Game of Thrones season 2 episode 10 review: Valar Morghulis

Review Ron Hogan 4 Jun 2012 - 07:08

The Game of Thrones season 2 finale is sadly upon us, and Ron's already counting the days until season 3...

This review contains spoilers.

2.10 Valar Morghulis

After last week's episode of Game of Thrones - focused on one event for the entire episode, well paced, well written, and very well acted - it's only natural to feel a slight let-down when the next, and final, episode of the season airs. In this case, it's not that the episode itself is a disappointment, it's that there won't be an episode next week. The Game of Thrones crew has transformed their programme into appointment television, and I'm going to miss my time in Westeros and the world of George R. R. Martin.

The big thing is to exit on a high note, and the show definitely ends on a cliffhanger big enough to bring people back next year. Last year's finale shot of a blackened, naked Danerys holding her three baby dragons was pretty epic, but this episode had three impressive closing shots back-to-back-to-back to cement our major story lines: Dany in Qarth, Robb's romance, Tyrion and Shae, and the men of the Night's Watch north of the wall.

For example, Dany learns a valuable lesson while searching for her dragons in the lair of the undying warlock clan of Qarth. She misses her Khal (nice to see Jason Momoa back for a few scenes), she wants her Iron Throne, but more than anything, she wants her dragons. Y'know, just in case you didn't get that since she spent most of the season obsessing over her status as the mother of dragons and how the dragons were going to win her Westeros and all that business. Turns out, the uptick in magic in the world (Pyat Pree's tricks, Melisandre's shadow vagina assassin) are the result of Dany's dragons.

Or, more likely, they're what happens when Winter is Coming and the White Walkers return from their hidey-holes and secret caves north of the wall.

Speaking of North of the Wall, Jon Snow is still marching to meet the King North Of The Wall Mance Rayder. The Northmen, as a group, are growing on me. Osha has become a great character, and Ygritte's interactions with Jon Snow have made Snow and the Night's Watch story lines more interesting by far. She's going to be good for that character, and I look forward to the spear woman picking up her weapon and defending her little Lords in the future (and you know she'll have to if Brienne can't even walk Jaime Lannister a few feet away from the river to cut down some dead hookers).

I've read some complaints about how the show paces its storylines doling them out in bits and bites per week, and that style of storytelling returns this week. After the focus of last week, it's a nice return to what's comfortable and traditional for the show. I like getting little updates every week of the storylines we're not actively following as the centerpiece of the episode, because I think it keeps the show fresh. When there are a few weeks of not hearing from (for example) Dany, she's easily forgettable; with a check-in now and again, we're reminded of her current situation (which, admittedly, had a good payoff this week after being the show's weakest point).

The show seems comfortable with what it has become. The transitions between scenes, locations, and even worlds in this week's episode are confidently handled, and that confidence seems reflected in how D.B. Weiss and David Benioff write, how Alan Taylor directs, and how the actors perform. Even without a lead character per se, the show has somehow improved by leaning on its impressive ensemble cast. Just watch how Peter Dinklage and Sibel Kekilli interact this week and tell me that it's not one of the best shows on television right now, or ever.

I'm aware that it's very early to be crowning the show, but it's THAT good. There's a marked difference in quality and execution between Thrones and, say, The Walking Dead that simply emphasizes the differences between the show. Both are trying to do similar, epic things with their storytelling and both wrestle with a massive cast of characters, but Game of Thrones handles its long-standing plot threads just a little bit better, breaks the cast up so they're not as cumbersome, and generally behaves like a show that knows it will have the same crew beyond the next episode.

As importantly, while I doubt they've pleased fans of the books with the adaptation of the show (I know from browsing the comments here that there are many things cut or changed), I think the show runners have done a great job at creating great television from great source material. It's not always easy to do, let alone do well, but I can't argue with these results.

Read our review of last week's episode, Blackwater, here.

US Correspondent Ron Hogan cannot wait for next season when Joffrey will resume being slapped by people. Hopefully, Tywin will get his pimp hand on! Find more by Ron daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.

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Episode Ten was a little chopped up but I figure they spent all of their money on Episode Nine. I have read the books and i am overall impressed with the work HBO has done. I am only hoping that they open Season Three in proper form so as to set the scene for the bloodiest novel so far of the series.

This episode was the most confusing by far... Question: What happened to the 500 men surrounding Winterfell? Why couldn't they save Winterfell from burning and why didn't Bran go to them? And what was the deal with Jaqen H'ghar?

winterfell never had 500 men surrounding it..did you forget Asha and Theon's argument?

