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"...have to warn them or before winter's done, everyone you've ever known will be dead."
The wait is over and winter, well, winter is still coming but it's finally coming on-screen and that's exciting! And a little awkwardly phrased. Game of Thrones ended last season in spectacular cliff-hanging fashion with "Valar Morghulus" (all men must die) and it shouldn't have come as a surprise that the sophomore finale was followed by an episode titled "Valar Dohaeris" (all men must serve). Okay. Maybe that common Braavosi exchange isn't 'known' to everyone so this is a good time to share that I have read George R.R. Martin's "A Song of Ice And Fire" series but only events seen in the television series (and un-spoilery changes) will be discussed here, and same goes for the comments, please! I won't be speculating as to what may happen to any of the conflicts, characters and/or narrative threads (I already did that), instead only what has been shot, set-up and/or suggested in each show as well as how skillfully (or not) HBO has adapted the fantasy for the small screen. And if you feel like you need a quick refresher on where Season 2 left off, even after seeing the Season 3 premiere, don't be embarrassed, there are a lot of characters and locations for a two minute 'previously on' segment to cover.
"You're wearing the wrong color."
We all caught up? Good. To be fair, the third season premiere spent a lot of time re-introducing us to the main characters and situations, as any first installment should, but that was only one of three main things happening in "Valar Dohaeris." To balance out the gentle re-immersion into the world and familiar faces, the episode also brought a few more people into the fray (with several more to come) as well as upped the fantasy side of things with some impressive special effects mixed with spectacular locations. However, speaking of special effects, I can't be the only one a little let down that we didn't see more follow-up to the White Walker cliffhanger in the cold open (pun intended) instead of simply sounds of slaughter played over black. I know in the books, it is similarly played out from Sam's unseeing perspective but HBO hasn't shied away from altering the source material in some spots and I don't think a change to watch the carnage is one anyone would mind. Still, the Iceland location really adds to every shot and Sam wandering in the snow storm looked amazing. He soon finds Commander Mormont and the surviving members of the Night's Watch only to inform them of his failures. Surprise, surprise.
"My best hunter's after him."
Even farther north of the Wall, Ygritte takes Jon through the wildling camp and we get our first look at a giant. I thought the creature, like all the others on the series so far, looked pretty convincing and Jon's last look at the beast was spot on. As is the continuing banter between him and Ygritte. Inside a tent, two major characters are introduced with Jon encountering Kristofer Hivju's Tormund Giantsbane and Ciarán Hinds as Mance Rayder. Both played their roles perfectly, the former full of humor and bravado, the latter more cunning and intense. The exchange between Mance and Jon was one of the best of the week. One of the weaker sequences, however, was the brief stop in with the King of the North and his mother at Harenhaal. The castle itself looked great but everything about the scene fell a little flat, from Robb scorning Cat to remind us of their friction to the moment when Qyburn suddenly comes to life and delivers a clean, one word quip. There's also a bit of attention paid to his bannermen grumbling on the side with the Karstark father still grieving his sons and Roose Bolton not doing too much to quiet the dissent.
"Do you hear them screaming?"
As for Stannis and his lot, they are all licking their wounds (or dead) from the Battle of Blackwater Bay but it was probably a moment of relief for viewers to see Davos and his fingerless hand still alive. And what a lovely first shot of his hand raised in the air not to mention the ones that followed showing him stranded on that island. The rescue boat served as a reminder just how treacherous the world has become, with a question of loyalty poised every time you run into someone new and the wrong answer probably punishable by death. Davos is lucky this time and he's taken to his good friend Salladhor Saan and we're given a scene with a little levity. The banter between them is really enjoyable, too bad Davos convinces Saan to deliver him to Dragonstone, I could have watched a spin off of them as pirates. Nope, off to see mopey old Stannis and plead that he not only continue to fight but that he does so without Melisandre's help. The Red Priestess is quick to remind them both what happened the last time they fought without her around as well as 'assuring' Davos that his sons death was the purest kind. So, he's got that going for him.
"Jugglers and singers require applause, you are a Lannister."
Some of the scenes in King's Landing felt a little like the show was letting the audience play catch-up but there were still more than a few fantastic moments, especially the scene between father and son. Before getting to that exchange, the show offered a little taste of the flesh it's become so well known for by having Bronn engage in some of the finer things in life before being interrupted by Tyrion's call. Nothing really new comes from the following scene with Tyrion and Cersei but the actors are incredible to watch together and it did serve to build up the ensuing exchange between the former and their father. I also loved the nod about the nose, a joke about how readers of the novels were initially unimpressed by the fact that Game of Thrones didn't hack Tyrion's all the way off in the adaptation. While brother and sister were quarrelling inside, there was also tension brewing between their trusted bodyguards as Bronn and Trant don't seem to like each other very much. In fact, I bet Bronn would do him for free but, now that he's knight, he's going to need to be paid knight prices to protect the little Lion from everyone else. Of course, no matter how much Tyrion pays Bronn to protect him, there is no protecting the former from his father's cold heart.
"You might find a bit of armour quite useful once you become Queen. Perhaps before."
Poor guy, all he wants is his birthright like every other son of a Lord in Westeros but Tywin has a few unkind words to say about that. The exchange between Peter Dinklage and Charles Dance was my favorite part of the episode by far and the way they had Tyrion walk away before Tywin finished talking was perfect. After leaving the exchange with her little brother, Cersei had some other verbal sparring to tend to with the Tyrells very much a threat to her, sorry, the Lannister's power in King's Landing. Joffrey takes a trip in his secure to the absorb box down memory lane, memory lane being the street where he and his entourage were mobbed, and is forced to stop while Margaery exits hers to tend to the orphans. She seems to be genuine in her concern for the poor and it was a real pleasure to see Joffrey try and say the word charitable with a straight face, especially after he was too chicken to get out of his palanquin. While Joff is clearly no match for Margaery, Cersei is still around to knock the future Queen down a peg or two. And as for the King's former bride to be, Sansa is still conspiring with Littlefinger for a way out of the capitol, as Ros warns Shae to keep an eye on the slippery politician. Wise words.
"Even the bravest men fear death."
Lastly, we travel across the seas to catch up with Daenerys on a boat sailing to Astapor. Again, the locations are beautiful and the castles (as well as the other CG elements) are seamlessly integrated to create a very real feeling fantasy world. The special effects team did especially fine work on the dragons, that's probably where the budget went instead of some white walkers. It was also great to get a bit a humor added to her storyline (the Dothraki on the ship), since he journey is always so bleak. The bleak doesn't stay away for long since her visit to purchase an army makes her confront slavery, something that the Khalessi takes very personally, as we all know. And she doesn't like the thought of dead babies taken from their mothers either. By Rhaego's wig! The Unsullied are pretty impressive warriors, case in point, the nipple, but will Dany be able to sell out all her values just for a eight thousand super soldiers? And do you think the slaver its going to get away with those words? Perhaps Ser Barritsan Selmy (no Arstan Whitebeard in this show), slayer of super weird, surely killer bugs, will understand what he's saying the next time they meet.
Game of Thrones Season 3 returns next Sunday with Episode 2, "Dark Wings, Dark Words," at 9 p.m. ET on HBO. The series stars Peter Dinklage, Kit Harrington, Emilia Clarke, Lena Headey and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau. Join The Realm.