Oliver Davis reviews the tenth episode of Game of Thrones Season Two…
Directed by Alan Taylor.
Written by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss.
Last week’s episode is a tough act to follow, almost entirely comprised of swords, blood and battle. HBO presumably let this one run 65 minute to compensate. Seven hells, you could make each week two hours long and it would still refuse to tire. Yet, even then, they’d have no hope of fitting in the books’ attention to detail.
Valar Morghulis is the season finale. The episode name is a common greeting in Braavos, one of the free cities lying across the Narrow Sea. But more on that later…
A few plot lines were tidied up, more were left hanging off the edge of a cliff. The series has been struggling under its cast’s weight for some time now (not Samwell, but that it has the largest amount of characters of any current television show), and this episode might have been the worst for flicking between them all. I can’t imagine how people who haven’t read the books are keeping up.
…saved King’s Landing from Stannis’ (Stephen Dillane) army in the last episode, during the Battle of Blackwater Bay. He didn’t win the battle – that was Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance) and Loras Tyrell’s (Finn Jones) reinforcements – but he took charge when all those around him were loosing their minds. The King turned craven, the Hound fled; it was the Imp who successfully defended the Mud Gate.
He was a hero, an accolade Lord Varys (Conleth Hill) admits in Tyrion’s (Peter Dinklage) new bedchamber, yet all he has to show for it is a nasty scar, cutting his face diagonally in two. Tywin has usurped his son as the new Hand of the King, ignoring Tyrion’s accomplishment. Joffrey (Jack Gleeson), meanwhile, sits smirking on the Iron Throne, as only he can.
I’m going to miss him for the 10 or so months between now and the beginning of season three. Every episode Gleeson somehow makes Joffrey more dislikable. When Loras asked Joffrey to take his sister, Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer, owner of the best cleavage in Westeros), as his new Queen, Joff just sits there, leering. His mouth stays agape after talking, and his eyes look down on you no matter the height. Terrific.
The betrothal is an important one. Peter Baelish (Aidan Gillen) engineered the union between the almighty Houses of Tyrell and Lannister, effectively winning the Battle of Blackwater Bay, and is made Lord of Harrenhal for his efforts. Baelish is a dark, skillful player of the Game of Thrones. Everything he does is with purpose, and becoming a Lord is far more significant than it currently seems.
Varys is most aware of this. He and Baelish have survived three Kings now, having made their roles of Whispers and Coin indispensable. Their relationship is not often touched upon, instead letting it fester in subtlety – their only duologue of any note being a tremendous scene in the Great Hall from season one. To defend himself, Varys makes one of Baelish’s prostitutes, Ros (Esmé Bianco), another whisperer in his ear.
Varys’ whisperers also tell that Tyrion’s facial scar is from a failed attempt on his life, courtesy of the Queen, his sister Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey). That Cersei despises Tyrion is no secret, but kinslaying is a crime the Gods are not fond of. Then again, neither is incest.
The reasons for the failed assassination are deeper than simple sibling animosity…
…appears only in a single scene, though it contains the line that gives the episode its name – ‘Valar Morghulis’. It’s a Braavosian saying that means “All Men Are Mortal” or “All Men Must Die” in High Valyrian. The phrase is traditionally answered with “Valar Dohaeris,” which means “All Men Must Serve.” Here, it is spoken by Jaqen H’ghar (Tom Wlaschiha) to Arya (Maisie Williams) as he leaves…
…yet as he does, his face changes. Magic is becoming more and more prominent in both Westeros and the television show, fed by the dragons’ presence in the world. Jaqen is able to change his face, and speaks of being a Faceless Man – an order of assassins from Braavos. Jaqen does share the mannerisms and accent of Syrio Fossel, Arya’s sword teacher from season one. Perhaps he simply changed his face. Arya wants to do likewise so she can kill all those who’ve wronged her. The Hound, Ser Illyn, King Joffrey, Cersei Lannister…
But first she must lead her friends, Hot Pie (Ben Hawkley) and Gendry (Joe Dempsie), to safety. This is presumably what season three will follow, and their encounter with the Brotherhood on the way. Beric Dondarrion, the Lightning Lord and leader of the Brotherhood, has been announced as part of the next season’s character list, although no name is yet attached to play him.
…still shivers at the Fist of the First Men, Jon Snow (Kit Harrington) having long since departed even further North. Jon is shown embedding himself deeper with the Wildlings, ready to become one of them, as a spy, for season three. Wildling women. That’s where it’s at.
But while Jon warms himself with Ygritte (Rose Leslie), Sam (John Bradley-West) ponders over Gilly, one of Craster’s daughters/wives from where the Night’s Watch rested near the start of the series. He, Grenn (Mark Stanley) and Dolorous Edd (played to perfection by Ben Crompton) banter back and forth while gathering frozen animal faeces to use for fuel back at camp.
It’s the last scene of the last episode, although in the literature, it makes for the third book’s prologue. The snow is thick and white. Winterfell has been burned to cinders. The Starks are scattered across Westeros. Even the Lannisters are beginning to implode. Ned is still dead. Up here, amongst the cold with Sam, Grenn and Edd, feels a long, long way from the litter of newborn direwolves Ned, Robb, Jon and Bran found in Autumn, 20 episodes ago.
The three’s muttering and complaining is interrupted by a long blast of a horn. One blast is for friends. Qorin Halfhand and Jon Snow have returned!
Then another blast sounds. The three men arm themselves. Two blasts are for foes. Wildlings.
A third blast sounds. “RUN!” screams Dolorous Edd, breaking his constant monotone, all the more frightening because of it. Sam trips and hides behind a boulder as the other two escape back to the Fist. Three horns are for Others.
And suddenly we’re reminded why the Wall’s there in the first place, and what the Night’s Watch truly man sentry for. Not the Wildlings – the Others. Before now, they’ve only ever been referenced. The first episode’s magnificent prologue had three men slain by an Other, but it was never seen. The political games of Westeros appear now as only child’s play. The Others bring Winter with them.
Initially, it looks like the Others will be obscured by the snow storm, only partially visible to let the viewer’s imagination do most of the leg work. Remember Lost? They had ‘Others’ too, who were genuinely terrifying… until you saw them up close. Things like this are better left to shadows and quick cutting, not holding on a mid-shot (see ‘spoiler’ photo above).
I say ‘Others’, but you actually only see one of them. The rest are wights, zombies, the dead brought back to life. One of them attacked Lord Commander Mormont in the first season, which Jon Snow had to slay with fire. They’re perfectly fine to show in full visibility, although the silhouettes as they first appeared were far more menacing.
Each zombie has some form of decay on them. An intestine hanging out, an arm half off. The dead horse that the Other rides has a huge gash along its side. That’s cool. That’s scary.
The Other, however, isn’t. Season one also ended on CGI, with the dragons climbing over Daenerys’ (Emilia Clarke) shoulders. A part of the magic is always lost whenever the special effects become obvious, and the CGI here is nowhere near subtle enough. Now season two has finished the same, on a CGI frost wizard.
But season two has still been the best show on television, and the ten month
wight wait will be torturous.
So the Starks’ mantra remains relevant. Winter is coming…
…in April, 2013.