Game of Thrones: Season 3 - Mega-Review
The third season of Game of Thrones has finished! And now our watch(ing it) is ended!
Seriously now, it's been intense. Lives have changed, and in some cases ended, a lot of trekking through the woods, surprisingly little incest, dragons flew, cities fell, characters from past seasons became important, others disappeared, Charles Dance stole his every scene, all kinds of stuff. I could leave my review at that, but blogging demands analysis. So, how has it worked as a whole? Which storylines worked, which didn't quite? Let's chat!
Spoilers will be present for the entire of season three, in case that wasn't obvious.
We Ain't Gonna Hold The Hand Of No AudienceSeason three of Game of Thrones was only adapting the first half of the incredibly long novel A Storm Of Swords, and one of the reasons that book is so collossal is the huge cast built over the first two books, and the decision to use almost all of them in the third. This can make the book seem sparse at times, as beloved characters disappear for ages, and the TV show has it even harder, since they're trying to keep it broken into episodes, each with a recognisable few characters doing understandable things. This season, to be honest, was the one they finally admitted they're adapting an epic fantasy series, and let it work like one. Characters drifted in and out, often disappearing for weeks at a time, popping back up when you least expected it for a meaningful scene, and for those of us who re-watched everything and/or read the books recently, this was awesome, a real pay-off.
For the casual viewer, I'm not sure whether this was more of a turn-off, a crowning moment where the show finally disappeared up its own arse, stopped pretending it was about a focused cast (the Starks and Tyrion, basically) and just became about every character and a whole world. I loved the scale, ambition and sheer "Yeah, just google it" attitude, because when you've got this many characters, you can't have them subtly recap their name and role every time they appear, or you wouldn't have time for any other dialogue. The sprawling cast and expectations of the audience to keep up reminded me of The Wire, actually - although that show helpfully broke the cast down by season, whereas Thrones just merrily hurls them all at you.
So broadly, I'm very much in favour, but it wasn't all sunshine and lollipops. Which storylines were good? Well, the King's Landing capital city sequences were the most straight-up entertaining, with recognisable characters and a luxurious lifestyle that let them spend time lounging around exchanging quips, rather than fighting for their lives. It included Peter Dinklage as Tyrion and Charles Dance as his father Tywin, and they were both excellent. Dance in particular stole almost every scene he had, and although Dinklage had less to do than last year, we'd grown to love him so much that it did hurt how badly it went for him this time out. The backstabbing, intrigue and double-agendas were out in force, Dianna Rigg was magnificent as Lady Olenna and Jack Gleeson's Joffrey gets more brilliantly awful by the year. Fantastic strand.
The Westeros Long-Distance Hiking SocietyElsewhere, Arya Stark went on a lengthy forest walk - this is one of several plotlines left stretched rather thin by the decision to adapt only half the story. Various characters spend the first 50% of book three walking towards their role in the latter chapters, which means all they do in this third TV season is plod. Arya's one such character, meeting people on the cusp of events, and with a major lifechanging experience in the penultimate episode when her mother and brother are butchered, but still feels like she's being kept in the game for bigger things to come. The character and Maisie Williams remain great though.
Meanwhile, her brother Bran is another long-distance walker - in fact, he takes his role as a character striding towards season four quite literally, as they are just ambling towards an vague far-off destiny the whole time. This plotline feels very vacant and spread out for much of the season, but gets a sudden rush of time and development in the final few episodes to stop us losing interest. Oh, and they kinda wrote out tiny Stark brother Rickon - will he return played by an older actor?
Also in the endless walking club: Sam, who briefly rejoins the Night's Watch, only for them to mutiny, kill their leader and send Sam and Gilly onto the run. Well, that will happen when you build an army of criminals and people with nowhere else to go. Sam's as endearing as ever, and his moments in the final episode where he finally makes peace with himself really work, but again, mostly traipsing towards bigger things to come.
