Some favorites from the episode:
- Alfie Allen as Theon did a great job. They gave him the unfortunate task of heroic mockery - he gives a big, important speech that is so sadly misguided that he doesn't see this coming: a knock on the back of the head and being bagged for safe transporting into the hands of his "enemies." Despite the pathetic nature of the character, Allen persuasively and engagingly depicts a passionate yet lost and conflicted young man who wants to be someone completely out of reach for him.
- Peter Dinklage is the star of the show, no doubt. And he continued to prove his worthiness as its true protagonist even in the mere few minutes we got of him this episode. Last week was all about his facing imminent danger and potential death, and stepping up to the task; this week, we saw him defeated, in a bed, crying in the arms of his prostitute-girlfriend. Yet their love is one of the truest and most believable on the show.
- The magic. The finale reminded us that we're in a fantastical world, with zombies, black magic, dragons, and shape-shifters. That danger is everywhere, at all times. That there aren't just humans fighting for the "throne," but creatures and forces of nature vying for ultimate control.
- Jaqen being further developed as a character. I knew there was something to him when he took note of Arya from the confines of a cage. Since then, he has played a major role in her fate, and with the new "gift" he has bestowed upon her, we can expect further intervention.
- Brienne being the only actually powerful woman on the series. Arya gets my vote from time to time, but the show is stuck in viewing women as sexual objects, maternal figures, or side-kicks. But this woman can really do some damage and not just with her wit or intrigue - and especially not with her sexual allure (she has none). We also have Danerys, who was one of my favorites last season but who has got lost a little in la-la land this time around. But I also liked seeing her conjure up her baby dragons to destroy her enemy and free them from their chains. It was a powerful moment of magic and mama-baby-dragons action. I'm glad she went out with another bang this season, and didn't just continue to wander through the desert, starving and seeking power utterly out of her reach.
Of all the families, the Lannisters have to be my favorite. Sorry, but I guess the villains are almost - or usually - the most interesting. Cersei is persuasively icy and instinctually protective over her children; brother Jamie has some great comedic lines and proves himself worthy of the title King-slayer; and their father is convincing as that strong, perceptive paternal figure who is witty but cold and selfish. And, of course, there's Tyrion Lannister, their dwarf brother, who is overstepped and mistreated by his family and perhaps for that reason remains on the border between hero and villain. This is a world where blood matters above all else; you may hate your family, but they're all you got. And if you don't have that, then you're most valuable as a member of the Night Watch, where you protect all of humanity from the darker forces at play beyond the wall. You're either a defender of a select group, defined by blood; or you're a defender of everyone, indiscriminately. It's an interesting dynamic to play out between the characters.
What makes Game of Thrones a superior program is its strong actors, dialogues, and directing. There isn't' much "social" value to the scripts or stories, but there's a lot of content in the back-and-forth between characters. Then there's suddenly a big battle scene or CGI effect - both of which are of the least interest to me, although I do watch wide-eyed and impressed. But I don't think I'd come back to the show if it weren't for all the talks between, let's say, Tyrion and some other character - primarily his sister or Varys. But then there's Arya and Tywin, who also have a great rapport.
With all that said, I continue to consider myself a fan of the series and look forward to its return next year. It was short but sweet. I guess we'll have to get our drama-fantasy fix from the series replacing Thrones in its same time slot: True Blood. Expect less talk and more play. I'm ready for it.