Valar Morghulis: Where the Finale Fell Short

By Charlie Harwood on Jun 14, 2012 to Game of Thrones

Let me start off by saying that it’s really hard for me to criticize a show that I have had such a strong emotional attachment to. Game of Thrones has provided me with endless enjoyment throughout the first two seasons, and I can’t help but be in awe at the amazing work that the creators have done adapting this story to television. While I love just about everything HBO has done with the show, I can’t help but feel a certain amount of displeasure at the way Season Two handled certain character storylines. I’ve stated several times on this site that going into “Valar Morghulis” there were a lot of loose ends to tie up in a short amount of time. It gave me a very unsettling feeling as I could just sense that some plots would be wrapped up in a very uninspiring way. It’s not that I thought the writer’s were incapable of pulling it off; in fact, the opposite is true. Over the first two seasons, I’ve thought that Game of Thrones has had one of the best production teams on television. However, even the extra ten minutes added onto the finale wasn’t enough time to finish everything properly. Needless to say, I’d be lying if I told you that “Valar Morghulis” met all of my expectations.

The problem I have with the finale it that is felt too rushed. As you already know, the amount of time setting the stage for different events has been fairly substantial this season. Also, the deviated storylines have managed to become a direct cause to what was lacking in the final episode. Honestly, I haven’t even minded the deviations this season; in fact, I’ve welcomed a majority of them. I understand that the show is an adaptation and it’s impossible to include everything. No television show can possibly incorporate the vastness of A Song of Ice and Fire. I know that, and accepted it. Given the limitations, the writers still found interesting ways to cut corners while developing an excellent script. Sure, some of my favorite scenes from the novels didn’t make it into Season Two, but that’s not my issue. I know the showrunners are thinking about a long-term series and most of the material that was cut is being saved for the future episodes. That’s fine, no big deal. The big problem I have, and where I get EXTREMELY frustrated, is when a character’s storyline is changed to save time but not developed fully. Book deviations set aside, some plots ended in such a lackluster fashion that it just made for bad television.

Note: In no way is this article meant to bash the creators/writers for Game of Thrones. I respect what they do immensely and completely understand how hard it is to adapt a show of this scale. However, everyone is entitled to their opinion and this one is mine. I won’t get into spoilers here, but if you really want to know about key differences from the novels, read the Book Spoilers section from’s review.

If you’re familiar with my articles, then you know that I’m a big Arya fan. That being said, I was quite disappointed with the way her story wrapped up in Season Two. When looking back, it’s hard for me to figure out exactly where the climax even occurred. It certainly wasn’t escaping Harrenhal, as it should have been, because HBO’s version was tragically uneventful. Now, I don’t want to get into a long piece about book deviations, but it goes without saying that George R.R. Martin’s source material was much more dramatic. In A Clash of Kings, Arya is 100% badass. What she endures at Harrenhal constantly tests her resilience, determination, and skill; while each new chapter brings challenges that she must to overcome in order to survive. To HBO’s credit, these virtues were still captured to an extent through the added scenes with Tywin and the deaths offered by Jaqen H’ghar. However, as the season progressed and suspense continued to build, there was a feeling that something big was going to happen to Arya. But nothing ever did. The suspense from the intense dialogue and epic assassinations should have ultimately peaked during her escape. After all, Harrenhal was the place that served as Arya’s own personal hell for most of Season Two. Instead, we were given an ending that, in a way, ruined all the memorable moments from Harren’s Castle.

Arya’s scene in “Valar Morghulis” really served no other purpose than to allow the writers an opportunity to include the final exchange with Jaqen. In that case, why not stage it outside the gates of Harrenhal in Episode 8? Having her escape the castle, and leaving the audience wondering where she has gone, would have been a more appropriate climactic ending. All the final scene did was waste time in the finale, which seems to be a precious commodity to showrunners. While the face-changing was incredibly cool, it was more a climax for Jaqen and doesn’t really do much for Arya’s story arc. But, this didn’t have to be the case. When she turns down Jaqen’s offer to train with him on Braavos, the home of Syrio, she essentially said no to her dreams. The little girl in Season One wouldn’t have thought twice about leaving for Braavos, but Arya has shown that she fights for something more than herself, and ends up deciding to stay to search for her family instead. This decision is a dangerous one though. Arya has no plan, no protection, no sense of where her family might be, and no needle. It can serve as a deadly decision to say the least, and, while I believe she can certainly handle it, the writers should have done more to show the audience that Arya is truly ready to take on the immense challenges she is going to face in the future.

Even before arriving at Harrenhal, she has experienced numerous acts of violence and witnessed countless horrors. The show’s adaptation has proven that she isn’t the little girl from Winterfell anymore. She’s become smart, cunning, and incredibly brave. Her experiences with Tywin and the knowledge learned from Jaqen have been building up suspense to the point that the audience is ready for Arya to start getting her hands dirty. As writer Bryan Cogman explained in a recent interview, Arya’s story has been slowed down to an extent in order to save events for future episodes because of the probablility of a long series run. Honestly, that’s fine with me. But give us something here. The second episode shows Arya yelling at Yoren that she’s not afraid to fight. The finale should have proven this statement.

