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Following the excitements of the battle of Blackwater Bay, “Valar Morghulis” was very much about rewarding friends and settling scores, even in places and storylines very removed from King’s Landing and its recent clash of kings. The season finale also brought most of the year’s storylines to a resting point, providing a sense of wonder in the process, something very different from the emotions of the adrenaline-fueled scenes of the previous week.
Dawn of a New Queen
After being his usual despicable and cowardly self during the battle last week, Joffrey was in his element this time with the court assembled to watch him bestow favors and grant rewards to those who helped defend his throne. Lord Tywin Lannister finally took his office as Hand of the king, Littlefinger was rewarded with Harrenhal (which doesn’t seem to be a good luck charm to its owners), and the Tyrells got a queen (to be…). Since her appearance, I have had a weakness for Margaery Tyrell who knows what she wants and is doing everything in her power to get there, even eloquently professing her love for a boy-king she has only heard of in tales (“And those tales have taken roots, deep inside of me”).
Watching Joffrey resist breaking his promise to Sansa Stark was amusing and a little bit of a waste of time, but it showed the boy-king is versed in matters of the court, which is possibly his only “quality”. His betrothed, Sansa, was obviously relieved by the turn of events, but in a move that might be puzzling, she refused Littlefinger’s offer to help her escape. Unfortunately, the episode didn’t devote more time to the only Stark in the capital, but rather turned to the other demoted figure in King’s Landing.
I Am Yours and You Are Mine
Although the arrival of his father could have translated into the recognition of Tyrion Lannister as the man who bravely defended the city, it led instead to his banishment away from the tower of the hand of the king, and into much less glamorous quarters. With his visit, Varys gravely acknowledged Tyrion’s role in saving the city and allowed the wounded Imp to see his consort again. Here the episode really did shine. Shae saw through her lover’s bitter replies and his attempts to drive her away and renewed her vows to him in a heartbreaking scene. It is one thing to promise undying love to a powerful half-of-a-man, but it is another to do it to a disfigured, powerless half-of-a-man who lies wounded in a filthy room. The scene also provided an insight into how Tyrion sees himself; he would not run away because no matter how bad his family is, his life is inextricably linked to theirs.
Two Quick Deaths?
Far away from King’s Landing, Tyrion’s brother Jaime Lannister got a good measure of who Brienne of Tarth is. The strong woman tried her best to keep the Stark soldiers out of trouble by not engaging them, even though she knew they were responsible for the death of the three women hanging from the trees. When his cover was blown, Jaime saw her kill two of the men quicker than he could gasp, and he witnessed how she took her time to make the third one (who had apparently tortured or rape one of the women) suffer. She then calmly proceeded to bury the women and reminded a confused Jaime that her allegiance was to Lady Catelyn and not to the Starks. The scene was so powerful that Jaime Lannister has no choice but to reevaluate what he thinks of Brienne, which will undoubtedly lead him to be more careful with his “jokes” among other things.
Do You See? Do You See My King?
Much closer to the capital, Stannis Baratheon was venting his frustration at Melisandre, his bewitching red priestess. Who could blame him? He was promised a crown but only had fratricide, blood, and death to show for it. A practical man, the lord of Dragonstone put the red god to the test by squeezing the neck of the priestess, asking her, “Where is your god now?”. A question to which the choking woman replied, “Inside you.” We praise courage and deeds, but words are where the power often lies. Stannis released his grip and was led by the priestess to the fire where she showed him her vision, undoubtedly renewing his resolve to kill even more men to make it come true. Stannis was harsh, Melissandre was frighteningly attractive and driven, and both of them in front of the fire were fascinating with the hauntingly beautiful score in the background.
Do It Quickly
Farther north in Winterfell, Theon Greyjoy almost became the Greyjoy that ran, but was ultimately set up to become the Greyjoy who was knocked out by his men after a good speech. Maester Luwin tried to convince him to take the black and become a brother of the Night’s Watch, but Theon was too far in his fantasy to go back, so he wanted to have a memorable swan song, something his men were not ready for. After knocking out their leader, they stabbed Maester Luwin who dragged himself to Winterfell’s godswood. I like how the story surrounds young characters unable to defend themselves on their own with people who can. Osha, the wildling, has become such a champion for Bran and his younger brother Rickon. As the party heading for the Wall watched Winterfell burn, Osha left behind a man she had killed quickly at his own request, a man to whom she had promised to defend the Stark boys even against her own people.
Another such champion is Jaqen H’ghar, the stranger from Braavos who helped Arya and her friends escape. Throughout the season, we have had only glimpses of him, but the character has managed to captivate us with his set of principles, his speech, and his skills. Here in the finale, his appearance (and change of appearance) seemed to beg for more screen time and more explanations. The episode picked our curiosity with the mysterious “Faceless Men” who are apparently in a class of their own. Although the scene was awe-inspiring, it was arguably too short to be referenced by the episode title, which wasn’t the case for what happened across the Narrow sea in Qarth.
Thank You for Teaching Me This Lesson
Daenerys Targaryen defiantly went to the House of the Undying against the advice of Ser Jorah Mormont. What ultimately allowed her to leave the place unscathed is her bravado and maybe what could appear as her unreasonable belief in her own strength. Her self-assurance commands the respect of most people, it is true, but here it allowed her to go through the illusions and defeat the warlock by getting her baby dragons to breathe fire. But the best part only came later when she realized Xaro Xhoan Daxos’s safe was empty. The powerful king of Qarth merely projected an appearance of wealth and was considered the richest man in “the greatest city that ever was or will be”. We had another glimpse at the ruthless Khaleesi who had her people lock Daxos and her own former servant (who betrayed her) in the empty safe.
“Valar Morghulis” also brought Jon Snow close to the king beyond the Wall, featured the marriage of Robb Stark to Lady Maegyr of Volantis, and even gave us our first frightening glimpses at the creatures beyond the Wall in broad daylight. However, those events were overshadowed by fire-breathing dragons, shapeshifting men, visions of a future kingship, everlasting love, and a woman redefining allegiance. The episode title was arguably a misnomer in a story that took us to all corners of Westeros and across the Narrow sea, but that also successfully brought most of its characters to a resting point, to a moment of pause before more dramatic events.