Warning – spoilers for Game of Thrones Season 2 to follow.
10. Theon’s Choice
I’m a sucker for beautiful mise en scéne. Against a chiaroscuro backdrop, Theon stares at the letter he wrote warning Rob Stark of his father’s plans, illuminated by a single candle. It’s an image that tells you all you need to know about his torn loyalty. Then Theon makes his decision and sticks the letter in the fire, watching it burn as the music appropriately turns to the Stark family theme.
9. Littefinger Spoils the End of Blackwater
I’ll bet good money almost no one expected this to be on my list, let alone remember which scene I’m referring to. I myself wasn’t even thinking of including this scene until I re-watched the entire season to prepare for writing this list. It occurs in “The Old Gods And The New,” where during a meeting Littlefinger broaches the possibility of an alliance between Lannister and Tyrell to Lord Tywin. Tywin appears open to this idea, essentially giving away the ending of “Blackwater,” but you probably don’t remember it. Why? Because all you were thinking about during that conversation was whether or not Littlefinger was going to recognize Arya; the youngest Stark daughter’s peril worried you so much that you barely heard what Tywin and Littlefinger were saying. The writers knew you would, which is why they gave away the Lannister/Tyrell alliance like it was nothing. Besides successfully putting you right in Arya’s shoes, it’s scenes like this that showcase just how much mastery Game of Thrones has over its storytelling.
8. Tyrion’s Lowest Moment
Following the Battle of Blackwater Bay, Tyrion remains alive after Cersei’s failed assassination, having suffered a brutal injury to his face. His friend and protector Bronn is gone, he is no longer Hand of the King, and no one, not even his family, will acknowledge all he did to save King’s Landing. The battle has been won, but Tyrion has lost everything. – everything except for Shae, at whom, in grief, he lashes out. The weight of a relationship isn’t measured in grand statements delivered in times of happiness; it’s measured by what is said in times of the lowest low. For Shae and Tyrion, it is when Shae states, “You have a shit memory. I am yours, and you are mine.”
Sue me, I’m a romantic.
7. Brienne “Bonds” With The Kingslayer
I can’t quite place why Brienne is one of my favorite new characters in Season 2. Maybe it’s because she kicks Ser Loras’s ass in her first scene. Maybe it’s because she kicks ass in the medieval fantasy setting of Game of Thrones, where so many women are stuck in degrading roles. Maybe it’s because she kicks so much ass she has Jamie frigging Lannister thinking twice about messing with her. Whatever the reason, it probably has something to do with her being an all-around badass.
Now that Brienne has to escort Jamie Lannister across half of Westeros, their banter is one of the things I’m most looking forward to in Season 3. Thankfully, we got a taste of their rapport in the season finale in one powerful scene. As Brienne is about to tie up the Kingslayer so she can bury 3 girls murdered for cooperating with the Lannister army, their murderers return. Brienne and Jamie have to work together to convince the men she’s not escorting the Kingslayer’ when that fails, they again work together to kill them, during which time Brienne makes a point of cutting one of the rapists in half from the crotch up. Brienne then returns to burying the girls without tying up Jamie; the sight of the brutal death of the rapist subdued the Kingslayer far more efficiently then bondage ever could. It is a shame we have to wait a year to see their adventures continue.
6. Daenerys’ Vision
In the season finale, Daenerys ventures into the House of the Undying to claim what is hers. But before she can reunite with her dragons, Dany has a multistage vision – one which hints heavily at things to come. After searching desperately for her “children, she finds herself in a hall: the sun has blotted out, the roof has been torn open, and Winter has come. Only when she reaches out to touch the thorny arm of the Iron Throne do we realize Daenerys Targaryen is standing in the Red Keep at King’s Landing. Whether it is a glimpse of what is to come, or one possibility among many, we do not know – but the chills the scene sends down our spines remain.
5. Alton Lannister Meets His Hero
Hayao Miyazaki once said, “In order to grow your audience, you must betray their expectations.” For a perfect illustration, look no further than the meeting of Alton and Jamie Lannister. What first appears to be a filler scene turns into character development for Alton Lannister, who until now was nothing more than a highborn mailman. Alton reveals his idolization of Jamie, who responds graciously and confides his hero-worship for Barristan Selmy. “I was sixteen once, too.” It’s funny, endearing, and the softest side we’ve ever seen of Jamie – when suddenly, Jamie seizes his opportunity and bashes his cousin’s head in to make an escape from the Stark camp. The Kingslayer pushed a child out of a window in the series’ first episode, and this still may have been his most shocking scene yet. Jamie Lannister’s cold pragmatism has yet to reach its limit – indeed, he is indeed “A Man Without Honor.”
