The Halfman Lives! That’s what everybody was fretting since last week’s epic and perceivably fatal climax for Tyrion Lannsiter in the closing moments of Blackwater. Tyrion is alive, horribly scarred from cheek to brow, but alive although he probably wishes he was dead. His sidekick Bronn has been relieved of the City Watch, his somewhat loyal tribesman have all been paid off by papa Lannister to leave King’s Landing, and he’s left in a strange bed to rot after being attacked by a Kingsguard on the orders of his maniacal sister Cersei. Tywin might be the savior of the kingdom but as the horse dung splats on the floor before entering the throne room, nothing is ever as clean and graceful as it seems. Tyrion wonders aloud to Varys, the eunuch, if they’re still friends. Varys has Shae, the funny whore, come into his humble chambers as a sign of “friendship.” I’m not sure what game the Spider (Varys) is playing but there is an angle. Maybe he’s building on the ultimate overthrow of the Lannisters and thinking Tyrion could have some role in his scheme. At the end of the season Tryion has had a mighty fall, from playing Hand of the King in his father’s stead, changing out his sister’s pawns for his own in the police force, and ultimately being responsible for the ingenious tactic (or is it strategy) of using wildfire to attack Stannis’ fleet in Blackwater Bay, now he lies bruised and disfigured with only his wit to stand on.
What Stannis lacks in brains he makes up for in conviction but losing the battle has made him question his faith in this “savage” religion to the Red God. At the beginning of the scene at Dragonstone Melissandre, the red priestess, has her back turned so Stannis cannot see her own doubt in the Plan-a nice direction from veteran GoT director Alan Taylor. Stephen Dillane really commands the screen as confidently as Stannis did his soldiers. Stannis has to deal with his own demons. He nearly chokes out Mel asking her where is her god, before she manages that he lives inside Stannis. Stannis has almost had enough of this charlatan but she implores him to look into the fires, a channel for her visions from the red god R’hollor. She promises victory but only at the expense of his integrity. He must betray family, friends, allegiances. Stannis seems hardly the type of person to risk so much for his right to rule but he was complicit in the murder of his brother Renly, and nothing is as accursed as a kinslayer. Magic or not Melissandre has a way with men. Maybe Stan has a thing for redheads?
I know someone else who has a thing for redheads. Jon is now being tied up and led through the snow north of the wall by a band of wildlings including the fiery Ygritte who now has Jon’s sword Longclaw and Rattleshirt, a nasty clan leader also referred to as the Lord o’ Bones, whose name also informs his outfit and skull facemask. Ygritte doesn’t let up in her teasing Jon to the point of playfully hitting with the broadside of his own sword but Jon is a quick study, ducking out of the way of one of her swipes alarming the rest of the group and perhaps signaling fellow captor Qhorin Halfhand to act on his plan. Qhorin has been subtly hitting at a confrontation between himself and Jon in the latest string of episodes in Jon’s story arch and I’m not sure that Jon fully grasped what the veteran Night’s Watch brother was getting at. If he did he’s a much better actor than I thought. Qhorin seems to be sewing the conflict between the two mentioning his affection for the Wildling girl, Ygritte, and him defecting to the wildlings and spilling the NW (Night’s Watch) plans to Mance Raydar, the King beyond the Wall. However, from this episode I gather that Jon’s fight with Qhorin is mostly fueled by survival and blind rage at having his mother being called a whore which I find problematic for his character development. It’s difficult to believe that Jon would kill a trusted member of the Night’s Watch that he really admired but if that’s where the story is going I’ll play along. Hopefully it’s done in an attempt to give Jon a little depth and show his darkside rather than the result of a rushed or forced wrap-up to his story. Seeing the wildling encampment in the valley was pretty breathtaking and really puts into perspective the threat or perceived threat of wildling invasion south of the wall.
Theon ruminates over digging himself out of his hole in Winterfell with Maester Luwin. The stranded Greyjoy has a measly army to hold the castle and nothing to bargain with the thousands of Northman who are supposedly just outside the gates. I only use “supposedly” because all we really get to experience of that army is that one damn horn sounding off like a car alarm in the background even though Theon said he had seen the army from the Battlements. Luwin gives Theon wise advice urging him to take the black the seemingly only way out for someone whose killed children and betrayed the King in the North by taking his home by force. Theon plays the role he’s created for himself and rallies what few of the Ironborn men he can to charge the men at their gates and ultimately going out in a blaze of glory but before he can swing his sword one of his men knocks him unconscious with a staff and proceeds to tell the men to cover his head and announce they are going home. At least he waited until the speech was finished to clobber him, well at least that was the joke they were making that felt kind of lazy. I would have liked to see a more intricate plot twist for the ultimate demise of Winterfell and book readers will have an idea to what I’m referring too but I almost felt like the writer’s were sort of working with what constraints of time and characters they had and Theon’s storyline resolution suffered from it but I expect next season will explain a few things in a much clearer and more interesting way. Did the northman burn Winterfell to excise the ironborn or was it Dagmar’s idea? I like that not everything was wrapped up so neatly and seeing the ruins smoldering in the background was powerful and saddening as was Luwin’s death which was thankfully saved for off camera because I don’t think I could have handled another Rodrik. It’s going to be hard to move on without the great Donald Sumpter but lots of other great casting additions will be made for the third season to keep me from being depressed.
