"Look around you, we're all liars here and every one of us is better than you." -- Littlefinger to Sansa Stark.
Most of the time on "Game of Thrones" much of Westeros is concerned with the Lannister-Stark-Baratheon power struggle happening south of The Wall -- that 700-feet-tall, 300-miles-long blockade of ice that protects humanity from the frozen zombies, giants and mammoths that legends say live beyond it.
Season 2's final episode reminded us that maybe we should be paying more attention to what's happening north of the wall: That is, will any of this Lannister vs. Stark fighting matter when The Others attack?
The episode, "Valar Morghulis" (which means "All Men Must Die" in High Valyrian), ended with two major revelations that cast the future of southern Westeros into doubt: Not only has a giant wildling (wild men) army, led by former Night's Watch ranger Mance Rayder, amassed itself in hopes of a southward attack, but a horde of frozen zombies is also quickly growing and plotting violence. (A moment of introduction/explanation: The zombie leaders are called "The Others" in the books, but "White Walkers" on the show. The men, horses, bears, etc., they kill and then turn into zombies are called "wights." The Others are skilled fighters and a different, mysterious type of race from humans, while the wights are pretty much the typical type of clumsy, mindless zombies you might know from other legends.)
There was, of course, a lot of stuff that happened south of the wall and in the far east. Here's the quick rundown of what happened at each location.
King's Landing: Tyrion Lannister awakes from his battle wounds, but instead of a hero's welcome, he's told that he's no longer Hand of the King and his father (who despises him) Tywin Lannister is getting all the credit for winning The Battle of Blackwater. "The king will not give you any honors. The histories will not mention you but we will not forget," Varys tells Tyrion, who now sports a scar across his face. King Joffrey rewards Littlefinger for arranging the strategic alliance with the Tyrells by granting him lordship of Harrenhal. At his mother's behest, Joff also decides to cast aside Sansa Stark as his future wife in favor of Margaery Tyrell. (Sansa celebrates with a private smile, before feigning sorrow.) "I have come to love you from afar," Margaery says. (We'll see how long that love lasts once she gets to know our sweet Joffrey better.) Littlefinger pulls Sansa aside and warns her that Joffrey will still abuse her, even if she's not his betrothed. "Look around you. We're all liars here and every one of us is better than you," he says.
The road between Riverrun to King's Landing: As she travels in an attempt to trade Jaime Lannister for the Stark girls, Brienne of Tarth saves Jaime from an attack from Stark-pledged soldiers by slaughtering all three men in a particularly brutal fashion. "I don't serve the Starks. I serve Lady Catelyn," she says. (Real question: Is Brienne a top five fighter in Westeros? Just facts: The Mountain, who everyone fears, was unhorsed by Loras Tyrell. And Brienne beat Loras in a contest at Renly's camp. Just saying.)
Robb Stark's camp: King in the North Robb tells his mother Catelyn that he plans to wed Lady Talisa, breaking his vow to marry one of the Frey girls. "Walder Frey is a dangerous man to cross," his mother warns him. He doesn't care and marries her anyway, saying the vows of The Seven, not his father's gods.
Dragonstone: Enraged by his battle loss at Blackwater, the (arguably) rightful King Stannis Baratheon begins to strangle the sorceress Melisandre, who promised him victory. "Where is your God?" he says before releasing her, just before she was about to pass out. For the first time, Stannis expresses regret over killing his younger brother. "I murdered my brother," he says. "We murdered him. Share the weight with me," Melisandre says, before convincing Stannis to stare, trance-like, into the fire with her.
Winterfell: Surrounded by 500 northmen, Theon Greyjoy tries to rally his 20 men to fight by giving them a rousing speech. Then one of them hits him upside the head and knocks him out. "I thought he'd never shut up," the soldier says. Greyjoy's troops then stab Maester Luwin and begin to burn down the historic, massive castle, the ancient home of the Starks, before leaving to return to Pyke. After the soldiers leave, Bran and Rickon Stark come out of hiding, and, following the dying maester's advice, decide to travel north to The Wall.
Qarth: Daenerys Targaryn goes to The House of the Undying to try to rescue her kidnapped dragons. She sees a series of strange visions, including snow falling on The Iron Throne, The Wall, and Khal Drogo with her son. The warlock Pyat Pree then captures Dany in chains, but she turns her dragons against him, burning the weirdo alive. Dany and Jorah Mormont return to Xaro Xhoan Daxos' palace, imprison him and rob him of all his valuables. (This is his punishment for double-crossing her with the warlocks.) The jewelry should be enough to buy Daenerys a ship, she believes. (Frankly, I was expecting a bit more from this scene, but I encourage viewers to read "A Clash of Kings" to get a fuller feeling for just how weird The House of the Undying is and the prophecies it contains. Unfortunately, there also was no mention of Dany's older brother, Rhaeger, in this scene, even though he factored heavily into it in the books. The story of Rhaeger's life and death is likely pivotal to understanding Westeros' mysteries, but it's yet to be mentioned on the show.)
The road from Harrenhal: Arya Stark encounters everyone's favorite new character Jaqen H'ghar, who gives her a special coin and teachers her to say "Valar Morghulis." He reveals to her that he is one of the Faceless Men of the east, some of the most feared assassins in the world, and shows her how he can actually change his face (freaky, I know).
North of the Wall: Legendary ranger Qhorin Halfhand forces a fight with Jon Snow (knowing it's the only way to make the wildings accept Snow as one of their own) and purposefully loses. After Snow kills the Halfhand, wildling captain Rattleshirt cuts the ropes off his arms. "Burn the body," the Lord of Bones says. "You don't want this one coming back for you." Ygritte then leads Jon to a spot where she could see Mance Rayder's camp. "Time to meet The King Beyond The Wall," she says. As the episode ends, the true size of Mance Rayder's army is shown: It's huge. Hundreds of thousands of people, easily. We also get our best view yet of The Others, and they are an ugly bunch to say the least. They appear poised to attack The Fist of the First Men, where members of the Night's Watch were camped.
It wasn't as thrilling an episode as last week's "Blackwater," but the season finale advanced at least seven major plot-lines, including perhaps the two most important. Though most of the events on the show take place in southern Westeros, the action is building in the east and north, and one day (only George R.R. Martin knows, for sure) we may see a battle between The Others and Dany's dragons befitting the name, "A Song of Ice and Fire."