A black screen, the sound of swords and we cut to a frightened Samwell Tarly running through a snowstorm. A mutilated body and an attack later we are faced with the grim remains of the Nightswatch being the only hope to warn the people of Westeros.
Because Winter has finally come…
A note on the spoiler policy
These articles will discuss the episodes in-depth so everything that has already been aired will be talked about. There won’t be spoilers for future events and book information will only be discussed if it has already happened or happened differently in the books. Things that are omitted from the books won’t be mentioned because those events might come to play in a different way.
A visual treat
Before we delve into the stories I must say that the visuals are even better than last season. The cinematography is much more confident and playful and the shots look less static. A lot of that has to do with the larger sets. A discussion between Cersei and Tyrion for example is no longer just cutting between their faces but showing us an elaborate wide shot of Tyrion’s chamber with the actors looking comparatively small. And the audience is left to marvel at all the details surrounding the characters. Same goes for shots of Tyrion, Bronn and Podrick walking the walls of King’s Landing and many more. The confidence of the technical department has increased and promises much more to come.
Special effects wise we also got our fair share of special effects both obvious (dragons) and subtle (extension of sets, castles in the background). So in every shot we are already told visually that the show will not be holding things back – is the story up to it?
A storm of characters
If you thought Season 1 had many characters then Season 2 introduced a whole lot of new faces and from the looks of it Season 3 will go even beyond that number. Because of this the writers have stopped reintroducing all the characters in the first episode. This has two downsides: first my mancrush on Jaime was not satisfied and second that the episode didn’t have the feel of S02E01. The opening of Season 2 was expertly handled and the comet served as a fantastic visual bridge. But I think because of the massive cast the first two episodes of Season 3 will form a 2 hour re-introduction.
It’s probably a good thing to have split the third book A Storm of Swords into two seasons so the characters can breathe a little bit. After all the killing at Blackwater King’s Landing has to catch some air.
I will be looking forward to what Arya, Jaime and Theon are up to next week.
The King Beyond the Wall
And finally we meet Mance Rayder (Ciarán Hinds)! Teased since Season 1 the “King beyond the Wall” was a big question mark and still is. We have only seen the camp of Mance but at least that is more than the promise at the end of Season 2 “Time to meet the king beyond the wall” after teasing us the entire second season with the character.
And what we have learned is that there are…. Giants!
I fully expected them to show up in later stories as next to dragons, white walkers and the children of the forest giants are always mentioned as fairy tale creatures. But what I loved was how casually they introduced them walking past Jon Snow as if it were the most normal thing in the world. It even took a few moments for me to realize that there was something off with the size of this person walking past Snow. The effects department is using the same technique they are using to enlarge regular wolves to direwolf-size so you have actors sized up in giant make-up. Simple but I like it.
And about Mance – we have to wait and see. I am looking forward towards Rayders arguments. Jon is a noble and heroic character and this season will probably be about his loyalties. So I highly doubt that Rayder will be a “evil” guy but provide arguments so strong that Jon might actually join him because he might offer the better argument than the Nightswatch. If Mance were evil we would never question whether Jon Snow might shift loyalties because that is not the type of character he is. So let’s hear what this King has to say and maybe he will understand the North better than the Nightswatch.
Let’s face it: the Nightswatch is pretty reactionary and doesn’t have the slightest grasp what will happen. At least they are becoming efficient White Walker killers but if there are giants it is not clear what dangers are yet to come – wargs, werewolves, mammoths, dinosaurs? Anything can happen with Martin writing the story.
Dany is moving! And moving fast!
Daenerys spent the last season wondering where her dragons are and eventually learned that nobody will follow her just because she says so. In Dothraki style she fashioned herself a ship with the gold she stole and I must say that I much prefer this version to the book version where she wanders around Quarth and after some time two guys show up and tell her they have a ship to take her back. In the series her ship is her first accomplishment in a way. She has gathered a crew and dragons – now she needs an army.
