Only Game of Thrones can have an entire first episode dedicated to reintroducing each character and story, and not have enough time on their commercial-free hour for every main character. Other than the absence of Bran, Arya and the King Slayer, the highly anticipated return of the HBO fantasy series delivered. For the uninitiated, the goal for this season premiere, entitled “Valar Dohaeris,” is to catch up where the show left off in Season 2 and take the audience on a grand tour of George R.R. Martin’s world. All of the storylines are laid out in front of us; the remaining characters are reintroduced and some new ones are brought in as well. For someone new to Game of Thrones, this premiere would have seemed intensely complicated and overflowing with characters with names that you can’t spell and whose history you don’t know, but for a Game of Thrones fan, this premiere was like catching up with old friends.
The primary theme of “Valar Dohaeris” is characters either recovering or dealing with the impedances or failures of the past season. Samwell, the portly page of the Night’s Watch, is the first character shown in this season. He is in the same place where Season 2 left him – running away from White Walkers, north of the Wall. He is attacked by a straggling Walker but is eventually saved by Lord Commander Jeor Mormont and the rest of his men, who look like they’ve all been through hell. Sam apparently forgot to do his “one job” and send a raven to warn the “Southerners” of the Walkers. And now that the rest of Westeros is unaware of the shambling army of undead soldiers marching towards them, they won’t know to prepare for World War Z.
Also north of the Wall, the most famous bastard on cable television, Jon Snow, finally reaches the Wildling encampment. Snow sees an actual, real-life giant – who the Wildlings seem to use as the tallest moving company in Westeros – and is brought to the tent of Mance Rayder, the “King beyond the Wall,” by his secret crush, the ginger warrior Ygritte. Snow is dropped off by Ygritte and is introduced to Tormund Giantsbane, who I believe has the best name of anyone on television. After thinking Giantsbane is Rayder, the actual king emerges from the back of the room. Unlike Joffrey, Robert Baratheon or even Robb Stark, Rayder has no semblance of pretenses. He is humble, yet strong. He commands respect, but chastises Snow for kneeling before him. No one kneels to anyone north of the Wall, and the best part about joining the Wildling army for Jon is that he can wear whatever color he wants as long as it’s gray and isn’t black (the color of the Night’s Watch, the sworn enemy of the Wildlings). Snow can also spend as much time as he wants with Ygritte, if you know what I mean. Girls aren’t allowed for those on the Night’s Watch, so that’s an upgrade.
Snow convinces Rayder to not kill him by first telling him that he “wants to be free,” which Rayder knows is a lie. Snow then tells Rayder the story of the incestuous woodsman who runs the house in which the Night’s Watch stay when they are away from their base. Snow recounts the visual of seeing the man give his newborn son to the Walkers, and that he wants to “fight for the side that fights for the living.” I think he came to the right place. Snow has always been loyal and true to any allegiance he had, but this meeting with Rayder – originally planned as an infiltration mission for the Night’s Watch – could see Snow become a commander anyways, but instead of becoming the Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, he could become the king beyond the Wall, just like Mance Rayder did.
Meanwhile, in a region that is a bit warmer, Tyrion Lannister is adjusting to his new circumstances as family outcast and facial scar sufferer – even after his unnoticed heroics in the Battle of Blackwater Bay. Tyrion sends for Bronn, his sell-sword cohort who shares a great sarcastic relationship with Tyrion and also happens to be decently good at saving the little lord’s life. Bronn is, of course, knee deep in prostitutes (Had you forgotten that this is Game of Thrones?), but finally comes to Tyrion’s aid. When Bronn arrives, he encounters two of the King Mother Cersei’s guards but they leave without incident after Cersei is finished talking to Tyrion. I would have enjoyed a brawl between Bronn and the guards but I’m sure that wasn’t in the books and the internet would explode.
