Game Of Thrones: Valar Dohaeris, Review

Season 3 begins, and we take you through what's going on...

And the heat is back on. After an agonizing 10 months of waiting, metallic furniture enthusiasts have been invited back into the gory and depraved lands of Westeros. As the die is cast once more, we squirm like fish roasting under the flame of a German Shepherd-sized dragon; the slow boil that comes with high quality HBO programming is just beginning to sizzle.Yep, our beloved Game of Thrones is back and, likely to the surprise of some, it begins more with a hiss than a bang. After the momentous final few episodes of Season 2 (Winterfell is sacked!; dragons are found!!; Blackwater!!!; ICE ZOMBIES!!!!), Season 3 starts the game back up by resetting the board. It is a bit frustrating to know that all the amazing moments of the season are tantalizingly in the weeks ahead, but alas we must wait with baited breath as the show resorts back to its default setting of sneaky scheming. Yet, unlike the overstuffed premiere of Season 2, the writers clearly have made a concerted effort to spend their primer by moving the show forward at a rapid clip. Hopefully, the exposition will likely be out of the way by Episode 3.The show opened with the ultimate tease: Samwell Tarly running through a blizzard of snow that can turn even this rotund brother in black to a shade of blue. The white stuff is so thick that he can only hear what must surely be an amazing battle. When Lord Commander Mormont and a few other crows show up to burn the single Whitewalker left from last year’s shocking cliffhanger, you can just feel them resisting the urge to turn to the camera and say, ‘If only you could have only seen it! It was really epic, we swear!’ HBO, still smarting from the cost of Blackwater last year, has clearly reigned the costs back in as this is all we are going to get from the third book’s memorable walking dead opener. It also sets the tone for the rest of the episode: Be patient because it is time to regroup from all that cool shit last year.The one adjusting the most is Tyrion. The half-man savior of King’s Landing and admirable wearer of the Badge of the King’s Hand still rots in Pycelle’s closet after receiving a grievous facial wound last season. When Cersei comes to gloat about his change of fortune, her barbs are too on-the-nose (heh) and one senses that he’d rather be in a Flea Bottom whorehouse than squabbling with a sister in HIS castle. Technically speaking, Cersei as Joffrey’s Queen Mother has dominion over this keep, however she is almost as anxious as Tyrion because the man they both most fear in the world is sleeping under the same roof, Pappa Tywin Lannister. It is hard to imagine that Tyrion and Cersei were even rivals for power a few episodes ago when they practically tremble like adolescents afraid that dad is going to blame only one of them for totaling the car.Tyrion’s fear is well founded when he confronts a father who would share a friendly drink with a lippy cupbearer than visit his ailing son once in three weeks. Finally mobile, Tyrion demands that Tywin pay his second son his due by naming him heir to their home, Casterly Rock, Tywin reveals he would rather marry his dwarf son off to some subservient fool than ever see his scarred son bring his whores to the Rock. Tyrion saved the capital and the best he can still expect from his father is a courtly bugger off. Tyrion, buddy, perhaps it is time to go search for that god of tits and wine…Other plot threads revealed equally dreary prospects for most characters. Robb Stark finally took Harrenhal, but not because the Mountain faced him in battle. The barbaric Lannister lackey has followed suit with all Lannister men by evading a fight from an increasingly beleaguered Northern army. Robb, still grappling with a traitorous mother who would rather have her daughters back than a dead Kingslayer, can only turn to his new bride for company. That is still better than his sister, Sansa, who idylls her hostaged days away by alternating daily between the prospect of being Joffrey’s plaything or potentially the leering Littlefinger’s.Even Joff finds himself on uneven footing when confronted with the greatest horror in all of male adolescence: girls! EWWW. Sure, Sansa was fun to fool around with, but that was puppy love. A little father beheading here, a bit of a beating there and maybe a good stripping every once and while if he was feeling frisky. But now, he is with a girl who is not only an ally instead of a hostage, but is also a woman! Margaery Tyrell, the “chaste” widow of Renly and Joffrey’s new betrothed, holds the strings for King’s Landing’s military and agricultural power and is quickly winning the city’s hearts by actually talking to its people as opposed to ordering the Hound to slay them. Joffrey is so taken aback by her apparent -worldly experience (did you see that dress?!), he can barely avoid mumbling at the dinner table. It is over a serving of mutton, that Joffrey even throws