Game of Thrones Revisited: 3.01 Valar Dohaeris
Game of Thrones, the critically acclaimed TV series by David Benioff and DB Weiss and developed from the best-selling series of novels by George RR Martin, has become a cultural icon. The tentpole of HBO's programming with a stellar cast and mix of medieval-style political drama and war with a healthy dash of fantasy, Game of Thrones has enthralled audiences worldwide. And in 2019, the show will come to a dramatic end in its final run of feature length episodes. In the lead up to season eight, I explore every episode leading up to the final battle for Westeros and the rest of the world. We continue with the season three opener Valar Dohaeris...
Warning: There may be spoilers for seasons one to seven...
As season two built on the immense world and character building of season one, the third season of Game of Thrones continues to grow and grow. There is a real confidence to the season three opener Valar Dohaeris; it feels a very different show to where season two began ten episodes earlier and the introduction of new characters, the return of others and the establishment of news roles means that the third season really hits the ground running.
The episode picks up immediately after the dramatic climax to the season two finale, as Sam runs through the blizzard, terrified by his encounter with the living dead. The discovery of the dead solider and the zombie is certainly chilling stuff. Even the arrival of Ghost to drag the zombie down into the snow and Commander Mormont and his men to burn the creature is not enough to take away from just how much more dangerous this world has become. Mormont claiming everyone they know will die is a bold and disturbing statement to kick off the third season - and in truth it won't be until season seven that we rally see the dead reach the Wall - but it reminds the audience that there's something far more dangerous to come beyond all the political scheming and power struggles.
Jon's storyline has also become far more interesting now that he has 'sworn allegiance' to the wilding king Mance Rayder, who makes a subdued but commanding performance thanks to Ciarán Hinds. Along with the previously introduced Ygritte and the Lord of Bones, the season opener also gives us our first look at a giant and the debut of Kristofer Hivju's big, red-bearded Tormund Giantsbane who will be a fan favourite in the years to come.
The tragedy of Tyion's life continues after the events of the Battle of the Blackwater as he finds himself virtually in a prison cell, with no one to visit him as he recovers but the scheming Pycelle and his sister Cersei to gloat. While it was great to see him back in the bromance with 'Ser' Bronn (now with Podrick Payne in tow), the scene with his father was heart-breaking. His desire to lay claim to Casterly Rock is met with quiet outrage and disgust; Charles Dance is amazing in the role but there is nothing to feel sympathy for here as he mercilessly cuts his son down with withering words and a glare that could cut through rock.
The other interesting aspect of the King's Landing storyline is the emergence of Margaery Tyrell as the people's saviour. Joffrey remains as pathetic and narcissistic as ever he cowers in his carriage as she wanders openly through the filthy streets of Fleabottom and visits the orphans of soldiers who died in the Battle of the Blackwater. Natalie Dormer quietly conveys the intelligence and manipulation of those around her at the dinner table, bending Joffrey to her will while smiling as she gives Cersei platitudes. The power play between the two women is a delight to watch - Margaery the young pretty woman trying to replace her - and Lena Headey does a fantastic job of thin veiling her own hatred of the woman through a fake smile and glass of Dornish wine.
These scenes remind us that things have changed immensely; Tyrion is already an outcast, Tywin's grip on power is absolute and Margaery and her brother Loras have also got their hooks into the king at Cersei's expense. But not everything has changed; returned from his adventures, Littlefinger is still trying to play the game and get his own hooks into Sansa, who has failed to really understand the severity of her situation. Her journey is perhaps the hardest of all the main characters and she'll suffer far more before she gets a grip on power herself.
There's also plenty of season two aftermath to be revisited with other key characters. Robb's forces arrive at Harrenhal to find it a tomb of corpses at the hand of the Mountain, while Catelyn continues to suffer for her crime of releasing Jamie Lannister. Michael McElhatton's Roose Bolton continue to rise in prominence too, which will culminate in the tragic events at the end of the season. As for poor Davos, he returns home to Dragonstone to challenge Melisandre and finds himself imprisoned by his own king. Any sense of righteous nobility Stannis has had, has already vanished. He'll get some of it back briefly at the end of next season, but he's already a broken man after his defeat.
And finally we have the journey of Daenerys Targaryen whose storyline truly stagnated last season in Qarth after a tremendous journey in season one. There is already an energy as she reaches the slave city of Astapor and the introduction of the Unsullied, her growing dragons and her deep sadness over the treatment of slaves will lead to great things this season. Of course, she'll repeat some patterns again in later seasons but this is the year where she really steps up her game.
There is some thrilling stuff here; the dragons flying around the ship look fantastic, the Unsullied are imposing and Nathalie Emmanuel's Missandei already makes an impression as the savvy translator to Dan Hildebrand's despicable slave trader Kraznys mo Nakloz. Their introduction will pay dividends very shortly. The warlock disguised as the little girl also set in motion a deadly trap for Daenerys at the docks as she is almost killed by a particularly nasty looking scorpion. Fortunately the return of Ian McElhinney's Barristan Selmy to Game of Thrones leads to a fantastic save and huge reveal for the audience and the dragon queen.
Like many episodes of Game of Thrones, there is a lot of plate spinning in the season three opener but it is deftly done and not a moment feels wasted. It wisely chooses not to flit between every character (Arya and Bran are absent) and focuses instead on Tyrion's new life after being Hand of the King and Daenerys's next steps as she ventures into Slaver's Bay. There is a lot of confidence in this episode but the show has certainly earned it.