2.10 “Valar Morghulis”
Written by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss
Directed by Alan Taylor
Commentary by Emilia Clarke (Daenerys Targaryen) and Alan Taylor
This is an unusually long post, but this is a really eventful episode, so bear with me.
This episode has an interesting blend of “battle’s over, what now?” and “guess what’s coming next season!” “Blackwater” was the culmination of everything that had been happening in the south, but ignored the north, the very north, and the east (as it should have; this isn’t a complaint, merely an observation), so now the show has to culminate those storylines, as well as showing us what’s going on with King’s Landing now that the battle’s over.
And what’s going on in King’s Landing is, as we are shown so, erm, poetically at the beginning of the second scene, is (to put it delicately) a whole lot of horseshit.
Joffrey hands out rewards to those who helped the crown win the battle, including Tywin (“savior of the city and Hand of the King”), Petyr Baelish (lord of Harrenhal), and Loras Tyrell. In what is clearly a carefully rehearsed political dance, Loras requests that Joffrey marry Margaery, Margaery and Joffrey proclaim their mutual admiration, and Joffrey obtains the permission of the Small Council and High Septon to break his betrothal to Sansa. It’s obvious that everyone involved has been coached to make this look good for the lords, ladies, and occasional smallfolk packed into the throne room, if only because Joffrey’s incapable of being this well-spoken and gallant without some coaching. As mentioned in the last episode, he wants to be like a knight or prince from the songs, but his violent tendencies (and being spoiled) make it really difficult for him. He was obviously carefully coached (no beheading antics this time), and it goes off without a hitch.
What we don’t get from the books is that Sansa was also coached to make sure that she wouldn’t make it obvious how relieved and happy she is that she won’t have to marry Joffrey. She manages this at least until her back is to all the ladies who are staring disapprovingly at her. She gets one brief moment of relief and happiness, and then this jerk shows up to yank it all out from under her:
Sansa is again reminded that men are awful and just want to rape her and probably won’t be able to help themselves because she’s so pretty. Gross.
Petyr’s rise to higher power (which, in the show, it’s not as obvious how empty the lordship of Harrenhal is; Petyr’s like the third lord of Harrenhal in the last few months) has kicked Varys into high gear, and he goes to visit Ros. The opening of this scene is a bit weird, because she invites what she thinks is a client into her room while she’s still putting makeup on to cover her black eye. Unless seeing women beat up is just so commonplace in King’s Landing and/or such a generalized turn-on for the men of King’s Landing (which is entirely possible), this doesn’t make sense. It does remind us that Ros got brutalized by the Kingsguard, which happened two whole episodes ago so maybe the audience can’t be expected to remember that far back (that was sarcasm, by the way), but I’m not one who likes to sacrifice plot and character consistency for little reminder nudges for the audience. (But then, I was a huge fan of Lost, which assumed you were smart and remembered stuff that happened three seasons ago.)
Varys offers Ros a job, and his main hook is that he looks after his people and doesn’t let them get beat up on or otherwise brutalized because of “royal whim.” Kind of ironic considering what happens to Ros next season. Ros isn’t sure about the job or Varys initially, but he talks her around, because he’s very good at that sort of thing.
Varys also spends some time with Tyrion, who has lost everything—the men he was paying to watch his back, his status as King’s Hand, and any recognition he might have gotten for defending the city (thanks, dad)—and assures him that those who matter will remember Tyrion, even if the history books don’t. He brings Shae in, and they have a scene that’s either really touching or really confusing, depending on how you read Shae’s motivations. Is she (as in the books) just out for the money and prestige of being a Lannister’s courtesan? Or does she really care about Tyrion? She offers to run away with him, which would cut him off from his money, so unless she thinks he could manage to make a really good living in Pentos, this seems to be evidence that she really cares about him. He decides he can’t go; he likes the intrigue of playing the game of thrones too much.
Out in the Riverlands, Robb is being the stupidest he can possibly be. Once again, Cat reminds him that crossing Walder Frey is suicidally stupid. Once again Robb brushes her off, but this time he has ammunition in that she just did something kind of stupid, too, and she only wants him to abide by his agreement because she’s the one who made it. So . . . nana nana boo boo? Great adulting, Robb. This is the second time Cat has reminded Robb that as king, he has responsibilities. One of those responsibilities is keeping his vows. Marrying Talisa is a clear and direct violation of his vows.
So he does it anyway.
