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A man changes his face, and the magic of Game Of Thrones gets a little more mystery

Image for article titled A man changes his face, and the magic of Game Of Thrones gets a little more mystery
Screenshot: Game Of Thrones

Month Of Thrones

We’re counting down to Game Of Thrones’ final season by distilling the fantasy epic to 30 essential moments. This is Month Of Thrones.


The moment

Jaqen H’ghar reveals himself to be a Faceless Man

The episode

Valar Morghulis” (season two, episode 10)

Game Of Thrones’ second-season finale likes to linger on the faces and facial features of its characters. It opens with a close-up of Tyrion’s eye, the horrors that have left his face bandaged dissipating in a blink; later, a vanquished Stannis is framed similarly as he licks his wounds and Melisandre urges faith in the Lord of Light. Alfie Allen gets a similar moment in Theon’s tenuous Winterfell refuge, he, Peter Dinklage, and Stephen Dillane each looking humbled and betrayed, perhaps wishing that they could mask those feelings with another face and slip away. But they cannot. Only a Faceless Man could do such a thing, and a Faceless Man is not Tyrion Lannister, Stannis Baratheon, or Theon Greyjoy. A Faceless Man is Jaqen H’ghar—or the man we’ve known as Jaqen H’ghar up to this point.

Could there be a better embodiment of Game Of Thrones’ slippery allegiances, escalating supernatural elements, and obsession with death than a cult who magically assume the identities of the dead in order to carry out assassinations? Surely it’s more of a surprise (though less emotionally involving) than Daenerys’ trip through the House Of The Undying that brings the quest for her lost dragons to an anticlimax. At the very least, Jaqen’s “now you see me, now you still see me, but I have a different face” routine explains how he was able to maneuver his way through Harrenhal at Arya’s instruction. When next they meet, she’ll be the one being instructed. “Valar Morghulis” is heavy with foreshadowing—Catelyn’s warning to her son about double-crossing Walder Frey and marrying for love is as portentous as the horde of the dead at Sam’s back—and we see a path a girl could take in the man’s altered expression.

And we hear the fate of all people in the words Jaqen speaks to Arya upon handing her that Braavosi coin. It’s all more mystery about what could possibly come next, pulling our gaze into the future-finding fire and pointing us toward the next season and the phrase’s High Valyrian complement, “valar dohaeris.” All men must die, all men must serve, and all Game Of Thrones viewers wait with bated breath to see what other tricks the show has up its sleeve.

What we said then

A spot of advice from the newbies recap: “It’s a good move to hang out with unkillable, undetectable assassins who can change their appearance at will and have taken a shine to you. Definitely a better companion than Gendry, and that’s no slight against Gendry.”


Elsewhere in the episode

For his last-second charge at the Battle Of The Blackwater, Tywin is promoted to hand of the king, an occasion he marks by letting his horse take a giant shit in the Sept of Baelor. It’s a sequence where Jack Gleeson pours on the smug, as Joffrey theatrically engineers the end of his betrothal to Sansa in order to propose to Margaery Tyrell, much to Sansa’s private joy. (Littlefinger manages to give her reason to worry, though—he always does.) Brienne and Jaime come across three despicable Lannister soldiers and she doles out “two quick deaths,” and Varys pays Ros a fateful visit. After the Ironborn mutiny, Bran, Rickon, Hodor, and Osha come out of hiding to find a torched Winterfell, and a mortally wounded Maester Luwin.


Previously: The Battle of The Blackwater

Next: Bran learns a secret about himself