess.
Thanks to his men who helped him flee, Stannis looks to be back in his war room. But he’s pissed. He barks at Melisandre, bitter that he believed her when she said she saw his victory in the flames. He compares himself to a savage. Then there’s a scary moment when she claims she didn’t know he would lose that battle, and Stannis is enraged that his men burned for her. He ridicules her faith and lack of war knowledge and grabs her by the throat. He growls, “Show me how you fight…Where is your God now?!” Her answer? Inside you.
He loosens his grip and shamefully whispers about how she had him murder his brother. Melisandre then proselytizes what I mentioned above: the war will last years, many of his men will die, and he will betray all he once held dear. But he’ll win. The anxiety of all of Westeros is spoken by Stannis then. “You promise these things, but you don’t know.” So she shows him. She asks him to look into the fire. And after mocking her initially, he apparently sees…something. His faith is restored and the haunting reflection of the flame dancing in his iris indicates to me another victory for Essos. Its mystical truths are overtaking the will of Westerosi men. It’s unsettling to see a military hero overthrown by a hot fire priestess and a flickering.
Theon has never been my favorite. Like Joffrey, he’s impetuous. He does what he feels, ignoring the counsel of anyone who is trying to protect him. I understand why he feels he belongs nowhere, and the show has showcased that struggle well. But it’s both hilarious and heartrending when Theon yells for the horn-blowing C-word to stop. It’s 500 bannermen led by Roose Bolton’s bastard signaling that they have him surrounded. Robb’s tactics are to break the will of the Iron Men so that they betray Theon and hand him over in exchange for mercy. And they do EXACTLY that. But the way it plays out is pathetic, and darkly humorous. Luwin, genuinely looking out for a boy he helped raise, suggests that Theon run—not back to Pyke, but to The Wall. It’s the most honorable oath he has left. He laments, “You’re not the man you’re pretending to be.” Stubborn as ever though, Theon regrettably decides it’s too late to pretend he is anything else.
Theon suits up, and rallies his men. He churns out an inspiring speech about being the stuff of legend even if they all die in their pursuit (some on the internet have called it his “YOLO speech”). And while his men seem to buy it, his first mate conks him out mid-roar of “What is dead may never die!” the Greyjoy words. They never were behind him, They were trying to save their own necks. Luwin then appears, confounded about what has occurred. The first mate stabs him. These men are so undignified, I’m glad to see them retreat like the meathead cowards they are. They don’t have real courage. They fight when they feel like it. Of course there’s the confusion about whether they escaped and took Theon prisoner or whether they were granted amnesty and handed Theon over to the bannermen. The latter was the plan, but it’s never explicitly stated.
Osha, Bran, Rickon and Hodor come out of hiding to find the city charred—another reason why it’s shaky as to what went down. Why would the bannermen set fire to their general’s hometown? Did the Iron Islanders just do that part for good measure and left undetected? Where the hell is Theon? This thread’s lack of clarity was the only thing that stuck in my craw. And why Luwin couldn’t have laid it out in quick exposition is beyond me. Regardless, the Stark boys find their Maester bleeding out, leaning against the tree in Godswood. The dying man sends them to The Wall where Jon Snow can protect them. Too bad Luwin doesn’t know he’s a bit preoccupied. But gods love ya, Luwin. You were a good soul in a world that refuses to be good. After making Osha vow to protect the boys, she puts him out of his misery. Oh, the humanity!
Jaqen, Arya and the crew
Jaqen is able to find Arya, Gendry…and yes, Hot Pie, and Arya expresses her desire to learn his stealthy ways. He extends an invitation to Braavos, where the man who taught her sword fighting hailed from. He says Syrio’s skills are one thing, but to be a “faceless man,” is quite another. I’m thinking, “Go on…” Arya, always the honorable one, decides she must find her family first. Understanding, Jaqen gives her a coin, one of great value though it can’t buy anything. If she gives that coin to any man in Braavos and utters, “Valar Morghulis,” he will come. Then he proclaims that Jaqen is dead. He turns his head, then looks back. HE HAS A NEW FRICKIN’ FACE! AHHH, THAT’S AWESOME! HOLY SH*T! Ok, sorry. Couldn’t help myself. Anywho, yeah. Arya has a master assassin in her back pocket. Maybe they should just declare her ruler of the realm and be done with it? Or maybe her, Daenerys and Jon Snow form like a triumvirate?
