Game of Thrones Season 2, Episode 10: Valar Morghulis
As we end the second season of Game of Thrones, I must say that I’m a bit worried for next year. These last two episodes of the year didn’t do many of the stories of A Clash of Kings justice, and I’m worried about what will happen next year when the world only gets bigger. On the other hand, I don’t want these reviews to just turn into a series of complains about why the books are better. Clearly, changes have to be made, and things will be different. If only the changes this year didn’t annoy me so much…
Let’s start with some of Valar Morghulis’ best aspects. The opening scene of Tyrion awaking to see Grand Maester Pycelle and learning that he is no longer Hand further demonstrated why the “power is power” idea matters in Westeros. Throughout the season, Tyrion has been making enemies in an effort to make the realm better. Granted, his idea of “better” still involves Joffrey on the throne, but Tyrion knows that no other king would accept him as an advisor, and family still has some meaning to him. But Tyrion does have a sense of justice and honor (however warped), and in his quest to weed out corruption in King’s Landing, or at least ensure that he controls the corruption, he alienated many powerful figures while his efforts went mostly unrecognized by the smallfolk. He was able to do what he did, such as intimidating and nearly banishing Pycelle, because he was using borrowed power. Now that Tywin is back in the city, he is Hand again, and Tyrion is no one. His power is gone, and despite the fact that he knows many dirty little secrets, no one is afraid of him anymore. On the flipside, when Joffrey bestows Harrenhal upon Littlefinger as a reward for brokering the alliance with the Tyrells, Littlefinger couldn’t be more gracious. When Tyrion offered him Harrenhal, Littlefinger scoffed at being given a cursed castle, but when the king presents you with a gift, you accept it graciously. Especially when that king is Joffrey. Furthermore, Loras asks Joffrey to accept Margaery as his new betrothed. Joff tells him that he is promised to Sansa, but Cersei and Pycelle make a speech about how the gods would understand breaking his oath to Ned Stark, an oathbreaker, and Joffrey happily dumps Sansa. Joffrey, Cersei, and Pycelle need only say some empty words, and their will is done. Power is powerful.
Elsewhere, Brienne and Jaime continue their trek to King’s Landing, and Brienne displays her physical power. She also shows that she operates by her own kind of honor, which causes the sarcastic and perpetually-annoyed-by-his-current-situation Jaime to finally have a little respect for his captor. When the pair come across three women hanged for sleeping with Lannisters, Brienne is disgusted, even though she is supposedly serving the Starks. She makes a point of saying that she serves Catelyn and no one else, but to Jaime, it’s a distinction without a difference. That is until they meet the soldiers who did the hanging. They do serve the Starks and they sneer that they raped one of the women before killing her (stating that they gave only two quick deaths). When they try to kill Brienne for escorting the Kingslayer, she makes quick work of them. She kills two, then tells the third that there will only be two quick deaths. Acting unfairly to people will only make Brienne treat you worse when you are at her mercy.
Finally, Theon’s scenes were well done, showing that even in defeat, he is as stubborn as ever. He sees fighting to the last man as the only option in order to maintain the image he has tried to create for himself. Every other option – surrender, retreat, taking the black – would only undermine the façade. Never mind that surrender would still lead to his death, retreat would make cement his legacy as a coward among the Ironmen (assuming it worked), and taking the black would most likely result in Jon Snow cutting his throat. The speech he gives to rally his men for a suicidal final mission is actually pretty rousing (if very depressing) and it looks like his men have finally developed respect for the kid. Then Dagmer knocks him out and Theon’s misguided ideas of leadership are further underscored. The Ironmen are proud and bloodthirsty, but not stupid. There’s no point in conquering if you can’t live to enjoy the spoils.
So what didn’t work? Stannis’ scene with Melisandre had some good elements, such as his despair over losing his loyal men. But he spent too much of the scene whining about his doubts. Stannis is a man who believes so deeply and blindly in the righteousness of the law that he would lead a fight that could only end in a pyrrhic victory in order to claim a throne he doesn’t even want. His sadness over Renly, who openly opposed the law of succession, seems out of place. Jaqen’s big scene was also extremely anti-climactic. I don’t know how expensive such an effect would be, but we don’t see the actual transformation of his face. He looks away from the screen then looks back with a different, but extremely similar face. This complaint really can’t be separated from a “the book did it better” quibble because of how different his new face was from his old face in the book. But I feel that we needed to see a drastic change to fully experience the depth of the power of the Faceless Men. I almost think that some people wouldn’t even notice that Jaqen’s face changed due to how similar the two looked.
And then there was Dany. Her trip through the House of the Undying was very underwhelming, with her visions of what is happening in Westeros, and her visions of what was, replaced by trips to various existing sets, including an appearance by Drogo and her son to remind us that she loved him and was in some ways coming around to the ways of the Dothraki. When she escapes, she embraces that part of her and cruelly dispatches with Xaro Xoan Daxos then loots his palace, making her khalesar very happy after being forced to play by the rules of polite society all season. I’m really not liking where the show is going with this characterization of her.
Finally, north of the Wall, the season wastes the potential to end on a truly incredible note when Sam, Grenn, and Pyp hear the horn blow three times, signaling the advent of the White Walkers. The other two flee while Sam trips and gets left behind. He sees a small army of Walkers and their wights move toward the Night’s Watch’s camp, but instead of ending with him using one of the obsidian weapons to kill a Walker, he just stays behind rock (where he is seen by a Walker who couldn’t care less about him) and shakes in terror. The scene was good overall (although some of the CGI looked a little silly), but I couldn’t help but think that it was incomplete.
I’m not quite sure what else to say. Many of my dislikes about this episode (and season) are based in the book, and to say any more about the changes would be to defeat the purpose of watching the show. The main problem is the fact that there are only 10 episodes. The show tries to do so much, but can’t fully develop characters, or doesn’t have time to fully explore characters’ choices. The show clearly liked working with Tyrion the most, and his scenes are the strongest for it. But Jon and Dany are barely tolerable anymore, while scenes like Sam’s felt unfinished.
· I know that Mance Rayder was mentioned a lot and didn’t show up, but he didn’t show up until the third book. Meanwhile, Ramsay Snow got mentioned at least twice, and he didn’t show up at all, despite playing a very prominent role in this story. We didn’t even see how Winterfell got torched, which was something he was responsible for in the book.
· When the episode began, I thought I was watching LOST, what with it staring with a shot of an eye opening.
· A Storm of Swords is my favorite book in the A Song of Ice and Fire series. Here’s hoping the show remembers how to be awesome again next year.