Title: Game of Thrones
Genre: Historical Fantasy
Watched: Episode 21 – March 31, 2013
Title: Valar Dohaeris
Summary: Excellent start
Right off the bat you can feel a difference in pacing. Season 2 suffered from the crunch required to compress a gigantic book into 10 hours, and given that A Clash of Kings is even longer, the decision to split book 3 into two seasons is clearly a smart one. Valar Dohaeris has some leisure to establish (in many cases reestablish) the situations for its gigantic cast. This episode doesn’t even try to handle all of them, leaving Jamie/Brienne, Arya, Bran, and Theon for episode 22.
We begin where we left off, with the decimation of the Black Brothers by the White Walkers (an ironic reversal of color). In somewhat typical budget saving fashion the battle itself is left off screen (sword clanks under black). Sam is our focal point although he doesn’t do much except run through the snow and get rescued by Ghost. This first scene is anticlimactic, turning last season’s big “event” into more of just a reveal (there are lots of White Walkers, uh oh!).
The award winning titles have been updated with a smokey Winterfell and Astapoor (the harpy slave city).
Sticking to the North for the moment, Jon Snow arrives at Mance Rayder’s camp with Ygritte. I do like her, although the way she shuffles on the snow in her heavy boots and parka looks anything but fearsome. Perhaps no one looks fearsome in Eskimo outfits. Perhaps she’s too cute for fearsomeness. In any case, the production takes the time to show off a giant in all its CGI glory, which I’m very happy with. I worried that they might try to play down some of the fantasy elements, particularly as they pick up in intensity in later books, but it seems not. The first meeting with Mance is well handled. I’ve liked Ciaran Hinds since Rome, and the writers hit on the crux of the meeting, with Jon having to convince them why he’s really there. He does.
Our return to Kings Landing fittingly comes down (haha) to Bron in a brothel. GOT loves its whores, and this one is cute, although serving of little purpose. Back in his dungeon of a room, Tyrion contemplates his new scared face. Just as the show didn’t ugly up Peter Dinklage to begin with (he might be height challenged, but he’s a handsome guy), it didn’t dare maim Tyrion like in the book. Just a scar, no missing nose and the like, although when Cersei visits in this scene, she alludes to the missing sniffer. These Tyrion/Cersei scenes are always fun. My favorite line this time is “You’re not half so clever as you think you are” followed by “still, that makes me cleverer than you.” Bron comes to defend Ty, bookending his earlier appearance. Last season they would have cut both bits out of expediency, but this time around they have room for more nuance and secondary characters. The visual scope feels somewhat bigger too, as Bron and Tryion go for a wander on the Dubrovnik (achem, Kings Landing) walls and we get a sense of space. It’s funny too, having been there myself last year, I have a sense of the positioning in the real city.
Turns out Davos survived his encounter with green fire only to be stuck on a rock (I recognize those too, as they’re just North of Dubrovnik, I believe). He’s rescued by Salladhor Saan. More characterization and setting up what’s going on with Stannis at Dragonstone. First time we’ve seen his missing fingers too in a nice artsy shot.
Robb and Bolton show up at Harrenhal after the Mountain has deserted it. This is pure setup, showing the nasty pile of corpses the big guy left behind, Robb with his new wife, and Cat a virtual prisoner of her son. The slight unrest of his men… well, little in a TV show is an accident.
Tyrion goes to visit his father Tywin, having not himself been visited during his presumably lengthy convalescence. Given that Tywin seemed fairly reasonable last season, and Tyrion really did do a pretty decent job (considering) in his defense of the capital, you’d expect him to get a little love — but no, poor Tyrion, and this is one of the many reasons we love him, just never gets the tall straw (see what I did?). Tywin lays it on pretty thick. Poor little guy.
In another scene that expands the visual grandeur Sansa and Shae hang out together at the little harbor near Dubrovnik’s north gate watching the ships sail. Littlefinger comes to work his little plot involving her, with Ros in tow. Parallel conversations between Sansa/Littlefinger and Shae/Ros allow for compact establishment of character. This is substantial compression from the books, but deftly done. And Ros isn’t a real character anyway, but her exchange isn’t bad.
Tyrion may not have gotten any love, but the dragons do. Drogon in particular has a very fun draconic take on fish BBQ. We learn that Dany is headed to Astapoor to get herself an army. A slave army, which she’s not necessarily a fan of.
At Dragonstone, Davos finally shows up and confronts Stannis and Melisandre. I’m no fan of all three of these characters, but Mel does do a good job being fey and spooky, like an evil shadow mom version of Cate Blanchett’s Galadriel.
Joffrey, the king we all love to hate, doesn’t bother to ride a horse, he takes a fancy litter, clutching a handkerchief to his nose (they should have used an orange stuffed with cloves). Margaery, his new finance, has a mosque shaped litter herself, but she isn’t afraid to get out, step through some shit (literally) and work the people. A talent that not only extends to orphans, but to Joff and Cersei as well as we see next scene when she manipulates them all at dinner. I’m liking Natalie Dormer’s take on this character.
Dany arrives at Astapoor in all its CGI grandeur, and from a distance it does look damn good. But close up, it’s probably Dubrovnik again, or perhaps a nearby Croatian city. I guess it could be Morocco. I’m not sure yet, but it sure looked like Croatia. This scene is basically an intro to the slave culture of Astapoor and the concept of the Unsullied. The subtitled back and forth between the translator girl slave and the master was particularly hilarious, and the slave soldiers well enough handled. They probably won’t be able to justice to what is to come because it involves citywide happenings, but we’ll see.
As the “previous scenes” reminded us about season 1’s dismissal of Barristan Selmy. His return involves some interesting adaption from the novels. Martin loves to reintroduce characters by new names and only slowly reveal their identity, which is great fun, but it isn’t really realistic in a TV show where the audience will just recognize the actor. So Barristan’s return is stripped of his extended posing, and the fun but unnecessary character of Strong Belwas seems written out. But I did love the warlock girl with the blue mouth and the bug ball!
All in all, a great start, if not exactly action packed. My concerns from season 1 about visual scope have been addressed as best as possible on TV. This is a grand looking show, probably one of the most impressive productions in the history of the medium. And it looks like they’ll have room in the script to do far more justice this season to Martin’s nuanced character portraits.