All season long, Game of Thrones has been giving a treatise on power and those who wield it. This last episode was more the denouement of the season. Comeuppance was gotten, resolutions were found and everyone got what they were looking for – even if it wasn’t how they would have wanted it. In a weird way, the episode was split in two halves, with the first half dealing with the aftermath of the Battle of Blackwater Bay. And if this episode felt like a comedown from last week’s epic “Blackwater” episode, it’s not a flaw in and of itself. It’s just that it’s tough to overcome a giant green ball of fire – though the final shots of this season did a good job of it.
Throughout the season, we have seen the various thoughts and treatises on the concept of power. Secrets and knowledge. Brute force. Numbers. Even hidden, dark and dangerous powers like dragons and witches with their shadow babies. But tonight’s episode presents perhaps the greatest of powers that is exerted on the people who partake in the game of thrones: the power of family.
Tywin Lannister arrives to take his place as Hand of the King. The fact that he strode into the Great Hall sitting atop his white, shitting horse should be seen as exactly what it is: a move to put himself on equal footing with the King. Let Littlefinger and Ser Loras Tyrell kneel before Joffrey – Tywin bows to no man, least of all to his own grandson. Who really rules King’s Landing and the Seven Kingdoms may be under dispute. Who rules House Lannister is not. How the various personalities of Tywin, Joffrey, Cersei and the other Lannisters function within sight of each other is going to be interesting to see next year – doubt Tywin will enjoy his time with Joffrey as he did his time with Arya.
However, for Tyrion Lannister, the season ends with him deposed of position and power, cast aside and with a hideous scar for his troubles. That’s what happens when you make enemies of the powerful players like Cersei and Joffrey and even Grand Maester Pycelle. Part of me did kind of wish he would take Shae up on her offer to leave King’s Landing, his family and the intrigue and backstabbing behind. But the allure of the game and the allure of his family mean he must stay – even if he wishes he could leave. In the end, Tyrion has only wanted to be one of them and cannot leave without that.
The pull of family also keeps Arya in Westeros as the season ends. Jaqen H’gar gives her the opportunity to travel to Braavos as well and be what she wishes to be: anything but a little lady of Westeros. With the Faceless Men she could be anything or anyone else and have the skills and training to deal with whatever came her way. She would be free from the expectations of a lady of House Stark. But her mother and brother are out there and she needs to find them. Her mean old sister too. She is too much the daughter of Lord Eddard to simply forego her responsibilities.
That mother and brother – Lady Catelyn and King Robb – are still angry at one another over her freeing of Jaime Lannister (currently involved in all sorts of adventures with Brienne of Tarth). But Robb goes through with his wedding to Talisa in spite of her protests. It was Catelyn who brokered the deal with the Freys for rights of The Crossing and their allegiance to the King in the North. She knows how quick to insult Lord Walder Frey is. How the relationship between her and her son has changed – she started the season as one of her most trusted advisors and ends it on the outside looking in. Robb, meanwhile, is proving that you can win all the battles and still put yourself in position to lose the war.
Unknown to the rest of House Stark, their two youngest members depart the ruins of Winterfell in silence after the ironborn turn on Theon Greyjoy. Who torched the ancient seat of the Starks appears to be left by the creators as a mystery, so far be it from me to reveal it. What’s true though is that there doesn’t seem to be much trust in the dying Maester Luwin towards the Northmen who follow Robb Stark. He recognizes the value of anonymity and silence to the continued existence of Bran and Rickon – in a world where everything is going bad, the name “Stark” may be as much a death sentence as it is a protection.
As for the former Prince of Winterfell, Theon Greyjoy, he found out the hard way that he has no family anywhere. His resentment of the Starks and the Northmen may have caused him to desperately try to regain his place amidst the ironborn, in spite of the fact that he never was an ironborn in a way they could recognize or would respect. Had he truly been an ironborn, he’d have recognized the reavers and pirates that he led would have no interest in dying in a gallant, bloody battle to the last man. That’s not who they are – but then again, that’s not who he was either. Who has him and where he goes next is another mystery. I doubt that they’ll follow the books closely and have him disappear for the next season though.
The desire for a place in the world with a family was the greatest temptation the warlocks of Qarth could use against Dany. She finally braved the House of the Undying and came face to face with two visions: the Red Keep ruined and the Iron Throne covered in snow before heading North of the Wall to find her old Dothraki tent and Khal Drogo and baby Rhaego inside. For a girl who has had no place in the world and found it alongside Drogo, such a vision must have been the one thing she could not deny – or at least the warlocks must have thought so. Instead, she turns from the vision and finds her dragons.
What the warlocks missed was that, while Dany had forged a new place alongside the Dothraki, she had become something else. The title of “Mother of Dragons” isn’t just a moniker to her. It’s part of her identity. The dragons’ power may have enhanced the warlocks’ magical ability but it was a power they could not command; not like her. She deduced that the warlocks and Xaro Xhoan Daxos must have made a deal: they help him become King of Qarth and he, in turn, finds a way to get Dany and the dragons locked up forever in the House of the Undying. Neither of them, however, must have figured out that Dany had the power to overcome them. Dany has a new place in the world and a new family made up of her “khalasar”. And how easily did she enjoy a bit of good old fashioned Dothraki-styled plundering? Khal Drogo would have been proud.
This power of family is what has also pushed Jon Snow into the Night’s Watch. He had found it. He was a Sworn Brother. He had friends – Edd, Grenn, Pyp and Sam – and he had a place as Lord Mormont’s squire. Now, all of that is gone and he’s been forced to become a turncloak and murder Qhorin Halfhand. That it was all the Halfhand’s plan may escape most of the Night Watch’s members. But, as you look out onto the armies of Mance Rayder, it’s tough to argue with the Halfhand’s plan to place Jon right in their midst. But what happens to Jon now? He was never allowed to be a Stark. He’s been forced to turn away from the Night’s Watch. Can he survive in the frozen North amidst people who see him as an outsider and an enemy?
But of course, I must end on the last scene of the season – and one I always felt would be here to end Season 2. Because if there is one overarching theme across the various storylines and threads of Season 2, it is this: no one is paying attention to the return of the White Walkers. Everyone is caught up in their own little scuffles. Westeros is caught in the War of the Five Kings. The Night’s Watch is caught up in their fight against Mance Rayder. Essos is far, far away and no one there cares.
But if we can take any meaning from Dany’s vision in the House of the Undying, it is this: the long winter that is coming will reach even the halls of power. Those who think themselves great and mighty and above concern are not. Who will care for the people when the lords fail? Who will protect the realms of men if the Night’s Watch – the starving, out-numbered, preoccupied and surrounded Night’s Watch – fail in their mission?
If last season’s cliffhanger left us all with a sense of potential, this one departs with a sense of dread. There are few heroes and no wise men left. What good will the power of Littlefinger’s knowledge, of Varys’ whispers, of the Lannisters’ brute strength or the Stark’s family be when the dead rise up from their graves to obey the dark commands of those who would snuff out all light and warmth from the world?
What value is there in the game of thrones when none of the players can oppose demons of ice?