After circling around an orb and disappearing before Jorah’s eyes, Daenerys find herself in a room with many doors. She chooses one and finds a snowy version of King’s Landing. Strangely though, while covered in frost and snow, the hall looks burnt. Is this a premonition of what’s to come? Or is she being tempted? Is the warlock Pyat Pree testing her by creating a dreamscape of her deepest desires, in order to distract her from rescuing her dragon babies? Well, she wanders out of the hall and enters a tent outside. In the tent is the ghost of her dead husband, Khal Drogo, holding the baby they never had. It’s quite beautiful, really. In this dream, or reality, he never dies and they have their child, and they have the life they wanted. Daenerys even wonders if she is dead. Khal speculates that he didn’t pass into The Night Lands; he told The Great Stallion to go f*ck himself so he could wait for her. But in the end, it is too much for him to fathom: “These are questions for wise men with skinny arms.” But still hearing her dragons’ cries, Daenerys tearfully leaves this collective dream with the touching sentiment about her undying love. “Until the sun rises in the west and sets in the east….until the rivers run dry…”
Finally she finds her dragons and Pyat Pree puts her in shackles. His kind’s magic has seen a resurgence with the presence of her and her dragon children. So, in order to harness the magic generated, they will remain imprisoned for as long as they need. Not so fast, warlock. Daenerys mutters, “Dracarus,” and fire shoots from her babies’ mouths. They aren’t just blowing smoke anymore! The pitiful Pyat Pree flails in the floor in terror. Bad. ass.
With her murderous children on her shoulders and Jorah by her side, she steals the key to Xaro’s vault right off his chest. But when she opens his vault, it’s like Al Capone’s. Empty. She locks him up in there, and she pilfers all the jewels and gold she can grab so that they can sail away. The closer she gets to Westeros, the more it seems inevitable she will sit on that throne. I really hope it is some kind of Jon Snow/Daenerys power couple though. Ice and Fire, no?
Beyond the Wall
Oh boy. Big things are happening here, another location that at times seems stagnant, like Qarth. But we’ve picked up steam since we met Ygritte. So, it starts with Jon Snow creating a fuss by provoking Ygritte, and in the commotion, Halfhand grabs a sword. The opportunity they’ve been waiting for has arrived. After a well choreographed fight, Jon eventually bests him, stabbing him convincingly through the heart. but remember, this is all part of the plan. Halfhand was willing to die so that Snow could infiltrate the wildlings, which seemed possible when he saw that Ygrite took a shine to him. So now that he’s earned his keep, it’s time to meet the King Beyond the Wall, Mance Rayder. This guy sounds impressive. Oh goody!
Hold on. There’s more. Samwell and…the other two…are hanging out when they hear three blows of the horn. That means white walkers. And while we saw one in the opening scene of the series this was MUCH more menacing.
Crap, right? And that blue-eyed mo-fo, points his sword ahead as he sits like a zombie regal atop his undead horse and his massive army of snow zombies marches forward. Whoa, we are in for it next season!
In all seriousness, I’m not sure how you can deny this show. Sure, there are many questions left to be answered, and a slew of times where I wondered where they heck we were going. But not a single beat was off in this episode. Even the skeptical plot points got righteous endings. Jon Snow and Daenery’s detours, for me, course-corrected in style with their conclusions. And let’s not forget all the characters that have been meticulously attended to. Tyrion is the still the man, Arya is still the girl who kicks butt, and there’s plenty of backstabbing, seedy alliances and ulterior motives to go around. It’s not the finest drama, but it may be the funnest around. Ten episodes flew by, even amid frustrations. I’d gladly give up many luxuries in the world to watch season three right now. The ominous chills and imposing flames are swirling around us, and while we can tuck ourselves behind a stone for awhile, eventually Game of Thrones will be back to hand down the will of the old gods and the new. It’s a face-off of the might of men versus the forces of magic. Who will look into the cold eyes of the unknown and say enough is enough? Not I. I can’t get enough of this world. Consequences be damned, I wanna play for the love of the game.