Welcome to our Westeros Revisited series! We will be rewatching a key episode from each of the seven
kingdoms seasons of HBO's Game of Thrones. Knowing what we know now, what breadcrumbs and observations can we pick up along the way? And since we're drawing on all seven seasons for insights, SPOILERS AHEAD!
Title: Valar Morghulis
Written by: David Benioff and D.B. Weiss
Directed by: Alan Taylor
All Men Must Die
To begin, let's break down two key phrases in GoT lore, one of which gives this episode its title: "Valar morghulis" and "Valar dohaeris". In High Valyrian, these translate to "All men must die" and "All men must serve." There's a lot to unpack here, of course, but the avenue that most intrigues me is people's relationship with death that the exchange suggests. It is a common greeting for the Faceless Men who serve the Many-Faced-God by assassinating people as required and offering euthanasia in the House of Black and White. All of this further hammers home the idea of death as something to be both feared and welcomed. While all are destined to die, we are all also destined to serve death through our lives. It's oddly comforting for a show that kills so many great characters.
All Men Must Maneuver
King's Landing still stands after the Battle of Blackwater and boy, oh boy, does it lead to some political shakeups! As a sinister version of The Rains of Castamere (a decently creepy tune to begin with) plays, Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance) rides through the throne room to be named Hand of the King. Also, his horse takes the opportunity to relieve itself right there on the floor in a moment of visual metaphor. That couldn't have been the most fun day on set - waiting for the horse's digestive tract to run its course with camera at the ready....
This is also a big moment for one of my favorite characters in the whole series - Ms. Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer). She's equal parts player-of-the-game and not-a-total-monster and it's awesome....until it's not because she gets trapped with a bunch of religious zealots who wouldn't listen to her warnings and doomed everyone (sorry - it's still raw for me). In this moment, though, it's interesting to see Cersei (Lena Headey) argue that Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) break his engagement with Sansa (Sophie Turner) considering how much she and Margaery will butt heads in the future. But for now, let's just be happy that Queen Margaery is on the rise!
All Men Must Regret
There's plenty of regret to go around this episode: either a character feeling regret about what's happened recently or me feeling regret that a character didn't take an option presented to them here. In probably the most painful of these regret-ladden moments, Robb (Richard Madden) tells Cat (Michelle Fairley) definitively that he can't marry Roslin Frey because he loves Talisa (Oona Chaplin). Now I'm not one to often root against true love but...knowing what comes next...just do it please. Watching Robb and Talisa's wedding here makes my stomach sink knowing what my next watch is (Westeros Revisited: The Rains of Castamere coming this Friday). While it's one of the few wedding scenes where no one dies it does lead to a lot of death. Yikes. A close second for moment that solicits the most regret from the audience comes when Shae (Sibel Kekilli) begs Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) to run away with her to Pentos. If only they had! Their sweet embrace and vows to each other are tainted by the images of him strangling her in his father's bed that are seared into my mind. On the plus side, serious props to the makeup department for Tyrion's face wound - I particularly like the puckering skin as it heals.
Feeling regret in real time is Stannis (Steven Dillane), who just had his whole fleet engulfed in wildfire. This scene is mostly denouement after the battle, but there is a really cool prediction from Melisandre (Carice Van Houten) here. She tells Stannis "You will betray the men serving you, you will betray your family, you will betray everything you once held dear. And it will all be worth it." It's misleading but accurate - in sacrificing his daughter he betrays all of those things, but it's worth it because his defeat and death in the wake of that brings Melisandre to Jon Snow (Kit Harrington) in time to revive him. Tricky tricky, Mel! One outstanding question though: Just what did Stannis see in the flames?
And now we come to the character I have the most conflicted feeling for: Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen). I think that's pretty common, really. So, yeah, season two Theon really sucks. He turns on his 'brothers' for a family that rejects him, he kills innocent children to pass their corpses off as Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) and Rickon, and he performs one of the most gruesome executions of the entire series. But he's also been dealt a pretty awful hand. First of all, the Greyjoy culture seriously sucks. It only recognizes immense strength or weak cowardice. Given the moral code he was raised with, Theon feeling a little worthless is a given. Add to that his sorry backstory as a captive trying to be grateful, his severe daddy issues, and his eventual torture and complete breakdown to get a character who, weirdly, wins back our sympathy when we swore never to forgive him. Where he's going to end up is anyone's guess.
