Surprise! The 'Thrones' finale unleashes dragons, White Walkers and a resurrected warlord
Game Of Thrones Finale 03
Credit: HBO
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So soon?

Yes, the end is here. It seems like only nine weeks ago that the second season of Game of Thrones started. Actually, it was nine weeks ago. But damn, those weeks sure went by fast.

Tonight’s finale has miles of storytelling to cover and only an hour to do it. Wait, what’s that on my DVR? Seventy minutes? Even better. Take all the time you need, Thrones.

After last week’s Battle of the Blackwater blowout, one might wonder if the finale could live up to the intensity of the previous episode. Once we have a giant green wildfire explosion and castle-wall storming, can we just return to our regular-sized drama and still feel satisfied? Of course. The battle spectacle was fun, but it’s the characters and storytelling that drive this show, and we want to know what’s going to happen next to Dany, Jon, Arya, Theon, Robb and the 257 major characters in this tale.

So let’s get to it. Tonight’s finale is full of surprises — even to devout readers of George R.R. Martin’s novels.

In the credits we see the great Alan Taylor directed this episode. Sadly, Taylor is not expected to direct any episodes next season since his work on Thrones helped land him Thor 2 — the turncloak. (Kidding, kidding. Who wouldn’t be tempted by the opportunity to direct Chris Hemsworth’s hair?)

King’s Landing: We open to a bleary eye. A bandaged Tyrion. He tells Podrick — and worried fans — that he’s very much alive. You didn’t really think Tyrion was dead did you? Then again, Thrones does have a reputation. Pycelle informs him that he’s no longer Hand of the King. Since Tyrion had Pycelle thrown into the Black Cells earlier this season, the maester looks rather pleased to deliver this news. Yes Tyrion, it’s devious and ungrateful jerks like this that you risked your life to save.

Throne Room: Cowardly King Joffrey, backlit by hellish red, gets to magnanimously bestow rewards on his subjects.

First up is Tywin Lannister, whose horse poops on the floor. He’s the new Hand of the King (well, Tyrion was really only serving the role in Tywin’s absence in the first place, but I guess the Lannister patriarch has now taken it back). Tywin is called the “savior of the city” and that is accurate. He rode into the battle with the Tyrells and drove off Stannis. Tyrion deserves a whole lot of credit for rescuing the city as well, but what are the chances he’ll get it?

Next is Littlefinger. It was the Master of Coin’s idea for Tywin to join forces with the Tyrells. He’s given that dragon-wrecked castle Harrenhal where Arya was kept prisoner. The place is a dump, but it’s still considered a great reward, sort of like any piece of Manhattan real estate.

Ser Loras Tyrell is given the opportunity to make a request. He offers up his sister, Margaery, who he claims “remains innocent” after her brief marriage to Renly.

NEXT: Sansa off the hook! (Or is she?)

Margaery steps forward and declares her love for Joffrey and recounts tales of his “wisdom and courage,” causing viewers to sputter.

Sansa is watching all this like: Whaaaa?

Realize this entire exchange is pure theater for the crowd. Joffrey, Cersei, Pycelle and the Tyrells are putting on this show. They need a way of gracefully getting Joffrey out of his impending marriage to Sansa without the king looking like the opportunist that he is. And what better reason than Love, True Love?

“I am free to heed my heart,” Joffrey declares, as if he has one.

Sansa keeps a straight face, then can’t resist bursting into a hilarious grin as soon as her back is turned. Free at last! Right…?

Littlefinger, as usual, is quick to make a woman unhappy. “Joffrey isn’t the sort of boy who gives away his toys,” he warns her. Joffrey still might beat Sansa and have sex with her…and perhaps beat her while having sex with her. Littlefinger says he’ll help get Sansa home. Nobody mentions The Hound, but we assume he escaped.

