Hey everyone, so before we start off with Season 3 proper, I’m just going to take a second to mention that I’m changing the format of these posts. Like I explain here, I think the whole summary-discussion format doesn’t really suit me because I end not being able to fit a lot of the stuff that I want to say into the discussion. So, starting with this season, I’ll be doing a more section by section sort of discussion. I’ll mention (in minimal detail except where necessary) what happens and then if it’s interesting or there’s something to talk about, I’ll say something about it. Of course, this could end up making the whole thing a little less focused but I think that’s an acceptable trade-off.
So, with that out of the way, let’s begin! The first episode of season 3 is titled ‘Valar Dohaeris’ and book readers and attentive show watchers will tell you that ‘Valar Dohaeris’ is the traditional response to the ‘Valar Morgulis’ which means ‘All Men Must Die’ and was the title of the last episode of season 2. It’s a cute bit of continuity between the two and it was around this time when Game of Thrones really took off in popularity – the increased focus on Tyrion in Season 2 and the big budget fireworks display that was ‘Blackwater’ (S2E9) all drew audiences in and set expectations soaring for season 3. Book readers like myself waited for season 3 with a fair amount of apprehension given the macabre events that occur in the middle of A Storm of Swords. Just as a quick recap, season 2 ended with the Lannister forces, with the aid of Highgarden prevailing over Stannis and his admiral Davos while in the North, Robb marries Talisa despite being promised to another. Bran and Rickon escape Winterfell (or seem to) as Theon is seemingly killed when Winterfell is ostensibly retaken by the Bastard of Bolton. Across the Narrow Sea, Dany recovers her dragons and gathered enough gold to buy ships. Beyond the Wall, Jon is taken by the Wildlings but wins his freedom albeit with probation while his sworn brothers are attacked by the White Walkers.
Sam is running the snow though it isn’t really clear whether he’s fleeing an enemy or running towards something. He is attacked by a wight but is protected by Ghost (who should be with Jon, but ok) and shortly after, rescued by Mormont and the other men of the Night’s Watch. Sam reveals that he hasn’t been able to send the ravens, to Mormont’s disgust. Mormont rallies the troops at the opening credits roll. This is fine as an introduction to the season but if I can be nit-picky for a second, I feel that the show (and arguably the source material too) hasn’t done enough to establish the White Walkers/Others as a threat at this point. I mean, at the end of last season we say what, a few dozen of them? It doesn’t feel like a threat and so Jeor Mormont’s (James Cosmo) dramatic insistence that their loved one are in dire danger falls flat.
Ygritte take Jon through the wildling camp and serves as his introduction to the wildlings. Jon (and the audience) sees his first giant and is quite understandably astonished. He receives a less than warm welcome from the wildlings as he goes through the enormous camp to meet Mance. He arrives at the tent and meets with Tormund Giantsbane, mistaking him for Mance until the real Mance corrects him. Mance questions Jon’s motives but Jon passes his scrutiny by saying he wants to ‘fight for the living’. This was a fairly strong opening scene, in my opinion – we get some world-building as we’re introduced to the Wildlings and the dynamic between Rose Leslie and Kit Harrington seems better than what it was last season. The CGI was on point with the giant and unlike our short, rushed glimpses of the direwolves, we saw just enough of the giant. There are some changes from the book that I don’t quite like here though –Tormund, played by Kristofer Hivju, is much more threatening and ominous than his book counterpart who was almost there as comic-relief. It worked out fine in this particular scene since that sense of menace was what kept the tension up and it would not have worked out if director Daniel Minahan went for a more light-hearted approach with the character. Still, I hope we see that easy-going side of the character at some point in the season. Mance, played by Ciaran Hinds, was pretty much just as I had imagined him though again, I wish they had kept Jon’s original reason for abandoning the Night’s Watch. It would have made Mance’s introduction a little messier but, I think ‘fighting for the living’ is a weird reason to abandon the organization that’s dedicated to opposing the White Walkers.