And what a nice baby-killing army she has found. The Unsullied are a warrior cast bred for obeying without question. I am not sure if it is the wisest choice to buy them. Imagine a mad dragon lady arriving in King’s Landing with her army of child-murdering soulless monsters claiming the throne just because she thinks it’s hers…
This gets worse considering one thing:
Making things better is making things worse
The days of mad Joffrey are gone I think. Sure he is still a sociopath but I think that the marriage with Margaery has made things turn even worse – in the sense that Margaery is giving Joffrey a free PR-campaign and handing out “Joffery is number 1” goodies to little children. I loved Margaery in the orphanage as she employs a tactic used by a lot of sleazy politicians. Being “down to earth” and promising people to just go directly to Margaery if they need any help is something I have witnessed with a lot of populist politicians who score big points by saying “just give me your number, I’ll see that I can help you”. So big thumbs up for the writing of this scene.
If my subtext is not cynical enough let me make it clear: I don’t trust Margaery and I think her campaign will make things worse than ever. A friend of mine had this idea after the episode that the worst thing that could happen is that Margaery succeeds with the Joffrey-is-awesome campaign and the moment Dany arrives in Westeros nobody will want her as queen because everyone is content with Joffrey.
And on a sidenote: welcome to the weirdest family dinner in Game of Thrones (yet). Cersei is tame right now but I think she will be up to some horrible things or if she completely loses it she will tell Joffrey that the “lies” about his “uncle” are true.
Aren’t we a nice family?
Speaking of horrible things: Shae is a dead woman walking – seriously after Tywin proved that he can be an awesome foster father in Season 2 we see what a horrible father he is humiliating Tyrion and promising to hang the next whore he catches in Tyrion’s bed… cut to Shae and Sansa… yep she won’t make it.
It sounds redundant to praise Dinklage again but his interaction with Cersei and Tywin was just top-notch and I love how Bronn got his first piece of sexposition.
But family dispute is not mandatory for Lannisters only. The Starks are not having a great time either. After taking Harrenhal (or the remains of it) Robb Stark throws his own mother in a cell because of the treason she has committed last season (releasing the Kingslayer).
There have been some moments leaving me devastated (killing the bastard sons of Robert for example) but this episode had me feel so sad for a character I didn’t really care before. Having seen his son die in the wildfire Davos is picked up by a boat. In a charming scene he is unable to lie – like an Asimovian robot. You can see his wheels turning when he is asked what King he serves but this is the Onion Knight! He will never betray Stannis not even to save his life and return to Stannis. So when he comes back to Stannis you expect some sort of gratitude.
Instead the least humorous King in Westeros has been convinced that for some reason it was Davos’s fault that he failed at Blackwater and when Davos can’t take it anymore he’s thrown into a cell… seriously, I felt so sorry for this guy! Stannis doesn’t deserve a servant as loyal as Davos.
Ser Barristan Selmy returns!
To make up for the slow pace in Season 2 we had an assassin attacking Dany after a long boat trip and a mindless army. So there is a lot happening here compared to Season 2 and she was saved by no other than the awesome Ser Barristan Selmy.
If you don’t know the name: Ser Barristan Selmy was a supporting character in Season 1 leading the Kingsguard and being known as one of the best fighters in Westeros. He has fought in more wars than anyone else but was disgraced by Joffrey in Season 1.
When King Robert was killed by a boar (an event that seems a million years ago) Ser Barristan was blamed for not defending the King and declared too old to protect the new King. He threw his sword at Joffrey’s feet and left being mocked. In another scene it was said that the guards tried to take him and were killed – because Selmy eats guards for breakfast and wrestles a direwolf before going to sleep.
I was wondering what happened to him because in the second book it is said that nobody has seen Selmy and Stannis assumed he joined Robb Stark because Selmy would either join the true king Stannis or Robb to serve in honor – but neither happened. So Selmy appearing to serve the Targaryen boosts Dany’s honor by 50 points and might make the child-killing army less horrible.
While I love Selmy reappearing I think it will be one of the more “not really sure what happened” twists for casual viewers. Jorah Mormont provides the audience with some exposition when he appears and in the recap there are a few seconds to remind us but the impact is probably less strong for anyone not having a dictionary of Westeros at his hands.
If a wall of text of more than three pages isn’t signal enough I can only stress: I am so happy that Game of Thrones is back and the biggest criticism is the weekly wait.