All Women Must Kick Ass
Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) is an amazing character and I'm so glad to see her here! She is one of the first badass feminist heroines we meet in the series (the others tend to evolve or reveal themselves later on) and she is a shining example of true chivalry. Here, we see her stop to bury the bodies of three women who were executed by Stark men for sleeping with Lannister soldiers - risking herself and Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) in the process. This incident is a great example of the effects war has on common people (see Westeros Revisited: Winter is Coming for more on this) as their suffering is seen in glimpses more than long story arcs. Watching her deal out vengeance is such a treat and a triumph!
Arya (Maisie Williams) has a pretty nice capper to a rough season. Having escaped from Harrenhal, she receives her coin from Jaqen H'ghar and learns the titular phrase which will come in handy in a couple seasons. It's funny how Game of Thrones plays with our emotions: Arya is awesome and huge fan favorite...but when it comes down to it, should we really be excited about a young girl indulging in a murderous revenge streak and becoming an assassin?
And then we have the conclusion of the "Where are my dragons?" plotline in Qarth. Dany's (Emilia Clarke) visions in the House of the Undying are obviously highly symbolic and probably heavy on foreshadowing but I don't have the time to get too deep into that right now. Instead, please enjoy a quick recap of her two visions with what I found to be pertinent details:
- The throne room with snow falling - the ceiling is broken and fractured, maybe even burned or melted. Dany drops her torch (fire) in the snow (ice). She approaches the throne and reaches for it but does not touch it. The call of her dragons leads her away.
- The gate in the Wall from the pilot. Dany walks north, her pale hair and skin blending with her background and making her look almost completely white. Here she finds a tent where Drogo holds their son. They share a sweet moment where he calls her "Moon of my life" twice but she does not reply with "My sun and stars". Again, her dragons' calls pull her away before she kisses him.
Then she finds them and they have a family barbecue.
Finally, as she leaves Qarth, the Mother of Dragons throws her false host Xaro Xhoan Daxos and her maid Doreah in a vault and locks them away to starve. This moment has additional resonance as we know that Dany will later imprison her dragons in a similar way but it's also an immediate parallel to the women that Brienne finds hanging from the tree. Despite pleading for her life, Doreah is executed for committing the crime of sleeping with the enemy. Instead of giving us a pure heroine who chooses to rise above, Game of Thrones gives us a more human Khalessi* who punishes those who betray her. Everything in this show seems to boil down to the world being morally grey with no true good and no true evil...which has interesting implications for the White Walkers heading into the final season.
*PSA: Khaleesi is not a name, it's a title. Daenerys is her name.
All Writers Must Awkwardly Incorporate Miscellaneous Observations
- "I will love you from this day until my last day" Well, say what you will, Joffrey ain't a liar
- "Creepiest Relationship" is a tough title to garner in this show, but Littlefinger/Sansa probably wins
- PROPHECY WATCH: Melisandre's conversation with Stannis takes place under the stone dragons of Dragonstone (guess we know how it got its name). While initially this was an argument for Stannis being Azor Ahai, it's also the ancestral home of the Targaryens and the castle that Dany use in season 7.
- Really, the Bolton men BURNING DOWN Winterfell was a pretty big red flag in retrospect
- Maester Luwin's death is one of the saddest of the side characters and echos the idea that we all serve the God of Death as Osha has to euthanize him
- Jon Snow may not know much, but he knows how to wear a rug
- Even knowing the plan, Quorin Halfhand has quite a few below the belt insults there...
- At least there's been one purely happy wedding in GoT history 🙂 Congrats to Kit Harrington and Rose Leslie!
- Sam is seriously touched by an angel to survive this final scene - but aren't we glad he does! Maybe the White Walkers didn't attack because he didn't try to fight them? Again, maybe there's some moral grey in them.
- I do love that the White Walker theme is a distortion of the main one. Still epic but heavy and dark.