Additionally, the Winterfell scenes gave me a lot of mixed emotions as Theon Greyjoy has been one of the great stories this season. The tragic circumstances that have befallen this character were truly exemplified in “Valar Morghulis” through the monologue with Maester Luwin. Not only is this scene incredibly moving, but it also serves as the turning point for Theon’s epic internal struggle. He is given the option joining the Night’s Watch and a chance to redeem himself for the terrible acts that he has committed. But Theon declines this offer as he feels the only chance to save his name is to fight, even if that means his own death. By choosing this path, he finally becomes a man worth respecting. In a scene that reminded me of Tyrion’s rally of the troops in Blackwater, Theon’s speech was a true breakthrough for the deeply troubled Greyjoy.

Unfortunately, another disappointment comes at the hands of Dagmer Cleftjaw, who hits Theon over the head at the climax of his intense battle cry. I suppose it’s what is to be expected though. Theon hasn’t been able to earn the respect of anyone this season, and his men surely weren’t about to die for him. However, why did his fall from grace have to feel like the writer’s took the easy road out? Sure, it was a comedic moment. I’m sure several viewers loved the fact that he was betrayed by his own men and subsequently dragged off to an unknown fate. But to me, it felt like a much too simple ending for an extremely complex character. While I agree with the ending result, Theon’s ultimate fall from grace, I keep thinking that the story deserved better than what was shown. I know that production was limited on time and money, but it wouldn’t have been that difficult to make this scene a little more enjoyable. As with Arya’s story, I don’t want much, I just wish there was something more.

Equally disappointing to me was the whole “Bran killing”, which I don’t think convinced anyone. I mean, there were four of them that escaped Winterfell, yet only two bodies hung over the gates of Winterfell with no mention of what happened to Osha and Hodor. While I don’t think many viewers were convinced either, we still shouldn’t have seen that they were actually alive until the finale. If we were led to believe that Luwin thought they were dead, it would have made the final scene much more emotional. Additionally, a lot of non-book readers were really confused about what happened to Winterfell. The novels let the viewers know exactly how it happened, but the writing didn’t deliver the material in a way that new viewers can pick up on. Maester Luwin did say that the people who did it might come back, so that probably counts out the Ironborn; but then, why would Bolton’s bastard burn it down? It’s a hard line to pick up on and I’ve read a lot of comments from viewers who wanted more clarification. Personally, I thought Maester Luwin should have explained who burned it to the ground, considering he was still alive at the time. There was a lot of confusion as to what happened, and considering Winterfell is such an important location to the overall plot, a better explanation was definitely needed.

Finally, we come to one of the most talked about failed character developments in the season finale which involves Jon Snow’s duel with Qhorin Halfhand. While these scenes had the potential to be some of the best in Season Two, they simply weren’t believable enough. Overall, Jon had a stunningly short story arc this season. As a result, there were only two short scenes that explained Qhorin’s plan before the finale. In the end, it looked as though Jon killed him out of self-defense and a bit of rage. In actuality, Qhorin sacrificed himself for the greater good of the Night’s Watch, dying so that Jon could go on to infiltrate Mance Rayder’s camp under the ruse of a traitor. Martin explained this explicitly in A Clash of Kings, but somehow HBO’s version managed to leave a lot of people guessing; and I’m sure it wasn’t intended that way. A big obstacle while adapting a book to the screen is that viewers miss out on all the little details. Unfortunately in this case, it was a pretty big detail.

The relationship between the Night’s Watch and Wildings isn’t the best to say the least. So, why would Rattleshirt and his gang be so quick to trust Jon? When they first met, Rattleshirt wanted him gutted. Now, he trusts the Black Brother enough to cut the ties of his wrists. For me, the problem lies in Jon’s inherent nature. Throughout the series he’s been depicted over and over as an extremely solemn and emotionally fragile character. No matter what he does or who he kills, it’s hard for me to think that anyone would believe that he has all of sudden turned cloak. Qhorin sputtering “We are the watchers on the Wall” to remind Jon of his oath right before his death didn’t help much. I mean, don’t you think Rattleshirt would have heard that? He was standing right there.

Even though there were certain aspects that ended in my personal displeasure, there was a lot that I loved about the finale, and the whole season for that matter. It goes without saying that this series still has enormous potential as long as they stick to GRRM’s proven source material. The shows has produced record numbers and Game of Thrones is definetely here to stay. However, looking back, some scenes could have been left out to allow additional time for more important storylines – those sexually explicit brothel scenes that caused such a stir come to mind. I truly felt like the finale was almost as good as Blackwater, but these few issues kind of ruined it for me. Half of the finale felt like an actual conclusion to the season, while the other half felt like it should have been saved for the Season Three premiere. Or, in the case of Arya’s story, wrapped up in Episode 8. Hopefully, splitting the third book into two seasons will remedy the situation by giving the writers more time to develop subplots thoroughly; but we’ll have to wait and see.

