Review: GAME OF THRONES S3E01, VALAR DOHAERIS (Or, The Gang Is Back And Aint Nobody Happy About Nuthin')

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Review: GAME OF THRONES S3E01, VALAR DOHAERIS (Or, The Gang Is Back And Aint Nobody Happy About Nuthin')
Game of Thrones makes it's long awaited return in better-than-fine fashion with its third season premiere masterfully directed by HBO A-lister Daniel Minahan (his credits include key episodes of Six Feet Under, Deadwood, True Blood and more) that picks up directly where series two left off and deftly reintroduces key storylines while capturing the shifted dynamics brought on by the season closing events and hinting at future conflict. And, oh yes, there will be conflict. Lots of it, some coming from rather surprising directions.

The episode starts with something splashy but ultimately fairly minor to how the show plays out, so let's start with the secondary bits brought up this time, shall we?

First up is Sam running through the snow in a mad panic after seeing the army of White Walkers headed south towards the wall. He's nearly taken down by one before being saved by Jon Snow's wolf and the surviving members of the Night's Watch raiding party who must now sprint - or as close to it as possible in a blasted winter landscape - back to the Wall to warn of the coming invasion thanks to Sam's failure to send the message via raven.

Robb Stark? Well, it's not much of a Stark episode, really. First, we learn that it's taking him a preposterously long time to actually get anywhere - seriously, Tywin Lannister is back in King's Landing and well established there with his forces, so why the hell is Rob still off in the middle of nowhere after all this time? - while his men are spoiling for a fight and he's still feeling cranky about his mother, who he has locked up in a cell. And then he holds his new wife's hand. Aww.

And favorite character makes a welcome return with the surprise news that Davos has survived the naval assault on King's Landing - though many of his fingers have not - and he enlists help to return him back to Stannis, who is acting like a broody, sulky, emo teen and burning prisoners alive. How Stannis has prisoners at all after having his ass kicked so badly is something of a question but his demon birthing fire lady is as crazy as ever - hurray! - and the resurrected Davos is promptly thrown in jail. Which makes him a prisoner. And we know what they do to those. Way to survive on that rocky island, Davos!

Proving that the minor notes can include a taste on intriguing intrigue there's an interesting scene ostensibly about Sansa - still as generally pointless as ever, though less whiningly so - enlisting the help of the not at all actually helpful Lord Baelish to escape King's Landing. But while that's what the scene sets up as what it's really about is social climbing former prostitutes Shae (now Sansa's lady in waiting) and Ros (now Baylish's secretary / assistant / whatever she is) meeting and recognizing each other for what they really are, which leads to a fascinating little alliance on the side. Keep an eye on those two, I think.

Joffrey is still a pathetic little snot.

And now we come to the bigger bits, both in terms of screen time devoted to them and in terms of how - it would appear, at least - they're going to pay dividends within this season.

Leading the charge is Jon Snow, who has finally ditched his doe-eyed, quivering lip act and landed in the middle of something interesting by reaching the King Beyond The Wall - Mance Rayder played beautifully by Ciaran Hinds, killing my one-time theory that Benjen Stark would turn out to be a major player once we got to this point - where he is accepted into the Wildling rebellion. Not much actually happens but this is a big, big deal, very clearly the start of a major story line and also introduces us to some fantastic new characters such as Tormund Giantsbane. And an actual giant.

Next there is Danaerys, who we catch up to on a ship bound to buy an army of slave warriors while watching her dragons - notably larger and more fierce than when we last saw them - dive and swoop for fish. She doesn't think they're big enough to make useful weapons just yet but her dragons sure as hell make an impression. As do the warrior slaves she purchases, eight thousand men trained to the point of having their humanity beaten out of them until all that is left are merciless killing machines. This in itself is a major plot point but then it turns out that her dragons didn't burn all of the wizards alive after all and some of them are rather pissed off and want a shot at her. A shot which would have been successful if not for the sudden arrival of Barristen Selmy. Remember him? Former leader of the King's Guard, widely regarded as one of the best fighters who ever lived, discarded by the Lannister clan and now offering himself back into Danaerys' service.

