Game of Thrones — Season 2 —
A Story in Endings
In this blog article, we continue our investigation of the story-structure revealed by screenwriter David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, who adapted George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire book series for the small-screen's hit HBO TV series Game of Thrones.
Benioff and Weiss suggested at one point that one way they may have plotted out their adaptation was to block in the final moments of each episode. This seems like a good strategy, both for the individual episodes, as well as for the story as a whole—picking obviously the most dramatic, climactic turning points—and also structuring the pacing of the epic narrative of the show's story overall.
In this article, we will be looking at the second season of the Game of Thrones show, and analyzing how these scenes fits within the larger context of the story, and what it means, perhaps, contextually.
After that breakdown, we'll have some "post-season thoughts" about how all the scenes fit together, and maybe a thing or two we can learn from them. Needless to say, there will spoilers and spoiler material for Game of Thrones' season two.
Arya and Gendry Escape North — S2 E01 — The North Remembers
After several brutal killing scenes of enemies of the new ruler—Joffrey—namely, Robert Baratheon, the late king's offspring (or supposed offspring) are killed, and we see the violent agents of Joffrey finding clues to the whereabouts of one of King Robert's sons—Gendry. Our final image is of Arya (definitely counted among the enemies of the new king) and Gendry escaping King's Landing, the capital city, on the back of a wagon, headed north towards the Wall that protects the civilized world, ostensibly to spend life in exile.
This moment serves to illustrate for the audience just how dire our situation is—how dangerous the path ahead will be for our protagonists, and just how much the tables have turned from the last season.
Jon Observes a Child Sacrifice to the "Others " — S2 E02: The Nightlands
Beyond the Wall, outside Craster's dwelling, Jon Snow sees a child left for the "Others," to take and claim as their own. Before he can know what to make of all this, Craster finds him and smashes him in the head with a blunt object. This scenes serves to set up an immediate dramatic interest, as well as highlighting, intensifying and bringing in closer, the threat and the ever-looming presence of the undead menace from the north.
Arya Saves Gendry—Misdirecting Lannister Soldiers — S2 E03: What is Dead May Never Die
Fate finally catches up with Arya, Gendry and the caravan heading north towards the Wall, as Lannister soldiers attack their camp during the night. The soldiers search for Gendry but Arya tricks them by saying that he is already dead—pointing to a young boy they ruthlessly killed, whose body fortuitously happened to fall next to Gendry's bull-headed helmet.
We have a moment of reprieve, where we can hope that the duo, Arya and Gendry can get away—but nothing is for sure, and we wait 'with baited breath,' to see how things will turn out.
Melisandre Gives Birth to a Shadow-Being — S2 E04: The Bone Garden
Ser Davos (the "Onion Knight") accompanies the Red Priestess (Melisandre) to an underground location, where she seems to have something planned. She promises to show him what is "under her robe," and when the moment comes, she opens her clothes, revealing her naked, pregnant body. Davos exclaims, and the lantern he has been carrying flares to life, as if by the will of Melisandre's deity, "the Lord of Light." As he watches, Melisandre goes into labor, and a shadowy, inky, creature oozes out of her body, and flies away.
Arya Discovers Jaqen H'ghar Has Killed On Her Behalf - S2 E05: The Ghost of Harrenhal
Arya has been taken to Harrenhal, where prisoners are being tortured by a man dubbed 'The Tickler.' A fellow prisoner named Jaqen H'ghar, whom Arya saved from a fire offers her a favor in exchange for her having saved his life: just to name any person, and have that person killed. Arya thinks to name the so-called 'Tickler,' and in this final scene, screaming draws her and others to a Harrenhal courtyard where the body of the torturer is discovered fallen to his death.
Looking up Arya sees Jacen H'ghar standing on a rampart. He notices her looking at her, and points to his face in a knowing gesture, as if acknowledging his involvement.
Daenerys Finds Her Guards Slain, and Her Dragons Stolen — S2 E06: The Old Gods and the New
Daenerys returns to her chambers in the city of Qarth, to find her guards slain and her dragons gone!
A cutaway occurs, and in what is technically another scene (as it occurs in some other place), although, at its core is, a continuation of the same storytelling sequence—wherein a strange, hooded figure makes it way up the stairs to a tower and carrying a wicker box. Dragons can be heard screaming inside.
Is it the Warlock, taking the dragons to the House of the Undying?
Theon Sees Burned Bodies at Winterfell — S2 E07: A Man Without Honor
In the conquered courtyard of Winterfell, Theon and the Greyjoys gather the subjugated people, including the castle's Maester. The corpses of two burned children are hoisted on the wall—appearing to be the two remaining Stark boys. The Maester cries out, and Theon looks horrified. Things are spiraling out of control, and it does not seem that even Theon expected it would come to this.
