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.