In the intense closing moments of Game of Thrones‘ second season, we learned a new phrase. “Valar Morghulis,” or “all men must die.” A traditional expression in High Valyrian spoken by Jaqen H’ghar to Arya Stark right before he turns into a completely different person. That was quite a way to finish that particular storyline in season two. And given the amount of death that was wrought on Westeros in the final two episodes of the last season, Valar Morghulis pretty much sums it up. Don’t act like you weren’t impressed.
It’s also fitting that season three opens with “Valar Dohaeris,” which translates to “all men must serve,” as the opening frame of the highly anticipated third season spends a great deal of time viewing the aftermath of Blackwater, Qarth and the war in the North through the experiences of those who serve the (still) many kings who challenge for the Iron Throne. It’s with those experiences that we pick up our Blog of Thrones, an ongoing exploration of one of television’s most compelling adventures.
Those Who Serve
Beginning with Samwell Tarley, who somehow survived the battle at the Fist of the First men (which sadly, we don’t get to see), the episode takes a look at a number of our main characters from a distance of about ten feet. As with season two, showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss are going to force us to crawl before we can run. The show must take some time for setup before it can once again litter the lands of Westeros with errant body parts. If we’re honest though, the setup is a lot of fun. Following Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham) as he travels back from the dead to Dragonstone where King Stannis is in what appears to be a state of shock is fascinating. Clearly the Red Woman is going to be ever-more dangerous than she has been now that she’s got the “I told you so” card. As is the arrival of King Robb Stark (Richard Madden) and his army to Harrenhal, where a great number of his Northmen were slaughtered. If it accomplishes anything beyond a great deal of talking, “Valar Dohaeris” shows us that the cost of the war is being paid by those who serve.
The Escalation Beyond the Wall
It also serves as notice that things beyond The Wall are not just important, but urgent. We follow Jon Snow as he bends a knee to Mance Rayder, a decidedly fearsome King Beyond the Wall. At that moment, the show’s producers reveal two key pieces of casting that will undoubtedly make season three. Ciaran Hinds brings a cold intensity to Mance Rayder. If the scene between Mance and Jon is any sort of preview of what is to come, he’s going to be a fun character to watch. As well, Kristofer Hivju is exactly the right kind of large, ginger-bearded fright who should be Tormund Giantsbane. I know that I’ve sworn off talking about what I’ve read in the books for this column, but I can’t help but salute the show’s producers. Hivju is the perfect presence for a superbly badass character.
We also get to see the dire straights of the Night’s Watch. Ominous in the episode’s cold open is that tough old bird Lord Commander Mormont (James Cosmos). Sam didn’t send the ravens, the White Walkers are headed south toward The Wall, and if they don’t get back and stop them, everyone is going to die. Not just the men of the Night’s Watch. Everyone. The stories beyond The Wall, as we see so clearly in this episode, will be hugely important for what is to come.
In King’s Landing, The Game Continues
Far removed from the cold Winter that is still ominously “coming” are the people of King’s Landing, ever more of them now Lannisters. It’s in these scenes where the talk has always been most interesting. And what we get in episode one is proof that adding Lord Tywin (Charles Dance) to the mix is like throwing Wildfire on top of more Wildfire. It’s chilling to see him shred Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) when all the half-man really seems to want is some gratitude (and a castle) for what was season two’s most heroic efforts. If we know Tyrion Lannister like we think we know Tyrion Lannister, this will only fuel him to play the game harder, especially now that his sister Cersei’s intentions are out in the open.
Speaking of Cersei (Lena Headey), she appears to have her hands even more full than in the past. When we last saw her, she was about 30-seconds away from poisoning her youngest, Tommen. When we pick her up in season three, she’s almost become vulnerable on a number of levels. She clearly fears what Tyrion will do now that he’s survived her attempt to have him killed. She’s also still not in any way controlling that terrible wretch Joffrey. And to top it all off, Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer) is proving herself to be quite a player. This isn’t new to us in the audience, as we saw Margaery’s handling of King Renly’s er, situation last season. But it is new to Cersei, and it’s not hard to see that it’s making her nervous. Even in a walk-and-talk episode, one focused solely on getting us back on our feet and headed toward the next round of catastrophic beheadings, there’s nothing boring about what’s happening in King’s Landing.
But, what about…
When season two opened, it was with much greater fury. The show’s writers seemed to be in a hurry to pick up the pieces from season one. Rightfully so, as with a story this dense there are a great number of pieces. At the time, it was a valid criticism to say that it was all very chaotic, almost too hard to follow for anyone who hadn’t benefited from a reading of the book. This was made evident to me as I recently rewatched season two with a friend, finding myself explaining little details in those first few episodes of the second season.
Here in season three there is much more patience at work. Sadly for fans of Arya Stark and Brienne of Tarth, this means some storylines aren’t back in play just yet. We don’t get to check in on Brienne and the Kingslayer, wherever they’ve ended up. We don’t know where Arya and her two companions have walked to. No word on Bran, Rickon and their little wolfpack. As well, we are yet to see the fallout in the Iron Islands. What did Yara Greyjoy and her father do with poor Theon. On second thought, I’m alright not knowing what happens to Theon just yet. That isn’t possibly going to end well. We also don’t get into any of the much talked about new characters, save for Mance Rayder. Well, unless you count the Unsullied…
Did we really think that Benioff and Weiss would let us go an entire episode without checking in on the show’s most compelling character, Daenerys Stormborn of House Targaryen (Emilia Clarke)? For about five minutes, I thought they might. But that’s silly. There are dragons in this show and if we’re not going to get to see what happened at the Fist of the First Men, we had better get to see a dragon catch, cook and eat its own fish on the way to Astorpor. There in the Slaver’s Bay, Daenerys’ journey finally begins to pick up. As was the case in the book A Clash of Kings, season two had to really work to keep the Khaleesi on screen. Her time in Qarth, while fun, was a great deal of posturing in its run up to the climactic final moments in The House of the Undying, when Dany’s dragons made roast warlock. For those who fly the dragon sigil in their hearts, it would appear as if season three is going to be Targaryen heavy. We’re already seeing her begin to amass an army. How will she deal with the fact that she’s anti-slavery in the slave nipple capital of the world? That remains to be seen. But one thing’s for sure: those Unsullied would make a fine invading force, especially with the compliment of those beautifully CGI’d dragons.
But Wait, There’s More!
In addition to sharing my own thoughts on season three as it progresses and asking you, my dear readers to join in, I’ve also decided to have a bit of fun at the expense of a few friends who make up my Game of Thrones watch party. The four gentlemen who participated in the chart below have never read the books, were forbidden from cheating via Wikipedia, and are none-the-wiser as to the fates of the show’s main characters. With that in mind, I asked them to lay down predictions as to how many episodes each of the fan-favorite characters might last in season three. As we’ve seen in everything leading up to this season, it’s not a good idea to get attached to anyone. You just never know whose head is going to come off next. Below you will find our Game of Thrones Death Index, which we’ll revisit from time-to-time throughout the season to see which of my friends is best at predicting who dies. Obviously, I would ask that none of you take to the comments and spoil any of this. For the sake of my friends and our shared friends in the comment section, it’s way more fun to make them wait and see what happens.
With that, I leave it to you, dear readers. The first episode of Game of Thrones has aired and I’d love to hear what you think. As always, please remember to keep comments spoiler free and only talk about what has happened up to the end of this episode. No matter how juicy some of the upcoming things that happen may be, it’s not worth being that guy.