Which brings us to the Lannisters in a roundabout sort of way, and this is where the ground has shifted most resulting in at least two wildcards capable of just about anything.

Tyrion is now healed of his battle wounds but still hurting in other ways, his pride stung by the casual way he was shunted aside following the battle and his survival instincts telling him that the battlefield attempt on his life will not be the last such attempt from his sister unless he can bolster his own position. His attempt to do so? He meets with his father, Tywin, and asserts his rights as the heir to the traditional Lannister lands and castle. An assertion that is pretty much thrown to the floor, spat upon and scorned by the elder Lannister in a display that makes it very clear that while Tyrion was useful for a moment his father's disgust at him has not abated one bit. It's a moment that should mean Tyrion is more vulnerable than ever but the look on his face says otherwise ... No, I think it's more likely that this final rejection has just made him into something entirely different and more dangerous. I'm thinking we've just seen the beginning of Tyrion as a true free agent, the last vestiges of family loyalty thrown away, and he will now act purely in his own interest. And given that he is by far the smartest man in the room that means interesting things.

And then there's sister Cersei. And how far she has fallen. Not so long ago Cersei was the true power in King's Landing, the Queen effectively controlling her son's decisions in the absence of any larger power who might control her son or inspire him to any degree of independence. But the last minute salvation of King's Landing by her father Tywin and Loris Tyrell have undercut her on two fronts simultaneously. First, Tywin is now calling the shots on a day to day basis with the financial backing of the Tyrell clan. And, second - and more importantly - Cersei is no longer the dominant woman in Joffrey's life, the young King completely out of his depth with the older, more experienced and far, far more cunning Margaery Tyrell. Sansa was only good for bullying, but Margaery ... Joffrey is completely out of his depth here and desperate to impress which means mommy is now an afterthought. The result? While Margaery establishes herself as a lady of the people, visiting the slums entirely unguarded, Cersei attends dinner with her son and future daughter in law wearing armor. Cersei is becoming increasingly unpredictable as her power base erodes - and erodes quickly - which makes her exceedingly dangerous.

 Plenty of characters and stories still waiting to return next week - no Jamie Lannister, Arya or Bran Stark, Theon Greyjoy etc etc in this one at all - but things are off to a very good start indeed.

[Twitch has been tracking Game Of Thrones from Season One, Episode One from the perspective of someone who has not and will not read the books at all until the series has come to an end so that it can all be experienced for the first time on the big screen. Discussion of the current episode and what has come before is welcome and encouraged but PLEASE avoid spoiling anything that lies ahead in the novels so that those of us who haven't read can experience everything fresh.]
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harumphApril 1, 2013 9:24 PM

I'm pretty sure Davos was missing those digits long before he ended up on the rocks. Stannis chopped them off years ago as punishment for his smuggling. There was a scene about this towards the end of season two.

Todd BrownApril 1, 2013 10:25 PM

Oh, damn. You may be right ... An excuse to break out my season two BluRays!

Билли ЗабыливичApril 2, 2013 11:38 AM

Danaerys doesn't buy the slave-warriors, she is only told that if she wants them, she should act fast as they have other potential customers. This is exactly what her and Mormont are discussing as little orphan bad teeth shows up with the ball of death......Mormont arguing towards Dany something to the effect of "you'd be a slave owner but imagine how much of a better owner you'd be than Mr. Nipple Cutter"... It could also be remembered that Mormont is where he is after being banished from Westeros for slave trading.... I've read the books, so I know how this all turns out but if we're only talking the show, which I am, the review should reflect the actual proceedings....

Todd BrownApril 2, 2013 12:19 PM

Fair enough. Maybe I'm being presumptuous but it seemed pretty clear to me that she was gonna buy them. I read her performance and the tenor of that conversation as the decision having been made pretty much right before she walked off to see the girl with the ball.

Билли ЗабыливичApril 5, 2013 7:41 AM

It's a safe presumption sure, but the scene where she does actually buy them is so cool and integral to her character arc, that it stands apart from this "{test drive" as it were.

Todd BrownApril 5, 2013 9:14 AM

Cool! Looking forward to it! Honestly, I kept waiting for a reveal that she could understand what the slave trader was saying. That would have been kind of awesome.