Hot on the heels of a blatantly fantastic advertising campaign, and shortly preceding a fourth-season renewal, the third-season premiere of Game of Thrones is a solid episode that has all of the strengths and all of the weaknesses of this odd, fascinating show.
I’m referring, of course, to the same thing every other reviewer seems to have mentioned: the world of Game of Thrones is so far-flung and contains so many moving parts that this premiere, like many previous episodes, feels like a series of check-ins with various characters (and yet still lacked some, like Jaime and Brienne, and the younger Stark boys on the lam). By now, we know we should trust GoT, and I—for one—certainly do. But, in this age of exciting innovations in television delivery (see Chris’s article here for one take), it’s interesting that we’re still stuck the 45-minute episode format. Because that format isn’t doing GoT any favors.
Take the Dany scenes, for instance. I know what’s coming up in Astapor, and I can’t wait to see it—but I would have liked to see it this week, as a nice closure to the slave-buying scene we got in “Valar Dohaeris.” Instead, we have to wait at least seven days, possibly more. Wouldn’t it be more effective to deal with fewer storylines per episode, so each storyline can move a bit more?
Or, could we go even crazier: why not release all 10 episodes at once, a la House of Cards on Netflix, and let fans marathon their way through? 10 hours of TV is not, in the greater scheme of things, very long. I could do it in a weekend, easily. Heck, I’d even pay extra for an ‘alternate’ edition that splices all the Dany stories together, for instance, then all the Catelyn stories, and so on. That sounds fun.
But HBO executives do not kneel for me, any more than the wildlings kneel for Mance Rayder. So we’ve got the Game of Thrones that we’ve got, and we have to make the best of it. While this week’s episode lacked the thematic coherence of some of the best episodes of Seasons One and Two, it ably set up numerous plotlines around the loose idea of loyalty and treason. Jon’s double-agent defection to Mance Rayder’s band of wildlings contrasts with Ser Barristan Selmy’s desire to serve in Dany’s Queensguard. Shae, on the other hand, seems to be equally loyal to Sansa and to Tyrion, which is interesting.
But the Lannisters continue to be the most screwed-up family in Westeros. Cersei tried to bully her brother into speaking well of her to their father, but wound up revealing her lack of power (“I have a network of spies…father told me”). The dinner she had with Margery and Joffrey emphasize what we’ve already known: she’s losing control of her son, if she ever had it. Tyrion, too, has lost power now that his father is back in town: Bronn was never loyal to anything but gold, and Tywin is making sure Tyrion remains humble and unimportant.
The humble and unimportant tend to get the short end of the stick in this episode. Ser Davos didn’t get so much as a sympathy card from Stannis, and is now locked in a dungeon after being abandoned on a rocky outcrop. Sansa’s on a metaphorical rocky outcrop—watched over by Shae, but easily tricked by Littlefinger. (I loved the way he let her assume he’d seen her sister; if you watch the scene closely, it’s like a grammatical exercise in tricky modifiers.)
After all, those humble and unimportant people are useful pawns, as Margary Tyrell reminds us. Her kind treatment of the Flea Bottom orphans was a great contrast to the Slaughter of the Innocents back in Season One—but she’s not doing good to do good. She’s doing good because being thought well of gives her power. And power is how you win. Win what? More power.
All those bits and pieces will play out over the course of this season and the seasons to follow. I hope that, in the next few episodes, we get to see the creators taking a few risks with format so we can watch more than one tiny play from each larger plot every week.
Grumpkins and Snarks:
• I don’t know if I’m happy or sad that they went with “sexy scar” rather than “horrifying scar” for Tyrion.
• Cersei: “You’re a clever man. But you’re not half as clever as you think you are.”
Tyrion: “Still makes me more clever than you.”
• Bronn: “I’m a sellsword. I sell my sword. I don’t loan it out to friends as a favor.”
• When I travel across the poison sea to reclaim my kingdom, I will dress like Dany did on the boat, because that was a wonderful outfit.
• Last season, we had a Books vs. Show thread for people who had read through the second book (A Clash of Kings). This season, we’re moving to a new thread for those of us who have read all of the third book, A Storm of Swords. That’s where discussions of changes, speculations, and spoilers live.
Three out of four giants.
Josie Kafka reviews The Vampire Diaries, True Detective, Game of Thrones, and various other things that take her fancy. She is a full-time cat servant and part-time rogue demon hunter. (What's a rogue demon?)
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