Note: Do not read on if you have not seen the tenth, final episode of Season 2 of HBO's "Game of Thrones," entitled "Valar Morghulis."
Weddings and war victories are no cause for celebration in Westeros, no more than murders and massacres are.
After the dust has settled, the pieces have shifted. One of the five kings is dead, while the others plot to kill their enemies. And though some, like Tyrion and Theon, find themselves worse off than before, no one is safe.
All men must die. And all seasons must end. Season 2 has been a wild, glorious ride. And what happens next is anyone's guess. But that won't stop us from taking a look at the state of affairs at the end of Season 2.
The Power Rankings
Using a complex algorithm that takes into account each player's wealth, military might and dominion over lands, along with a "bonus" factor that adjusts for unquantifiable assets that could influence events, we've surveyed the lay of the land to figure out who won the game of thrones at the end of Season 2.
1. Tywin Lannister
Tywin started this season at the top of our Power Rankings along with his son Tyrion. He's finishing it at the top as well -- only this time, he's alone. His personal arrogance is front and center when he rides into the Red Keep on his white horse after it defecates on the ground. And then that arrogance is borne out by an official title when Joffrey officially proclaims his grandfather "Savior of the City and Hand of the King." Along the way, Tywin strips his battle-wounded son Tyrion of the power and glory he had carefully gained for himself throughout this season. Talk about an overbearing father!
2. Robb & Catelyn Stark
Robb, on the other hand, demonstrates the benefits of having a dead father this episode, when he does what Ned Stark never would have done: marries a woman for love instead of political gain. Catelyn is upset, and tries to stop him, noting that, "Walder Frey is a dangerous man to cross." But Robb won't be dissuaded. And the scene in which he and Talisa of Volantis marry is one of the most tender of the season. (Though it probably isn't faithful to the books: As a Stark, Robb should have consecrated his marriage to the Old Gods, not the Seven, even though his mother believes in the latter.) Next season, Robb will almost certainly clash with the Lannisters. And he won't be happy to learn that his ancestral home in Winterfell has been burned to a crisp. But for now, he shows that he has the power to determine and pursue his own fate, which is the greatest of luxuries in Westeros.
3. Margaery Tyrell
Tywin may get the most from Joffrey's momentous post-battle court session. But Margaery comes in a close second. Thanks to her family's support of the Lannisters in the Battle of Blackwater Bay, she's on the verge of fulfilling her dream of being "the Queen." It's not clear yet what she'll do from that lofty position. But her courtly speech to Joffrey shows that she's as good a liar as anyone in King's Landing. Don't underestimate Margaery -- or any other Tyrell, for that matter.
4. Joffrey & Cersei Lannister
Urged by his Small Council and given permission by the Gods, Joffrey sets aside Sansa to betroth himself to the scheming Margaery Tyrell, as Cersei smiles. Tyrell power will prop up the Shithead King for a while longer, despite all the odds. Cersei's manages to get Tyrion and Sansa disposed of, but whether she'll outmaneuver her father is yet to be seen.
5. Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish
Harrenhal passes to another master -- Littlefinger, for his assistance in bringing the aid of House Tyrell to King's Landing. It will pass to his sons, and grandsons, should he manage to have them. That alone makes him one of the strongest lords in the land. But Littlefinger's high standing in the eyes of the Lannisters may wind up being even more significant. Elsewhere, Varys pays a visit to Roz, who doesn't realize who he is until she gropes his thighs and what lies between, only to discover there's nothing there. He'd like her to join his side, as a partner, not a whore.
In the House of the Undying, Daenerys is tempted by visions of the future and past, including a snow-covered Iron Throne, and a hale and healthy Khal Drogo toting their now-living baby. She manages to overcome these lures and makes it to her dragons, only to find herself chained up -- where she'll remain forever. But her babies do more than cry and shriek. On her tacit command, they burn the enemy to his death, just before they visit Xaro Xhoan Daxos and shut him up in his own vaults with her former bedslave to die. Her men loot his home for gold -- enough, perhaps, to buy a ship.
As Theon and his 20 men sit surrounded by 500 men blowing horns and ready to attack. The Maester tells him to run away and join the Night's Watch, where his past crimes will be forgiven -- but he can't do it.
"I've done a lot, haven't I?" Theon ask. "Things I never imagined myself doing." Instead, a crazy light enters his eyes, and like Tyrion did last week, Theon takes the stage to deliver a rousing speech -- only to have one of his men knock him out from behind so that the 500 men surrounding Winterfell may burn it to the ground without impediment.
