Monday, April 1, 2013

Review: Game of Thrones "Valar Dohaeris"

Non Spoiler Review:
Valar Dohaeris kicks off season three of Game of Thrones. When we last left Sam he was surrounded by white walkers and the first episode picks up with the embattled Night's Watch trying to regroup and return to the Wall to warn the south. Jon is brought to Mance Rayder. In King's Landing Tyrion confronts his father to get the reward he believes he deserves, and Cersei finds a rival in Margaery Tyrell. Across the sea Daenerys has her ship, and seeks to find an army in the city of Astapor.

Valar Dohaeris means all men must serve, and in many ways this episode showed the state of our major characters contemplating where they go next. Robb remains a victorious leader but has really achieved nothing, Tyrion wants some compensation for his sacrifice, Baelish embarks on new schemes, Daenerys wonders at the depths she may have to go to get her army, while Stannis broods at Dragonstone. Jon meets the king in the north and struggles with his loyalty to the Night's Watch and what he might find among the wildlings. 

It was enjoyable to have Game of Thrones back on my Sunday nights (a jam-packed one this week given The Walking Dead finale, too). Things are off to a good start. Unlike last season not much time has passed since the finale (despite some dragons who have managed a growth spurt). While not action-packed, it definitely had its fair share of surprises and terrific scenes, including a chilling one between Tywin and his son. At the same time it wasn't overwhelming with a huge amount of new characters and locales.

Spoilers Now!
Sam flees through the storm in search of his comrades, only to find a decapitated ranger in the snow. A zombie approaches and wounds him but is taken down by Ghost, and set afire by Mormont and his men. They've been in battle, as well, and Mormont is angered to learn Sam has not sent the ravens. He tells them they must get back to the Wall to warn the south.

Jon is taken into the wildling camp where he's stunned to see a giant among them. Ygritte warns him they're shy, until they get angry. After being pelted with stones by the children, he's brought to meet Mance Rayder, who is pleased Halfhand is dead. Jon explains he was sent to the Halfhand to learn to lead. Mance comments he's a traitor, but Jon counters that he is too. Mance suspects Jon wants to be a hero most of all. Jon confesses to what he saw at Craster's Keep. When he told the lord commander he already knew. Jon wants to fight for the side that fights for the living.

Tyrion remains sequestered in his dreary quarters and sends for Bronn, as he remains in fear of his life. Cersei visits him unexpectedly, and he only reluctantly lets her in. He comments that it wasn't a rebel who tried to kill him in battle. She brushes off his accusations as she's heard he's meeting their father, who has not come to visit him once since arriving in King's Landing. Cersei is nervous he'll slander her to Tywin. 

Bronn arrives with Podrick to greet the warriors outside Tyrion's door, including Meryn Trant. He's warned not to approach, but Cersei leaves and her men follow after. Bronn is now a knight, and he warns Tyrion that he'll need more money if he's to remain in his employ. 

Sir Davos is alive and stranded on a rock in Blackwater Bay. He manages to signal a passing ship and is rescued, only to be greeted by Salladhor Saan who thought he was dead like the rest. Stannis has returned to Dragonstone and Davos asks to be taken there. Salladhor Saan fulfilled his part of the bargain and has no desire to return there. Stannis is broken and only sees the red priestess, who is burning all the heretics who stand against her. Davos still wants to go to make an attempt to kill her.

Robb's army arrives at Harrenhal. The Lannisters have left, leaving 200 dead northmen inside. Catelyn finds the body of one her father's bannermen. Disappointed that his army has no one to fight and they have not won anything of significance, Robb orders his men to find a chamber to serve as a cell for his mother. Catelyn is escorted away while Robb and Talisa find one survivor, a man named Qyburn.

Tyrion meets with his father and comments the badge looks good on him. His father is in no mood to indulge in his chitchat. He knows he brought a whore into his bed. He gave him real power and he spent his days bedding a harlot and drinking with thieves. Tyrion reminds him he led the battle to save the city and bled for his family. As a reward he was hidden away in a cell. He wants Casterly Rock, given Jaime gave up that claim when he became the king's guard. Tywin promises him more suitable accommodations and he will be given a position when the time is right. If he serves faithfully he will be rewarded with a suitable wife. But he'll never let him have Casterly Rock and proceeds to indulge in a rant calling his youngest a spiteful little creature who killed his mother at birth. He can't prove that he's not his son but he'll not let him turn Casterly Rock into his whorehouse. He sends Tyrion away and warns him not to speak of it again, adding the promise to hang the next whore he catches in his bed.

Shae remains in the company of Sansa, and they watch the merchant ships coming and going. Lord Baelish arrives to speak with the Lady Stark alone, telling her he saw her mother. He also reveals Arya is alive. She promises not to tell anyone if he sends her home but it would be treason for him if it were discovered. He's awaiting an assignment to take him away from the capital and he's prepared to take her with him, but she will have to be prepared to leave immediately.

