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Game of Thrones Recap: A Newbie and a Superfan Debate the Season Finale

Each week, Vulture brings you a postshow analysis from Song of Fire and Ice newbie Margaret Lyons and George R.R. Martin devotee Adam Pasick. This week, it's the season finale! Determination, death, dragons: It's everything you like about Game of Thrones!

MARGARET LYONS: Adam! I have to admit, I am a little sad that this is our last trip to Westeros for a little while. Things were just starting to get interesting.

After last week's big beheading, there was almost no way for this week's to pack the same kind of emotional punch. Instead, we moved the plot forward — though I'm sort of loathe to describe the action in a linear way. Other shows move "forward." This show just moves ... outward.

The big theme this week was characters looking around, taking stock, and saying to themselves, "Well, this is my life now." Catelyn and Robb each had their moments of grief, but Robb was almost more paralyzed by being named King of the North than by his father's death. Oh. This is my life now. Sansa, barely registering any feeling but guilt, looked like she was drowning on that causeway with Joffrey; my first thought wasn't that she was going to push the teen tyrant off the bridge, it was that she was going to throw herself off it. (Nice little moment from the Hound there, too.) Arya's face of resignation and determination as she marched in the sad orphan/criminal parade out of town was equal parts depressing and inspiring: Sure, things are not looking good for her right now, but if there's anyone who can cope, it's someone as scrappy and ferocious as her. Jon trying to leave, then being convinced to stay, then riding off with his misfit cavalry toward Zombieland — I was hoping that the polar bear on the end of his sword would take on some Wonderfalls properties and remind him "this is your life now." Tyrion was thrilled to get the paternal approval he'd always yearned for; Jamie seemed surprisingly witty for a guy getting bashed in the face with a rock on the regular; Osha saw Bran in a new light; and we even saw Rickon! Hi, Baby Stark!

Which brings us to the biggest transformation of them all: Daenerys. This week she found out she gave birth to a stillborn dragon baby, mercy-killed her vegetative husband, executed the witch lady she'd entrusted with her husband's health, vowed to her followers that their enemies would "die screaming," and then gave herself a gorgeous phoenix moment to incubate some dragon eggs. I still don't think Emilia Clarke is bringing enough to the character, but I'm starting to care less. I like a good death-to-our-enemies speech, and GoT has seriously delivered on that front.

So this is our life now, Adam! Are you feeling resigned to it, Sansa style? Or are you in a Daenerys zone, where you're ready to tear it up?

Two other things stood out to me last night: First, the mention of the "free cities," which was news to me. And second, we had a moment where a character gazed at his reflection in the mirror. The only other mirror I think we've seen this season was right after Ros and Theon had their sexposition moment, and we didn't see her reflection at all, just her sitting at a vanity and primping. Characters on this show are not particularly introspective (though I'm sure they seem plenty self-aware in the book), which ties back into the omnipresent voyeurism and constant overobservation of the show: To know themselves better, Game of Thrones characters look at other people, not themselves. Who will everyone be looking at next season?

So how did the show's creators handle it? I think it worked, although it's a testimony to the difference between novels and TV that it carried a lot less oomph than I had hoped it might.

What happened in the Miri Maz Dur's tent, which was left as a giant cliffhanger at the end of the last episode? Owing to narrative efficiency or budget constraints, we never find out. The concentric circle crematorium itself, Miri Maz's wails, the fear of Jorah Monmount, and the supreme confidence of Daenerys were spot on. And then ... flash-forward to the next morning? Why the lapse? I haven't done this kind of point-by-point comparison much, but: In the books, we hear the eggs crack and a buck-naked and bald (!) Daenerys emerges from the fire. And — hold on to your hats — she's breastfeeding the dragons. (Queen Dragon Breastfeeder (tm)?) That happens on the literal last page of the novel, and it smacked me in the face like a ten-minute Tyrion/Joffrey loop.

Maybe the breastfeeding dragons were just too icky, although this show hasn't shown any squeamishness in that department. But the morning-after dragon reveal was a puzzler to me, and I didn't love it. Then again I'm just an alleged superfan, and this was a moment for the non-fanboy masses. Did it work for you?

LYONS: Oh holy crap, I am so glad to hear you didn't like it either because it was a total letdown for me, too. (I'd still give it an A-, I just was hoping it would be more like an A+.) First, those CGI dragons looked crappy. Second, why did everyone around the pyre fall asleep? You can't stay up for one freaking night to watch dragons hatch? I've stayed up all night to play Peggle. What struck me was the contrast between this scene and the one right before it, with Jon and the Knight's Watch fellas heading off beyond the wall: That scene was just a "get ready" prelude, but it seemed to carry more heft somehow than the mega-big-deal firewalker dragon-birther conclusion. Is it possible that this show has ruined me somehow, and now I secretly love anticipation?

The slight letdown of the dragon scene speaks to the issue the whole season has had with Daenerys, Drogo, and the general Dothraki story line. I admit that I took a long time to warm up to any of the story lines or characters on this show, but I got there eventually — except for these stories. Sure, Broenerys's crowning moment was shocking, but I was just as horrified when King's Landing's version of Mario Cantone got his tongue cut out last night. This probably comes from the other-ing that the show has done regarding Dothraki culture, which has been framed as mysterious and brutal and unwelcoming, while Westerosian culture has been framed as more familiar, even though it's just as violent and capricious.

Two other things stood out to me last night: First, the mention of the "free cities," which was news to me. And second, we had a moment where a character gazed at his reflection in the mirror. The only other mirror I think we've seen this season was right after Ros and Theon had their sexposition moment, and we didn't see her reflection at all, just her sitting at a vanity and primping. Characters on this show are not particularly introspective (though I'm sure they seem plenty self-aware in the book), which ties back into the omnipresent voyeurism and constant overobservation of the show: To know themselves better, Game of Thrones characters look at other people, not themselves. Who will everyone be looking at next season?

PASICK: You nailed it when you said this show moves outward, not just onward. So, what do we know is on tap: We have heard reference to but haven't yet met Stannis, the third Baratheon brother, or Mace Ryder Mance Rayder, the King Beyond the Wall. The characters who seem to be most beloved by many have been set up for some fraught circumstances beyond their ken: Arya on the road, undercover with Chris from Skins; Jon mounting up with the Knights Watch north of the Wall; Tyrion sent to both serve and discipline the slow-clapping King Joffrey, who much prefers severed head displaying and surrogate Sansa slapping to actual rule; and Danerys ... well who know what's in store for her? She now has the world's only three dragons, the dubious loyalty of Jorah Mormont, and not much else.

And let's hope next season gives us just as many enjoyable interludes with the supporting cast: Bronn, Tyrion's partner in bromance; Roz, the sexpositioning Forrest Gump of Westeros; and the barbed comedy duo of Littlefinger and Varys ("Do you lie awake at night fearing my gash?").

If there's anything I would put on my wishlist for Season Two it's a bigger budget. The series consistently fell short when needed to convey the massive scale and scope of the story. Did we ever see any more than a few dozen Dothraki, who were supposed to number 50,000 or more? All of the big battles between the Lannisters and Starks took place offscreen. And, most of all, this show needed MORE DIREWOLF.

All of those things cost money, I realize. Next season there will be CGI dragons and ever-growing direwolves, not to mention (mild spoiler alert) some pretty epic scenes in Westeros, north of the Wall, and across the Narrow Sea. The show's budget was a far-from-inconsiderable $50-60 million, according to reports, but it made $25 million ($2.5 million per episode) just on the overseas rights. So c'mon HBO! Let's see that money put to good use.