If there was ever a build up that didn’t quite feel as satisfying as the other shorelines it is best represented in Dany’s Quaithe plotline. Dany almost has a standalone experience in the second season that almost feels like it has no real repercussions on any of the story at hand. Like Jon, Dany can feel marginalized mostly due to her isolation from the rest of Westeros and in a way you have to treat their journeys slightly different from the interlinked relationships and politics of the rest of the story. Watching Dany and feeling she is underserved and isolated is the appropriate affect the showrunners want you to feel as that alienation really underlines her position in this society. If you’re like me you get the impression that her storyline doesn’t really go any where and it’s mostly going in circles but if you step back and look at her arch as a whole it makes perfect sense again mimicking the character development. If the story feels placid and uneventful as the other shorelines in the series it’s because it is. She wants so desperately to find ships–to be received as the rightful queen of the seven kingdoms, but no one is doing anything for her. I think scene by scene it can be frustrating following the Khaleesi and listening to her whine about her rights and what she’ll do when her dragons get bigger but that’s how it would be if you were with her. You’d be annoyed and indifferent to her as the Spicer King was. Things finally start getting interesting when her dragon’s are stolen and held by the ultimate creeper/warlock Pyatt Pree in the House of the Undying, an enigmatic and mystical tower at the edges of the city of Quaithe.
I really liked the simplistic treatment of Dany entering the tower and the practical trick of having her disappear around a corner from Jorah’s sight like a scene in the 80s movie Labrynth. I was slightly expecting more of those type of effects and treatments once inside the House due to budget constraints (hence the handling of Pyatt Pree’s cloner magic) but instead we’re treated to a surreal Holodeck type sequence where Dany wanders in and out of dreamlike versions of her past including a haunting and beautiful scene of a dilapidated and snow covered Throneroom that is open to many interpretations that could be either prophetic or thematic segueing from the gate on the Wall to the a familiar Dothraki tent where she finds her moon and stars Khal Drogo and newborn baby cradled in his arms. The only issue with this reunion is that both don’t exist but that doesn’t stop Dany from being overjoyed with what could be or as the dream-Drogo explains what is if she doesn’t wake up from the dream. Dany has to forsake these things, a chance to sit on the throne, to be a wife and mother again, in pursuit of her dragons–the only thing she really has an actual claim to be is the Mother of Dragons. She steps back into reality to find her three dragons safe but chained to a stone pedestal and before she knows it the warlock Pyat Pree has her in chains. With the birth of the dragons his magic has become stronger and her lucid visions of the past and possible future were direct consequences of her and the dragons’ proximity. Pree believes if he can keep her chained up with the dragons for eternity his power will be stronger than ever. It’s a shame that he didn’t have a spell for a flame retardant cloak because with one word, Dracarys, Dany commands Drogon and the other two dragons to spit fire on the warlock who is consumed in flames in a matter of seconds. The chains disintegrate and they make their escape but not before happening upon the new “king of Quarth” in bed with Dany’s former handmaiden, Dorreah. I wondered where she had gotten off to but isn’t that what Dany implicated for her to do? Maybe they should have worked out the details of which men she was supposed to make happy. The Khaleesi still seems to have a healthy amount of Dothraki followers, weak as they might seem compared to the late Khal. Jorah puts them to good use and has them raid Xaro’s palace and take all the gold and jewels they can find in efforts to sell the items for a ship, a small ship, to leave for Astapoor. Thank god they are leaving this city.
Arya is leaving her temporary home too. Thanks to Jaqen H’ghar she, Gendry, and Hot Pie were able to walk freely out of the gates of Harrenhal. On their way she spots “a man” on the top of a rocky cliff and he invites her to come with him to Braavos. Like Dany she has to choose between something she wants versus something she has to do. They ultimately make the same decision and Arya explains she must find her mother and brother…and sister. Sansa’s not so bad anymore Arya! Jaqen respects her decision and offers her a coin of no monetary worth but with a phrase “Valar Morghulis” says it is worth the help of a secret guild in Braavos called the Faceless Men. In Braavos this secret assassin brigade are stationed inside a temple of the many-faced-god who Jaqen explains all the names on her list can be offered up to. We see the light in her eyes when he offers to teach the young girl but she is determined to reunite with her family. Before Jaqen, the Faceless man goes, he performs a neat little trick in changing his own face, something he says is as easy as taking a new name. I wonder how many of these Faceless men we’ve already been introduced to and just didn’t know it. I’m voting that Hot Pie is actually Ned Stark.