As the two meet, Ros chats with Shae and comments she grew up in Sansa's castle. She knows Shae was a whore just like her, but they seem to have done well for themselves. Ros warns her to watch out for Baelish, and also for Sansa with him.

Daenerys has her ship and her dragons are growing fast, but she can't wait on them to reach maturity. She needs an army and they will soon arrive in Astapor where the Unsullied are rumored to be the greatest soldiers in the world. The remaining Dothraki with her aren't taking well to sailing. Daenerys still believes she can inspire more Dothraki to follow.

Davos is taken to Dragonstone and brought to Stannis and his priestess. He appears unmoved to find his friend among the living. Davos confronts the brooding Stannis about burning prisoners alive and Melisandre asks how he might punish them. He declares she is the enemy. She reminds him that had she been in Blackwater Bay she could have saved the men and taken the city, but Davos convinced Stannis to leave her behind. He pulls a knife but is restrained before he can harm her, and Stannis orders him taken to the dungeon. 

King Joffrey and Lady Margaery are escorted through Flea Bottom in separate carriages when she abruptly stops and gets out to visit an orphanage. Joffrey watches from inside the protection of his carriage. Margaery tells the children to be proud of their fallen fathers who defended the city. She promises to take care of them and hands out food. She advises the matron to come directly to her for whatever they need. 

Joffrey and his mother have dinner with Margaery and Loras. Cersei mentions her earlier stop and warns her she's putting her life in jeopardy. Joffrey steps up to the defense of his betrothed and chastises his mother for exaggerating. House Tyrell is supplying a great deal of food to the capital.

Daenerys and Jorah arrive in Astapor and are taken to review the castrated Unsullied by the slave owner Kraznys mo Nakloz and his young translator Missandei. Their discipline and loyalty are absolute and they fear nothing. As a demonstration the slaver cuts off the nipple of one of the warriors to prove their devotion. To win their shields the Unsullied must find a newborn and kill it before its mother's eyes. Daenerys is horrified but asks how many they have to sell. Eight thousand. But he warns her she must make her decision within a day. 

Eight thousand dead babies, Daenerys muses. If she owns an army of slaves she wonders what she'll become. Jorah points out she'll be fair to them. They fail to notice the cloaked figure following them but Daenerys is distracted by a little girl who lures her over and rolls a ball over to her. The man rushes over and knocks it away. Jorah engages him and Daenerys falls just as the ball opens and a scorpion like creature emerges and moves to attack her. The mystery man kills it as the young girl flees, though it appears she is associated with the sorcerers from Qarth.

The man reveals his face, and Jorah knows who it is, one of the greatest fighters in the Seven Kingdoms—Robert Baratheon's guard Barristan Selmy. Selmy declares that he failed House Targaryen and recognizes her as the true queen of Westeros. He wants to join her kingsguard and vows to make amends by serving her.

The Verdict:
Valar Dohaeris was a decent introduction to the status quo, bring a much more humbled Tyrion who is still able to fire some zingers at his sister. I'm wondering why Cersei is so uneasy about what he might say to their father, as one would suspect Tywin already knows Joffrey is Jaime's son.

The conversation between Tywin and Tyrion removed any doubt that the elder Lannister would sooner see his son dead than reward him with anything further. It's fortunate that they all still think Ros was his whore. Cersei looks to have met her match in Margaery, which made for a fun scene watching her manipulate the wedge between her and Joffrey. I realize Margaery is probably completely insincere and playing the game, but at least she comes across as a relatively less odious person among the more vile ones struggling for power.

Speaking of likable, the pendulum on Sansa's character looks to be swinging away from the immature brat into someone who is bit more aware of the world around her. What is Baelish's game with her? I don't believe his motivations are to save her for a minute, but does he want to get back in Cat's good graces? Ros and Shae's scene was a nice little break from the grander schemes, reminding us of the little people who have to survive among the politics.

Daenerys is definitely looking more queenly after a year running around the desert. Her scene with the slave owner brought some needed humour mixed with the horrific stories of how the Unsullied are trained. How will Jorah cope with another alpha male around Daenerys? That should make for an interesting dynamic, but I'm excited to see Selmy back as I was wondering when he could pop up (I was anticipating he'd end up in the north with Robb's army, so an unexpected twist there).

The giant was probably the coolest surprise, with the growing dragons coming in at a close second. It seems there's a bit of a time discrepancy between story lines, given how Sam and Mormont picked up pretty much after last year's finale, but everywhere else appears to have experienced a month or two (though not enough time for Robb to have been alerted to Winterfell's destruction, apparently). I'm wondering if next time we find Jon several weeks among the wildlings.

For having to catch up on multiple story arcs Valar Dohaeris did a great job serving most of them, leaving Arya and the remaining Starks for next episode (and maybe Theon's fate?). One final callout—the toasted Winterfell in the opening credits.

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