Brothel: Ros! She’s back after a long absence. Varys visits in his Jedi Knight robes. She tries to grab his junk and finds him junkless. He wants to offer her a job, noting that Littlefinger merely regards her as a “collection of profitable holes,” a phrase that might be the most degrading euphemism for a prostitute ever. Guess we’ll have to wait until next season to find out what this job entails. Varys also hinted to Tyrion that he wouldn’t be seeing him for awhile. Hmm…

Riverside: There’s a lot to like about this next scene. We have Jaime tormenting Brienne again when they’re accosted by a trio of Stark troops. They think she’s ridiculous — a woman knight? Jaime tries a lowborn accent to try and fool them into believing he’s a common thief, but his story doesn’t smell right. One of the troops recognizes Jaimie and is actually pretty clever, demanding Jaimie and Brienne both answer at the same time what Jaimie’s name is. Brienne takes all three of them out and even Jaime is impressed.

Stark Camp: Robb is in love even, though he’s promised to marry the Frey’s daughter. “Your father didn’t love me when we married,” his mom says, which is so not reassuring.

“We built it slowly over the years… It’s not as exciting as secret passion in the woods,” she says, “but it is stronger.”

Yeah, there’s a guy named Jon Snow who might disagree with her on that point.

“The only parent I have left has no right to call anyone reckless,” Robb says. Oh, burn.

NEXT: Stannis chokes the witch. Horny enemies annoy Theon

Dragonstone: Hey, Stannis survived. And he’s very annoyed. His lover Melisandre’s psychic flames, it seems, weren’t accurate in predicting his victory. But if you’re going around trusting a fireplace to tell your future during wartime, you get what you deserve.

He starts choking the hell out of her. “Where’s your god now?” he asks.

He lets her goes, then says something I didn’t expect. He expresses a tinge of remorse about killing his brother Renly.

“This war will last for years, thousands will die at your command, you will betray the men serving you, you will betray your family, you will betray everything you once held dear,” Melisandre says.

If I’m Stannis, I’m now thinking: Might you have mentioned all that earlier?

She swears he will be king, though, and shows him some future in the flames. Whatever he sees, by his expression we assume it’s awesome and terrible.

Winterfell: The castle is surrounded by 500 of Stark’s bannermen. Theon is annoyed his enemies keep blowing a horn. It’s a practice still used in sieges to this day, though we have more creative types of noisemakers now (during the 1993 stand-off at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, the government blasted rock music for hours on end).

“Thank you wise bald man for explaining siege tactics to me,” self-pitying Theon snaps at Maester Luwin. “Know what it’s like to be told how lucky you are to be someone’s prisoner?”

Luwin gives him some advice: Run, escape through the castle’s tunnels, join the Night’s Watch.

Like Stannis, Theon expresses regret at the things he’s done this season.”You’re not the man you’re pretending to be,” Luwin says.

Theon decides to fight. He chooses to die in a blaze of glory rather than scurry away. He rallies his 20 men. For the first time, he manages a speech that doesn’t sound idiotic. Grandiose and over the top? Sure, but coherent and filled with passion.

Theon gives his crazy-eyes killer battle cry and —

NEXT: A betrayer betrayed; Tyrion’s new face revealed

He’s knocked unconscious by his devious first mate. Even this, Theon’s attempt at reclaiming some of his honor, turns out like a joke. They put a hood over his head and declare they’re going home. But will they take Theon with them, or turn him over to Stark’s bannermen?

Luwin rushes over and demands to know what they’re doing. The first mate shoves a spear in his belly (I gasped). Poor Luwin. Bet he would have never in a million years imagined that he’d die defending Theon Greyjoy.

King’s Landing: Tyrion tells Varys about the knight who tried to kill him. He’s assuming the knight was acting under Cersei’s orders. This is a little surprising since Tyrion normally doesn’t trust anybody and he’s taking a risk letting Varys know about this. He wants guards around his room.

And Tyrion is in for some more bad news. Bronn no longer commands the City Watch. His horde of tribesmen have been paid off and sent home. So much of what he built has been dismantled while he lay injured in bed.

Shae reveals the new Tyrion. He’s got a nasty cut across his face. In the book, part of Tyrion’s nose was cut off, but that would likely require CGI in every scene next season, so it’s no wonder the producers opted for this less intrusive option. In some ways, a prosthetic scar might help the handsome Peter Dinklage look a bit more like the trollish Tyrion of the novels.

“I’m a monster as well as a dwarf, you should charge me double,” he says.

