Game Of Thrones season 3 episode 1 review: Valar Dohaeris

Review Ron Hogan 1 Apr 2013 - 07:00

Game Of Thrones opens season 3 with a fantastically crafted episode that proves the best show on television is now even better...

This review contains spoilers. Read our spoiler-free review, here.

3.1 Valar Dohaeris

Game of Thrones is not just a television show. Game of Thrones is a full-fledged event. I have spent the better part of this weekend glued to the television, streaming episode after episode in a marathon of screaming, swords clashing, blood spraying, dragons roaring, and sexposition sexpositioning. To say that the first episode back after a very long wait was eagerly anticipated would be an understatement.

Game of Thrones has lost nothing in the long wait between seasons; indeed, the best show on television has gotten even better in the interim, even if HBO telegraphed one big surprise with its “Previously on” round-up. Even with that spoiler (avoid it if you can), the show is nothing short of brilliant thanks to the steady hand of David Benioff and D.B. Weiss.

The bulk of the episode this week picks up right where the Battle of Blackwater leaves off. King's Landing is rebuilding, bodies are washing up on the shore, and Joffrey Baratheon is even less popular than he was before the battle - and this is a kid who started a riot and murdered dozens of starving people after being hit in the face with flying poo. However, in a clever note, we see that Margaery Tyrell giving a lesson on how to win people over in a way that instantly makes Cersei hate her with a burning passion. She's got a bit too much of her father in her. 

Charles Dance may be the show's best actor when it comes to delivering long, blistering monologues. In season one, he ripped into the Kingslayer while ripping into a deer carcass. This season, the carcass he rips into is that of his mangled son, Tyrion Lannister. Despite being blessed with the family name and all the money and power that it comes with, he's the black sheep, the family curse, the physical manifestation of the rot in the Lannister soul. Being a good hand of the king, saving King's Landing with a brilliant scheme, destroying Stannis' fleet, leading the men onto the beaches to repel the invaders, suffering a grisly facial wound... none of that is enough to impress Tywin, who tears into Tyrion with one of the most bloody, heartbreaking speeches in the show's history. It's a credit to both actors; Dance delivers the words with such pain and fury and hatred that it makes Peter Dinklage's responding facial expressions, going from prideful and nervous to shattered in the course of a few simple sentences, that much more effective. It's heartbreaking for both men and somehow even more of a betrayal than that of Stannis to his closest companion, Davos Seaworth. 

More than any armed combat, the battle within each man between loyalty and honour versus a lust for power is the true war at the centre of Game of Thrones, and this episode explores that directly. For two seasons and who knows how many in-show years, Dany has been adamant about two things: regaining the Iron Throne and getting her dragons back. We've seen to what lengths she'll go to get her dragons back, but how far will she go to regain the Seven Kingdoms? 

It's an interesting moral quandary (and one of the funniest scenes the show has done with the translator, the slaver, Dany, and Jorah) and a legitimate question. Dany is a woman of high morals when it comes to pretty much everything. Just how low is she willing to stoop? How many compromises will she make? It's strange that the woman who did basically nothing in the second season except poke around Qarth and whimper about her missing dragons now may have the best potential story arc for the third season. At least it promises to be significantly more interesting (and arresting to look at). 

Game of Thrones has taken massive steps towards cranking up the show from a looks standpoint. Director Daniel Minahan doesn't do a lot of trickery this episode aside from a few very clever overhead shots and some of the dragon work, but he doesn't have to because the crew behind the scenes have chosen some of the best-looking, most-interesting filming locations available in the world. I don't know how they do it, or how much they have to sweeten things with CGI, but every location feels different from the next. You know Winterfell instantly and when you're beyond The Wall, it's obvious. I didn't know that Dany's ship was pulling into Astapor, but it has a completely different feel from Qarth, Pentos, or Vaes Dothrak. King's Landing, Dragonstone, and Pyke are as different as different can be. 

That's fitting, considering the show's different characters and story lines. Valar Dohaeris is spread across thousands of miles and dozens of characters we know and love, and it leaves out multiple other story lines in the process. The first few episodes back tend to be a bit cluttered, but as the season progresses, I have no doubt that the focus will tighten, some stories will rise to prominence over others, and loose threads will be tied off or snipped out entirely. Life is cheap in Westeros, and grudges are not easily forgotten. 

US Correspondent Ron Hogan has been drinking coffee from his Khal mug in preparation for the return of Game of Thrones. It is known. Find more by Ron daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.

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"the women who did nothing but whimper about her missing dragons now may have the best potential story arc for the third season." SPOILER If they're even loosely following the books for her story arc, her arc this season is still going to be among the least interesting! SPOILER

It certainly isnt the least interesting but George doesnt tell a lot of her story in Book 3 - just 6 chapters - to cover two seasons. they will undoubtably have to fill in some gaps over the next couple of seasons for her.

It's all very subjective but I personally wasn't overly fond of Dany's story arc after the second book, it's not as if it is particularly terrible or the worst thing written but for me her story arc in Book 3 certainly isn't anywhere close to the best like the reviewer is hoping. Compared with Jon, Tyrion, Jaime, Arya, Catelyn (even characters like Cersei, Tywin and possibly Margaery Tyrell look like they'll have story arcs I'll enjoy in the show more than Dany's)

When the series began, Dany was one of my favorite characters. By the end of book 5, I no longer cared one whit about anything happening on the eastern continent. He totally lost me.

I think that's intentional. Why have her over there in seemingly unrelated events with no direct impact all along....obviously it will be huge in the end. no spoilers I know nothing...but I fully expect Dany and one other (Jon) to be the last 2 standing in this battle for the kingdom.

