What kind of a year has it been in Westeros? Last week’s Battle of Blackwater was the obvious climax for the season, and in some ways “Valar Morghulis” performs an advanced version of the pawn-arranging shenanigans seen throughout this season, the difference being that the board is almost unrecognisable compared to how it began. We’re back on our horse to trot around the world of Game of Thrones, so let’s get to it.
The episode’s title translates as ‘All men must die’, and is the password Jaqen H’ghar gives to Arya should she ever wish to join the Faceless Men (and Women, I guess) and learn the super-creepy shapshifting majjyx that makes it so easy for Jaqen to kill. Their brief exchange illustrates how much Arya has changed this year: given the offer to go with him to Braavos and complete the training begun by Syrio Forel (neva 4get), she reiterates that running away isn’t an option, even if one day – one bloody glorious day – she may find use for assassin schoolin’. For now her responsibilities are to find Robb, Cat, and even Sansa. Looking forward to that little scooby gang, by the way. More Gendry chat would be bloody delightful.
Jaqen’s offer of escape is echoed several times throughout the episode, and the conclusion seems pretty clear: you stay and face the consequences of your decisions, regardless of what that means for your personal safety. In the most crushing and, as usual, most hhhhhhamazing thread, Shae asks Tyrion – bedridden, near-friendless, terrorised by a not-even-pretending Pycelle, his heroism wilfully forgotten – to get on a boat to Pentos and live a normal life, whatever that would mean for a horrifically scarred dwarf in a world that, as Tyrion has observed, hates broken things. Shae proves once again that she sees right through him with the episode’s best line: “ooh, I’m a poor little rich man and nobody loves me so I make jokes all the time and pay them to laugh.” Of course, retreat isn’t a real option, Tyrion is bound to the ‘bad people’ in King’s Landing despite their attempts to kill him. It’s what he is, what he’s good at, and he likes it more than anything. Whatever happens though, Shae will be there, being a badass. Tyrion has quite rightly been the star of the show this year, and it’s the sheer bloody range of what his character experiences that sets him apart. He’s easy to root for, and open with his failings. A+.
Compare with poor old Theon Greyjoy, who is backed into a corner by several conflicting and irreconcilable pressures from families old and new. Somehow Maester Luwin sees something salvageable in Theon, and urges him to run to the Wall and the Night’s Watch. “I’ve known you many years, Theon Greyjoy, you’re not the man you’re pretending to be, not yet.” “You may be right, but I’ve gone too far to pretend to be anything else.” Theon marches out in front of the gathered Ironborn and gives a speech much like Tyrion’s last week, with one vital difference: he doesn’t know his audience. The Ironborn are not knights, have no interest in glory, and know that delivering Theon will earn them their freedom to plunder another day. He gets a spear-butt to the back of the head from Dagmer Cleftjaw. Just a quick note in praise of Alfie Allen: a less competent performance could have made Theon an intolerable nitwit. Allen makes his scenes some of the most enthralling in the season. His upcoming powwow with Robb could be legendary.
Once more, the show shits all over Sansa Stark, as Joffrey, Cersei, Margaery and Littlefinger perform the merry dance of Better Luck Next Time as Joffrey takes a new queen, Baelish takes Harrenhaal and then tries to persuade Sansa that her only option is to travel north with him, throwing a couple of skin-squicking ‘you remind me of your mother at your age’ lines for good measure. Unlike some of the other major players, Sansa has had no opportunity to control her fate, and kinda reminds me of Octavia from Rome, but with 100% more yikes. Her arc has been slightly confusing: last week she finally showed signs of growing up and taking charge of her life, but this week slammed her right back into place. Frakkin Baelish. Nevertheless, his offer of escape is a false one – Winterfell is home to exactly zero living Starks – but one that she may be forced to take.
Finally, Daenerys faces the most obvious test of nerve in entering Pyat Pree’s House of the Undying™ in search of her dragons. She walks through a number of pretty damn cool Is This The Future Or Just A Blue Lipped Dude Messing With You scenes, including the King’s Landing Throne Room destroyed (presumably by DRAGON FIRE) and covered in snow, and a tiny hut, within which a highly-convincing simulacrum of Khal Drogo and their noticeably Caucasian baby stallion. He has some cracking lines: “maybe I refused to enter the Night Lands without you. Maybe I told the Great Stallion to fuck himself and came back here.” D’aw. But Daenerys reminds herself that it just ain’t real and returns to find the dragonbabies chained on a pedestal which is obviously a trap. Oh no! It is a trap! Pree turns up and explains explicitly that their magic is tied to the dragons and the dragons tied to Daenerys. Unfortunately he/they didn’t consider that this also gave them back their fire-breathing perks. Crispy crispy. Moreover, she takes her revenge on Xaro Xoan Daxos and Doreah (wasn’t she just doing her job? Or was it because she stayed after his betrayal?) by locking them in Xaro’s vault. Grim. But another sign of Daenerys becoming the everloving badass she needs to be to take the Iron Throne. Her last scene sees her taking enough plunder to buy a ship to Season Three.
The very last scene is of an army of White Walkers and I guess the King of the White Walkers heading south towards the Wall. I was genuinely slack-jawed at this. Yey!
- Brienne is still the fucking BOSS. Her routine with Jaime Lannister, Pig Thief was hilares, and she showed a vicious side that is both believable and totally in keeping with her admirable moral compass. Great work.
- Stannis is a true believer in the Lord of Light now, having kept a save game back at Dragonstone which is presumably how he got out of King’s Landing. I am struggling to care now that Davos apparently isn’t about.
- Jon Snow is going to meet Mance Rayder, at last! This, combined with the arrival of the snowzoms makes life north of the Wall a hundred times cooler, and kudos for keeping Samwell around. He’s still great.
- Robb is an idiot, but kind of adorbs so okay. He’s another member of the Bound by Destiny crew above, but was only on screen for like thirty seconds while he got handfasted on the winter solstice or some shit.
- Who burned down Winterfell? Roose Bolton’s heretofore nameless bastard? Seems like a lot of destruction for twenty dudes toddling home.
- Varys and Ros: dear god let this happen. Ros has had a real shitter of a season and it’d be great to make her more than just the show’s punching bag. Also I hope this isn’t the end of the Varys/Tyrion show, slightly encouraged by Varys’ “we will remember.” Who ‘we’?
So really the series ended last week and this was just preamble to next year’s outing, but by golly that was a great season. There are still a buttload of kings in Westeros, and in a lot of ways not a lot has changed, but if there’s one thing Game of Thrones teaches us, it’s that how you get there is just as important as where you go.