TV REVIEW: Game of Thrones - Episodes 9 & 10

Well I suppose it had to happen sometime but Game of Thrones, Season 2 is finally drawing to a close and thankfully, bows out with a subtle blend of grace, style and extreme violence. Various changes to the books have meant that we're getting a leaner, much more taut version of the Song of Ice and Fire, which, when dealing with the sheer scope of George R.R. Martin's series, is no bad thing. By introducing plot points from the third book towards the end of the second season and tweaking story elements slightly, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have given us a truly fantastic send-off for the second season. And a very large, scary cliffhanger. As always, spoilers to follow.

Episode 9: Blackwater

The Battle of Blackwater was always going to be a massive deal in the second season, on which had fans of the books hoping and praying that we would get to see because, despite the clever avoidance of battles in the Season One, it left us a little disappointed. So when it was announced by Benioff and Weiss that we would be seeing Blackwater in all its fiery glory, anticipation was peaked. 

Although we didn't get a look at anyone outside of King's Landing this week, it didn't feel like we were missing out. The action was so well-focused on the lead-up to the battle and the clash itself that, for just one episode, the only thing we cared about was Blackwater. Like the audience, the characters too were waiting for this moment and the scenes leading into the battle were well-handled, building the tension nicely without detracting from it. As a fan of the books, it was amazing to hear The Rains of Castamere sung by Bronn and his men while drinking and waiting for Stannis' army to arrive. For those not in the know, The Rains of Castamere is a song that was written to honour Tywin Lannister for his defeat of the rebellious House Rayne. It appears so many times in the books that I've always wondered if the show would include it. It gave us a truly haunting scene in which we were reminded of the power of the Lannister family (something which tied into the end of the episode) but also that many of the men in that room were unlikely to survive the battle. Speaking of which...

Centurion and The Descent director, Neil Marshall, was brought in to oversee the episode and the decision proved to be inspired; the battle was visually stunning, bringing the dangers of the lurid green wildfire on to screen with explosive aplomb. Tyrion's tactics when attempting to defeat a much larger fleet of Baratheon ships than he had at his disposal was always inventive, but Marshall managed to build up a huge amount of suspense with all the misty visuals and nervous glances from either side of the pre-battle scenes. The big set-piece of the episode had to be the wildfire verses the ships with explosions and death-screams galore but even the resulting land battle didn't disappoint. Peter Dinklage again excelled as the nervous battle-leader but his speech has to go down as one of the best inspirational moments in either television or film; it was honest, real and importantly, blackly comic: "There are brave men knocking on our door. Let's go kill them!". Not going to lie, I was half-tempted to start chanting "Halfman" with everyone else.

Elsewhere in King's Landing, we got a glimpse at what happens to the ladies of the capital when the men go off to war which offered an insight into the two strongest women in the Red Keep. Lena Headey's Cersei is one of the most dimensional, fascinating characters in the series, a combination of over-protective mother and villain that you can't help but love to hate. Her speech about what will happen to the women should the city fall was nearly as good as Tyrion's with a similar vein of black humour running through it. If she doesn't win some sort of award for this season, it will be a crime. Revealing hidden depths at every turn, Headey's performance has never faltered and, despite hating Cersei as any sane person would do (she created Joffrey after all), she still remains from of my favourite characters. Likewise, Sansa, as depicted by Sophie Turner, is a vast improvement on the same character in the books; novel-Sansa is a bit of a drip, waiting to be rescued by a dashing prince despite reality screaming at her that this is not going to happen. However, the showrunners have given tv-Sansa a steely streak that sees her take on Joffrey in another great scene, manipulating him to look like a coward in front of his own men. In an episode of many cheerworthy moments, this was another standout and the scene with the Hound and the doll her father gave her in the first season was simply heartbreaking.

With only one episode left of the season, the end of Blackwater left me wondering whether it would be enough to tie up all the loose ends for the various different characters. After all, the widening scope of the narratives meant we had chief characters scattered to all corners of the Westerosi map, each with their own troubles to come. Also, it would have to be one stellar episode to top Marshall's efforts because, in my mind, it's been the best episode of the entire series. I needn't have worried though.