The only reason I'm watching this show is to see how HBO ruins the original story, so far, they are doing a great job :)

I think it is highly overrated... they started off good with the 1st season... but that was it.

I disagree with you Richard, whole heartedly. Although, I can completely understand why you would say that. Storm of Swords was epic in every sense of the word. The only time when i grimaced, was when i saw the chapter say "Sansa". However, I think that Dany's arch was the most memorable. *spoiler* I think that by the end of her last Chapter... we saw her become the woman that she needs to be - to play.... the game of thrones....

All the scenes involving Lannister family meetings are going to be so much fun.

It seems like most casual viewers are naming dany her favourite, I am convinced mainly because she has those cool dragons, and the writers on the show seem to spend most of their time on her (it seems like all the budget was spend on her dragons, which angers me a little bit, less direwolves and so on because of that); I have never been a big fan of her, in the books her storyline is also quite boring... the really try to prop her up on the show by using all the special effects...

Oh my, you might want to pull the bookseries out of your ass, because it seems like it's lodged up quite far in there...

I'm afraid we won't know that till we've seen the new seasons of Mad Men and Homeland ... :)

> Game Of Thrones opens season 3 with a fantastically crafted episode that proves the best show on television is now even better...

You do realize that George R.R. Martin is a co-executive producer and occasional writer of episodes, right? I can't imagine a scenario in which criticizing changes could be any more misguided.

Interesting how we can have such differing views, by the end of the third book I was worried that her character was moving in the wrong direction if she wants to become queen of Westeros (and by the end of the fifth book I was more concerned that she was just becoming another self-absorbed Targ ruler....the way she would make choices involving the slavers without thinking of the possible consequences/ marrying the man that is obviously trying to kill her while simultaneously having an affair in plain site that the whole kingdom knows about, her constant reference to having 'the blood of the dragon' sounding suspiciously like Visrey's ravings.)

At the start of the series Dany seemed to be setup to be the true ruler of the kingdom who could come back and restore peace, but the more power she gets the more it seems like her focus will be on getting revenge for anyone that she considers even remotely responsible for the wiping out of the Targ rulership (notice how she refuses to here anything bad said about the Targ dynasties or acknowledge that it was the actions of Rahgear that cause the rebellion in the first place.)
I agree that Storm of Swords was amazing, and as I've said I didn't think Dany had the worst storyline...she was just not what I would consider to be the best story arc in the novel!

Forgetting Breaking Bad ;P

I didn't forget it.

It suspect in regards to dany the tv series will divert from the books a fair bit and how should I phrase this..........get to the point in her story. She serves no purpose until she comes back to westeros (spoiler alert) she still ain't back there in the books I don think a tv series could manage 5 seasons of her dicking about in essos.

Whatever happened to Arya?

I thought it was a great start to the series actually. Really pleased to see it back.
One thing mind... Did anybody else feel like Tyrion's facial scar wasn't nearly as bad as made out in the book? In the book it serves to make people hate him more because he looks even more demonic than ever, but if anything the scar on TV makes him look more heroic (in my opinion).

*Total spoiler destruction* if you want to have any joy in the twists and turns of season 3 - i beg you to not read this reply.
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Haa, what you dont like - I love. Thats exactly why I like her story arch. She's treading on a path that is paved with good intentions, but could be leaning into hell. Martin seems to like teasing our testicles with her. This poor innocent girl that was sold in sexual slavery, whom now has lesbian sex with her own maids.

In between chapters we are told of the Targs of old, who are either astonishing leaders of greatness and those that are completely insane. Shes walking the line... a queen of the people, but she's gaining far too much power for her limited amount of experience. We are seeing her getting drunk with power. Its exciting, because so much could go so wrong with her... and it would be an utter tragedy... I cant wait... lmao.

I like the parallel thats being drawn between her and Jon Snow. I mean, he's gone from bottom to top, but with him - 10000 years of experience and structure is behind him with being a man of the black. He was offered opportunity to play in the game of thrones, to carry on his families legacy - yet he refused, because unlike Dany - he sees his destiny as being one that has been "forged" by his own hands and not of a "birth right". The two archs together are gorgeous.

There's a quick nod to it in the episode "I'd heard you'd lost your nose, but it's not nearly as bad as that". Presumably it's just to make sure Peter Dinklage doesn't get stuck with a prosthetic for every episode.

Great review Dan. I like the season 3 premier a lot! Great dialogues, great performance. The more I think about the story and the characters, they more I think GRRM and the show won't tell the cliche heroes journey like Star Wars. There is no happy ending, there is no happy thoughts, it's more miserable than Les Mis. I love how each character is written in the book (including Davos and Sansa, which are my least fav). And the actors for the HBO shows are all very well cast and really are doing a great job. I read another review from New Zealand about how the show is becoming Game of Yawn for him. Oh well, I guess if people are bored, they can find something else to watch.

I suppose it says something about the brilliance of Martin's work that we can take such different opinions on the same character arc! I can definitely appreciate what you see in Dany's storyline, and I suppose with Dany I'm almost waiting to see how her arc will end before I can truely judge it (there are so many different directions she could go, especially at the end of 5 where she is very much back at a crossroads, that the ending of her arc will in theory justify the issues I have with what came before hand.) We'll see how the showrunners go with her arc in the third season...they could very easily be out of Dany chapters from SoS by episode 6/7 of this season if they keep moving the pass they are at!

Aye, i agree with that Richard. The greatest stories, in tv, film and books - are always the ones that allow for so much debate and personal attachement. We are neither wrong, or right - but we have both really enjoyed the journey and the characters we've met. Its been a pleasure communicating opinions with you. Cheers!

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