Shae offers to run away with him. This is unexpected, because, like Tyrion, we’ve sorta assume she was in this for the wealth and power. But he wants to stay and she pledges to remain with him. Okay, so Tyrion starting to sob? Got to you, didn’t it?

Stark Camp: Robb marries Talisa by a godswood tree, defying his mom and Lord Frey. Nobody else was invited. The ceremony involves speaking words in unison and they sound like a bad 1970s Brit rock song. Still as weddings go, brief and simple. Way better than, say, a Catholic one. Maybe all weddings in Game of Thrones will be this easy?

House of the Undying: Dany is determined to go get her dragons. No guards. And, it seems, no door. You know when a house doesn’t even have a door it’s going to present you with some challenges. She vanishes into the building. Inside, Dany hears her babies crying…

NEXT: Jaqen returns; Bran gets a wheelbarrow

Wilderness: A man returns! Jaqen H’ghar finds Arya and her companions. She wants to know how he killed the men at the gate and how to learn such a skill. Jaqen reveals he knows her secret list of people that she wants dead — like Joffrey and Cersei. Well, maybe the list is not such a huge secret. If you say a bunch of names aloud every night before you go to sleep, word is bound to get around. Jaqen must be pretty relieved she didn’t start naming all the most powerful people in Westeros.

He makes her an offer: Come with him to Braavos (where her fighting instructor from season 1 was from — and, hey, whatever happened to him, anyway?). There she can learn to be a “Faceless Man.” She declines, saying she must meet up with her family.

Jaqen gives her a coin and tells her if she ever wants to meet up with him again, to give the coin to anybody from Braavos and say “Valar Morghulis” (he rocks the pronunciation, too). He has her repeat it. I’d ask Jaqen to say it like 10 more times just to make sure I learned it right and, well, also to hear him say it. It’s like when an American news anchor suddenly throws out a perfect “Kyrgyzstan.” He turns back to her and —

Whoa! Yes. New face. Now we know why Jaqen is called a Faceless Man. Wasn’t sure if the TV version of Thrones was going to go there. This is how Jaqen got away with killing all those men.

Winterfell: Bran and Rickon emerge from hiding. Winterfell was burned down. Great, so now the Starks are not only separated and on the run, they have no home. It’s left unclear whether Theon’s men or Robb’s bannermen torched the house.

They find Luwin, mortally wounded, so at least he has the peace of saying goodbye to the kids. He tells them to go north and has Osha put him out of his misery.

We get a couple shots of Bran and Rickon’s direwolves. Haven’t seen much direwolf action this season, but the story hasn’t exactly screamed for it.

They leave Winterfell. Hodor has Bran — in a freakin’ wheelbarrow. Poor Bran. Jaqen can change his face, Dany has dragons, Melisandre can see the future. But nobody can make this kid walk again. Sucks.

House of the Undying: The name of this place sounds like a Beverly Hills anti-aging clinic, doesn’t it? Like a business where Dany could get some Botox and lipo.

She goes into a circular room where there’s a bunch of different doors. I wouldn’t sweat which of the doors to choose. When you’re dealing with a magical warlock who likes to f–k with people, it probably doesn’t matter which door you pick. You’re in his funhouse, just go with it.

Dany enters…

NEXT: The badass is back; dragon fire!

The King’s Landing throne room. Only in this version, winter has come. The roof is in ruins. Doesn’t it look just like what the dragons did to Harrenhal? I think this is the throne room of a possible future where Daenerys Targaryen has wrecked havoc with her fiery pets.

She leaves and exits —

The massive gate in the Wall. There’s a tent. Inside is —

Drogo! Yes, Jason Momoa is back. I like that even in dream-ghost form, he’s still a witty badass (“These questions are for wise men with skinny arms”). This scene is a treat, giving Dany and us fans some closure, even if imagined, to her relationship with Drogo. “If this is a dream, I will kill the man who tries to wake me,” he says, a great line.

She turns away from the vision, and finds her dragons — and the warlock. The dragons wear cute little dragon chains. The warlock explains the dragons being reborn have helped rekindle his magic, so he wants to trap them together.

She gives her dragons a command, “dracarys,” and they spit-fire the warlock, setting him aflame. The scene doesn’t feel too convincing, partly because the dragons look too small to shoot out those long streams of fire in this scene.

