Game of Thrones is a challenging series to review.
It's based on a series of novels beloved by a number of viewers, many of whom judge episodes based on the source material and a result of which means even those of us unfamiliar with George R.R. Martin's work are aware that there's never really an end in sight.
So I didn't go into "Valar Morghulis" with any preconceived notion that any storylines would really be tied up, but I still came out of it disappointed in a Season 2 finale that felt a lot more like a Season 3 prologue.
Compare events here to those from last Sunday's epic, "Blackwater." That felt like a finale, with so many storylines of the season leading to an epic battle. It felt like a payoff, where as this installment came across a bit arbitrary, more focused on setting up next year's character arcs than tying anything remotely together.
As usual, I was most interested in the lives of those in King's Landing, all of which changed drastically after mere minutes this week. Sansa is no longer bound to Joffrey, but is she really out of danger?
Margaery Tyrell will have a chance to fulfill the goal she's made clear from the moment we met her, moving into the position of soon-to-be queen.
Tyrion continued to be the most fascinating, well-layered character on the series, this time abandoning any facade of bravery, admitting he loves the challenge of out-thinking stronger men and falling apart in the arms of Shae, who will remain by her wounded man's side, even if his position in the kingdom is tenuous at best; non-existent-to-the-point-where-his-sister-wants-him-dead at worst.
Robb is a man of one marriage oath and one broken oath, while he remains estranged from his mother and his sister is left wandering around for her family, as confounded as I am by the concept of "Valar Morghulis."
Stannis is still around (he wasn't captured?!?), reinvigorated by some fiery vision; and Theon has been dragged away somewhere, leaving one final death in his woebegone wake. RIP, Maester Luwin.
The former development is especially disappointing. Where did we really go with Stannis this season? When we met him, he was an angry, ambitious man on a quest for the Iron Throne and reliant on a mysterious redhead. Now? Well... he's an angry, ambitious man on a quest for the Iron Throne and reliant on a mysterious redhead.
The same can be said for Daenerys.
We closed season one with her dragons alive, her head held high and Westeros in her sights. We end season two after what felt like a somewhat contrived path that once again just finds her dragons alive, a bit more mature and her sights set on Westeros. I can't say I'm satisfied by the journey we went on with Dany this year. It all felt like a set-up for next year.
Finally, North of the Wall, Jon Snow is on his way to meet Mance Rayder, who we know will be a prominent character on Game of Thrones Season 3. And we were left with a visual even more stunning than Dany and her dragons from a year ago: that of White Walkers - seriously, A LOT of White Walkers - riding off to do... whatever it is White Walkers do.
Indeed, after 10 more sweeping, character-packed episodes, winter is most definitely here.
What did you think? Was this a rewarding a conclusion to this season? Or did it spend too much time setting up next season? Did Robb make the right choice in marriage? What is Varys planning? And, really, seriously, RIP, Maester Luwin.
UPDATE: Carissa Pavlica has posted her Novel Approach to the finale, in which she analyzes the show from the view of someone familiar with the source material.
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