These People Ain't Got No JoySpeaking of the men in black, Jon Snow has a strange year. On the one hand, he also does a lot of walking, but at least he gets an arc from it. HIs cack-handed attempts at double-agenting are an odd viewing experience - the thing which finally drives him to mutiny is relatively small, almost everyone expects him to do it, but nonetheless, the fight after he finally snaps is excellent. Also great: his last episode scene with Ygritte, where she gets off one last "You know nothing, Jon Snow". He makes it to the same place as Sam, but feels like he's been through more to get there. And they've both had such terrible times since season one, old Castle Black seems quite homely.
And next year, it appears they'll be joined there by Stannis Baratheon and his grumpy supporting cast. I'm not sure any of them have ever experienced joy in their lives - don't get me wrong, Ser Davos might have the most straight-up GOOD moral compass of any surviving character, but it doesn't seem to make him happy, does it? This group of characters are also spinning their wheels slightly, but the show recognises that by not giving them too many scenes, so at least the ones they do get are interesting. The idea of Stannis and co interacting with established people like Jon and Sam next year is an intruiging one, definitely.
The Good, The Bad And The EunuchReturning to civilisation as well is Jamie Lannister, who had his best year yet, discovering his own morality whilst travelling with Brienne. This was one of the most sudden star turns we've yet had - Jamie didn't have a huge role in seasons one or two, but as a sneering amoral posh knight suddenly brought low, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau nailed it. Gwendoline Christie as Brienne was good also, and much like the above-mentioned Stannis arc, this one wasn't milked to death, but did supply some of the year's best moments, such as Jamie's shocking amputation, big speech and final change of heart - and the most purely ridiculous too, when our mismatched heroes had to fight a bear.
From one of the best arcs to one of the worst now, it's time to deal with Theon. The whiniest of the Greyjoys doesn't appear at all in the third novel, but in a bid to keep Alfie Allen in work, they've decided to show his torture (and since I've only read up to book three, this is a spoiler for me, dammit). It's a noble endeavour, but there just isn't enough material in this storyline to get the time they want out of it. They'd have been better off keeping Allen off-screen until the final few weeks and just running this plot quickly in three or four scenes. Good to see Iwan Rheon on TV again though, and it does serve to help build up the Boltons as major villains, along with our next paragraph...
Nice Day For A Mass SlaughterYes, the Red Wedding, aka the Stark family massacre, aka the marriage that launched a thousand screams. Well, I'm including the events that led up to it, but basically every Robb/Catelyn/Talisa scene in the first eight episodes was a precursor to their being slaughtered at the climax of number nine. Speaking as someone who knew it was coming, I thought the first eight episodes painted a fairly clear picture of Robb as someone who had made some bad choices and was getting increasingly painted into a corner - he might be good in fights, but he sucks at "playing the game". Nonetheless, it was a horrible grim scene, one of the most iconic moments from the book, and I think they did it justice. And to be honest, although the now-dead Starks were honourable folk and their deaths upsettingly brutal, they weren't that... interesting, were they?
Lastly, fittingly as she's always bloody miles away, time for Daenerys, who spends this season liberating slaves and making the shocking discovery that if you free hundreds of people from oppression, they will take a liking to you. This is an oddly paced arc - the big awesome sequence (where Dany turns her dragons on the slavers) comes quite early on, and after that she just sits around in the desert taking meetings. Still, it did liven up the middle of the season, and presumably the slightly flat final few weeks are setting up events to come next year.
So, that was Game of Thrones season three. I covered every single plotline and my fingers are tired - but hey, at least I still have them, unlike Jamie Lannister. In summation, then: good season, perhaps not quite as driven to a unified climax as previous years, but that's what comes of only adapting half a book. I look forward to next year, where they'll hopefully pick up the slack on the other arcs, keeping all the balls in the air. This remains one of the most impressive, ambitious things on TV, and I'm delighted that it's taken off to this degree. Well done, Thrones.