While the series has kept the "Game Of Thrones" title from the first novel, George R. R. Martin's book series is collectively known as "A Song Of Ice & Fire," and while hints of the relevance of that have been contained throughout the show so far, that title has never been so front and center than in "Valar Morghulis," the superb season two finale, which managed to give satisfying climaxes to most of the ongoing stories that have run throughout the last nine episodes, including those that have been rather less developed.
Fire was prevalent throughout, starting with Stannis Baratheon, crushed by his defeat at the hands of the Lannisters. Losing what faith he had in the fire god brought to him by sorceress Melisandre, he's mourning the death of his men, and even that of the brother he conspired to kill, and attempts to throttle his enigmatic mistress. But she won him back once again, telling him to look into the flames where he sees... something. A vision of himself on the throne? More shadow vagina monsters? We won't find out for another ten months or so, but while Stannis is down, he's clearly not out of the game yet.
Daenerys, whose plotline has been dragging its feet severely over the last couple of episodes (probably the biggest flaw of the show so far), also got to play with fire this time around. Trekking into the House of the Undying, where the sinister warlocks have taken her dragons (which, it turns out, improve their magical powers, leading them to hope to imprison her to keep the beasts happy). They lure her through a sort of dreamscape -- where she sees the Iron Throne that she wants so much, as well as her dead Khal (a nice cameo from Jason Momoa) and stillborn son -- before chaining her up with her scaly adopted children. It's turns out to be a pretty terrible mistake, as the dragons are now grown enough to belch fire, and torch the bald magician to cinders. After that, she returns to seal the treacherous Xaro Xhoan Daxos (and her handmaiden, who appears to have been fucking him on the side) inside his vault, which turns out to be empty in the first place. Still, he's got plenty of exterior wealth to strip, which it looks like will be enough to buy passage across the narrow seas. Looks like we might see a new player in the Battle for the Iron Throne next year.
Fire had a less air-punching effect up in the north: Theon Greyjoy, surrounded by Robb Stark's men, gives an inspiring speech to his men to lead them to certain death, only for his first mate to hilariously knock him out once he's done. We assume we'll see him again -- this would be a rather unsatisfying last appearance -- but it looks like we're pretty much done with Winterfell: the Stark family home is torched to the ground by the departing Iron Islanders, and its defender Maester Luwin stabbed by the men. He survives long enough for a moving reunion with Bran and Rickon Stark (an emotional highpoint of the episode), before asking Osha to finish the job, and sending them off to find Jon Snow up at the wall.
Of course, what he doesn't know is that, in the icy part of the storyline, Jon is firmly behind enemy lines, and has now even killed a Night's Watch colleague. We're a little unclear as to what was at play here, but it seems as though Halfhand sacrificed himself to get Jon into the wildling camp -- the bastard certainly seems to have earned their trust with the act. Again, Jon Snow's storyline has been a bit thin this year, but it looks like we'll meet the much-talked about Mance Rayder, the king-beyond-the-wall, soon enough, so hopefully it'll be more interesting next season.
But of course, the real development North of the Wall was the cliffhanger Sam glimpsed in the closing moments of the episode. While we've seen a few of the zombie-like "white walkers" in the show so far, including in the very opening scene of the pilot, we end the second season as Sam hides (not especially effectively -- we wonder if this is the last we'll see of the portly Night's Watch man) from a veritable army of shambling undead, including a white-skinned creature that seems to be their leader. And they seem to be heading towards the Wall. The War of the Five Kings has mostly been wrapping up, but between Daenerys now having the means and firepowers to come to Westeros, and the white walkers, it looks like some new fronts are opening up, and we can't wait to see how it turns out.