Game Of Thrones season 3: Valar Dohaeris spoiler-free review

Review Louisa Mellor 27 Mar 2013 - 06:10

Here are our thoughts on Game of Thrones episode 3.1, a beautifully-composed slow-burner that lays the ground for the season to follow…

A word, before we start, on what we mean by spoiler-free in our reviews. You’ll find not a sausage of plot, character or location details in the next few hundred words, nor allusions to any of the above. We’ve said it before but it bears repeating: to us, spoiler-free means exactly that. The last thing we want to do is take away even a smidge of the delicious surprise that comes from watching a brand new episode of a drama as assured and beautifully-composed as Game of Thrones. The first thing we want to do is link your arm in ours and jig about in a mad circle yelling “It’s back! It’s finally back! And it’s still brilliant!” (though that last bit may be explained by this having been written in the wee small hours after a modest application of free post-screening booze).

Written by showrunners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff, in terms of narrative, Valar Dohaeris is more preparatory intake of breath than fiery roar. It clarifies purpose, and deftly re-establishes the allegiances and locations of Westeros with a series of largely static, tense two and three-hander scenes.

Like that of the writers, Daniel Minahan’s work in the opening episode has the steady assurance of a director who knows he’s playing with a winning hand. The camerawork is unobtrusive and unflashy for the most part, a still witness to that series of ground-laying weighty conversations.

Minahan certainly can do flash of course, as proved by a playful sequence showcasing Game of Thrones’ impressive CGI dragons, a fluent travelling shot circling the post-battle walls of King’s Landing, and another swooping through the Wildling camp, but on the whole he holds back here, allowing the script, cast and locations the space to piece together their story. Weiss, Benioff and Minahan all have the confidence of people building something in this episode, preparing a foundation to support future action. Like Littlefinger, they’re playing the long game.

A certain amount of recapping is done here, both by the script and visually as the audience once more learns how to orient itself in the vast space of the Seven Kingdoms (icy and white – we’re Beyond the Wall, hot and dusty – we’re across the Narrow Sea, dank and black – we’re in Dragonstone…), and once again, that this show manages to get us roughly up to speed with nothing so clunky as a ‘Previously on Game of Thrones’ is a feat of its narrative dexterity.

Bargaining emerges as the theme of the opener, which is structured around a succession of pairings in which the question “What do you want?” is posed and answered more than once. The slow-paced, tension-thick exchanges are leavened by short bursts of humour and bawdiness (in true Game of Thrones style, one character shares an uncomfortably long amount of screen time with a scantily clad groin), but the overwhelming tone is serious and sombre. Fittingly so, what with death and destruction being threatened at every turn.

Gravity and comedy are combined in one of the episode’s most impressive two-handers; one between Charles Dance’s Tywin and Peter Dinklage’s Tyrion Lannister that bounds fluidly from humour to cruelty to wretched pathos. That on-screen pairing alone is worth investing your time in Game of Thrones, before we even come to the locations, layered story and the rest of the impressive cast.

Speaking of which, the rivalry between Lena Headey’s Cersei and her future daughter-in-law, Natalie Dormer’s Margaery, with whom she’s forced to share King’s Landing, promises great things this season. Dormer’s character in this episode demonstrates that the path to power in Westeros is as much about PR, photo ops, and pressing the flesh as it is in Whitehall or Washington, something the ever-detestable Joffrey (surprisingly more unpleasant in wooing mode than he is meting out physical cruelty) is yet to take on board.

One development to note is that the magic drip-fed into Game of Thrones early on, a trickle that pooled towards the Khal Drogo-resurrecting and dragon-hatching season one finale, is in evidence right from the start here, as well it should be on a show that doesn’t tread water. The dragons are growing, and with them, magic is returning to Westeros and settling in for the long haul.

For years now, the acid test for any TV serial has been its ability to produce something we’ll call the HBO sigh. You know the one, it’s that involuntary expulsion of breath at the end of an episode, often accompanied by a weak, protesting “No!”, caused when the screen turns unexpectedly black. It was heard in the screening room this evening, and no doubt will be in the US next Sunday and the UK on Easter Monday. It’s the sound you made at the end of countless episodes of The Sopranos or The Wire, and roughly translated it means “That went too quickly, I want more”. Luckily for us, with a further nine episodes of Game of Thrones stretching gloriously into the distance, more is exactly what we have.

Game of Thrones season three premieres in the US on Sunday the 31st of March, and in the UK on Monday the 1st of April.

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I can't wait *dances manically* IT'S BACK!!!

It almost seems unreal that the long wait is finally over for GoT and Who.

No doubt it will all pass too quickly and we'll be stuck with the normal TV wasteland whilst waiting for the next thing.

Any idea on what this new Da Vinci's Demons is like yet DOG?