When her engagement's broken, Sansa thinks she'll get to leave him. But Littlefinger stops her -- Joffrey will still beat her and rape her, and he won't send her away. Petyr promises he'll get her home -- for her mother's sake. She unconvincingly protests that King's Landing, not Winterfell, is her home.
"Look around you," Littlefinger replies. "We're all liars here. And every one of us is better than you."
Jaqen H'ghar has caught up with the runaways. He offers Arya the chance to come with him to Braavos, where she can learn to be a Faceless Man so that she might kill off everyone on the litany of names she recites each night. She declines -- and so he gives her a coin, with instruction. If she ever changes her mind, all she has to do is give the coin to a man from Braavos and say these words: "Valar Morghulis."
Then he leaves. And when he turns back to look at Arya on his way out, he is a different man, with a different face. If Arya can apply that sort of power to her hereditary position as a Stark, there's no telling how far she'd be able to rise.
As they emerge from the smoking refuse of his childhood home, Bran, Rickon, Osha and Hodor come upon the Maester, bleeding out on a weirwood. He sends them north, and then asks Osha to end his life, quickly. The four of them, and the direwolves, make their way away from the wreckage.
As they trudge across the blasted ice, Qhorin Halfhand instigates a vicious duel with Jon, as the Wildlings watch. He goes from the defensive to the offensive when the Halfhand insults his mother, killing him with a sword to the gut. "We are the watchers of the Wall," Qhorin whispers as he dies. But his ploy's worked. Jon will meet Mance Rayder as a freeman, not as a man of the Night's Watch.
Elsewhere in the North, a wind picks up and Samwell is abandoned by his two companions to cower behind a rock. As he cowers, he watches a horde of Others -- ice creatures with glowing blue eyes -- pass by, leading an army of zombie-like Wights to battle against the Night's Watch.
His face is scarred, his position as hand stripped, and his contributions to the success at Blackwater unrecognized. Varys visits him to tell him that Cersei ordered Ser Mandon Moore to kill him. Tyrion calls for Bronn, but the City Watch is no longer his.
"I thought we were friends," Tyrion says.
"We are," Varys replies, revealing Shae at the door.
She proclaims her love for Tyrion and urges him to come with her to Pentos and leave behind the bad people, his family. But those bad people are what he's good at, he says: "Outtalking them, outthinking them. I like it. I like it more than anything I've ever done."
Brienne and Jaime come across three women hanging between the trees when the Northern bannermen who killed them return and mock Brienne for her gender. But when one of them recognizes the Kingslayer, she dispatches two with a few swift, brutal thrusts and plunges. She gives the third the slow death he himself gave one of the dead girls.
Differences from the Book
All in all, the second season deviated surprisingly far from the "Song of Ice and Fire" book upon which it was based, "A Clash of Kings." It covered the same basic terrain, of course -- the series' plotting is too intricate to change anything huge and remain on track. But unlike the extremely faithful Season 1, it took a different path to get from point A to point B. There are fewer prophecies, for example, in the TV show than there are in the books. It will be interesting to see how the tweaks translate into plot shifts down the road. Here are the changes we noticed this episode; comment if you found others!
- Robb does not seek his mother's council when he's deciding whether or not to marry in the books. The wedding also isn't shown.
- Stannis never confesses directly to Renly's murder in the books.
- The sequence of events that leads to Ramsay Snow's capture of Winterfell is slightly different in the books.
- The scene at the House of the Undying is very different in the books. The building is in the middle of a desert, not on a wooded hill. It's low-slung, not a tower. And Daenarys walks in accompanied by Pyat Pree; he gives her advice as to how to proceed. Her visions are different in the books. And then, most importantly, her final encounter is with a group of mysterious warlocks known as the Undying! Not just with silly Pyat Pree.
- Jaqen H'ghar is much more explicit in his description of the Faceless Men in the show than he is in the books.
- In the books, Bran and Rickon have no intention of going to the Wall when they head north.
- Qhorin's death is different in "A Clash of King's," but that's a product of the changes in the Jon Snow-Ygritte story.
- The whole scene in which Dany confronts Xaro Xhoan Daxos is new. She never takes his gold in the books.
That's it for now, folks! But make sure to check back in 2013 for our continuation of the "Game of Thrones" Power Rankings in Season 3. And in the meantime, comment up a storm with your thoughts on who won Season 2.