Tyrion Lannister: Down. "But what have you done for us lately?" seems to be the attitude of the rest of the court to Tyrion. After holding back Stannis' siege long enough for the Tywin/Loras Tyrell forces to save the day, the wounded Tyrion awakens in a cell-like room under the ominous care of Maester Pycelle (who was thrown into a dungeon under Tyrion's orders earlier this season). Tyrion has been demoted from Hand of the King and Varys informs him that he'll receive no official recognition for his heroism, but the people remember him. Maybe he slapped Joffrey one time too many.
Shae visits and removes his bandage, revealing a nasty scar from forehead to cheek. (Dinklage is lucky, though: in the books, Tyrion loses a sizeable chunk of his nose.) She suggests they run off together, but Tyrion demurs, saying that he's too fond of out-talking and out-thinking people to attempt anything else. Great scene for Dinklage.
The Lannisters and Tyrells: Up. Like Princess Leia giving out medals at the end of Star Wars, Joffrey salutes the official heroes of the Battle of Blackwater. Tywin sits astride a white horse that makes a big dump before entering the throne room, and accepts the promotion to Hand of the King. (Tywin does, that is. Not the horse. Joffrey hasn't gone full Caligula yet.) He also gives Harrenhal to Littlefinger and the Tyrells the right to ask a favor. Renly's widow Margaery, wearing that dumb-looking cleavage blouse again, requests that Joffrey marry her, in Renly's place. In a show of clearly rehearsed political theater, Cersei and Pycelle suggest that Joffrey's engagement to Sansa can be nullified, since Ned and Robb are traitors, and Joffrey agrees to marry Margaery. They deserve each other.
Sansa: Down. Sansa keeps a poker face upon learning she's no longer Joffrey's fiancé, then a girlish grin crosses her face. Littlefinger sidles up and offers some grim advice: "Joffrey's not the sort of boy who gives away his toys," suggesting that she could receive all the abuse and none of the royal perqs. He offers to help her escape from King's Landing, and Sansa's probably wishing she'd gone with The Hound when she had the chance.
Jaime Lannister: Up. He's still a prisoner, of course, but at least he's out in the fresh air instead of held in a filthy pen. He needles Brienne about being a virgin (he assumes), and they come across the bodies of three hanged women, one bearing the sign "They Lay With Lions," implying they were Lannister camp-followers caught by the other side. Brienne and Jaime encounter three Stark-loyal thugs who killed them, one of whom recognizes Jaime. Brienne kills all three and says that she's not loyal to the Starks, but to Lady Catelyn. Brienne seems more willing to kill for women in general than any banner in particular. I wish she'd show up on "Mad Men."
Robb: Up. He seems to remain undefeated on the battlefield and he's fallen in love with Marisa. His mother warns him that if he marries her, he'll be breaking his oath to the Freys: "Walder Frey is a dangerous man to cross." Catelyn gives a lovely speech about how she and Ned barely knew each other but fell in love over time, saying "It's not as exciting as secret passion in the woods, but it is stronger, it lasts longer." Robb goes ahead and marries Marisa in a lovely little ceremony under a tree. His "Up" designation could reverse quickly in Season 3.
Stannis: Down. His army beaten, his fleet sunk and Davos apparently MIA, Stannis confronts Melisandre, who predicted his victory. He almost strangles her but restrains himself. Melisandre says, "You will betray everything you hold dear, but it will all be worth it," and he looks in a fire, seeming to share her vision of the future. (Incidentally, I love the creepy "Melisandre Theme" on the soundtrack.) With Stannis defeated and Renly dead, the Baratheon brothers no longer seem like much of a threat.
Theon: Down, down down. In his first scene, Theon glowers in his chambers, bedeviled by a horn blower in the distance. Around 500 Stark loyalists have surrounded Winterfell, and Theon just has 20 guys, so his bid for glory has blown up in his face. Maester Luwin advises him to flee, join the Night's Watch and try to redeem himself. Theon believes it's too late to change and the next morning rallies his men for a kamikaze attack on the besiegers. Alas, Theon doesn't even get the death of a tragic hero his men just knock him unconscious and lug him away, presumably back to Pyke. "Good speech," one acknowledges.
Bran: Up, sort of. Osha and Hodor lead Bran and Rickon out of the catacombs to discover that Winterfell has been burned to a smoldering hulk, presumably by Theon's guys. The gravely-injured Maester Luwin advises them to go North to the Wall, and asks Osha to finish him off. We last see them crossing the countryside, Hodor pushing Bran in a wooden wheelbarrow. Good luck in the Northern war zone, guys!
