This will be a review of the HBO series Game of Thrones… NOT the novels. As much as I would love to go over the whole A Song of Ice and Fire saga and how it compares with Game of Thrones, I don’t believe I have the mettle to tackle that in this blog. That said, if you haven’t seen the first episode of the third season, don’t read beyond this point.
Trying to wrap my head around reviewing HBO’s Game of Thrones has been taunting me for the last two years. I imagine it to be somewhat comparable to to trying to cozy up to a dragon… sure it looks pretty and you want to jump on it’s back and ride it into the sunset, but chances are you will simply be burned to a crisp and devoured whole. I was also reluctant to begin reviewing The Walking Dead on a weekly basis, but eventually found a way to do so… clumsily and far from eloquent at first, but I believe I eventually found my way around how to do it… I won’t bother with recapping the episode, I will simply give my impressions.
Game of Thrones cannot be viewed on an episode by episode basis. The scale and scope of this saga can only be viewed from the end looking back, which poses all sorts of problems for any viewer, even one who has read all five of the novels in the series thus far… largely because there are still two novels to be written. Keeping track of all the characters, each of their individual arcs, how they relate to other character’s arcs, and an enormous backstory and mythology that informs every scene is exactly what turns off so many, yet grips those of us who love a great sprawling tale… and Game of Thrones is nothing if not sprawling.
In the first season, we felt the comfort of following who we believed to be the main character, Ned Stark, and his struggles in navigating the politics of this huge kingdom and his children’s place within that world. There were plenty of other characters and motivations happening concurrently; the Targaryens in Essos, the Baratheons and their children of incest, and the Lannisters and their lust for power, wealth, and each other… but it was the Starks that we were rooting for. They were the good guys… then Ned got his head lopped off in the ninth episode and all bets were off.
The second season focused on what it meant to rule. Suddenly, scores of other houses that were merely backdrops to the Stark family drama became relevant and found each other in a massive power struggle between five rival would-be kings and muddied the waters that much more. Who was the good guy? Who was the villain? Did those terms even apply? Eventually, the season culminated in an incredible battle in the ninth episode (see a pattern here?), Blackwater, determining, for the moment, who was in charge of Westeros.
Of course, none of that even touches on Dany Targaryen’s struggles in the east… but by the end of season one, she had a trio of dragons and spent the majority of the second season asking, “where are my dragons?”. For as much as we wanted more of her tale, we got very little… but that isn’t to say there isn’t great significance to what happened on her end, and what is yet to come.
Did I mention the White Walkers yet? The zombie-like creatures north of the Wall who are pushing south as winter approaches, or the bastard son of Ned Stark, Jon Snow? No… of course I didn’t… there is simply too much to cover in such a short space. But the second season ended with Jon joining the Wildlings, the free folk of the north who don’t bow to any other king than their own, and the White Walkers attacking the men of the Night’s Watch. A remarkable ending to an already convoluted season.
The third season opens with the aftermath of that battle. Sadly, another example of a battle that we don’t see on screen… probably due to budget constraints… but it was enough of a battle to cause the Night’s Watch to retreat… and from there, the episode goes about the task of catching us up on who’s doing what and reminding us of the rich tapestry that is Game of Thrones.
Valar Dohaeris, a bookended title from the second season finale Valar Morghulis, the meaning of which would be a spoiler unto itself (Valar Morghulis is what Jaqen H’ghar told Arya to say if she ever finds herself in Braavos), does an admirable job of bringing us up to speed, yet doesn’t cover everyone. We don’t know what’s happening with Arya, Bran, or Jaime and Brienne… I’m assuming we’ll meet up with them next week.
A quick rundown of what everyone is up to…
Tyrion is no longer hand of the king and his buddy Bronn is asking for more money. His father, Tywin Lannister, who has replaced Tyrion as Hand of the King, makes it clear that Tyrion is not going to reap the benefits of his family name nor will he get any credit for the remarkable job he performed in winning the battle of Blackwater… plus his face is scarred and his sister Cersei, the Queen Regent, is still a raging bitch with waning power and a massive ego problem.
The scene between Tyrion and his father was by far my favorite of the episode, showing us examples of two of the finest actors in the series, Charles Dance and Peter Dinklage. And in this cast, that is saying something.
Jon is ingratiating himself to the Wildlings after having killed his compatriot in an attempt to infiltrate the enemy and figure out why they are moving en masse towards the south. We meet Mance Rayder, King Beyond the Wall… and we see a giant. That was cool, and thanks to budget issues, entirely unexpected. Ygritte, his Wildling redheaded temptress is also present and firing off witticisms meant to embarrass and belittle everyone’s favorite emo Stark… love her.
Joffrey still sucks, but his new bride to be, Margaery Tyrell, is shown to be deft at the art of politics as she communes with the masses and brings a more personable face to the reign of Joffrey the prick. This is a departure from the novels, but a welcome one. Natalie Dormer is lovely and a dead ringer for Diana Rigg, who we will be introduced to next week as her grandmother, the Queen of Thorns (sorry, slight spoiler, couldn’t resist… consider that a taste).
Davos lives! He is rescued from his Little Mermaid perch, all blistered and battle scarred, by his buddy Lando…errrr… Salladhor Saan and returns to his king, the never charming Stannis Baratheon and his red priestess Melisandre, despite being told that she is burning those who don’t worship her red god. Davos is possibly the closest thing to a “good guy” we have in the series at this point and I am always happy to see him on screen, despite his somewhat milktoast personality. We need someone to root for… don’t we?
Sansa, Shae, and Roz have a nice scene together that illuminates each characters frame of mind. Sansa is still playing the games of a young girl, Shae is straight forward and to the point, and Roz, who we know is playing a double agent for both Littlefinger and Varys (who was also absent this time around), is sending out a warning… don’t trust Littlefinger… who is the only person Sansa believes she can trust, because he has become her only hope of escape from the court of the fuck-face king.
Finally, Dany and her ever present companion Sir Jorah arrive to Astapor. There, she goes about the business of purchasing her 8,000 eunuch army and escaping death by manticore with the aid of one Sir Barristan Selmy, who has been MIA since the first season. His appearance bodes well for our rightful (?) queen. Plus, her dragons have grown… and she never once whined about their whereabouts. Already and improvement in her story line.
Game of Thrones is a slow boil… there are no immediate payouts. Following this story is an exercise in patience and keen observations, many of which I have probably missed and will notice on subsequent viewings, but am always eager to enter into this world. Next week will hopefully catch us up on those who we didn’t see… and if it doesn’t, there will be more to come.
I’m sure I’ve misspelled some of these names and missed a number of key moments from the episode… but like I said, I’m not going for a recap, I’m going for impressions… and so far, it looks like we are going to be in for quite a ride. Once we are caught up with everyone, I will be able to get more into what it all means… and how it all ties together.
Cornelius J. Blahg