Tyrion sends for Bronn but Cersei visits him before Bronn can arrive. She is curious (and anxious) about why Tyrion is meeting their father later; she doesn’t want Tyrion to tell any tales. Lena Headey is surprisingly charming in this scene, almost cutesy in her mannerisms. I don’t about whether or not that’s her interpretation of Cersei turning the sisterly (the platonically sisterly, to be precise) charm on but I’m quite turned on by it. Bronn arrives and antagonizes the two Kingsguard knights accompanying Cersei by taking shots at their abuse of Sansa on Joffrey’s orders but Cersei emerges before a confrontation can erupt. Jerome Flynn is always a pleasure to watch and I’m looking forward to more Bronn this season. Tyrion and Bronn take a walk and Bronn, who is now Ser Bronn of the Blackwater, politely and reasonably requests a raise on account of his newer, higher rank. The best thing about these scenes isn’t really the plot points, minor as they are, but the chemistry between Flynn and Dinklage and the witty banter.
Not too far from them, Davos wakes up stranded in Blackwater Bay, sunburned and generally looking like shit. A ship passes by and he is able to gets its attention. It’s not really highlighted in the episode itself, but if you think about it, Davos basically gambled his life on his answer to the soldier on the rowboat – had he said that he was sworn to Joffrey (and it’s much more likely that the ship was Joffrey’s just based on proximity to King’s Landing and the fact that Stannis’ navy is has been #rekt) he would have been killed on the spot or simply stranded. He showed loyalty instead and for once, the universe didn’t conspire to punish every good deed. Still, Davos has lost a son (though Liam Cunningham seems oddly unemotional about the whole thing) and his day gets worse as he hears from Salladhor Saan (Lucian Msamati) that Stannis (Stephen Dilane) has been locking himself away and consulting only the red woman (Carice van Houten) who has now begun burning those who oppose her actions. Saan has had enough – he wants out and he tells Davos that he should leave too. He is angry when Davos refuses, telling him rather morbidly that he will deliver Davos’ bones to his widow in a little sack upon his death. Msamati’s delivery in this entire scene is great; it’s just the right mix of swagger and anger and a reminder that for all his comical tendencies, Saan is a dangerous man.
Robb and the Northern army visit Harrenhall where the Mountain has massacred 200 northern soldiers. The characters take this act very seriously but I think a little bit of apathy has set in by this point – after watching hundreds die by green fire last season and watching the general butchery throughout the series, 200 nameless soldiers doesn’t feel like a lot. All eyes are on Robb as his bannermen and soldiers wait to see how he will respond to this atrocity. There’s a distinct sense that Roose Bolton (Michael McElhatton) and Rickard Karstark (John Stahl) have lost faith in the cause and the judging glares from the rest of the soldiers give a similar impression. Robb’s response is to lock his mother away in a cell, which seems like an odd way of responding to a mass murder. Talisa tries to dissuade because apparently she really gets along with her mother-in-law but just then it turns out, there’s a survivor – an old man named Qyburn (Anton Lesser). I’m pretty sure none of this happened like this in the books, but it’s been a while so I can’t really remember.
Tyrion meets with Tywin and asks first for a little gratitude after he helped save the city and then for Casterly Rock. Tywin’s rejection of both demands is absolutely brutal. This is probably the strongest scene in the episode (so far at least) – the animosity between father and son is almost tangible yet for the most part we can almost see on Dinklage’s face that Tyrion craves his father’s recognition though Tywin insists all he did was his duty. Both Dance and Dinklage perform excellently in this scene with the former full of (ostensibly) righteous indignation and the latter on the verge of tears while trying to keep his dignity. There will be plenty more of Tywin and Tyrion and if this scene is any indication, it will be awesome. There’s a lot more to say here but most of it concerns the source material so I’ll leave that out until I get there in the re-read.
