And we’re off! Season three of Game of Thrones is here with a higher budget, more characters, greater stakes and who else couldn’t be happier?
Sam Tarly is rushing through the white wilderness beyond the wall, running from the white walkers that he had just witnessed (in the finale of season two). It’s high paced and laced with tension just as Sam believes he’s found a fellow Brother of the Nights Watch only to discover he’s been decapitated and lies bleeding in the snow. One of the white walkers grabs him from behind, pulls him to the ground and just as you believe poor old Sam is a goner, Ghost (Jon’s Direwolf) attacks him and Jeor Mormont lights him ablaze. Sam stands, panting and frightened, as Mormont asks him to please tell him that the Ravens to the Wall have been sent. Sam shakes his head. Mormont reprimands him, tells him it was his only job before turning to the rest of his men to warn them of the ominous times they’ll be facing, and how they must find safety.
Cut to title scenes, which I might add, have added more places on the map (Winterfell is now a smoky ruin, and Daenerys has sailed to Astaport from Qarth) as their world continues to expand for the viewer.
We’re thrust in instantly with Jon entering the wilding camp. He’s flustered and trying to take in his surroundings just as a giant walks by to help set up a tent.
“First time you’ve ever seen a giant, Jon Snow?” Yigrette goads him. By his face it’s easy to assume the answer. The giant is just the first of many examples of how the popularity of the show has helped the budget and therefore, the quality improve. The CGI on the giant was subtle rather than gaudy, a feat that would’ve been near impossible in season one.
Yigrette and Rattleshirt lead Jon into one of the camp’s tents to meet their leader, “The King Beyond the Wall.” Jon mistakes one of the men, Tormund Giantsbane, to be the said King and kneels to him much to the chagrin and laughter of the rest of the party. He is what they call a kneeler, and there is no such sort beyond the Wall. The real leader steps forth, Mance Rayder played by the always wonderful and domineering Ciaran Hinds. He walks to Jon and tells him he too was once a Brother of the Night’s Watch, once too wore black and said his vows before leaving them. He calls Jon a deserter, a traitor and Jon tells him that if he’s a turncoat, so is Mance and the two men stand face-to-face.
“Why do you want to join us?” Mance asks, and Jon tells him he wants to be free. Wrong answer, so Mance asks again, why does Jon Snow want to join them and desert his cause. Jon tells him of stopping at Craester’s house (the one who’d marry his daughters) and how when they’d have a son, they’d leave him out in the middle of the woods for the White Walkers, the Others, to take. And when he brought this information to Lord Mormont he found out he already knew. Jon was disgusted, having signed up to help prevent death, to protect the innocent and who is more innocent than that of a child, newly born. “I want to fight for the side that fights for the living, did I come to the right side?” It’s a compelling argument and seemingly gains their trust as Rayder calls for him to don a new jacket, one that won’t align him with the South of the Wall.
While the scene was dialogue-heavy, it was a necessary evil and an enjoyable one at that, showcasing a Kit Harrington who seemed at ease with his delivery, rather than relying simply on the dark and brooding looks.
Out at sea, Davos Seaworth (he’s alive!) is stranded on an island after the Blackwater attack and see’s a ship approaching and waves it down. Upon entering he tells the friend that saved him that his son is dead due to the fire and he’s told that Stannis is licking his wounds at Dragonstone, allowing no one but Melisandre see him. Davos is told that anyone who doesn’t pray to the Red God is being burned alive as sacrifices. Davos demands that he be taken to Dragonstone to try and save his King and rid them all of Melisandre’s whisperings. However, when he goes he’s taunted and tries to attack her, but is swiftly locked up.
At King’s Landing everything is moving into place after Blackwater and Tywin’s victory, and it’s left some characters more weary than others.
Bronn is found lying in bed with a woman when Podrick, Tyrion’s squire and the young man who saved him on the battlefield, calls for him, saying Tyrion needs him on a matter of life and death.
The matter at hand? Cersei has come to visit him, flanked by two guards.
After making certain the guards will not be coming into his room as well and arming himself with his axe, Tyrion allows her in. She says she only came to visit for two matters: to see if his nose really had fallen off and what he means to say to their father Tywin.
She’s let down by the first, finding it much less grotesque than she’d hoped—most likely the show didn’t wish to ugly up Peter Dinklage’s face too much.
Tyrion asks her how she could know that he’s speaking with Tywin and she tells him she has her ears everywhere, that anyone could have alerted her, but ultimately it was Tywin himself. She wants to make sure that he won’t be going and making up lies as a way to win favor and Tyrion tells her he could just tell him the truth. Lena Headey and Dinklage have always worked wonderfully together with a fantastically timed rapport and this scene is no different. They’re both antagonizing the other, testing the waters and trying to figure out who knows what and how that will benefit the other. What’s abundantly clear is that a line has been drawn and Tyrion is on the losing side. He has his crew, Bronn and Podrick who will help watch his back, but Cersei has the pull and the power.