Samwell Tarly can’t change his face but if he could change his emoticon from happy to frightened I’m guessing he would. Sam, Grenn and Dolorous Edd are still digging for something beyond the wall. Gold, firewood, mule poop? Suddenly a wail on the NW horn and they think Jon is back with the Halfhand, but another sounds, Grenn reflexively draws his sword for Wildlings, but a third horn blows. We’ve never heard three blasts…RUN! Edd and Grenn take off running as fast as possible leaving Sam to cower behind a rock. The cold winds are rising, to steal a saying from the show, and its the White Walkers bringing it upon them. But frosted eyebrows aren’t all these strange creatures are bringing, a legion of the undead known as wights are listlessly treading toward Sam through the snow. Hoards and hoards of undead wildlings, foragers, northman, night’s watchmen, and yes even horses form a massive march under the direction of these ancient beings the White Walkers. Through Sam we get the best look we’ve seen of these fairytale demons we’ve only heard about in stories and seen tiny glimpses of through mist and snow throughout the first and second season. I have to say the White Walkers are rather gorgeously grotesque and much more of the vision I had in my head upon reading the books. It’s difficult to tell but I’m guessing they are completely CGI and probably rather expensive to produce but the wrinkled white faces and piercing blue eyes are fittingly creepy. Sam most definitely soiled his small clothes and I believe I did too.
Overall I thought it was another great episode that held its own and resolved stories the best it could and set others into motion but ultimately left me somewhat still wanting something. My reaction to the episode has more to do with its processor Blackwater setting the bar for one hour television so absolutely high than its shortcomings as a finale. I do have to mention Peter Dinklage’s incredible scene with Shae, a character I have been on the fence about and am now starting to pay closer attention to. When Dinklage wells up when she decides she is going to stay with him in King’s Landing my heart breaks. It’s a small thing but his pain and his joy are both present in the scene and the way he winces while holding her is pure gold. Lannister gold. I also enjoyed the small tidbit we got to see of Brienne and Jaimie on their journey back to King’s landing and I’m giddy knowing that it’s just a small presentation of what is to come in the next season. I thought the device of asking them what Jaime’s name was on the count of three was a genius technique for catching them in a lie that I hadn’t seen used in film or television before and the following “two quick deaths” sequence was brutal and spectacular even though I feel they took some liberties with Brienne’s sense of vengeance. Another notable scene that I sort of glossed over above was seeing Jason Momoa as Drogo in the House of the Undying sequence. I’m not one for sentimentality but I have to admit their reunion was quite thrilling and I know it probably made a bunch of fangirls and boys happy. Seeing dream baby Rhaego was pretty cute too. We also see Robb getting married in secret, we presume, to Lady Talisa in the eyes of the seven which is questionable considering Starks pray to the old gods and marry in the godswood, and Talisa is supposedly from Volantis where they worship many gods but that’s nerd-picking. I’m not sure if the choice to push Robb to the forefront of the story was the right way to go but I admit that both actors did a hell of a job and it’ll be interesting shall we say to see what his oath breaking marriage does to old man Frey. As one marriage begins the betrothal of another ends as we learn at court that Margaery Tyrell (Loras’ sister, Renly’s widow) has her “heart” set on marrying King Joffrey. But alas he has made avow to Sansa but once he gets an affirmation from Maester Pycelle that all the religious dudes and gods are totally cool with him dumping the Stark girl he’s all about that High Garden, ahem, maiden. Sansa reacts appropriately sullen for at least three steps walking from court before almost breaking out into song and dance learning she no longer has to marry that prick but Littlefinger has to spoil the party and throw horse dung on her throne room telling her that Joffrey might be married but that doesn’t mean he still won’t want to play with his toys–or to put it bluntly still beat and rape Sansa now that she’s a woman.
I won’t turn this into a full season review or comparison but I will say the second season had two things going for it that season 1 didn’t have: confidence throughout all areas of production (visual effects, writing, acting, directing, cinematography) and a more nuanced and robust score by Ramin Djwani. You have to buy the soundtrack for season 2. I’ve been listening to the Winterfell theme on repeat for days. Hopefully the soundtrack and repeat viewings will get me through the next 10 months. All men must wait.