Episode 10 - Valar Morghulis

So this is it, the final episode of the second season and, while it didn't quite live up to the drama and spectacle that was Blackwater the week before, we got a fantastic set-up for everything that there is to come in Season Three. After focusing solely on King's Landing for the last episode, this one saw us take in all the sights of the current season, travelling from north of the Wall to Qarth and everywhere in between.

It was a fairly tall ask for Valar Morghulis as it had to establish where each character was going for the third season, while resolving any loose ends that there may be. Benioff and Weiss were back on scripting duties this week so everyone was in good hands and got the ending they deserve. Especially Theon Greyjoy. Surrounded by Northmen and with only twenty Ironmen to help him out, Theon was in a tight spot and despite being told by Maester Luwin that now would be a good time to leg it, he decided to stay. Alfie Allen's performance has grown on me considerably and whilst I still don't like the character (I don't in the books either), Theon's tantrum cemented the whole daddy-issues side to his personality and as such, influenced his decision to march his men toward certain death. Now a prerequisite for any leader heading into battle, the exiled Greyjoy gave his own inspirational speech that was both dramatic and hilarious, especially with its unexpected end. Poor Theon. 

Back in Qarth, we finally got to see Dany take on Pyat Pree and Xaro Xhoan Daxos to get her dragons back by entering the House of the Undying. Trippy and weird, it was also essential to Dany for realising what she truly wants; to be reunited with her dragons and take back the Iron Throne. As if we couldn't guess. However, it was great to see Khal Drogo back for a short appearance in what was one of the best scenes of the episode. Although it had a horrible, rapey beginning, the romance between Dany and Drogo was really quite sweet and I know the unexpected ending upset a fair few people who hadn't read the books. Sadly though, I think Dany in the television show is going the same way as Dany in the books; I didn't miss her storyline when it was gone and I must admit, nearly forgot she was in it at all because her narrative develops so slowly. I don't think it's the fault of either Emilia Clarke (who is fantastic throughout) or the writers, but more the inevitability of Dany's storyline; we all know that she's almost certain to fly in on her dragons and burn half of Westeros to a crisp so we're all waiting for that to happen rather than watch the journey that gets her there.

The most compelling scenes of this episode, though, were the ones that took place north of the Wall with us checking in on both Jon Snow and Samwell Tarly. Last we saw of the bastard, he was held captive along with Qhorin Halfhand by Ygritte and the wildlings, but as we saw previously, it was the Halfhand's plan to get Jon to infiltrate the wildlings and gain their trust. His killing of Qhorin sparks off a crucial time in the life of Jon Snow and it's going to be really interesting to see how Kit Harington manages the internal struggle of a man with loyalties divided. He has given a good performance up until now but the third season will have to see him kick it up a notch. That being said, the interaction with Rose Leslie's Ygritte has injected some life into the Snow storyline and the two actors have a great chemistry. But the biggest scene of the episode belonged to unlikely hero Sam as he, Grenn and the impressively-monikered Dolouros Edd discover that something's coming for them. The White Walkers have always been a more-or-less unseen threat, we know they're bad and nearly unstoppable but we haven't seen a whole lot of them. Well it looks like that's about to change as the final shot of the season reveals an absolute ton of the buggers and my, how creepy are they? Beating last season's dragon-birth cliffhanger by a country mile, Benioff and Weiss have given us a massive set-up for the next season.

Although these were the biggest moments of the episode, honourable mentions must also go to Arya and Jaqen's final scene in which we discovered what being a Faceless Man really means and this encounter is also a big part of Arya's narrative arc. She spends a lot of the third book walking around so I hope she doesn't befall the same fate as Dany and become less interesting as a result. Bran and Rickon are heading north to the Wall after escaping the burning of Winterfell and their farewell to Maester Luwin in the Godswood was slightly tear-inducing. We also saw the eldest Stark, Robb's wedding to Tulisa, thus voiding his pact with Walder Frey to marry one of the many Frey daughters. Trust me when I say that this is going to be a BIG deal when it comes to the third season. A Storm of Swords is my favourite book of the series so far and if the show continues with its current high quality, then the audience is most definitely in for a treat.

I can't be alone in already counting down the days until that season airs. But for now, I'll leave you all with this:

- Becky

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