Theon was complaining on how few men Asha brought..

500 STARK men surrounded Winterfell in this episode (but they never showed 'em to save money).

Yeah, didn't get that at all. 

it makes more sense if you read the book (or wait tell next season), if i hadn't read the book, i would have been confused too, guess that's what happens when you try squeezing so much into 10 episodes

It isn't that different from the book, Winterfell does get burnt down despite the fact that there is an army of northmen surrounding it.

I won't say how because I suspect that they have removed that scene to give some of the next series a bigger impact (and what happens wouldn't really have made much sense on TV at this stage; difficult to explain without spoiling it)

I'll write what happens here, behind a massive SPOILER warning, so if you want to know the answers to your three questions, read on, if not, stop now. :)


The 500 men surrounding Winterfell were men belonging to Ramsay Snow, Roose Bolton's son, the bastard of Bolton. While they are northmen, the Bastard takes it upon himself to burn Winterfell. In the books you're confused about this as well, as his father remains with Robb down south and is seemingly loyal, but you learn more as Storm of Swords progresses as to why this happened.

Bran and Rickon emerge from the crypts in the book, like in the show, except in the books there are two characters, Jojen and Meera, who were cut from the series with Osha taking over their roles. Jojen throughout the second book is telling Bran about his dreams, and wants to take him to the Crow With Three Eyes, in the north, and when they emerge from the crypts at the end, they head north to find this crow - Jojen and Meera, along with Hodor and Bran, go to the north, while Osha and Rickon go somewhere else.

The deal with Jaqen is that he is a faceless man, and can change his face at a whim. He's from Braavos, and a servant to the God of Many Faces.

Hope I answered your questions without spoiling too much. :)

this is the best freakin show on tv

excellent review for an epic show

i am a bit confused though about what happende to Sansa, wasn't she on the run with The Hound ?

MINOR SPOILERS/////////////////////////////

It has been confirmed that Jojen and Meera will be introduced next season.

Sansa and Hound = Plot hole number 1. And plot hole number 2, didn't Stannis get taken? How'd he end up back with the red head witch?

Yeah they really left this hanging making no sense.

I think it was Stannis's men dragging him away, but it wasn't clear last week since it wasn't Davos or someone from his army we know.  

As for Sansa, the Hound left and she said she was staying.

Sansa didn't leave with the Hound. It was left open and you let your assumption create a plot hole.

Stannis was being pulled away from the battle by his own men.

Huzzah. I sort of figured it would end up like that, them meeting them once they leave Winterfell, as they didn't have much to do before then in the books anyway.

It was done that way on purpose. Call it a cliffhanger. Call it not hand feeding the audience every last piece of information. Call it mystery. Reminds me of watching a movie with my Father. "Why did they do that?" "Is he really dead?" "What is going to happen?" I'll tell you what I always tell him. Just keep watching.

As a fan of the books I can say that I LOVE this show. I think that the people that constantly complain are ass-hats. These books are HUGE. Things will have to be cut, and that is NOT a bad thing. The show flows SO much better. Martin fills in almost half of his books with people walking places or going from one captor to another while barely advancing the over-arching plots.

Cut out characters, make this story leaner and more emotionally engaging, have people actually accomplish things, and keep up the great acting and set design and I will not be complaining.  

Jesus. Do people need to know everything up front these days? There is obviously more going on here that is to be revealed at a later time. This show isn't called "Game of Exposition." 

The Pikeys betrayed Theon, put a bag over his head and walked out the front gate saying "Let's go home." They obviously made, or intended to make some sort of deal with the men outside.  

The castle didn't set itself on fire. And if you *think* a bit, you would come to the conclusion that the Pikeys wouldn't set the castle on fire on the way out, because that would be a bad start toward the aforementioned deal making. 

All of this leads one to belive that the 500 men outside the gate (Roose Bolton's Bastard... Ramsay Snow and his men, who are Stark Bannermen, if you had been paying attention in earlier episodes) might not be as loyal to the Starks as we previously thought.

And this is not from me reading the books. I know what happened in the books, which is NOT what is happening here, as an event earlier in the season changed the events of the fall of winterfell.

They probably wouldn't have to "squeeze" so much if the made a 2 hour season opener and a 2 hour finale like any other show of significance!!! 
If you haven't read the books you have plenty of time to catch up before season 3 starts... and it all will make more sense ( and You can get your GOT fix)

Can anyone who has read the books help me understand why the imp is being punished?  Is it just because his father doesn't respect him?   After episode 9, one would think he'd be a hero.