Tyrion is escorted by Bronn – who he has to pay double now, because of Bronn’s recent knighthood – to speak with Tyrion’s father Tywin Lannister about his treatment. Tyrion explains to his father that since his brother Jaime is sworn to the King’s Guard, he cannot accept his family’s inheritance. Tyrion feels that it his is birthright to be the heir to Casterly Rock, the Lannister capital. This request, along with a desire to be celebrated for helping King’s Landing discard of Stannis Baratheon, is nullified by his father in one of the most maliciously soul-crushing speeches in television history. “You are an ill-made, spiteful little creature full of envy, lust, and low cunning,” Tywin Lannister says in response to his son’s application for approval. Tywin rips Tyrion to shreds, but Tyrion stays silent. He knows that he is the least-liked of his family and has to take advantage of being born a Lannister, but attempt to outthink his fellow family members. This demoralizing rant noticeably affects Tyrion, but with his ability to politick and strategize, it will be fascinating to watch how he foists his way back into the fray of king-making.
The army that Tyrion and his men defeated in Blackwater Bay belonged to Stannis Baratheon and his first mate was Davos Seaworth – a fitting name for a seafaring smuggler. Season 3 finds Davos floundering on a rock in the middle of a sea. After being rescued by his pirate friends, he is shipped back to Dragonstone where his undying devotion to Stannis causes him more pain than redemption. Stannis is hypnotized by his soothsaying priestess Melisandre and will carry out any request of hers, including throwing the disheveled former first mate Davos into jail. Davos’ loyalty to Stannis has become unbearable. It’s either naivety or just blind faith. Either way, until Melisandre is gone, Davos Seaworth should stick to hanging with the pirates.
In boring Stark family news, Robb Stark and his King Slayer-releasing, treacherous mother arrive at Harrenhall with their forces and Robb’s new wife. Hundreds are dead, Robb throws Mama into a jail cell for betraying the cause by setting Jaime Lannister free, and that’s about it. In King’s Landing, Sansa has become more personable; finally permitted to have a personality after Joffrey’s betrothing of Margaery Tyrell freed Sansa of her queenly commitments. She continues to consult with Littlefinger on how to escape King’s Landing but in no way should that man be trusted with anything other than prostitute management.
Speaking of Lady Tyrell, she begins a “No, Joffrey and I aren’t horrible people,” PR tour of orphanages. Giving toys to the adorable, scummy poor children will definitely make the plebeians and peasants hate their boy king less, right? It can’t hurt. She is an outwardly compassionate royal who is smarter than she appears. She says the right things, compliments and abides by the Lannister ways, but Ms. Tyrell knows how to play “the game” better than her husband-to-be.
Daenerys Targaryen may have had the toughest run of luck and circumstance of any character through the first two seasons, but her luck finally changed at the end of Season 2 when her dragons roasted some warlocks and she ransacked the city of Qarth. Season 3 shows Dany on a ship with her trusted associate and lusting companion, Jorah Mormont, along with a few dozen seasick Dothraki. She arrives in Astorpor where she can buy a lethal army of mercenary soldiers. Oh yeah, her dragons are big now and can roast fish in mid-air before they eat them. It’s pretty cool. The Khaleesi meets with a merchant who displays his army, called the Unsullied, which are a group of hellishly trained, empty bodies, whose initiation process is cruel and unusual, but it gets good results. And she has 8,000 of these men, who stand still as their master relocates their nipples.
Dany needs to decide whether or not she is a ruthless, warring queen, hell-bent on reclaiming her rightful throne, or an empathetic and caring female figurehead who doesn’t want to subject 8,000 emotionless eunuchs to the rigors and casualties of battle. Make up your mind, Khaleesi.
Though, she couldn’t decide how to conquer and rule if she’s dead. After purchasing the Unsullied, a child plays hide and seek with Dany, but eventually reveals herself as one of the warlocks from Qarth. The little girl rolls a ball to Dany which contains a lethal-looking scorpion, but the assassination attempt is halted by Ser Barristan Selmy, who kills it. Selmy was fired from the King’s Guard by Joffrey and is still regarded as one of the best swordsmen in the world, even at his age. Selmy pledges his unwavering loyalty to Dany and swears to assist in reseating Dany onto her rightful throne.
After two seasons of tribulation, Dany now has 8,000 soldiers of unquestionable toughness, a secretively suave man-servant who will always protect her, three fire-breathing dragons who think that she’s their mother, an old super soldier and some Dothraki who had never left dry land until this trip to Astorpor. The world is hers for the taking and it’s about time she took it.
[Note: I haven’t read the books and probably never will. These recaps are about the TV show and the TV show only. I don’t care if they diverged from the books, it’s a TV show.]