The shift in plot from Robb disappearing from Cat’s chapters for a bit and showing up having already married Jeyne Westerling without ever having discussed it with anyone again underscores the powerlessness of women in this society. Even in the books, Cat struggles with having her ideas heard; she’s constantly told she doesn’t understand warfare because she’s just a woman. Releasing Jaime is a move born of desperation because nobody else cares about her daughters, and as far as she knows, they and Robb are the only kids she has left. The deal with Walder Frey was the best she could get from that complete jackass, and now (in both show and books) Robb has completely turned his back on that deal, further undermining Cat’s authority as a politician, negotiator, and noblewoman. In the show, Robb’s even particularly arrogant; at least in the books, he clearly knows he’s messed up, but didn’t know what else to do after having sex with Jeyne and not wanting to dishonor her.
Removing Jeyne and putting in Talisa adds another thematic and political shift. Jeyne is nobility—minor nobility, but nobility. Talisa technically is, too, but she’s Volantene and has essentially given up her birthright. The Westerlings are sworn to the Lannisters, which puts even more of a spin on Robb marrying her (and causes some complications later, which are kind of buried in Jaime’s storyline, since Jaime doesn’t particularly care about the Westerlings). Benioff and Weiss de-complicated the politics, but in the process, created a character who allowed them to mouth off about how worthless “girly-girls” are (Jeyne is a poised, polite, and lovely, if inexperienced, young lady) and give Cat even less influence, again showing that women who try to wield political power will fail, no matter how right they are or how good they are (should be) at it.
Speaking of failing at wielding political (or any kind of) power, Theon’s in a bind. Winterfell is surrounded, he has practically no men, and he knows if he fights, he’s going to lose. Luwin tries to council him to escape, run north, and join the Night’s Watch, telling him that he’s “not the man you’ve been pretending to be.” Theon seriously considers it for a bit, then says that he’s “come too far to pretend to be anything else.” Cut to the next morning, and Theon’s rallying his men for battle. He gives an impassioned, rousing speech telling them that they’re all going to die here, but they’re going to die in glory, and live on forever in song, tale, and legend.
And then Dagmer socks him in the back of the head and puts an end to all of that madness.
Luwin appears to ask what the Ironborn think they’re doing and gets a spear to the stomach for his trouble. This has been coming since Theon arrived in Winterfell; the setup of Luwin and Dagmer as the dual sides of Theon’s nature and his struggle over where he belongs could really only end one way. It’s interesting, but not horribly surprising, that Dagmer ends up taking away Theon’s free will, since he’s represented the “I have to do this; I don’t have a choice” part of Theon’s thought process, while Luwin has been the “there’s always a choice” side. Dagmer believes that taking out Theon will allow them to go home, but when we next see Winterfell—when the wolves, Osha, Hodor, Bran, and Rickon emerge from the crypts—it’s burned down and there are bodies everywhere. Presumably Ramsay Snow followed Robb’s orders to kill everyone except Theon, but we don’t get clear confirmation about the deaths of any one particular Ironborn.
Luwin drags himself to the godswood, which is where they find him, and he tells Osha to take the boys north, to the Wall, where Jon can protect them. He then asks Osha for mercy, because dying of a gut-stab is really slow and horrible. Our last view of Winterfell for a while is as the boys, wolves, man, and Wildling woman head out, smoke billowing up from the ruin behind them.
Further north, Ygritte is taunting Jon about all the things Mance might do to him, and thwacking him with the flat of a sword. Jon dodges a thwack and taunts Ygritte right back about not knowing how to handle a sword and looking “like a baby with a rattle.” Qhorin takes the opportunity to lunge at Jon, ostensibly trying to kill him, but actually setting up the situation necessary for Jon to “cross over” to allegiance to Mance Rayder in order to infiltrate the camp—by killing Qhorin. The fight is beautifully choreographed, and the slight pause before Jon drives his sword into Qhorin shows, as Alan Taylor points out, that this wasn’t an accident, that Jon made the conscious decision to kill Qhorin. Jon is clearly in shock afterward, and Ygritte (almost uncharacteristically, but in a very sweet piece of character building) recognizes it and treats him gently as she leads him down the hill into Mance’s—strikingly enormous—camp.
Arya has managed to escape Harrenhal and has a very brief scene with Jaqen H’ghar, who offers her training in Braavos. She remembers that Syrio was from Braavos, and Jaqen says sure, dancing masters are cool, but Faceless Men are cooler. Arya decides she needs to find her family more than she needs to learn how to kill all the people on her to-be-killed list, so Jaquen gives her the means to reach Braavos—a coin and the passphrase “valar morghulis”—before changing his face and leaving her behind.
