Game of Thrones: “Valar Morghulis”
Toned-down finale wraps up some storylines, teases others for next season.
June 6, 2012 9:28 amR. Wesley Matheson
And so we come to the close. A season that began with the needless slaughter of countless innocent children simply for the sadistic delight of the nefarious Game of Thrones showrunners turned into a gripping, if unevenly paced, ten episodes of high fantasy and intense character drama. It demonstrated pitch-perfect tonality and a fine mixture of character development, Westoros mythology, vagina monsters, ideological sparring, vagina monsters, and the completely necessary slaughter of countless innocent children. And vagina monsters.
A majority of "Valar Morghulis" didn't seem much like a season finale (or a poignant season finale, I should say). A primary purpose of this transition episode was to introduce the major characters for the next leg of their journeys though the refined directorial technique of overtly describing that next leg. Littlefinger will whisk away Sansa from King's Landing, while Brienne will escort Jaime back there. Bran and Rickon head to the Wall, Tyrion admits to Shae that he's staying in the castle, and Arya will go in search of her family. In a scene that's entirely too short, Arya also receives a coin from Jaqen and the words "Valar Morghulis" to say if she ever needs her old hitman again. But we do get to see the man switch his face, in true Faceless Men fashion, which is nice.
"Valar Morghulis" - symbolic of Arya's need for vengeance and an omen of more fantastical things to come
Despite its obvious functions, the somewhat calming episode still managed to keep viewers invested in the trials of the characters, which is quite a feat after the explosion that was last week's Battle of Blackwater. The scenes of Joffrey's council, when he takes Margaery Tyrell for a wife over Sansa was particularly affecting, in fact, as it left a bitter aftertaste of fear - a fear for Joffrey's sanity as his megalomania increases and by extension, fear for Sansa's life. The poor damsel in distress will be raped, abused, and perhaps killed should Littlefinger not come to her rescue as he promises.
Another exciting scene, involving two very strong characters, left a sweet, bloody taste in my mouth. We catch up with the traveling duo, Jaime and Brienne, with the latter single handedly killing the shit out of three men (one in a slow, painful sort of way). The banter between the two was great, with noble-to-a-fault Brienne playing the straight man to Jaime's sarcastic, acerbic comedian. The casting decisions paid off well with these two (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as Jaime and Gwendoline Christie as Brienne) and watching the next season with the two knights is going to be fucking awesome ... hopefully. The showrunners usually make up for any flaws in their pace and plotting with good chemistry and fine character development among the major and minor players, and I doubt this will be the exception.
My favorite man and woman duo outside of a porno
The episode did manage to tie up some characters' stories, as best it could, but still kept a certain amount of ambiguity, which certainly heightens the anticipation for next season. The best example is the shit that's going on beyond the Wall. Jon Snow kills Qhorin Halfhand, as part of a plan to get Jon in good with the wildlings, which works. And they're all off to meet Mance Rayder, the legendary wildling king. With such a large ensemble cast, it's always difficult to find the most important characters, find the most important aspects of each character, and find the best information about those characters to distribute. Jon's story this season was one that suffered only a bit, with unevenness in story and bouts of dullness. It almost seemed like a very long transition to get Jon on the side of the wildlings. In the final few episodes, however, it really panned out well, and here I enjoyed our final moments with Jon, when he looks out onto the vast frozen hills and valleys with Ygritte, who tells him they are going to see Mance. It was very much similar to a fantasy epic, where the protagonists look out on the endless landscape, about to embark on their next mysterious journey.
The big cliffhanger, of course, comes in the final shot north of the wall, where Samwell and company are caught in an army of Others, who are making their way toward the Wall, it seems. They are frightening as fuck and sound terrifying, screeching and roaring into the frozen night. This zombie army was probably the best scene on which the episode could have concluded. It created a feeling that shit is about to go down.
A zombie army lumbers toward the Wall, perhaps
One of the better parts of the second half of the season may have been Theon's storyline. And I probably couldn't have asked for a better conclusion to this story about an impulsive, oppressed, naïve boy trying, but failing, to earn his place among men in a time of war. Although his story ends still in a cliffhanger, his final scenes play out with a distinctive black humor, where everything is a joke (that fucking horn-blower!) at the expense of a boy on death row. Even the showrunners seem to treat Theon with irreverence. Theon's inspiring, yet doomed speech - which ends up a mocking inversion of Tyrion's from last week's battle - perhaps summarizes best his unrelentingly dismal story.
