Even before its third-season premiere last night, Game of Thrones officially crossed the threshold into legitimate cultural phenomenon. The lead-up to last night was months in the making, with magazine covers, cookbooks and even a tool to let your create your own house. Dream On never got that kind of treatment.
The opening episode, "Valar Dohaeris," didn't disappoint. Ranging from the frozen North to Slaver's Bay across the Narrow Sea, if anything, show runners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have crammed even more story into their allotted ten episodes, even as they attempt to streamline the source material. A formidable task given author George R.R. Martin's propensity for bloat. Season three, encompassing the first half of A Storm of Swords, promises to be as narratively dense as ever.
So let's get to it. After all, winter is coming. Or so I'm told.
Locations Highlighted in the Opening Titles (* = new): King's Landing, Dragonstone, Harrenhal, Winterfell, The Wall, Astapor*
So where were we? Oh right, Jaime Lannister escaped captivity (courtesy of Catelyn Stark herself); Barristan "the Bold" was unceremoniously dismissed by Cersei and Joffrey from the Kingsguard; Stannis and Melisandre had a shadow baby that killed Uncle Renly; also dragons! Zombies!
We start beyond the Wall. The [White] Walkers have made short work of most of the Watch, though Lord Mormont (James Cosmo) has survived and tells his men they need to get back to warn, well, everyone. Jon Snow (Kit Harington), meanwhile, gets his first look at Mance Rayder's wildling camp. Plus giants. Ygritte (Rose Leslie -- "They made her too pretty," my wife says) escorts Jon to see Mance (Ciarán Hinds) himself, and Jon passes his first test, telling Mance he betrayed the Watch because he wants to "fight for the side that fights for the living."
Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) is feeling a trifle unsettled, a sensation not enhanced by a visit from Cersei (Lena Headey), who -- as the helpful recap reminded us -- ordered Ser Mandon Moore to kill him during the Battle of the Blackwater. She wants to know details about his upcoming meeting with dear old dad Tywin -- more to the point, what he might tell Tywin about Joffrey (and possibly her dalliances with Lancel). As if that weren't enough, Bronn (sorry, "Ser" Bronn) wants more money to keep watching his ass. Impin' ain't easy.
Davos (Liam Cunningham) has survived, in case you were worried. So did Salladhor Saan (Lucian Msamati), though in slightly better shape. He also has grim news about the New Melisandre Order (burning enemies alive is now SOP). Davos wants Salladhor to take him back to Dragonstone, but the pirate demurs, even when Davos expreses his desire to kill Melisandre. Davos gets back somehow, and Stannis (Stephen Dillane) gives him a Snake Plissken ("I heard you were dead"). Melisandre (Carice van Houten) throws Blackwater Bay in Davos's face, reminding him he was the one who convinced Stannis to leave her behind. That's cold, especially for a Red Priestess. He pulls a knife, Stannis throws him in the dungeons. Not swagga for Davos.
Robb (Richard Madden), Roose Bolton (Michael McElhatton) and a guy who looks like Donald Sutherland (okay, fine, Rickard Karstark) come to Harrenhal and find hundreds of Northmen slaughtered and the Lannisters gone. Feelings are still pretty raw about Catelyn (Michelle Fairley) freeing Jaime Lannister. Fortunately, Northmen are a forgiving sort.
Tyrion wants some acknowledgement from Dad for his achievements, which Tywin (Charles Dance), his hands full with duties assumed by taking over as Hand of the King, is reluctant to offer. More important, Tyrion wants his birthright: Given Jaime's taking the cloak of the Kingsguard, he believes he's entitled to Casterly Rock. Tywin would rather be "consumed by maggots" than give the family lands to the "ill-made, spiteful" Tyrion. It's a bit more intense than the arguments I used to have with my father about taking the car.
Littlefinger (Aiden Gillen) continues bullshitting about Arya being alive, this time to Sansa (Sophie Turner), and presents her the possibility of hitting the road. Ros (Esme Bianco) and Shae (Sibel Kekilli) share some whore-talk, if that's a thing. Ros is now Littlefnger's "adviser." Meanwhile, Joffrey's new betrothed, Lady Margaery (Natalie Dormer), is making friends with the locals in Flea Bottom while Joffrey (Jack Gleeson), as unerringly shitty as ever, stays in his litter. Cersei reminds everyone about the recent riot, which Joffrey, eager to suck up to the bosomy Margaery, plays down. Do mothers ever approve of their son's girlfriends? Not in this case.
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Oh, and dragons. They're getting bigger, but Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) needs an army sooner than later. She may have found her answer in the Unsullied, hardened warriors trained since childhood to be merciless and get their nipples cut off without complaint. While she and Ser Jorah (Iain Glen) are debating their merits, Ser Barristan (Ian McElhinney) shows up and thwarts an assassination attempt by a creepy little warlock. The old Kingsuarder swears allegiance, while Jorah appears predictably jealous. Ooh, old-man love triangle?
Stuff That Will Piss Off Book Purists: Sam actually did send the ravens; Tyrion did lose his nose; Robb never actually entered Harrenhal; where is Strong Belwas?
Best Episode Moment: Joffrey struggling to come up with the word "charitable."
Next week: Jaime and Brienne express their unspoken affection by fighting, and all is not well in Camp Stark.