Game of Thrones ended its second season much like it ended its first: with a bloodcurdling scream. But while the dragons that brought season 1 to a close were a hopeful sign of rebirth for Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke), season 2’s final scream was much more terrifying. The season ended with Sam cowering in fear as an army of wights advanced toward the Night’s Watch’s camp, led by terrifying Others on horseback, initiating a bloodcurdling war call that can only mean imminent death.
It was a startling reminder that, once again, winter is coming. For the show’s war-torn second season, the words of House Stark have been largely forgotten against the battles and political intrigue of Westeros. It puts the second season in perspective: the War of the Five Kings that we’ve been watching unfold all season is only the precursor to a much greater conflict. All that wildfire might have made us forget about winter, but it’s still coming (speaking of which, let’s hope Pyromancer Hallyene gets back to making some wildfire, since fire is the wights’ weakness).
But as scary as that final scene was, “Valar Morghulis” left us with plenty more to talk about. The episode was, in essence, the complete opposite of last week’s “Blackwater.” Instead of that episode’s tight focus on King’s Landing, the season finale was a checklist of the show’s main characters, bouncing from locale to locale and back again to set up all the pieces for next year’s season 3. Let’s hit the bullet points, shall we?
-Theon Greyjoy finally expressed to Maester Luwin just how alienated he feels as the man without a family, and how he’s really lost himself as a result. Many fans profess to hate Theon, but I’ve never seen much reason for that. He’s pitiful and fatally misguided rather than simply evil, and I sincerely want things to turn out well for him. It doesn’t look like they will, though; the men of the Iron Islands decided to take Robb Stark up on his offer of freedom in exchange for Theon, knocking him out after he gave an admittedly great war speech.
-Of course, after he put Theon down for the count, the despicable Dagmar Cleftjaw decided to spear Maester Luwin in the stomach before burning Winterfell. Kudos to Ralph Ineson, who with such little screen time managed to make us hate Dagmar (though even Dagmar isn’t as much of a dick as Finchy).
-Tyrion received painfully few scenes in the finale, though that’s probably because we were spoiled by his omnipresence in “Blackwater.” Peter Dinklage might have just managed to seal his second Emmy with tonight’s performance, though, which saw Tyrion find out that his sister had been behind the attempt on his life — and also saw him turn down Shae’s offer to flee to Pentos. Tyrion sadly admitted that he thrived on the intrigue and politics of King’s Landing, and he simply couldn’t leave. The sadness in Tyrion’s eyes throughout this scene was more powerful than his massive scar, and that’s saying something.
-Tywin’s horse’s bowel movement seemed like a bit of a mishandled attempt at metaphor, though those who have read the books might have found some neat foreshadowing in that shot.
-Joffrey cast Sansa aside in favor of the much more conniving Margaery Tyrell. I’m happy we get to see Margaery again (she’s like a more competent Cersei), but her presence only makes things worse for Sansa, whose joy was cut short when Littlefinger explained to her that she’s still at Joffrey’s disposal. Littlefinger promises to whisk Sansa away home for her mother, but you can’t help but feel like he’s up to something shifty.
-Varys managed to convince Ros just that. The fact that they’re still trying to make her relevant to the storyline is just a little bit frustrating, but hopefully they’ll find some way to utilize her that doesn’t involve distractingly gratuitous nudity. …Okay, probably not. But we can hope, can’t we?
-But speaking of betrothals, Robb sealed the deal with foreign nurse Talissa. The show’s gone to great pains to warn us how badly this will go for him. Will he reap what he’s sown next season? And speaking of sowing, will their marriage yield an heir to House Stark?
-Arya met with Jaqen H’ghar for one last time, and in what seems to be a trend this season, refused his offer to leave with him. He wants her to go to Braavos, where last season’s Syrio Forel was from, to learn how to become an assassin. He gives her a coin in case she changes her mind, and then changes his face. And now, fans of the TV show can join in with fans of the book in the great theory that Jaqen H’ghar is Syrio Forel. No, we still don’t know. But it’s fun to hope.
-The House of the Undying was kind of a bust, to be honest — the books portrayed it as much less of a hall of wonders and much more of a haunted house. It was nice to see Khal Drogo (Jason Momoa) again, in a surprise appearance, but ultimately the scenes didn’t serve to advance the story very much. What was more fun was Daenerys’s revenge on Xaro Xhoan Daxos, who turned out to be all talk and very little gold. She locked him in his empty safe and instead pillaged his house for enough valuables to buy a small ship.
-And, finally, we get to Jon, who appears to be going on a medieval undercover mission against the wildlings. Jon was forced to kill Quorin Halfhand as part of Quorin himself’s plan to have Jon infiltrate the wilding camp. Of course, to all the other brothers of the Night’s Watch, Jon’s going to look like an oathbreaking defector. And we saw in the very first episode of Game of Thrones what happens to oathbreakers…
All in all, Game of Thrones season 2 ended well, with a cliffhanger just as powerful as the first season’s — if not more so. While a few of the episode’s storylines fell short (almost inevitable, given how many of them there were), “Valar Morghulis” ultimately both capped off an exciting season and managed to lead into what promises to be an even more exciting third season. I can’t wait. A-