Cersei under the carriage when he smacks his mother down for emasculating him before his new fiancée. He does not even notice the dagger eyes Cersei is firing at the two of them, but I am absolutely positive Magaery did as her polite smile evaded their sharp edges.The show’s other major virgin, Jon Snow, continued his education this week at the hands of Ygritte. Still sweet on the crow, she brings him right to the den of Gaius Julius Caesar of Mance Rayder. Ciarán Hinds, on loan from HBO’s original epic, brings immediate gravitas to the King Beyond the Wall. The one-time crow and leader of a Wildling army quickly sizes Jon Snow up as a boy trying to play hero, but one worth keeping around because he has got spunk. Plus, Ygritte has not even gotten to the physical education portion of his new curriculum. Jon can barely wait for the oral portion of the exam.The other character for whom things are looking up right at the start is Dany. Last season was a bit of a dry spell for the character. We know it, she knows it and, most importantly, the writers know it. Instead of watching her stumble around the desert, her first scene comes out swinging when cute little Drogon invents the instantly coolest fantasy sport ever: Dragon Fishing! Move over Quidditch, there’s a new roleplay in town. Can’t you just see the LARP kids putting wings on their cats and tossing them into the drink? The image comes as clearly to me as the cat’s claws from its escape.Daenerys is en route to Astapor, one of the great slave cities. It is there that Ser Jorah urges Dany to purchase 8,000 eunuchs who are ready to give their left nipples to Dany’s cause. These are the kind of blokes who were trained to kill their compassion by slaughtering newborns in the market when they were children (PETA must have convinced the show to not mention that in the novel’s version it is a puppy). Sexism and slavery aside, Dany needs an armed force if she ever hopes to set foot in Westeros again without being immediately slaughtered. Ser Jorah is perhaps still too keen on the whole “unpaid labor” gag that put him in exile in the first place (I bet he has a couple dozen interns working for Dany as well), but in this case he has a point. And so does Dany’s first legitimate convert, Ser Barristan Selmy, the greatest King’s Guard in Westeros without a king!This week was a perfectly fine episode that got viewers back into the swing of things. Sadly, those things do not involve White Walkers, but there is still a lot going for it. It is somewhat ironic that the two storylines that suffered the most in Season 2, Dany and Jon Snow, are immediately the most attention grabbing during the premiere. With the War of the Five Kings at least reaching a temporary stalemate after the Blackwater, it feels right that the adventures beyond those battlefields are coming to life. Jon Snow’s plot, already a winner with Ygritte around, is only getting better with the advent of giants and Roman royalty. While Dany accomplished more in her few scenes than she could with a half dozen episodes in Qarth. With that said, I do not know if she should trust Selmy too quickly. After all, the last two kings under his watch, Robert and Dany’s own father, didn’t exactly meet wonderful ends. And what he does not have on his dodgy resume is only underscored by the interview portion.  Upon his first meeting, he is already implying that he found her because Joffrey and Cersei said, ‘Thanks but no thanks’ to his services. Still, it may be nice to have another advisor who is not trying to get into her pants this season (we hope).The King’s Landing intrigue is also nicely set up in this episode. Tyrion’s indignation of his displacement is so entertaining that one almost misses that Tywin is already planning a comparable reward to his stature involving marriage or title. Given that Tywin also accused Tyrion of murdering his mother in childbirth and being unfit to wear the Lannister name in the same breath, I think Tyrion should start worrying about his “prize” right now. Meanwhile, Cersei in just one episode has already been outmaneuvered as Queen by a woman who is no little dove. It could have only been improved if Cersei stood up and channeled her inner-Bette Davis to say to her replacement, “You better buckle up, because it is going to be bumpy night!”Not a lot of action happened (onscreen) and the deliberate pace of the pieces being moved can be a turn off for some, but masterstrokes are already happening this episode. A full hour in and we have not even seen Arya, Bran or the Jaime-Brienne road trip. The writers know they have a lot to cover in very little time, yet, unlike last year, they are doing so with a much more apparent confidence that comes from the knowledge of owning this like a half-man in a brothel. All the stories breathed well and after a few more weeks, I am sure we will be screaming for the good old days when the only thing to fear were the offscreen Ice Zombies.

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