Brienne is still carting Jaime south and runs into three soldiers who have hanged several women that apparently “shared favors” with Lannisters before the Starks rolled through. The show does very little with the plight of the smallfolk with all this war going on, but this is one of the moments that shows that neither side is a shining beacon of joy and happiness. There’s not a lot else notable about this scene except we get to see Brienne turn into a whirling dervish of blades and killing prowess, and Jaime stare at her, jaw on the ground. Worth it.
Across the Narrow Sea, Dany has chased her dragons into the House of the Undying, which is a much different set of scenes than in the books, but they’ve managed to make it thematically make some sense, anyway. I remember reading somewhere that they didn’t want to follow Dany’s vision quest beat-by-beat from the books because they couldn’t know what plot points they’d keep and which ones they’d lose, and setting up prophecies for things they’d never mention again would be bad storytelling. So instead of setting up the entire future of the books, Dany’s House of the Undying vision quest is, as Taylor puts it, “The Last Temptation of Daenerys Targaryen.” Dany faces two scenarios that force her to decide whether to continue looking for her dragons—fulfilling her destiny—or settling for something else.
The first is a broken, winterized version of the King’s Landing throne room. The roof appears burned and caved in. Snow is falling and coats every surface. The throne draws her, and she almost lays a hand on in when she hears the dragons screeching and remembers her mission. She leaves the throne room through the double doors that turn into the gate on the north side of the Wall, and she heads out into the frozen waste, where a tent waits for her. In the tent, the light is warm and inviting, and Drogo sits with Rhaego on his knee. This temptation is even harder for Daenerys; she wants nothing more than to stay here with her husband and their child in happiness and warmth. But she reminds herself of Mirri Maz Duur’s prophecy/curse (seems to be prophecy in the books, given a few specific incidents that occur in A Dance with Dragons, probably just a curse in the show) and tears herself away from them.
At which point, she finds herself back in the House of the Undying, her dragons chained to a plinth. Pyatt Pree and all his copies chain Dany up, too, explaining that since the dragons were born, their magic is much stronger, and the dragons are stronger with Dany near them, so they’re just going to hang on to all four to make sure they can do their magicky things, okay? Dany’s very not okay with this, and proceeds to have her dragons burn down everything.
Then, she stomps her way into Xaro’s house, where Xaro and Doreah are in bed (a good chunk of exposition about what’s going on with Doreah was apparently cut from this episode and “The Prince of Winterfell”). Dany takes his vault key and opens the vault, only to find it empty. Because of course it is. Xaro tries to convince her that as king, he can really help her, but instead she uses the conveniently empty vault to lock up Xaro and Doreah and saunters off with her dragons while the khalasar strips Xaro’s house bare of valuables.
Which brings us to the final scene of the episode and the season. The part of the Night’s Watch that didn’t go haring off north with Qhorin isn’t getting a lot of attention this season, and they’re still freezing their butts off at the Fist of the First Men. While out hunting for fuel for the fires, Sam, Edd, and Grenn hear a horn. The transformation they go through at each blow of the horn is really remarkable and well-acted. One blow means rangers returning, and Sam perks up, thinking Jon and Qhorin must be back. The second changes the meaning to Wildlings, and they all get ready to fight. The third means White Walkers, and Sam turns white, and all three of them take off running—except Sam, who can’t really run. When figures appear in the blowing snow behind him, he takes refuge behind a rock and watches as the army of wights, in various stages of decay, wanders past him. Most of them clearly are/were Wildlings, but there’s a few black-clad people and Emilia Clarke says she spotted one who looked like a Dothraki. While that wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense, lore-wise, it would show the threat these creatures have to the entire world; every man, woman, and child would ultimately become a zombie if the Walkers took over.
Then we get our first look at a Walker. Riding a (dead) black horse, it makes direct eye contact with Sam, who sees death staring back at him. But Sam is inconsequential in the greater scheme of things, and the Walker moves past him, toward the Fist of the First Men. As the camera pans up and back, we’re treated to a look at an enormous army of zombies, with a few more Walkers scattered among them.
It’s entirely possible that Dany’s visions of a destroyed Red Keep and the frozen northern wasteland were a warning about what would happen if she were to turn away from her dragons and fail to use them to protect the Seven Kingdoms from the White Walkers (my personal expectation about generally what’s going to happen in A Dream of Spring). Either way, the final shot of the season gives us a good idea about what the Night’s Watch, and ultimately the world, is up against.
Xaro Xhoan Daxos
Next week: I take a break to try to get some other work done. I'll be back on 10/24 with season 3.