Sansa (Sophie Turner) is with Shae (Sibel Kekilli) when Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen) drops by. He mentions that he saw her mother (true) and sister (false) recently. He extends her the same offer he did last season – a chance to escape. Turner manages the balance between Sansa’s naiveté and her increasing world-wariness fairly well and it’ll be interesting to see how that balance changes as the season proceeds. Ros (Esme Bianco) tells Shae that she’s from the same city as Sansa and asks her to take care of Sansa. Kekilli’s acting has come under fire before and it hasn’t really improved here either – even in this short scene she is easily the least natural of all four actors on screen. It’s particularly obvious in her scenes with Tyrion but even here her presence just seems awkward.
Davos returns to Dragonstone to find that in his absence, Stannis has been sulking and growing his failed-rebellion beard out. A failed-rebellion beard in case you don’t know looks remarkably like a post-breakup, I-don’t-care-how-I-look beard. He tries to make Stannis see reason but ends up almost killing the red woman when she mocks his sons’ deaths. Stannis just watches this passively and then sends Davos to the dungeons. If you recall, I’m far from sold on this adaptation’s version of Stannis. This Stannis isn’t someone who stands for what he believes in. This Stannis is basically Mel’s pawn and seems almost proud of it. The trouble here is that Davos ends up appearing retarded for choosing to stay loyal to Stannis and Stannis himself comes across like a huge asshole as a result, though I don’t think either outcome was intended. Van Houten’s Melisandre is pretty sinister and downright bitchy but so far the whole Dragonstone plot seems kind of ‘meh’.
Margaery Tyrell visits the poor and orphaned in the city and offers them aid. This doesn’t sit well with Joffrey and Cersei because…well, at this point it’s pretty self-explanatory. The family, or rather, the soon-to-be family dinner that night is particularly snippy with Cersei trying to shield Joffrey as best she can from Margaery’s charms while fending of Loras’ own ill-fated attempts to court her. The whole thing is actually pretty hilarious in how passive aggressive everyone is and the way Joffrey tries to appear to less of a mama’s boy than he really is. I’m fairly sure that this is show-original scene but it’s one of the stronger ones this episode just in terms of its entertainment value.
Dany’s dragons have grown but she is acting all bitchy about using the Unsullied. There seems to be some tension between Mormont and her and most of the hostility is coming from her end. They arrive at Astapor where we are treated to the many horrific ways that the Unsullied are trained. The scene starts out promising from a visual standpoint but the number of Unsullied on display make it rather disappointing in the end. I’m glad they kept some of the Astaporian’s rude remarks and Missandei’s more polite translations though, that was pretty funny.
Later, Dany is walking with Ser Friendzone aka Mormont, unaware that she is being followed because Mormont isn’t really a very good bodyguard. She follows an odd looking child while her protector prattles on, both oblivious to the threat following them. The child drops the ball and asks Dany to open it. Dany, also being a child herself, opens the ball but is assaulted by the hooded figure and drops it just as some kind of poisonous bug thing comes out and tries to kill her. The hooded figure is revealed to be Barristan Selmy. He asks leave to serve her like he served her forefathers. So, this was a pleasant surprise. It’s always fun to see more Selmy but I do wonder whether we’ll ever see the old man in action given that in real life, men of that age are seldom the best fighters. By and large, I don’t have much to say about this last Dany scene – there’s nothing from either the script or the cast that we haven’t seen before but given the right impetus, this plotline could become quite engaging. The episode’s title seems somewhat apt on hindsight. Selmy will serve while Davos’ attempt to so has been thwarted. Beyond that, I guess I could force an interpretation on the other arcs, but I’d rather not insult your intelligence by doing that.
So, with that, I’ll end this week’s discussion. It got a little longer than I expected because this first episode was over an hour long but I hope you enjoyed the read. Do let me know what you think about the ‘new’ format or if there are any thoughts and opinions you’d like to share.