"The little lads have suffered enough." — S2 E08: The Prince of Winterfell
Under the castle of Winterfell, deep in the crypts, Maester Luwin encounters the fugitives who have escaped the Greyjoy invasion. They discuss how they managed to get this far and come safely back into the 'last place' the enemy will look, and how the burned corpses must have belonged to the farmer's children. Supposedly, Bran is not to hear of this, but he is nearby and he overhears it anyways.
Cersei and Tommen are Rescued by Tywin Lannister — S2 E09: Blackwater
As the Battle of the Blackwater rages to its end…Stannis is dragged from the battlefield. Cersei and Tommen take refuge in the throne room, Cersei, all the while, clutching a bottle of a poison called "the essence of nightshade," thinking that she will kill them both if they are taken alive. At the last moment, her father Tywin Lannister bursts through the door—the battle is won.
White Walkers Attack — S2 E10: Valar Morghulis
North of the Wall, the Nightwatch Rangers gather dung for firewood—so far north are they, there aren't any trees for kindling wood to burn. A horn sounds, and it seems it is time for battle. Sam tries to scramble after his brethren who leave to join the fight, but he falls, and soon he is surrounded by White Walkers. He falls, cries, but they ignore him.
Certainly, I'd have to say that this season has a much more complex series of final scenes than did season 1. A lot more storylines come to bear this season, and we are left with a far more intricate tapestry as a result of them.
Children are a strong theme in this season's end-scenes—especially when coupled with the feeling of "threat." Arya and Gendry escape kind's landing, under threat of death (in The North Remembers) and Bran hides in the crypts to survive and escape Greyjoy violence in The Prince of Winterfell. A hideous, demonic spirit-child is birthed by Melisandre at the end of The Bone Garden, a threatening, occultic offspring. Child-sacrifice appears both in scene at an Ironborn captured Winterfell (in A Man Without Honor) where two children, appearing to be the youngest male lords of Winterfell (but actually are more likely peasant sons), and, more literally in the Craster scene (in The Nightlands) where a baby is laid out for the White Walkers to take. The loss of children is also a theme threatened in Blackwater as Cersei clings to her son Tommen, awaiting the outcome of the battle, and is reified—made actual—as Daenerys comes back to her quarters and finds her dragons, her "children," stolen, captured and taken away.
The two "North of the Wall" endings form bookends, of a sort (as the second-episode and the final-episode) around the whole season, encompassing the world of the story in a larger threat. The rest of the episode serve to form the ripples, ever expanding outward, of the "splash" made by King Robert Baratheon's death, and the subsequent rise to the throne by Joffrey. Daenerys makes an appearance as well—in a single end-scene, right at the heart of the season.
Ramifications of the king's death form the meat of the season's final-moments: Arya is forced to escape or face brutal execution under the new regime (The North Remembers), and find new allies on the road north, such as Jaqen H'ghar (The Ghost of Harrenhal). Stannis Baratheon vies for the Iron Throne, in the wake of his brother's death, employing a "Red Priestess" who gives birth to a shadow-child of sorcery (The Bone Garden) that goes on to murder his brother Renly, another contender for the throne, prior to an all out attack on the capital city (Blackwater). Opportunist Theon takes advantage of the situation, the chaos, and the confusion to capture Winterfell (A Man Without Honor), forcing Bran and his companions to flee and go into hiding (The Prince of Winterfell).
A kind of chiastic or "container" structure is hinted at with the White Walker endings, with Craster's sacrifice (The Nightlands) and the "Other" invasion (Valar Morghulis) becoming a kind of rim around the edge of the wheel of the season. If the White Walker storylines form the "wheel's edge," then the single Daenerys episode-finale is its hub. Here we see Daenerys screaming the unforgettable (and meme-worthy!) lines: "Where are my dragons?"
I'd say this Daenerys scene would definitely be putting a lie to my theory from last season, that female characters only get upbeat end-scenes. That would be half my theory—though the one would be hard-pressed to say that there are any end-scenes that whose key, central and viewpoint character is male, whose ending is not downbeat…
Tywin announces victory in Blackwater, but it is clearly Cersei's scene, and while you may argue that Ser Davos is the central character to the finale of The Bone Garden, it is doubtful this is an "up" moment for him, based on how horrified he is at the demon-spawn emerging from Melisandre's womb.
You could suppose that Bran has an upbeat ending in The Prince of Winterfell, or Sam does in Valar Morghulis, since both characters survive almost certain death—at the hands of the Greyjoys and Whitewalkers respectively, but this survival is tinged so heavily with the real or implied/threatened death of others on the same side as those characters: In the case of Sam, he knows the Wights are marching on his brothers, his fellow men of the Nightswatch, and may very well kill them, and in the case of Bran, he learns that others have already, definitely, died in his place.
I wonder if next season will bear out the same trends. Doubtless, things won't get any happier.