I have not read the books but the castle burning is left as a cliffhanger to keep you engaged for next season or for people to go buy the books to see what happens.  They can't give you everything up front or the interest of the show would go away.  Great show that will be gone for 9 months...To much time but oh well there's always Dexter...

 Reading the books doesn't really help you, but there are the main reasons :

Most important people in King's Landing hate Tyrion (Cersei, Joffrey, Littlefinger for the lie Tyrion told him earlier this season, Tywin because he'd rather do without him).

Most people the city hate him as well ("demon monkey" part previously this season).

Finally because they were losing the battle and Tywin saved the day (or so most of them think). Basically they're just ignoring Tyrion's part in the victory because it suits them, and since he's an ugly dwarf (I don't have anything against Dinklage but this new giant scar doesn't make him look any better),they want him out of their sight.

 Well, they were pretty big for Bran's chapters. He talked to them in almost every one, with Jojen telling him about the Three Eyed Crow. It'll be pretty random to just chance upon them on the road and be like "HEY, YOU GUYS, I'M GOING TO TRUST  YOU WITH MY LIFE UP IN THE NORTH DESPITE NEVER HAVING MET YOU BEFORE, KAY?!" rather than building up trust over knowing them in Winterfell over the course of the second book/season.

JB, I love the show too, and it's doing just about as good of an adaptation of the books that could be done. That being said, by skipping over details and cutting corners, it makes a lot of the events and actions a lot more questionable when it comes to understanding character's motives. Some details get glazed over so quickly that the only way I have any idea why things are happening is because I am familiar with the books. Like I said, I love the show. Love love love it. But I do think it would greatly benefit by splitting each book into two seasons. I sincerely hope they do this for Storm of Swords, because there is SO much great stuff in there that I would hate to see cut out or skimmed over.

Throughout all of Clash of Kings there is an internal power struggle between Cersei and Tyrion. Cersei, being a woman, has had no real power until now, now that she's the Queen Regent, and Tyrion, being a dwarf and the child who received the least love, has never had a proper chance at power until now, either. Cersei wants Tyrion out of the picture, and so she gets one of the kingsguard (Mandon? I can't remember) to kill him, but he fails, and Pod pushes the knight into the water where he drowns. No one knows that Tyrion was the one who planned the wildfire, or led the men, he's just an ugly little dwarf, a scapegoat for all of Cersei and Tywin's problems.

They will be doing this for Storm of Swords, each Part being a separate season. Which is good, as Storm has the most action, and the most WTF JUST HAPPENED THERE moments, that all need to get a decent amount of screen time. 

 They will be doing this for Storm of Swords, each Part being a separate
season. Which is good, as Storm has the most action, and the most WTF
JUST HAPPENED THERE moments, that all need to get a decent amount of
screen time. 

 AGREED--having read all the books a few times each, i think they are doing a fantastic job of adapting them for HBO.  Cant wait for S3

 It's primarily Cersei taking power BACK--or so she thinks, (needless to say, her father has ideas of his own about how things should be run, as we'll see next season) & as others have said--Tyrion's heroism aside, most of the folks living in King's Landing either hate him or dont know he was the true hero of the battle

 No, Sansa has some Margaery Tyrell schooling to do yet....among other things.

 I believe the majority of the book series readers are thrilled with the show overall. Plot changes notwithstanding. I also believe having G.R.R.M. so heavily involved in the show and scripts has gone a long way in keeping the fanbase intact.

I've never been a fan of a Clash of Kings as it very much felt like the middle part of a trilogy - moving the players and pieces around the board (some brilliant moments though I grant you) for the end game. That said I think the tv series managed to condence the book fantastically and the changes they made keept me more engaged than the book itself did. Storm of Swords is my favorite and I cannot wait till next season

The 500 men surrounding Winterfell were then men who burned it down, if I remember correctly from the books. It becomes clearer later on. Although, that might take a while with how they're planning to spread the books across series.

just like stephen king. A sentance that describes cutting a mans neck or feeling a womens boob should not take an entire chapter. This is probably the best TV ive seen in along long time. It feels like a death in the family when a series comes to an end (: ))
Roll on series 3,4 5 etc etc

In the books it's obvious what's happened because it's handled slightly differently - I don't know how much I should say as I don't really want to spoil such a fantastic series for those who haven't read the books, but yeah it should become obvious what's happened in the first couple of episodes in the next series.

