After last week's climactic episode, which remained laser-focused on Kings Landing and the bloody Battle of the Blackwater, "Game of Thrones" resumed its Carmen-Sandiego-style world tour of Westeros for a season finale that left surprisingly few of its characters hanging off cliffs and focused far more on resolution and begrudging acceptance: of failure, of death, of change. There's a lot of ground to cover in this extra-long 65-minute episode, so let's get started.
Those concerned about Tyrion can breathe a sigh of relief as he wakes up relatively unharmed, although he's now Battle Damage Tyrion thanks to a rather nasty scar across his face. Turns out the man who attacked him was Mandon Moore, a member of the Kingsguard sent to kill him at Cersei's behest.
But the greatest blow to Tyrion is not physical, but political: As Master Pycelle informs him quite gleefully, Lord Tywin has taken over his position as the King's Hand, relieved Bronn as commander of the City Watch and sent Tyrion's hill-tribe warriors home -- transforming Tyrion instantly from one of the most important players in the game to a powerless bystander.
CHEAT SHEET: Who's who in 'Game of Thrones' Season 2?
One of his few remaining allies appears to be Varys, who goes out of his way to acknowledge that Tyrion saved Kings Landing from certain destruction, because neither the history books nor Lord Tywin will ever do so.
Cut to Lord Tywin's horse crapping all over the stone floor outside the throne room, a rather unsubtle but apt metaphor for how the Lannister patriarch has always treated his youngest son. Joffrey offers Littlefinger all the lands of Harrenhal as a reward for coordinating the partnership with the Tyrells, and grants an even bigger boon to Ser Loras by breaking off the engagement with Sansa in favor of marrying his sister, Margaery.
Sansa is over the moon about the idea that she might finally get away from that tow-headed psycho, but Littlefinger quickly quashes her tiny moment of sunshine and disabuses her of that notion. Although the betrothal may be over, it's not going to end the beatings, plus he adds that there's all kinds of exciting rape to look forward to now that she's finally "a woman"! Littlefinger promises to help Sansa escape because of his affection for her mother, so here's hoping that bargain works out better here than it did for Ned!
CHEAT SHEET: Who's who in 'Game of Thrones' Season 2?
Brienne and Jaime encounter three dead women hung along the road with a sign that reads: "They lay with lions." The three men who killed them for consorting with Lannisters amble back down the road and go into laughing fits when they see Brienne in armor, a situation she seems sadly accustomed to. Clearly bound as a prisoner, Jaime tries to slide under the radar by pretending to be a pig thief, but one of the men sees through the ruse and recognizes him. Brienne steps in with astonishing speed and eviscerates all three of them with such ferocity that even Jaime seems shocked.
I'll admit to freeze-framing on his hilariously shocked expression several times, as it is priceless. Maybe it's time to cut back on those jokes about her sexuality, eh Kingslayer?
Jaqen appears once more to say farewell to Arya after her escape from Harrenhal, and she takes this opportunity to tell him how impressed she's been with his awesome murdering, and how wants to learn how to do it herself! Jaqen says she'd need to come with him to the faraway city of Braavos, but because she's not ready to give up on finding her family, she declines.
Instead, Jaqen gives Arya a strange silver coin and the words "valar morghulis" as consolation prizes, and tells her that if she ever wants to find him again, she need only give them to any man from Braavos. And then he leaves, but not before he kills one final person: himself. "Jaqen is dead," he tells Arya, before turning his head away and turning it back -- to reveal an entirely different (and slightly less hot) face.
Things looks grim for Theon, whose twenty men holding Winterfell are now surrounded by 500 enemy soldiers with no help from the Iron Islands forthcoming. He seems very much like the old Theon here, and Master Luwin gently counsels him to flee and join the Night's Watch. Theon says it's too late; he's "gone too far go pretend to be anything else," and there's nowhere to go now but through. He gives a very stirring Braveheart sort of speech about dying gloriously and it seems like his men are rallying... until someone bonks him on the back of the head and prepares to deliver him to the enemy outside the walls, presumably per Robb Stark's offer of leniency.
Daenerys arrives at the House of the Undying to reclaim her dragons, and finds herself drawn into strange, tempting visions as she moves from room to room. In one, she walks across the throne room of Kings Landing, empty and dark with snow falling from a ruined ceiling open to the sky. Then she finds herself in a tent where she has an emotional reunion with Khal Drogo and the child they lost. When she finally finds her dragons chained to a table, the warlock appears and explains that the dragons have fueled the revival of magic, and because she makes them stronger, they're going to imprison her with them... forever.
Much like Brienne, her response is swift and lethal, ordering her dragons to shoot fireballs at the warlock, consuming him in flames and dissolving their chains. She returns to the villa of Xaro Xhoan Ducksauce, finds him in bed with her handmaiden, and locks both of them in Xaro's empty vault to die a slow death while her khalasar loots everything he owns. It will be enough, says Mormont, to buy a ship.
Robb Stark, much like his father, is an honorable idiot who can't help but make the wrong decisions for the right reasons, which is why Robb's decided not only to have hot, spontaneous tent sex with Talisa, but to put aside the Frey betrothal and marry her.
Oath-breaking is kind of a big deal here, not just in terms of personal honor but the rather intense political fallout this is going to create, particularly from Lord Walder Frey. But Robb doesn't care because he's in looooove and somehow thinks he's on a show in which love is treated as a formidable power that conquers all, rather than a profound weakness more likely to destroy you.
Speaking of powerful men under the sway of alluring foreign women, Stannis is understandably pretty upset about his massive military failure at Blackwater and the Lord of Light's inability to seal the deal, which he expresses by choking Melisandre rather vigorously and screaming, "Where is your god now?" She maintains that he will still ultimately become king (after betraying everything he once held dear, a qualification that doesn't faze him but probably should?). There stare into a fire together for a while; sadly there are no S'Mores.
Finally, Jon continues his march toward Mance Rayder with the wildlings and ranger Qhorin Halfhand, who had previously urged Jon to become a spy within the wildlings for the Night's Watch. Qhorin contrives a fight with Jon that forces him to kill the ranger, which earns him trust from the wildlings. Moments later, Ygritte brings him to see the armies of wildlings gathered together in a frozen valley below. Their numbers are not small.
Meanwhile, the men of the Night's Watch must face another, even bigger threat as the third horn finally sounds and the White Walkers finally rise up en masse, shambling forwards in the undead hundreds for the final dramatic shot of the season.
That's it for Game of Thrones until 2013! Now that it's all over, what were your favorite moments of Season 2?
Sex and violence tally:
Violence: Brienne kills three Stark soldiers, Jon kills Qhorin Halfhand, Stannis chokes Melisandre, Master Luwin gets stabbed, the warlock burns to death and, though this isn't violence in the traditional sense, Daxos gets buried alive in a vault, which is a pretty messed up way to die.
Nudity: A prostitute strips pointlessly for Varys.
Extra-credit book report:
Tyrion's wound was actually far more disfiguring in the book, with three-quarters of his nose and a chunk of his lip lost. Robb didn't set aside his marriage to the Frey girl for Talisa -- who is not a character in the book -- but rather a high-born girl from a minor family named Jeyne Westerling. Luwin was killed by Bolton's men, not Iron Islanders (or Osha). And Daenerys went to the House of the Undying accompanied by her dragons, and she had very different visions and ultimately burned not the warlock, but the entire building.
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-- Laura Hudson
Photo: Ser Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen) and Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) in "Game of Thrones." Credit: HBO