In the grayness of the divided and crumbling Winterfell - destruction caused by his own hand - Theon tries one final time to rouse his men to battle 500 Boltons to the Ironmen's 20. It's hopeless. The men pretend to go along, but in the final, fiery line of his speech, Theon is knocked unconscious by his own man. All laugh. Humorous lines are delivered. It's all so darkly comic. And while I sympathize ever so slightly with Theon, the biggest tragedy of this storyline is when Maester Luwin dies. His death leads to a surprisingly touching scene with Bran and Rickon outside of a razed Winterfell (and I say surprisingly touching, because I never really cared about the two boys or the Maester). It really went to the heart of the story of growing up, and was a fine way to usher the two boys forward in their journey, this time to the Wall to find Jon. They are truly on their own - no more Winterfell, no more Maester.
Theon's inspiring speech is about to come to an abrupt and hilarious end
All the shit that's been going on with Dany finally comes to a head in her final scenes, as she finally gets around to visiting the House of the Undying to free her dragons from the pedophile. It seems that the showrunners hadn't really known what to do with Dany for the first half of the season, but in the past few episodes really revved up her time on screen, with only a couple stutter steps here and there. Dany brings a real element of high fantasy lacking in the other storylines this season, excepting maybe brief instances with Stannis and Jon. The other stories are so unyielding in their realism and bleakness of tone it's always a breath of fiery air to visit the mother of dragons.
In the House of the Undying, she is faced with the Iron Throne, her old flame Kahl Drogo, yet she leaves them all to find her dragons. It's a fun and telling few minutes. Symbolically, she gave up her desire for the throne and loved ones for her dragons, her children. Dany escapes by having her dragons breathe fire on the powerful sorcerer, who panics and burns to death. Because as we know a sorcerer's only weakness is a small flame erupting on his left arm. After the ordeal, they finally add a bit more gray area to the dragon queen, as she buries Xaro Xhoan Daxos and a traitorous servant alive, and robs the palace blind. I don't necessarily agree with her, and that's the point of the series, both in the books and on the small screen. You never want to truly love or hate a character. After a bit of stagnation, it was nice to see her come out powerful and slightly cruel.
Tyrion's scenes left a little to be desired. He is no longer hand of the king, even though he probably won the war for the castle. In a moment not as touching as I think the showrunners assumed, we see a now scarred Tyrion speaking with Shae about their future together. The scenes with Tyrion and Shae have been hit and miss this season, with not too much to complain about, but not too much to get involved with either. And knowing the way King's Landing is run, this healthy relationship of despised royalty and an expendable whore does not lend itself to longevity. This was a similar situation. Even when Tyrion lays his heart on the table, you don't feel much. Dinklage may be a good actor, but his crying kind of sucks. It just looks like he ate something sour and decided it was a bad idea. But good job on the rest of the season, Dinklage.
Dinklage's pre-tears-preparation face
In the less loaded threads, we have our main players situating for the next leg of their journeys. Robb marries Lady Talisa, which is going to anger Walder Frey, who, as we've seen, is a pretty brutal bastard. We spend a few minutes with Stannis, who was probably the least complex of the characters this season. So it was nice to spend just a bit of time with him mulling over his fate and past was a nice touch. He is even coping with the fact that he murdered his brother, by briefly mentioning it. These two storylines, it seems, are in the process of exploding next season. I can't wait.
For my inaccurate and unnecessary season grade, I'd probably give it a B+, or what would be an 8.5 on the FYG scale. It was an engaging season with some uneven pacing and unnecessary tangents. But overall, the season maintained its layers of themes and complexity in both story and character. It also had a great mixture of philosophy, action, and touching character moments. I'll be looking forward to next season for all those elements, as well as the brutality, gore, realism, growing mass grave of children, and the many new orifices they find to birth a monster from.
Things I failed to weave into the review:
- "I know because I stood on the battlements and saw I was surrounded"; "And whoever kills that fucking horn blower will stand in bronze on the shores of the Pyke"; "It was a good speech, didn't want to interrupt" - just a few gems from Theon's scenes.
- I can't help but love the scene where horse shit just hits the ground in front of your eyes at King's Landing. Then, you see Tywin stroll forward, as a white knight on his gallant horse. It's almost saying no matter the pretenses these knights put on, no matter what fairy tales you believe, everything's shit.
- "The gods are good" - Joffrey. It's odd how the people in power, the oppressors, find the gods benevolent, while those getting fucked think the gods are "cunts." Wait…that seems about right.
- "I wish someone had told me, I wouldn't have had to steal that pig" - Jaime. Excellent.
- At the end of last week's episode, Stannis was being dragged away by his own men, back to his ships. He wasn't captured by the Lannisters and then somehow escaped. Good to know.
|FIND YOUR GEEK RATING
out of 10