And with that, the second season of "Game of Thrones" comes to an end. It's been a wild ride. It's about to get wilder. But if there's one thing this season has truly instilled, it's a sense that great fantasy TV is both achievable and beloved. Thank you, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss for this show. I know I speak for many when I say that I end every week on a Westeros-induced high. I'm sad to say goodbye for the summer, but I'm already anxious to return.
After last week's grueling battle episode, it was nice to get a check-in with every character. Until they're all laid out before me, I forget just how many new faces we've met this season (and to how many old ones we've bid adieu). I'm happiest with Brienne, who proved once again her mighty girth and fierce loyalty. Her allegiance to Lady Catelyn (not the Starks!) is almost pitifully endearing. In Westeros, it seems foolish to pour affection into any one cause. But that Brienne both stakes her claims and follows them through makes her perhaps the most wholly noble character we've seen thus far (even if that nobility means stabbing a bad dude in the uglies or slitting a few throats here and there). Pairing her off with Jaime is a brilliant move - where she's gloomy and silent, he's peskily chatty. That juxtaposition is one of the few windows of humor in the latter bits of this season. I can't wait to see what becomes of their almost-friendship.
I was less eager to check back in with Stannis. As wonderful as Stephan Dillane has been at fleshing out a little-seen character, I'm afraid he and Melisandre fade into the background just a bit. After the birth of her weirdo shadow baby, I expected great and powerful things from our sorceress and her impervious master. And maybe those great things are still to come. But apart from their sole scene last night – a frustrating glean into a mysterious fire, where Stannis sees something we the audience do not – I don't feel like they've left much of an impression on this season.
One character who did leave an (unexpected) impression is Theon Greyjoy. The burning of Winterfell came as a shock for this non-book reader, but even more shocking is just how much I've come to care about the fate of Lord Eddard Stark's former ward. It's hard to believe Theon is the same man as last season - the one who tromped through the woods with the Stark boys, rescuing rescoring dire wolves and defending his makeshift family. I don't care for him in the sense that I want good things to become of him. Quite contrary. I look forward to watching someone slice him top to bottom. I have little patience for betrayers, and Theon tops that list. At least Joffrey has always been a hopeless worm. Theon had an opportunity for glory, and he spit in its face. Good riddance.
Speaking of Joffrey, thanks to a long series of circumstance - beginning with the death of Renly - he's pardoned his betrothal to Sansa and is set to marry Margaery Tyrell, who made very clear earlier this season how desperate she is to be queen. Joffrey resists her offer at first, but when Cersei assures him the gods will permit it, he's quick to accept. The look on Sansa's face is a moment of great joy - she's elated, and smiles girlishly. Free at last! But not quite... Petyr sweeps in to remind her that she's still Joffrey's toy, even if she won't be his wife. And now that she's a woman, he'll be happy to take her to bed and do what he wants. Poor Sansa. It's two steps forward and one hundred steps back, it appears. Her hope of being reunited with her family was fleeting and foolish. The Starks don't have it that easy.
But Arya Stark is pretty lucky, all things considered. Her savior this season, the secret assassin Jaqen H'ghar, does us another favor: he changes his face right before her eyes, so he no longer resembles the same angular captive as before. He also gives her a coin to use should she need to look him up again. Jaqen was a common convenience, always there to kill the baddie before things went sour, but I like his scenes with Arya and I'm sad to see the actor go. But I'm most thankful for just how downright magical the character is. For a fantasy epic, Game of Thrones has offered up minimal magic samplings. So when crazy things like face changing and dragon hatching come up, I get a little too excited.
Lucky for me, Jaqen wasn't the only magical thing going down in Westeros last night. We also got two pretty miraculous scenes of hard-hitting fantasy at the end. First up, Dany in the House of the Undying, the scene I've been waiting for most of all. And it certainly didn't disappoint. Not only did she get a vignette of poker-hot visuals, like a trippy glance at the Iron Throne that no doubt foreshadows what's to come, but she also saw hallucination of her dead husband, Drogo, and their unborn child. I forgot how oddly sweet that relationship was (once you got over the whole barbaric rape thing), and it sure was cruel to pit that option against her dragons, because Dany is nothing if not committed to those little fire breathers (I'm still waiting for the supercut of "MY DRAGONS!"). But it was nice to know that that loss isn't forgotten on her, and also nice to see that Dany's strange connection to her house and its symbol has turned her into some sort of mystical dragon queen from beyond.
The final scene was a full-circle moment back to the pilot. Where that episode opened with the white walkers, this episode ended with one. And they're just as ugly and creepy as before. I have some blind affection for Jon Snow - I really do see him as the hero of the story - so I'm happy that he's not only knee-deep in Wildling dilemma, but on the cusp of some radical snow zombie action.
BRING ON SEASON THREE.