31
Mar
2013
Game of Thrones: Season 3, Episode 1
Valar Dohaeris
Adam O'Brien
The season 3 premiere of HBO's Game of Thrones, "Valar Dohaeris," was not the single best episode of the series, but it was far from a disappointment. Echoing the very first scene of the series, the first season's cold open, the first thing we're presented with here (after "previously on Game of Thrones, but seriously, who is just starting in season 3?) is right where we left off last season, with Sam running from the White Walkers. Lest we forget that this not just fantasy, but a deconstruction of fantasy, our beleaguered hero escapes an icy doom and is almost immediately set upon by the Lord Commander for not doing the only job he was brought along to do.

Worth mentioning is the ever-evolving credits sequence. The dialogue flowed into them seamlessly, which sounds simple, but the perfect fluidity of it gave me chills. In addition to the new location of Astapor, our little clockwork Winterfell has also been altered so that it's now burned and smoking. It's not for nothing that reviews for the series often include praise for its impressive opening credits.

It looks like the producers decided that the best way to deal with so many storylines is to give each character a fair chunk of screen time, even if it means that each character isn't in every episode, at least at first. It makes for a less cohesive storyline compared the first season, but at that point most of the characters were in the same place, so it really can't be helped. The first scene follows Jon Snow. It's the only scene he has this episode, but it's fairly lengthy and has a good bit of meat to it.

Our first Tyrion scene of the season shows the aftermath of last season. Since the season 2 finale he has (understandably) Howard Hughes'ed himself in his room, neither leaving nor letting anyone in for fear of further assassination attempts. Whereas last season the uneasiness between Tyrion and Cersei was obvious but polite, they're beginning to abandon propriety in favor of open hatred. Tyrion seems to have taken offense that his sister tried to have him killed, and Cersei seems to have taken offense that Tyrion didn't die. As usual, Peter Dinklage's and Lena Headey's chemistry is phenomenal. You really buy them as feuding siblings.

One of the best scenes of the episode, though, is when Tyrion speaks to his father. We didn't see too much of Tywin in season 1, and the Werther's Original commercial that was Tywin's and Arya's relationship in season 2 has painted Tywin as a kindly, if stern, old man. When he speaks to his least favorite child, however, we see the Tywin that ordered an entire garrison to rape Tyrion's wife. I got a bit of whiplash from his sudden change in demeanor, but it felt right. Tywin's storyline last season felt like it existed mostly to show us that he is very much still around and relevant, but this is what they were keeping him warmed up for. Gone is the gentle old storyteller who gave his hungry cupbearer his unwanted meals, and here is the man who all but disinherits his son, because fuck him that's why.

Elsewhere in King's Landing, we have Joffrey and his entourage. The season premiere expands on the glimpses we got of Margaery's ambition in season 2. Whereas Cersei believes in ruling with an iron fist, Margaery sees the value of endearing herself to her future subjects, which exasperates and threatens Cersei in equal parts. I have to say I thought the scene where Margaery visits the orphanage was actually really touching. For most of the show so far, the high lords have just sort of stepped on the common folk, so it adds some nice dimension to address the fact that everyone who isn't highborn basically spends 24/7 ankle deep in their own excrement. The look on Joffrey's face looking out the tiny window of his palanquin as his fiancée wades through the muck is priceless. This may just be his lack of comprehension of why anyone would care about orphan children. I have to wonder, though, if perhaps the writers are adding a bit character development for him. George R.R. Martin, author of the series A Song of Ice and Fire on which the show is based, has gone on record saying that a theme of his writing is that every person is the hero of his own story. No character, no matter how vile, is without a single endearing feature. The show has been pretty successful in conveying this, and I wonder if they mean to thaw Joffrey out a bit this season.

We find Davos merely faked his death in "Blackwater" last season so he could retire to a private island paradise. Okay not really, but we do find out that the writers did not in fact up and kill a character they just spent a season gearing up for big things. (To be fair, they did do that to us the first season.) At the end of last season it was hard to tell where everybody stood. Davos's storyline this episode serves as a good refresher course for the political state of Westeros at the moment.

What I am really interested to see is how Daenerys's storyline plays out. After stealing the show first season, large digressions from the novels second season seemed to be pretty unpopular. This may have been a necessary evil to keep her a "lead" in the show even though the corresponding book was light on Daenerys chapters, or it may have been a ruinous precedent for the show going forward. It's still too early to say, but personally I liked her in this episode better than all of last season combined.

The only thing that really threw me this episode was Robb's storyline. The show runners have taken some pretty large departures from the books in his case, so I have to admit I'm not really sure where it's going. The only purpose I'm picking up on this episode is to show the viewers that inner discontent can be just as dangerous to an army as the enemy. Despite winning every battle, Robb's army is starting to feel fatigued from within.
Even though there was none of the Jaime and Brienne action that we all crave so much, I was very pleased with the episode. I'll have more complete thoughts on characters and storylines as the season gets up to speed.

Grade: B+

Other thoughts:

-Valar dohaeris is a Valyrian phrase in response to valar morghulis, which was the title of the season 2 finale. Possible/probable spoilers so I won't say anything else about what they mean.

-I don't have much to say about Sansa's storyline so far, except to give her the award for Line that Best Represents a Character: "The truth is always either terrible or boring."

-It's interesting that Ros and Shae, two of the three characters who are either entirely original or much different from the books (the third is Talisa), had a scene together. We'll see if that develops.

-I know the show has a budget and time constraints to think about, but I hope Dany's storyline gets bigger in scope. Kraznys says he has 8000 Unsullied available, but there can't have been many more than 30 in that little courtyard. Even if they have to CGI them in, I feel like the scenes would work better with big crowds.

-I just love Barristan. Looking forward to his impact on Dany.
Tags: Game of Thrones
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