Look at these two shining warriors: Ser Teryn Mant, and, uh...Ser Whosit of Whocares
Written by: David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Directed by: Daniel Minahan
Season three! It's debatable which Game of Thrones season is the best one, but it seems like most people choose either season three or four as the best one the show has ever produced. For me personally, I find season four to be the best of the bunch, but there are plenty of reasons to think season three is the best of them all. Of course, all the news surrounding season eight makes it sound as if it's going to transcend space and time as we know it, making everything that happened during seasons one through seven sound tame by comparison. Are you here yet, April 2019?
Unlike the openers of seasons one and two, season three's opener does not dedicate its time towards piling on a whole new host of characters. Rather, it takes the characters we're already quite familiar with and sets up new story lines that will continue throughout the entire season. There's also going to be some shuffling around of characters, leading to a series of unexpected mash-ups. We will get some new characters in the near future, but for the moment, we're sticking with what we've already got. The strange thing about "Valar Dohaeris", though, is that it tries to do a bit too much, squeezing in every possible story line that it can within its 50-60 minute run time window. Regardless, this is still a meaty opener with a lot of neat character interactions and several memorable dialogue exchanges.
Ironically, the episode opens in disappointing fashion: a black screen while screams of the White Walkers attacking the Night's Watch camp are heard in the background. It's too easy to shout, "budget constraints", but come on, the Night's Watch camp getting slaughtered only had to be a few seconds long. So, I guess White Walkers are expensive as well? As it turns out, Sam survived his White Walker encounter, but he nearly gets killed by a wight. Ghost and Jeor Mormont come to the rescue, but then Mormont scolds Sam for not sending the ravens to warn of the incoming Army of the Dead. They don't really need to be in a rush, honestly: the White Walkers are taking their sweet old time marching south.
So I said White Walkers are expensive, but I guess dragons were affordable for this episode, as we watch Daenerys' dragons fly around and catch fish, as Daenerys and her entourage arrive in Astapor. Daenerys has the medieval equivalent of weapons of mass destruction, but she still needs an army at her side. She gets a look at the eunuch slave soldiers known as the "Unsullied", getting a gruesome demonstration of their mettle by having one soldier not even flinch when he gets one of his nipples cut off. Yikes, so it sounds like the Unsullied have a lot of potential. Being introduced to this army isn't the only good thing to happen to Daenerys, though. That's bizarre of me to say because a very bad thing happens to her first, when a warlock tries to assassinate her with a scorpion-like insect. Luckily, someone arrives in the nick of time: Ser Barristan Selmy! Yeah, remember him? The guy that walked out on Joffrey when he was forced to retire from the Kingsguard? Turns out he has traveled to Essos to find Daenerys, and he swears his allegiance to her. Daenerys had at least some friends in Westeros, all along.
So Daenerys' plot is one of the episode's two bulky parts, with King's Landing serving as the other one. Tyrion has been sulking since the Battle of Blackwater, and he gets an unlikely visitor in Cersei. Oh, but Cersei has not come to cheer up her little brother. We should have learned from season two that any and all conversations between Tyrion and Cersei are going to be anything but friendly (and yet they'll always have some of the best two-character conversations in the entire series). Cersei questions Tyrion on what he's going to ask of their father, and when Tyrion goes to meet with Tywin, he asks to be named heir of Casterly Rock. This request enrages Tywin, who not only refuses, but he goes on a tirade about how Tyrion is an embarrassment to the Lannister name, while claiming that, to teach him humility, the gods gave him Tyrion as a son. It's nothing short of tragic to hear Tywin berate his own son in such a fashion as he does here. No family in all of Game of Thrones has more inner turmoil than the Lannisters, with much of it stemming from Tyrion causing his mother to die while giving birth to him. Moments like this talk between Tywin and Tyrion continuously remind us that the Lannisters are not satanic villains that we should root against; they have their own struggles that, at times, threaten to rip them apart.
The only other plot line with significant meaning here is the revelation that Davos Seaworth survived the wildfire explosion, and he is able to make it back to Dragonstone and reunite with Stannis. Unfortunately, Stannis is not in the mood for a hearty welcome back. Instead, Melisandre blames Davos for the defeat at Blackwater, since he convinced Stannis to leave Melisandre behind before they sailed. Davos tries to attack Melisandre, but he gets stopped by the guards who take him away to be thrown in the dungeons. There's inner turmoil everywhere we go. Not even Davos Seaworth, one of the most likable characters thus far, can escape the clutches of Game of Thrones and its abilities to punish. Picking a favorite Game of Thrones character makes Russian roulette look like game night at a retirement home.
Again, I try to avoid talking about every single scene that takes place in a given episode. Some scenes just don't have much that's worth discussing, which is a bit of a troubling thing when you try to review Game of Thrones, because there are several story lines that we always have to keep track of. In the case of "Valar Dohaeris" there is a bit too much going on here, though Daenerys, King's Landing, and the return of Davos Seaworth are the memorable highlights of this season opener. It's going to be another hell of a ride, just as it is with every season.
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