In the North, where the Direwolf banners fly, Robb’s camp rides near Harenhaal and find bodies of their allies left by the Lannisters. Robb laments over the lack of action their party has faced as of late and how the men grow restless. The scene is more of a moment to establish the strained relationship between Catelyn and Robb. Robb assigns her a cell for her deed of allowing Jaime to escape, despite Talisa’s protests. Robb is torn between Catelyn being his mother, and his men looking at her as a figure of treason. Richard Madden is an immensely talented actor (Birdsong, Sirens) and season two saddled him with some of the poorest material despite impressing in the first season with little screentime. I hope a conflicted Robb alongside Oona Chaplin, who typically lights up a screen, will be allowed moments to shine.
Back in Kings Landing, we get one of the two strongest moments in the episode. Tyrion and Tywin sit in Tywin’s chambers, Tyrion’s old room, and the emblem of the hand of the king attached to Tywin’s chest. Tywin is unhappy about how Tyrion used his authority, saying he did what he typically did, hung with the harlots and the thieves. Tyrion remains flippant about the matter, trying his best to dismiss any foul play Tywin sends his way. Tyrion tells him he bled in the mud for his family and what did he get? Nothing but a dark little room to rot in. Tyrion tells him that he deserves what is rightfully his by law. Since Jaime donned the white to be a Kingsguard he isn’t allowed to inherit their homeland, Casterly Rock, so by law it should go to Tyrion, the second son. Tywin just about laughs in his face and it’s one of the most painful scenes involving Tyrion to date.
Tywin tells him that he’ll get his due, but something more fitting for him. He tells him he deserves nothing, blaming his wife’s death on Tyrions birth, shaming him for even having to share his name and his color. He calls him a mockery and calls Tyrion an “ill-named, spiteful little creature.” It’s cringe-inducing to watch the normally arrogant Tyrion slink into himself, clam up and simply leave when his father’s done speaking without trying to have the last word. It speaks volumes of the character. Here is a man who has been stripped of everything, his power and standing and any semblance of respect. Charles Dance is phenomenal as the imposing Tywin and there’s a reason why Dinklage is a fan favorite—not only does he allow for some of the only touches of comedy on the show, he’s also arguably one of the saddest and most layered characters.
Shae and Sansa sit on the docks playing a game, Shae more than a little bit humoring her, until Littlefinger shows up asking to speak to Sansa alone. He tells her that he’s spoken to her mother recently and she asks him to take her home, like he promised. He tells her he will, but she must be ready at a moment’s notice.
Margaery is having the best luck of all of the King’s Landing parties. Margaery and Joffrey are being carted back to the castle but she puts a stop to it to go and visit an orphanage she’d been told about. She ignores all protocol and is warm and kind to the children, telling them that their fathers were great knights that protected their cities. She tells the head of the orphanage to come to her with any problem they’re having. Natalie Dormer is fantastic in this role and Maragery is a revelation of a character, easily the MVP of the episode. We’ve seen people play the game of power with words before, but they’ve often been filled with threats or insults, it’s interesting to see someone still actively playing the game and yet doing it with kindness. She’s trying to win the people onto her side and if she continues at this rate it may work.
Across the sea, Daenerys is sailing to an island where an army of slaves await her. It’s another one of those scenes where you realize the budget’s been upped as the camera swoops in across the ocean, trailing behind one of the dragons. It’s a beautiful scene with some brilliant cinematography.
Dany goes to the island where she’s told that these slaves, called the Unsullied, are perfect for an army. They’ve been trained their entire life, feel no empathy or pain, and will follow any order having essentially forsaken their free will. There’s a gruesome scene where the seller cuts off one of the man’s nipples as a selling point, showcasing the man’s strength, and that is what gives Dany pause. She doesn’t want an army of slave for the connotations and what that makes her, but she doesn’t want them to be in the possession of a man who will mutilate them for the sake of proving a point.
The last moment of the episode happens when Dany’s life is threatened by a warlock and is narrowly saved by Ser Barristan Selmy. For those who’ve forgotten, he was the leader of the Kingsguard unceremoniously dismissed by Cersei in season one. He’s come to protect Dany and the Targaryen legacy, saying he failed her once and won’t ever again.
It was a strong season premiere, allowing the pieces to fall into place, all the while setting into motion some bigger aspects of the season: Tyrion’s downfall, Margaery and Cersei’s push-and-pull relationship, and Robb and Catelyn’s relationship. Next week, more fan favorites are back (Arya, Bran, Jamie “the Kingslayer” Lannister, and Brienne to name a few) with what seems to be a bit more action. It’s a great start to a show we all would have enjoyed regardless, out of pure excitement alone. Let’s see what this season can bring us now and what surprises are up their sleeves.