After a long, long wait, Game Of Thrones returns for its third season with an episode that feels more like a reintroduction than an episode proper. Groundwork is laid, but is it all interesting?
Let’s bitch it out…Unfortunately with such a large cast of characters dispersed across so many locations, it’s difficult for the series to simply jump back into the action without laying some groundwork. I did find this return a little underwhelming (perhaps because expectations are so high), but what’s lacking is a real watercooler talking-point. Nothing in ‘Valar Dohaeris’ stands out as a buzzy moment. Sure, the show as a whole is amazingly well-acted, written and produced, but in an age when The Walking Dead is unafraid to kill off major characters and reap the ratings rewards, Game Of Thrones needs something kickier than mildly titillating sexposition.
This is not to say that the premiere isn’t solid. Almost immediately the scenes north of The Wall with Jon Snow (Kit Harington) are more captivating than any amount of rolling around in the snow with Ygritte (Rose Leslie) last season. Do I wish that Mance Rayder (new castmember Ciarán Hinds) made a stronger impression? Yes, but he’s suitably imposing and the fact that he’s a fallen black crow introduces a new angle to Jon’s story, which has had entirely too much piety and righteousness. Mance is a man who took the same vows and deliberately turned his back on them to become a King to the wildlings, the people that up until recently were the ones the Nightswatch protect against. Here’s hoping Rayder continues to push Jon’s buttons in interesting ways.
Life in King’s Landing is no less complicated. This is the location where we spend the majority of our time, which makes sense considering it’s where the Lannisters are located. Brief snippets serve to remind us of the broader conflicts: Tywin (Peter Dinklage, still the audience surrogate) is pained because his father, Tywin (Charles Dance) doesn’t appreciate him; Cersei (Lena Headey) can’t control her obnoxious son, Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) who, in turn, can’t control his humanitarian future wife, Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer). Meanwhile, the sole remaining Stark in King’s Landing, Sansa (Sophie Turner) is embroiled in Baelish’s (Aidan Gillen) escape plot, which has all the hallmarks of a bad idea.
The other significant storyline is Davos’ (Liam Cunningham) return to Dragonstone and a dejected Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane). Dillane is barely recognizable, so kudos for making him look like a hollow shell of his former self. With the king in a funk, the red witch Melisandre (Carice van Houten) has taken control, burning her perceived enemies alive, which prompts Davos to make an attempt to kill her. The idea that Davos, in such a weakened condition and with little more than a knife, would really be able to assassinate the witch is laughable, though I suppose at this point the Onion Knight feels he has no other option. Still, it’s hardly an attempt before he’s hauled off to the dungeon. Better luck next week!
- With so many castmembers and so many locations to visit, it’ll be redundant to bemoan who sits out any given week, but since this is the first episode back after so long, I have to complain: no Arya Stark (Maisie Williams)?! Unacceptable!
- Our brief time with Dany (Emilia Clarke) provides an update on the size of her dragons (approximately waist high and constructed of okay-ish CGI). There’s also a reinforcement that she’s still constantly on the verge of being assassinated (by Purple mouth’s descendants apparently). n the pro side, Dany has also made strides to secure her army as she visits Astapor to purchase Unsullieds, a group of men who have had the humanity and fear of death bred out of them. The nipple cutting scene is particularly gag-worthy (I may have thrown up a little in my mouth)
- Best scene of the night: the smack-talk that Tywin dispenses on his imp son when Tyrion suggests he be given his birthright of Casterly Rock as payment for his successful time as The Hand. Charles Dance is amazing, especially when he’s insulting Dinklage. Also: love how Tyrion’s seat is illuminated through the window like he’s in a spotlight or on trial
- Worst scene of the night: The boring award goes to Robb Stark (Richard Madden) and mom Catelyn (Michelle Fairley) who enter Harrenhal to find hundreds of slain bannermen. It’s important to know where they are and that Catelyn hasn’t been forgiven for releasing Jaime Lannister (an unseen Nikolaj Coster-Waldau). On the whole, however, the Harrenhal scene is too short and perfunctory to be anything other than zzzzzz
- Sexposition: Thank Bronn (Jerome Flynn) for ensuring that we get to see some boobies. What would Game Of Thrones be without whores’ boobs each week?
- Finally, I love the GoT version of ‘anywhere but here’ that Sansa and Shae (Sibel Kekilli) play with the ships leaving King’s Landing. Such fun!
- Mance (to Jon): “What you want to be most is a hero.”
- Tywin (when Tyrion suggests he receive some appreciation): “Jugglers and singers require applause.”
- Sansa (when Shae inquires why she would make up a tale instead of telling the truth): “Because the truth is either terrible or boring.”
What did you think of the premiere: worth the wait or a little underwhelming? Who did you miss the most this week? Were you as enthralled with Charles Dance’s performance as me? Who do you relate to more: Davos or Tyrion? Who needs to watch their back the most: Sansa, Margaery or Dany? Sound off below!
A gentle reminder that we adhere to a SPOILER FREE zone here, so please keep any plot points from the novels or online tidbits to yourself.
Game Of Thrones airs Sundays at 9pm EST on HBO