Arya: Up, sort of. Like her younger brothers, Arya's free of an enemy-occupied castle and wandering a war-torn country. With Hot Pie and Gendry, she encounters Jaquen, who offers to bring her to Braavos where she can learn to be an assassin. Arya loves the idea but wants to stay in Westeros to find her family. He gives her a coin and secret password that will help her find him, and transforms his face so he looks like a completely different actor before taking his leave. Good luck in the Southern war zone, kids!
Jon Snow: Down. The Wildlings march Jon and Qhorin along, with the older ranger insisting that Jon's a traitor. Rattleshirt lets them duel and after an exciting fight Jon kills Qhorin, who says "We are the Watchers on the Wall" before he dies. The Wildlings free Jon, believing he has no more loyalty to the Night's Watch. Ygritte shows Jon a valley with the Wildling's sprawling camp city and leads him to meet Mance Rayder, the King Over the Wall. Jon seems to have the role of double-agent thrust upon him.
Danaerys: Up. Dany, Jorah and her Dothraki guard march up to the warlock's House of the Undying, which seems to have no entrance. Jorah follows Dany around the building, loses sight of her and discovers her missing. Inside the tower, Dany follows the baby-like cry of her dragon to a chamber with multiple doors. One leads, inexplicably, to the King's Landing throne room, only with a missing roof and snow gathering on the floor and the Iron Throne. She resists the urge to touch the throne and follows the sound of the dragons through another door…
… and is suddenly over the Wall (our first glimpse of the wall this season). She sees a hut in the snow, enters and finds her late husband Khal Drogo and their baby. "Maybe I am with you in the Night Lands," she says. "Maybe I told the Great Stallion to fuck himself." Despite her obvious love for them, she leaves to follow the dragons and returns to the chamber, where her dragons wear little chains.
The warlock shows up, explaining that their magic is stronger with the dragons, and the dragons are stronger with her. They chain her to the wall and imply she'll be their prisoner forever. Dany calls her dragon, which shoots a little flame that ignites the Warlock, and the others breathe fire and immolate him. (Maybe the Warlocks are susceptible to Dragonfire.) Their chains crumble and Dany strides out.
Dany's loyalists capture Xaro and her former handmaiden in bed, open Xaro's treasure vault and find it empty. "Thank you for teaching me this lesson," Dany tells him, and locks them both away, where they'll die like the lovers in Aida. Afterward she encourages the Dothraki to steal everything that's not nailed down: "Enough for a ship?" she asks Jorah. "A little one."
Samwell. Down: Sam gushes about Gilly with Edd and the other one until they hear three-horn blasts, which means bad news. The others run away and Sam hides behind a rock, from which he sees the Wights, i.e. zombies, shambling through the snow. He also sees what must be the leader of the White Walkers, a pale, freaky figure with a spear astride a dead horse, who makes eye contact with Sam, then leads the zombies forward. "Game of Thrones" second season ends with an image worthy of "The Walking Dead."
I didn't mention the scene when Varys approaches Ros about a possible job, which echoes the scene of Ros and Maester Pycelle from the Season 1 finale. I like the idea of having both characters being proactive, but it also seemed like a way to get some gratuitous skin into the episode.
I like the parallel between the episode's first shot - an extreme close-up of Tyrion's eye, with a flame reflected in it and the moment when Melisandre and Stannis look into the fire and have flames reflected in their pupils. There's a similar doubling in the impressed way Jaime looks at Brienne after she kills the three guys, and the way Ygritte looks at Jon when he kills Qhorin.
Cersei's attempted assassination of Tyrion left me unsatisfied. It's not that she's incapable of such a vicious deed, but it seems more the act of a crazy person than her usual cold-blooded calculation. Tyrion's strategic marriage of Cersei's daughter to Dorne didn't pay off, at least in any on-screen way this season.
So what happened to the army of Stark loyalists that had Winterfell under siege? They seemed to leave awfully quickly. We never met the Bastard of Bolton, an important character in the books, so either he'll appear later, or perhaps someone we've already met will take his place, like the way Tywin became a major part of the Harrenhal scenes in a departure from the books.
If there was any doubt before, the White Walker's army reveals why they wanted to have that big Wall. It also nicely bookends the opening season of the show's first season.
Jon Snow's direwolf may be missing, but at least Bran and Rickon have theirs.
Most likely to be ignored as a Emmy Supporting Actor nominee: Alfie Allen as Theon.
Overall, given that "Game of Thrones" dramatizes a kingdom defined by the abuse of power and the chaos of competing interests, in which the honorable characters suffer one misfortune after another, it's amazing that it's such an exhilarating TV show. But it is. Until 2013, "Valar Morghulis," everyone.
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