I’m interested to hear fan thoughts about this, especially non-book readers. Since I know what happens in the novels, it’s hard for me to get a sense of how new viewers are feeling about the finale. Do you agree/disagree with my opinion? What left you particularly confused or frustrated? Help add to the content of this article by leaving a comment below.

  • Jordan

    Why didn’t Sansa go with the hound when he gave her an opportunity out. I also would really like to know what happened at Winterfell, it made no sense.

  • George21

    Hello my friend!
    Very good article as i just watced the finale and I had one or two questions.. I am a non-book reader.
    Can you plese explain me what happend to Winterfell? But as I have a feeling that it will include some spoilers, can tou exclude them” Thanks in advance!
    Greetings from beautiful Greece!

    • Charlie

      It was burned down by Ramsay Snow’s army. After the Ironmen left, Ramsay ravaged the city and burned down Winterfell. That’s why Luwin said that they “might come back”. You’ll find out why they did it next season.

  • Kaybee

    I was confused why Hound and Bronn suddenly had issues with each other and then after seeing the fire in the battle, Hound turned soft. And after his recent rambling on about how men loved killing more than anything else in the world. I think the emotional character development there was rushed and confusing. We don’t know much about Hound and especially Bronn. Hound doesn’t REALLY like the king, why does he care about Bronn, who is helping Tywin? Maybe I missed something somewhere earlier in the show that helped this all make sense. Hound and Bronn both are heroes and really interesting, mysterious characters. I wish they were explained a little more. Granted, I’m ready for a lot more Khaleesi time in the show!

    • Charlie

      Hound’s ultimate weakness is fire. It stems from his older brother, The Mountain, holding his head in a fireplace when they were kids. Ever since then, the Hound has been terrified of flames. This was explained in season one. You’ll get to know more about the Hound next season.

      The scenes between him and Bronn were’t in the novels. Showrunners added them to show a similarity between two seemingly different characters. The fact that they ended up sitting down to have a drink together, they essentially acknowledge that they are both on the same side of the fight, but also two very similar people.

    • Yeah, unfortunately there is limited amount of time and they already have to cover the main (ten?) characters. Cool though they may be, Bronn and The Hound have to take a back seat for the most part (as they did in the novels). Especially if you want, as you put it “a lot more Khaleesi time!” Can’t have it all! :)

  • Chrizine

    I really wonder what happened in Winterfell… I didn’t read the books and was like “WTF? What happened here, why is nobody there? Shouldn’t there be all these fighters? Why would anyone burn Winterfell down?” – I don’t want to go around reading a lot of background stuff, because I’m afraid of spoilers and don’t have the time to really read the books, but this issue really bugs me and it is incredibly long to wait for answers in the next season…
    Apart from that, I liked the finale quite a lot, and as for Jon Snow, I understood the scene as a self-sacrifice. Not that bad, actually. It was clear because of the little talk about infiltrating the wildlings and because of the way he insulted Jon. It felt like he wanted to provoke Jon to kill him, who understood this sign.

    • Charlie

      If you really want to know what happened, send me your questions at I’ll clue you in without adding spoilers.

  • Lance Boyd

    As with most of us I felt the finale ledt me with many questions and yes wanting more, I wish they would make 2 hour episodes easpically the season finale. This is one of the finest series that has been produced and next season can’t come to soon.

    • Charlie

      Haha. Two hour episodes probably aren’t possible. But, pushing the season finale to an hour and a half may be reasonable.

      The issue really isn’t the lack of time though. The problems I present in this article could have easily been fixed through a better developed script. The way Season Two dragged on week after week without going anywhere was the cause for any time issues the writers faced. It just seemed like they painted themselves into a corner with all the book deviations and needed a easy wat out.

  • S.O

    I definitely agree but the Theon scene was set up a couple episodes earlier when Robb offered Amnesty to all the Ironborn except Theon. In someways its similair to how Theon falls in the book, except the betrayal is different. I was fine with not showing the fall of Winterfell, but the writing was a bit dodgy because yes you’d expect Luwin to say something.

    Yes Jon and Qhorin was handled immensely poorly I agree.

    I was ok with Arya’s finale but I am cruious how she’s supposed to get Needle back now, so that would’ve been a place to finish it.

    • Charlie

      Thanks for the comment! Yea, I agree that Jon and Qhorin were handled the worst of all. Didn’t touch on it much because there are numerous other opinions out there that all say the same thing. I think everyone already knows how bad it was.

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