Game of Thrones: Valar Dohaeris

“If I’m a traitor, then you are, too.”

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?)


Nadim said...

"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."

That sounds epic, especially splicing every character's stories together. Ahhhh the mind boggles at that awesome notion.

Thanks for the wonderful review Josie. I still have the same issues with the show: too many characters and confusing storylines. I found myself kind of bored honestly in the premiere. I just need more forward momentum (I guess I'm spoiled by TVD and Scandal). Half the characters don't excite me which is a pity as I'm fascinated by the show.

However, Daenerys was the higlight for me. I absolutely adored watching her. Her arc in season two was kind of lame (WHERE ARE MY DRAGONS!?) but I loved her going army-shopping in this one! Such a disturbing and intriguing story culminating with that little demon girl and the scorpion. You're right though, I do wish each episode was only a few characters with more developments.

Oh well, let's hope the "format" changes a bit going forward but I highly doubt it.

Anonymous said...

I watched TWD first and I was once again not only disappointed but also angry with the incapability of the showrunner and writers. This show could really learn a thing or two from GoT.

GoT once again proved what good storytelling, well developed main characters (there are a few exceptions like Jon Snow or even Daenerys) and fabulous dialogue could do for a show. It´s interesting that GoT is capable to make me invest even in the supposed bad guys while I have a hard time doing the same with the good guys on TWD.

Tyrion´s one on ones with his sister, dad and bodygard were fabulous.

Loved the sparring at the dinner table.

And one of my new favorite characters is Margaery.

I am excited to see Arya, Jamie and Brienne.

Freeman said...

To be honest I like that this premiere was an understated set up episode instead of a big whiz bang boom stake raiser. I'm sure all that stuff will come later. It bothers me they can't lengthen the episodes even more. So much juicy content to glaze over due to time constraints. Mind you, they actually have increased the length of the episodes by like 4 minutes or something like that from what I've read. It'd even be better if they'd just split each book into two or even three seasons according to content. Think of the money HBO!

I love the wild card that is Bronn. Even though people obsess over his "friendship" with Tyrion. I love seeing his interactions with other characters. He always seems one step away from ending anyone that crosses him, with only the jangle of gold to keep his hackles down.

I'm always disappointed that they devote so little time to Jon Snow. He's our only true view into what's going on beyond the wall and we're often lucky if he even gets time in an episode. Give us more of the Night's Watch!

Interestingly, I'm always paying extra attention to Sansa's plight. She was a character I initially wasn't very fond of, but I dig her story man. Even though it means I'll have to keep seeing Roz, the exposition hooker, and Shae. I don't know why, but Shae bothers me.

And I just wanna say, gold acting stars to the dude who plays Joffrey. He's just so easy to hate. Such a sniveling little whiner. Whatever that dude's doing, he's doing it right haha.

Juliette said...

I *always* prefer sexy scar over horrifying scar ;) Also, to do the book's version would require a bunch of expensive graphics to match the sort of effect achieved in movies, which would get very expensive I'm guessing.

Freeman said...

Yeah, even if they figured out a way to do with with practical make-up effects, it probably would still look a bit awkward and would probably more often than not, be very distracting during talking scenes.

celticmarc said...

Ah, the constraints of time and money. There are so many characters and so many places that they could indeed double the length of every season.

A black screen at the beginning during the massacre of the 2 Night Watchers left that to our imagination. "Oh ! I thought to myself; they're keeping their budget for something more spectacular later on !"

Jess Lynde said...

I liked this premiere, and in general, I'm cool with the way they put the episodes together. I understand wanting more time with each story, but if they did it that way, we'd go weeks and weeks without seeing beloved characters, and I think I'd enjoy that less than getting the shorter scenes. I missed Arya, Bran/crew, and especially Jaime/Brienne this week! At least as long as they are sticking with one hour per week, I want to visit with as many stories as we reasonably can.

Technically, Josie, Littlefinger did see Arya when he went to visit with Tywin. It wasn't made entirely clear whether he recognized her or not. He was certainly suspicious. If he did recognize her, and chose to keep it to himself, then he didn't actually lie to Sansa at all. At least in that respect. :)

My favorite scene this week may have been the dinner with Joffrey, Margaery, Loras, and Cersei. I love the conflict brewing between Cersei and Margaery. It gives me no end of pleasure to see Cersei chafing at now having a prospective daughter-in-law she can't manipulate the hell out of!

And, of course, any scene with Tyrion is delightful, as usual.

Iago said...

I don't think Littlefinger did see Arya in Harrenhall: if he had, he would have made a move to control her and benefit him. I personally think he was just lying to Sansa.

For once I actually liked Roz: she's still more walking exposition than an actual character, but I liked how she expressed true loyalty to the Starks and reminisced about Sansa's birth. Fitted in with what I felt the theme of the episode was: what loyalty costs.

The scenes with Dany's dragons flying off the ships was sensational, even better than their birth scene. Seriously impressed with what the CGI guys are doing.

Tyrion's scene with Tywin was heartbreaking. After seeing him so calm, so measured - nice even - with Arya, it was quite shocking to see him really rage against Tyrion. He wasn't entirely wrong though - there was a certain amount of truth in him saying "jugglers and singers require applause. You are a Lannister". I loved the nod to book-readers when Tywin said he'd heard about Tyrion's nose being cut off.

Cersei's stuff was just hilarious. She is so hopelessly inept and doesn't even realise it. I've praised the series for humanising Cersei somewhat but I do enjoy seeing her mess things up.

I like the current delivery method: makes it tantalising. I can't wait to see each episode. It's rare for me to feel that anticipation and it's even rarer to see my expectations fully met. Having a feature on the DVDs/Blu-rays where you could watch the character stories in one burst would be cool though.

Your Modest Guru said...

I loved every second of this premiere and can't wait for what comes next.

The pacing is a little choppy, but the bits we got were all so juicy by themselves.

1) I'm completely impressed with the special effects for this show, especially since the budget is apparently lower than other shows of its caliber. But come on, the direwolf, the giant, the dragons, all those beautiful shots of King's Landing, Harrenhal and Astapor.
2) Given that the budget is low and time is of the essence in a show like this, I'm glad they gave Tyrion a simple Omar Little scar that's cool as opposed to having Peter Dinklage suffer through the makeup that'd be required for his book scar.
3) Of all the characters, I felt for Davos the most. Now the poor guy blames himself for the deaths of his son and all of his men, and apparently so does Stannis. I really don't see how Mel could have done anything about the battle if she was there or not. Mel, like Cersei, has a bloated sense of her own power and importance.
4) I'm liking Ros more now that she is not just an excuse for fanservice. And Shae has gone from one of my least favorite female characters in the books to my most favorite female characters in the series. Bravo, writers.
6) They got The Unsullied right so far. And yay, Barristan has returned. Now we can ready for some real badassery.
7) My favorite scene would have to be the confrontation between Tywin and Tyrion. In my opinion, Charles Dance embodies Tywin best when he's interacting with Tyrion.

Mark Greig said...

I don't really mind quiet episodes like this. This show is so good at people just talking to each other that a chat between Tyrion and his father can be as thrilling as any battle scene. That said, I did miss my favourite Stark. Maybe next season they should think about making the season opener half an hour longer so they can fit everyone one.

Anonymous said...

I consider my duty to report this to House Doux:

If Game of Thrones happened on Facebook: Season 3 Episode 1

Josie Kafka said...

Anon, great link! I recommend everyone check it out. Very funny.