(The Root) — Can you say "gangsta"? The HBO series Game of Thrones, based on the first book in George R.R. Martin's fantasy novel series, A Song of Ice and Fire, has come to an end after a second season criticized for storyline bloat and moments where the small-screen adaptation strayed far from the book.
Although Sunday's finale did not have the momentum of the previous episiode, "Blackwater" — which will certainly be long regarded as a television classic for its amazing CGI explosions and epic (and gruesome) battle scenes — some of the characters hit their stride, while others were tossed away like used tissue.
Take, for instance, Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage), who came up with the original plan of attack against King Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane): using wildfire, a green liquid that is set aflame, to decimate Stannis' fleet, rallying the soldiers to sneak-attack Stannis' men from behind the gate and ostensibly buying enough time to allow his father, Tywin (Charles Dance), to save the day.
What does Tyrion get in exchange for his courage, leadership and severe war wound? He is banished to a monk's quarters, stripped of his title and returned to his black-sheep status. This is how the finale, "Valar Morghulis" ("All Men Must Die" in High Valyrian language), opens, laying the groundwork for the episode's theme that honor is overrated, valor is fleeting and Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) is not to be messed with.
For example, King Joffrey (Jack Gleeson), a vile boy king who fled at the first sign of defeat by Stannis' army, conveniently following his mother Cersei Lannister's (Lena Heady) orders to retreat from the battle's frontlines. Despite his cowardly act of leaving his men on the field to die while saving himself, Joffrey retains his position as king. We also learn that it was his mother (aka Tyrion's sister) who sent a henchman to murder Tyrion during the battle to protect Joffrey's reign.
Joffrey discards Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) for his wife-to-be Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer). Littlefinger (Aiden Gillen), who is awarded a Lordship of Harrenhal, pulls Sansa aside, begging her to leave King's Landing, which she insists is her home. Sansa, who officially became a woman two episodes ago, is still making decisions like a little bird, repeating what she thinks he wants to hear instead of the truth. Littlefinger warns her that she is surrounded by liars who are "better than her," another theme for the season finale.
The "Mother of Dragons," Khaleesi Daenerys, visits the feared House of the Undying to rescue her baby dragons, finally putting some action behind a lot of petulant and unsubstantiated shouting during season 2 about her being born of a special, powerful bloodline. After a fantastical visit from the love of her life, Khal Drago (Jason Momoa), Daenerys manages to find her dragons. She summons them with whispered commands ("dracarys") and they spit fire, torching the warlock who stole the little creatures in the first place.
Having learned that Xaro Xhoan Daxos (Nonso Anozie) and her best friend have betrayed her, Daenerys locks them in a vault and steals all of Xaro's "valuables" in the process. What's interesting about Xaro, a self-appointed king and the only black man in Qarth, is that he is supposed to be all-powerful, but it turns out that his power is a facade. He crosses Daenerys because of her unwillingness to be his queen and winds up bedding her best friend. Daenerys plans on using Xaro's "riches" to buy a fleet of ships, seemingly to return to King's Landing.
Rob Stark (Richard Madden) marries Lady Talisa (Oona Chaplin), ignoring his mother Catelyn Stark's (Michelle Fairley) reminder that he promised to marry one of Walder Frey's (David Bradley) daughters. At Winterfell, Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen) is taken out in anticlimactic fashion after giving a great speech to rally the 20 troops he had left. We're left wondering if he's dead, as his character is in the book, or if he'll return for Season 3.
Stannis flees home and tries to strangle his witch girlfriend for failing to deliver King's Landing to him as she had promised. Brienne (Gwendoline Christie), who is the baddest soldier in the land, travels with Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldeau), taking out three Stark soldiers in grand fashion, reminding Lannister that she serves Catelyn and not her son's army, and earning his respect in the process. On the subject of Starks, Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) bids farewell to her mysterious assassin friend, Jaqen H'ghar (Tom Wlaschiha), giving up her chance of becoming a stealthy killer herself. Jaqen reveals that he's one of the Faceless Men, the most feared assassins in the land, who can change their appearances at will.
If that sounds creepy, then the much-feared White Walkers, who are zombielike creatures with intense blue eyes, make the Faceless Men look like Brad Pitt. The White Walkers are mounting their attack against those North of the Wall. Qhorin Halfhand (Simon Armstrong) gives his life so that Jon Snow (Kit Harington) can live and outsmart his captors and return to his brothers at the wall.
As the brotherhood prepares for war against the White Walkers, we learn the size of the White Walkers' army, which appears to be in the tens of thousands. Who will be able to stop the White Walkers? The initial guess is Daenerys and her dragons, in a battle that will be epic when the dragons come of age.
Season 2 lacked the momentum of the first season. However, the "Blackwater" episode more than made up for the sluggishness, setting up a finale that leaves viewers with more questions than answers. It is the desire for answers that will deliver viewers for season 3 as the war between the seven kingdoms rages on.
Nsenga Burton, Ph.D., is editor-at-large for The Root. Follow her on Twitter.
Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D., a media scholar, is digital editor in chief at Grady Newsource and a faculty member of the Cox Institute of Journalism, Innovation, Management & Leadership at the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia. She is founder and editor in chief of the award-winning news blog the Burton Wire. Follow her on Twitter here or here.