Great. I am pleased, something new and great to watch when Spartacus and the Walking dead are finished.
You know what is a pity though? I am going to have to download this off Bit Torrent in order to see it. Because I will be about another year older before I can watch it on Tv here, and I am just not going to wait that long.
There is also no chance of getting to see it on the BBC or any other terrestrial Tv station in the Uk.
So its download a go go for me, the second its aired and advert free...

i live in a muslim country, no way AGOT is coming to our shores ... well if m lucky it may
be shown in year 2020 ...the series wud b heavily censored of coz, i can't c
anythin from loin to groin .....i hd better luck gettin GRRM' books ....thank
god his books r allowed here & is censored free ....

Game of Thrones, Doctor Who and the finale of Walking Dead. An Easter for Geeks. Bring it on

Just get Sky you tight arse!!

What, get Sky in order to watch a single show? Sorry, but that business model is prehistoric. What about people like me who only watch a handful of TV shows and have absolutely no need for all those other channels? Personally I torrent GoT each year, then preorder the Blu Rays. Seems fair enough to me.

Please keep spoilers out of this comments thread.

Yes....I had it before there was Sky + though and before Sky Hd and Virgin with their Tivo and so on. I just don't think that its fair that you have to pay £145 for a license and then another £30 on top for other stuff that by rights SHOULD be on terrestrial Tv as well, eg on Ch4 or Ch5 if the Beeb is too busy making crap like the Voice and Eastenders.

That works out at another £360 a year. That's a lot if you only want to watch Game of Thrones , The Walking Dead and Spartacus etc like me.

I have said it before, but its really vastly over priced for what you get. You may as well not bother and just buy it on disk when it comes out. This is why I stopped going to the Cinema, wait a few months and see it cheaper and in peace at home. How much is a Sky + basic package now?

Anyway with all the adverts if something starts at 6pm you would have to record it and start watching it at 6.30pm to give you room to fast forward through all the crap.

Then I discovered Torrents. HD tv for free and the nice people that do it, remove the adverts. Its a win win and no brainer for me, so I built a media Pc very cheaply for the living room and have not looked back.

The only things I watch on Tv in the Uk live anymore is Doctor Who and Top Gear. The rest I download or watch from disks. Sod the lot of em I say....

That's what I've done and will continue to do. I'm getting what I want now, and they're getting their money. Seems fair to me.

In fact, that would be one hell of a good idea for them to adopt officially. Get you to buy the BluRays at the start of the season, then let you stream the episodes anytime you want after they're aired. I would definitely pay for that - as that's more or less what I'm doing now anyway.

****** dies horribly, graphically, and somewhat comically.

...and who says you can't have your candy and eat it too!

I guess having Sky makes more sense if you have a family, but to me it's totally pointless. Most TV is so godawful and free time is so limited I only make time for the very best shows out there - GoT, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Peep Show, Community, Modern Family, QI, and anything Charlie Brooker does.

Charlie Brooker rules! I sometimes think he is the only one on Tv that makes any sense at all. He really notices the same things that I do and its scary at times.
I don't have kids, so Sky is a bit pointless for me. Plus most nights I can never get near the thing, because Mrs Davros is watching Eastenders, Coronation Street, Emmerdale, Holby City etc etc etc....

How is that a pity ? I live in France, we have to download everything ! Get used to it, it's not that bad.

Its a pity, because something this good should go out over here on BBC1 on a Saturday night at 9pm. Instead of the crap we get now. It should go out about a week after its on in America. The BBC used to do this a lot, Dukes of Hazzard started out late at night on a Saturday in the 70s, then they moved it to prime time. Buck Rogers was on Saturday nights, and the big one was the X Files. The first season went out late at night on BBC2, and the ratings were huge. It was beating everything else on Tv and everything on BBC1 so they moved it to BBC1 in the end and put it on in a prime position...I think it was Friday night.

Now the BBC never do things like this as its all snapped up by Sky / Virgin etc so people like me just download the stuff because we either cant afford it, or wont pay the stupid prices and don't want to wait months for the blurays. I am not the only one because Game of Thrones episodes become the most pirated thing on the internet the second after they are broadcast, because everyone want to see it.

I do download everything...a lot. For example when Doctor Who starts on BBC1 this Saturday, I will watch it live, then download the HD rip of it to keep as I don't see why I should pay for it twice. I have bought it with my License fee, and I think its a rip off. So yes I am used to it and its not that bad.

Ok, personnaly, I don't see what's the problem. If I want to see something new, in France, I WILL have to download it, whatever it is, because it won't be available before at least a few month. So it feels natural to me.

I live in Mainland China and it's normal to stream and download all my favourite TV shows...There's no way in hell GoT, BB, Justified, BE, Dexter, SoA, SouthLAnd, TWD, Peep Show or Dereck would ever be shown on TV here. Piracy really is the only way to view anything half decent...with a VPN of course.

*Derek*

We are waiting!

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