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The shocking Game of Thrones finale: Better than season one?
HBO's sprawling fantasy drama routinely earns praise as one of television's boldest, if most complex, dramas. The season two finale lived up that reputation
 
Theon Greyjoy's rant about being "a man at the end of his rope" in the season 2 finale of "Game of Thrones" was one of the episode's stand-out scenes.
Theon Greyjoy's rant about being "a man at the end of his rope" in the season 2 finale of "Game of Thrones" was one of the episode's stand-out scenes.
HBO/Helen Sloan

The second season of HBO's popular fantasy series Game of Thrones concluded Sunday night, after earning praise throughout its second season as a game-changing drama, polarizing critics with its relentless nudity, and being criticized by some for being too complicated. (Warning: Spoilers lie ahead.) The finale dealt with the fallout from the previous episode's Battle of Blackwater, in which the Lannisters defeated Stannis Baratheon's army. Among the episode's biggest twists: Tyrion Lannister finds himself powerless, both Joffrey and Robb Stark break engagements, Daenerys Targaryan makes a major power play, and the Whitewalkers return. Did the episode live up to the series' high standard?

It managed to top last season: Last season's finale concluded with one of the year's most striking visuals, says John Kubicek at Buddy TV: The arrival of Daenerys Targaryan's baby dragons. That jaw-dropping (and much discussed) moment set the bar incredibly high for the season two finale, but somehow Game of Thrones managed to top it with another flabbergasting image. In the episode's closing moments, the Whitewalkers slowly walked through a blizzard, led by a giant white zombie with crystal blue eyes, atop a horse and as "creepy and amazing as the baby dragons looked last season."
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It proved the series is unrivaled: The exhilarating season two conclusion firmly established Game of Thrones in a class of its own, says Kevin Yeoman at Screen Rant. The series' creative team has executed a "feat most programs wouldn't dare." In season one, Sean Bean's Eddard Stark provided a central character for viewers to follow throughout the season. Season two ditched that stabilizing element, "exponentially expanded [the series'] world," added to the already sprawling cast of characters, and "then spread them apart so that few, if any, actually have a chance to interact." Nevertheless, the writers managed to unite these storylines into a cohesive, dramatic whole.
"Game of Thrones season 2 finale review"

The finale was a bit underwhelming: The penultimate episode of season two featured a gripping, no-expense-spared battle, says Rebecca Martin at Wetpaint. Perhaps inevitably after that "epic triumph," I found the finale a letdown. Despite some standout scenes — particularly Theon's ranting and raving as "a man at the end of his rope" — the big moments fell flat. Osha, Hodor, and the young Starks coming out of hiding to find Winterfell burning wasn't as dramatic as it could've been, while the sequence in which Daenerys reunites with her dragons "wasn't as disorienting or intense as we wanted."
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