***SPOILER ALERT FOR S03E01 “VALAR DOHAERIS”****
Arguably the most anticipated television premiere of 2013 is upon us. Across its first two seasons Game of Thrones has managed to foster a dedication that few other shows posses. Already the most popular show HBO has had since The Sopranos, Game of Thrones’ nuanced characters, political maneuvering and philosophical insights make this much more than a simple fantasy show.
Based upon the third book in George R.R. Martins sprawling fantasy A Song of Ice and Fire we can be assured that many of the elements that have been developed over the preceding seasons start falling into place. Needless to explain why to fans of the books, this is the series which show runners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss sold to HBO executives.
There will be a fair bit of pressure to not only to deliver a adaptation worthy of the source material, but to best two prior seasons of exceptional television.
And so we return to the world of Westeros in the same place we left off. The Night’s Watch is under attack from the ghastly White Walkers and their undead hordes of minions. While many may have been forgiven for have mistakenly believing this was The Walking Dead on Ice, the Lord Commander Mormont solemnly sums up the dire predicament facing the realm:
We have to make it, have to warn them. Or before the winter’s done, everyone you’ve ever known will be dead
While the vast majority of the series is concerned with the various maneuvers behind capturing the Iron Throne, the ominous presence of the White Walkers lingers.
Jon Snow’s arrival in the wildling camp brings not only the imperious threat of giants, but the first meeting with the King-Beyond-the-Wall, Mance Rayder. While I may never be able to get over the fact that Dominic West, aka McNulty from The Wire, turned down the role, Cairen Hinds made a good first impression and a testing examination of Jon’s true intentions. You get the sense this won’t be the first time.
Down in King’s Landing the aftermath of Stannis’ attempted invasion and the new alliance between Lannisters and Tyrells is being felt. The confrontational scene between Tyrion and Tywin Lannister was one of the most heartbreaking scenes the show has ever delivered. Tyrion feels understandably unappreciated for his recent heroics and is being for any semblance of gratitude. While his father acknowledges to some degree Tyrion’s wit, bravery and tactical acumen in defending King’s Landing, he admonishes his life as a rich playboy son. Tywin presided over a twenty year period of peace and prosperity as Hand of the King but is certainly not afraid of ordering some rape and pillaging to get his way. His callow denouncing of Tywin’s inheritance rights is all the more bitter when you recall the almost fatherly warmth Tywin shared with Arya last season.
To teach me humility, the gods have condemned me to watch you waddle about wearing that proud lion that was my father’s sigil and his father’s before him. But neither gods nor men will ever compel me to let you turn Casterly Rock into your whorehouse.
The series is never afraid to examine the inherent prejudices’ in medieval society, from bastardry, to the role of women and the horrible reckoning of Tyrion’s second-class stature in the eyes of his father is a great example of this. Even in the most fantastical elements and scenarios of Game of Thrones the characters fundamental emotions and traits is heart wrenchingly real.
Elsewhere Sansa appears to have changed her mind, for no apparent reason, and will now accept Petyr Baelish’s offer to escape. While the lucky new Mrs. Joffrey-to-be, Margaery Tyrell reveals herself to be quite the humanitarian bringing food and toys to orphans. All the while Joffrey waits outside seemingly unable to comprehend human kindness. Ser Davos is found alive after the carnage of the Battle of Blackwater Bay and after being warned about Melisandre burning people alive, returns to Stannis and is subsequently sent to the dungeons. Oh dear Davos, out of the frying pan and..?
While across the seas in the new location of the slave city Astapor, Daenerys has come to buy herself an army of the most frighteningly disciplined soldiers imaginable. To complete their training the eunuch soldiers the Unsullied murder a newborn baby in front of their mothers eyes and appropriately compensate the owner. We also catch another glimpse of the central conundrum facing Daenerys; she is driven to conquering the seven kingdoms of her homeland and yet is forced to face the human complications of these actions. And finally we see the reappearance of Ser Barristan, absent since Joffrey forced him into retirement in season one, saving Daenerys life from a creepy child assassin.
The show has come into criticism for the fragmented nature of its storytelling and indeed this episode, like much of the second season, could certainly be found guilty on that account. Sometime the storytelling flow of the story is disrupted in order to bring in a few disparate scenes from across the realm just to remind us that they’re there (for example the scene with Robb and Catelyn). Alas, as a season opening episode though, this is undoubtedly necessary to reintroduce the main characters back into the fold. The editing and narrative flow of the individual episodes will be pivotal in this season’s success.
In adapting the series Benioff and Weiss have notably removed some of the subtlety around some of the characters motivations and actions. Sometimes its necessary to include scenes where ostensibly not too much happens in plot terms, if it serves the overall development of a character and hopefully with the added minutes this seasons episodes have, we will see this happen.
Sexploitation of the Week
Bronn visits a brothel, because you know why not?
You call that a knife?
The slave trader Kraznys mo Nakloz demonstrating the Unsullied fearlessness by cutting off a nipple. Ouch.
Keep your eye on
The sole survivor Robb and Talisa find at Harrenhall, Qyburn. Lucky indeed.