 I'd call those assumptions rather than plot holes, though to be fair I made the same assumptions as well.

I thought Sansa had left with the Hound, and that Stannis had been captured. I was totally shocked that Stannis wasn't captured.

I think that the addition of a single line by the men pulling him away, something like 'Your Grace, we must leave' would have made that part a lot clearer.

His men said some thing like "the battle is lost"

Is there any news on when season 3 will commence? Or is it likely to be the same time next year?

Pulled where ? Lannisters every bloody where !

It actually wasn't left open.  Look at the scene with the Hound again, she was pretty clearly turning down his offer.

Season 3 will have Pete Campbell and Theon Greyjoy brainstorming on how they can stop failing at everything and do something right.

In the next season of Mad Men Pete Campbell will torch two children of a businessman who wanted to work with another firm.

When it happens remember that I called it.

No, this show is named "game of sexposition" of course, which is, I guess, why you're that expasperated to realize that a dramatic scene made no sense for people who didn't read the books -- cos' you know there will be a long sexposition scene for horny teenagers next season that will explain this central issue, since it's so difficult to convey the story with the pictures when the actual scene is playing.

I watched it twice to see if I missed something that explained this. Despite the explanations below, its a poor showing leaving that completely unexplained in the show.

To be fair, they've seemed to have let up a bit on all the gratuitous sex/nudity that do not follow the spirit of the original story. I hope this is a continuing trend. The love scene between Robb and his foreign noble interest was actually sort of tastefully done. It was a nice change.

It wouldn't surprise me if they open Season 3 with the burning of Winterfell from the perspective of those responsible. 

I think the show was going for a bit too many cliff hangers and big sensational plot points in the last episode and it ended up being a bit more confusing than maybe necessary. Similarly, I think the scene with the wights was a little overdone as it didn't really make sense to have Sam stranded all alone amidst an army of walkers without any attacking him. I wonder how they will resolve that next season...

But I have to agree with others that, apart from the sometimes over-the-top "sexpositions" that really didn't do much other than cheapen the show, they have done an absolutely fantastic job at bringing this series to TV.

About the only disappointments this season for me was a minor  one about how they treated Dannaery's climax of defeating the Warlock(s) at the house of the undying. It came off a bit lackluster and cheesy - but then I imagine this would be pretty difficult to do justice given budgetary constraints. I was most disappointed in the way they handled Jon's tough decision about having to kill Qhorin. They kind of dropped the ball on showing the respect Jon had for him and how driven he was to do the right thing (or at least serve his oaths to the best of his ability given the circumstances) that resulted in his being able to go through with it. Instead of illustrating Jon's integrity, it almost came across as an impetuous reaction to Qhorin's insults during the fight...

Can't wait for Season 3

I dunno about you lot, but I'm hooked! It's gonna be long year until season 3, so I think I'll just have to give in and start reading the books. What an end to the series! Dragons versus White Walkers? Yes please!

the white walkers were kind of garbage in my opinion . I pictured them more ass the dudes on the horses not the zombie copout. Huge fan of the books and am a bit miffed by the changes, but it helps newcomers understand the series more. I rally hope they merge the third and fourth book into one season they can get very drawn out and uneventful. 

Sam needs to start killin some whites. and plus they missed the whole part of korrin and jon making the plan . I feel like the show did a poor job in portraying that killing korrin was their plan.

The people who were led by Tyrion know what he did.  I suppose the common folk, as ever in these grand fantasies, don't count at all in the plot line - only the aristos and warrior heroes have a say.

I was wondering if it was just me that thought the sorcerer dude went out like a bitch.  At LEAST have him die in flames, clutching at Daenerys as they're both engulfed.  He slides slowly down her to the floor as she just stands there waiting for the fire to go out, glancing back at the dragons.

But no one asks me...  ;)

Did you just compare Game of Thrones to Walking Dead? I just can't take you seriously anymore

I wonder, if they do split "A Storm of Swords" over two seasons, will it be set so the Red Wedding is a season finale cliff hanger? I think it would probably stun those who know nothing of the books :)

I don't think the changes from the book were all that major.  Most of what was changed was fairly superficial.  At the end of the season, the situation is pretty much the same as the end of the book.  The important thing is that they didn't cut Dolorous Edd.

Well, they are sons of Ed Stark's other best friend. They all went to war together. It'll be pretty easy to tie that in with that plot link in mind.

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