4. Atop A Dead Horse
The season is over – Daenerys’s dragons have been rescued from the House of the Undying, Qhorin Halfhand has been killed to ingratiate Jon Snow with the wildlings, and Xaro Xhaon Daxos’s empty vault was opened and he was stuffed inside. But all things must end, and as the final episode draws to a close, the audience is treated to a brilliant adventure With Dolorous, Grenn, and Sam, in the snow… picking up moose sh*t. Really? This is how they’e going to top last season’s finale with naked Dany and her three new dragons? How is moose sh*t is comparable? I don’t understand – how could they drop the ball like this? They must be saving something really big for next season because this is just – oh hey a horn blast, that’s interesting. Anyway, I guess everyone screws up now and – there’s a second horn blast, at least we might see some action…
Third. Horn. Blast.
3. Anyone Can Be Killed
Another unlikely pairing which proves to be a joy to watch is of Tywin Lannister and Arya Stark. Besides the delicious irony that Tywin is unknowingly sheltering the sister of his opponent, the pairing provides multiple chances for intelligent banter, and boy do I love banter. Their best interaction remains their first; what begins as Tywin deducing that “Arry” is a Northerner while trying to illustrate to his war council the status Robb Stark holds with people ends with Arya telling the most powerful man in Westeros that even he, Tywin Lannister, is not invincible. “Anyone can be killed” – something Arya Stark, daughter of the late Lord Eddard Stark, knows all too well. Along with “Blackwater,” this is the scene I hear people mention the most when talking about their favorite moments from this season, and it’s no mystery why. There’s just something brilliant about one of the show’s oldest, most powerful characters conversing with one of the show’s youngest and deceptively weakest, only to find that her wit easily matches his.
“Fetch that water.” Nice comeback, Tywin.
2. Tyrion’s Gambit
I would gladly watch Tyrion Lannister Makes King’s Landing His B*tch if it was a show. Sadly, it’s not, and I felt it would be unfair to the other entries if I included more than one awesome Tyrion moment. I had the hardest time narrowing it down, but ultimately I have to choose his brilliant trickery from “What Is Dead May Never Die.” In a brilliant piece of editing, Tyrion converses with Maester Pycelle regarding his plan to wed Myrcella Baratheon off to the prince of Dorne. The scene transitions to Tyrion continuing the same conversation, except with Varys and then with Littlefinger. To each council member, Tyrion mentions a different suitor – so when Cersei confronts Tyrion about wedding Myrcella off to Dorne, Pycelle is exposed as her spy. In the span of one episode, Tyrion makes a fool of everyone who trumped Ned Stark for all of last season. The game of thrones has many players, but for one glorious season, they were all cast in the long shadow of Tyrion Lannister.
No, picking an entire episode is not a copout – rather, this is a well-reasoned, conscious decision. “Blackwater” breaks the traditional episode format for Game of Thrones; instead of jumping around and showing snippets from many characters, “Blackwater” focuses in King’s Landing for all of its 52 minute running time. Essentially, the episode is one long scene which, had I included every individual element that I love about this episode, would have comprised 90% of this Top 10 list. Therefore, I’ll share some of them here: Varys ill at ease, placing his faith in Tyrion; Cersei’s drunk bonding with Sansa; Sansa’s subtle snarking at Joffrey and Tyrion; that breathtaking wildfire explosion on the bay which incinerates half Stannis’ army along with half of the season’s budget; The Hound showing his softer side to Sansa; Tyrion’s speech, heroic in its anti-heroism; the masterfully crafted mise en scéne with Cersei on the Iron Throne, as the camera slowly, forebodingly advances towards the door.
Mentioning any more would be rambling, but I think it is safe to say that Blackwater is the most epic war story ever achieved on television, the best episode of Game of Thrones yet, and one of the most gripping episodes of television period.
Unfortunately, there was only room for ten spots on this list. However, just because I didn’t include something on this list doesn’t mean I didn’t think it was awesome; Season 2 amazed me with pretty much every episode. Here are a few other scenes I loved:
- Melisandre giving birth to Stannis’s “son” (This one still haunts my dreams.)
- Cersei admitting Joffrey’s mad and that it’s probably her fault, and Tyrion’s attempt to comfort her
- “I will hurt you for this. A day will come when you think yourself safe and happy, and suddenly your joy will turn to ashes in your mouth, and you’ll know the debt is paid.”
- Arya and Gendry bonding (I can’t be the only one who ships this.)
- “I’m not questioning your honor, Lord Janos. I’m denying its existence.”
- Tyrion slaps Joffrey again (Thank you – just, thank you.)
- Daenerys walking off, nuzzling her dragons as her khalasaar raid Xaro Xhaon Daxos’s house.
That’s all folks, let the countdown to season 3 begin. Leave your comments in the section below, and remember… Winter is coming.