Game of Thrones – Valar Morghulis
(Apologies if this review seems as if written in tounges. Winter has come and I am high on a head cold / medication combo. You have been warned.)
OK, so I may not have loved this second season of the show but I am very much looking forward to the third after the reveals of that final minute. The problem though is that Thrones is much better at forming these promises than it is at delivering on them; so it may well be that we won’t see anything as awesome as that, or even these exact plots themselves, again until the next season finale. Now, on that note it has become something of a trend that I write these reviews by discussing the title, though I might have to give that approach a miss this week because…well…what I don’t know what the hell this title actually means. So instead I will try and view the abundance of arcs through the prism of another obvious first impression, the fact that this is the shows season finale.
All year I have been saying that this show is so strangely structured that I never had any real idea of what to expect from the coming weeks ep: what the storyline would be, which characters it would feature and to what lengths they would take them. With this being a finale the mystery was multiplied: would it attempt to build up from the battle scenes of last week (a seemingly impossible task to set oneself) and offer an action packed instalment, would it be a traditional HBO show style quiet denouement that warms us down after a daring penultimate episode or follow in the footsteps it itself set in the snow last season and stand predominantly as a prologue for the stories still to come?
There were quite a few eventful moments in this episode, quite a few scenes of action and swordplay and these I think served as perfect exemplars of the shows problems with scale. See, the small skirmishes that we were shown this week – Jon and Brienne’s – were both much more compelling that the massive castle siege of last week because they were clear, cleverly written and based on character. The big battle however – the fall of Winterfell – was astoundingly weak; yes the Theon stuff preceding it was some of his best and the undercutting of his attempt to mimic Tyrion and inspire the troops through honesty was amusing but as soon as that happened the show lost me. Firstly, what the hell actually happened to both Theon and the town itself? Did the Salty soldiers simply sneak out through the tunnels, did they hand over Theon to the sieging forces first, did they set fire to the village as a distraction? And why then when the kids come back do they have to set off on an epic quest for safety, for all of those situations suggest that the enemy troops have left the area and a five hundred strong force of Stark troops stand right outside the walls, all of whom would be more than willing to protect them? Skipping over fight scenes is fine, but not filling us in afterwards on the result is not (and on this note, Stannis is back in his castle how?). It really seems like something important was missed here as it often does whenever the show attempts to depict these larger dramas. If this lack of conclusion was meant as a cliffhanger then it was a confused attempt at one.
There were however as many intimate moments as there was epic ones and the majority of these were spent pondering the consequences of last weeks action but more than tying up loose ends the episode was focused on tying the knot. Something that season finales quite often feature is a death, a birth or a wedding and here it was the latter that we were given; Rob Starks star-crossed romance with…some woman was finally made official, Joffrey upgraded to a new, more flattering model, Tyrion gave a teary declaration of love to both his girl and the game of the title while Arya and Brienne both made promises with their strange male bedfellows. It seems that the show was solidifying relationship status’ for the coming season, so that we would know for sure who will be playing off of who and this I am all for, having some of its focus set in stone early can only be a good thing for this show.
We were though also given some literal glimpses into the future of the series alongside these hints as seers and sorcery both showed us subtle skewered spoilers of stories to come. Winter will come to Westeros, King’s landing will be torn apart, Stannis will be king (though he should surely be in a dungeon or dead, no? Joffrey doesn’t seem the type to forgive someone who declared war on him. So confused.) and Dany and her dragons will be together for many, many seasons (both natural and network I imagine); though are these to be trusted? Many readers must feel as if they can tell the future thanks to their knowledge of the books, but this is apparently a major point of departure – Benioff and Weiss having said that the third season will be a mush more liberal adaptation of the books than those that have come before – and so even their expectations may well be proved wrong. The future of the show is foggy.
So like the season as a whole Valar attempts to do so many different things that it fails to satisfy as any. After last weeks epic event a simple hour would have sufficed here but instead the writers went big and attempted to cram elements of everything in leaving us with one of the least coherent hours yet. And yet it had some stunning individual moments, those beats and images that make you rock back in your seat and say ‘Phwoar!’;these are already amazing but would mean so much more if they were held within a story that was structured to make some sense. As much as I loved getting a look at the White Walkers and wish to see a season based around Westeros battling them in winter, what i really want is the show to scale down and become something much simpler, but this episode sort of scoffs at that idea. I have had faith in the show so far and it has now fooled me twice but I won’t let it take a third; next year I think I am going to just be more willing to accept the show as schlocky and inconsistent, as good but not great and go along for the ride.