North of the Wall: Jon Snow in chains and on the march (lot of characters in chains this episode). Behind him, Ygritte is talking at him and smacking him on his head with his own sword when he doesn’t answer. That must be really annoying.

Suddenly Qhorin Halfhand gets loose and attacks Jon. The Lord of Bones lets them fight. Jon’s protective direwolf Ghost is … I dunno, chasing Wildling squirrels or something. Halfhand provokes Jon with the oldest line in the book (your muddah is a whore!) and it works — he slays him. It’s another deviation from the books that I suspect will get fans buzzing (Halfhand ordered Jon to kill him in the novels, making it more of an agonizing and calculated decision rather than an act of anger).

The Lord of Bones cuts Jon’s binds. They crest the hill and see the sprawling Wildling Camp. Next season, Thrones will definitely introduce Wildling leader Mance “King Beyond the Wall” Rayder (a list of new characters being introduced next season here).

Qarth: Dany enters Xaro Xhoan Daxos’ home. Seems now that she’s got her dragons back, her entourage is growing again. She finds her former slave Doreah in bed with Xaro. The pleasure slave tries to spin this like, Hey, I was only sleeping with him to help you.

NEXT: The horn blows once…twice …

They go to Xaro’s precious vault and find it’s empty. His vast wealth was a mirage. Dany seals Xaro and Doreah in the vault together, giving them some Poe-like justice. This bit I really liked. Do you think they’ll have sex again before they die? You know, just for the hell of it? Nothing else to do in there…

So Dany and her followers rob Xaro’s house instead. Drogo would have approved.

North of the Wall: Okay, we’ve deviated so much from the books, I have no idea what’s coming here for the big finish.

Sam and his Night’s Watch brothers are just hanging out in the snow, still digging latrines, he’s pining for that girl he left back at Craster’s house (yeah, we almost forgot about her — she’s still getting molested and all, great…). They hear a horn blow. They assume it’s Halfhand. But that doesn’t make sense as he’s dead.

The Night’s Watch code goes like this: once for a ranger returning, twice for enemies, three time for White Walkers and four times for a Night’s Watch member having sex (so I made up the last one, but it’s not like they’d ever get to blow it four times anyway).

The horn blows three times. The other men run. Sam, well, let’s face it. He’s not really built for cardio. Shadowy figures appear. The first creatures we see are walking dead. Let’s just use the z-word: Zombies. Then we’re treated to our first really clear view of a full-fledged White Walker.

He’s riding a dead horse. The blue-eyed demon looks…amazing. Once again, the Thrones team finished a season with a CGI image that’s startling and realistic. The White Walker glares at Sam, who just sobs. The thing roar-hisses, and just keeps on going — with a legion of walking dead behind him. Ready to start Westeros War Z.

And to dark. We’re left with questions. Such as: What happened to Theon? (Yes, book readers, I’m wondering too: Will he be in season three? Doing what?)

But overall, there’s more closure in this episode than I would have thought possible. Dany got her dragons back (and said goodbye to Drogo). Robb married the sexy medic. Tyrion lost power, but plans to stay at King’s Landing. Jon Snow “joined” the Wildlings. Arya, Bran and Rickon all escaped their immediate peril. Sansa won’t have to marry Joffrey. I was satisfied on all fronts (except I wished Jon hadn’t seemingly killed the Halfhand because he ripped on his mom). Also, between the direwolves, dragons, zombies, White Walkers and magic flame gazing, I think this is the most fantasy-filled episode we’ve seen yet, yes?

Be sure to check out our post about Momoa’s surprising finale cameo here. There’s also some Thrones scoop from the producers about season three in that story. And here’s that season three cast list for those who missed it last week.

Well, it’s that time. I’ve been live writing and revising this finale recap for six hours now, thanks for staying up with me. And thanks again for reading along all season. Here’s all the Thrones recaps this year (“50 Shades of Greyjoy” and “Control Issues” were probably the most fun). I’ll be back in 2013 to write about what’s sure to be a very dramatic Thrones third season. Follow me on Twitter at @james_hibberd.

Until then, save the date.

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Game of Thrones

HBO's epic fantasy drama based on George R.R. Martin's novel series A Song of Ice and Fire.

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