All men must serve. So begins Sunday’s return to Westeros and the lands beyond the Narrow Sea in HBO’s grimdark fantasy epic, A Game of Thrones. This season is based on George RR Martin’s A Storm of Swords, book 3 in his A Song of Ice and Fire series. Aptly named, the episode spends a great deal of time telling us the fate of would be kings, rulers and queens to come. As usual, spoilers and then some.
GOT season 3 starts just where we left off. Poor Samwell Tarly is found running and trudging through the snow, having somehow escaped that screeching White Walker and his dead horse. Turns out Wights are a lot faster than their cousins over on AMC’s The Walking Dead, and are damn good with a broad axe. Sam first runs up on a not-so-fortunate guy holding his own head in his lap, then almost gets his own taken by a particularly tenacious dead man. Luckily, Jon’s direwolf Ghost shows up in the nick of time, along with what remains of the Night’s Watch and a particularly annoyed Jeor Mormont. Can’t wait till Coldhands.
Having killed (but fake-killed) Qhorin Halfhand last season, Jon Snow is taken deep into the Wildlings camp, who much prefer to dub themselves the more socialist-anarchist Freefolk. He’s led along by Ygritte who does her flirty “but I might just kill you” thing. In the camp he’s pelted by rocks for being a “crow” and gets to see an actual giant for the first time–nicely done HBO special effects crew! Please do the mammoths equal justice. Afterwards, Jon meets Mance Rayder (actor Ciaran Hinds– best Caesar ever!) and does a convincing Donnie Brasco number. Oh, and he gets called a bastard to his face–again. Because no one in this fantasy realm has “filters.”
At King’s Landing, it sucks being Tyrion. I mean it really sucks. Though the job on his face in the series is nowhere as bad as the book (there’s a fanboy joke inserted about him not losing his nose), he’s still cut up pretty bad. He gets no respect or a bit of gratitude for saving the city. He knows his sister Cersei tried to kill him, and carries an axe in her presence. His sellsword Bronn sticks around, but only if the price is right. His father, “he who shits gold,” pretty much tells him to his face he’s a mistake, a freak, a punishment of the gods and the reason his mother died. And the only person he seems to have squarely on his side is the squirrely squire Podrick. For all the Tyrion fans out there, don’t worry–it only gets WORSE. Like Inspectah Deck once said, “life as a shorty shouldn’t be so rough.”
Sansa Stark, the most polite hostage, is now hanging tight with Shae, counting ships and dreaming of escape while Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish showers her with a creepy older guy type of interest. The most interesting scenes at King’s Landing however are of the ambitious Margaery Tyrell, who is slowly building her way to becoming “the queen” (not “a queen”) of Westeros. Showing skills at leadership her future husband “the monster” Joffrey sorely lacks, she sells herself to the rather nasty-spirited and altogether unhygienic common folk by visiting local war orphans. And there are some nicely traded barbs at a dinner between herself and Cersei. Margaery shows she’s very good at making the best out of any situation, managing to trade-up her status since the death of the ill-fated Renly.
Speaking of ill-fated, Stannis the would be conqueror it seems now spends his time mostly brooding in his keep, and (at the suggestion of the Red Lady Melisandre) burns people alive as offering to the Lord of the Light. Charming. The only one who might be able to get him out of his funk is our old friend Davos Seaworth, who managed to survive the Battle of the Blackwater and hitch a ride with the mercenary pirate Salladhor Saan to confront the pair. But Melisandre does some fancy talking, turns Davos’s words against him, and Stannis has him confined to the dungeons.
Meanwhile, Robb “The King in the North” Stark seems to be the only one still concerned with fighting a war though his men are being slaughtered by the hundreds, his mother set his best bargaining chip free and his followers all have the look of men near contemplating mutiny. Hard times are coming for the Stark clan. Hard, hard times.
And across the Narrow Sea, somewhere in Essos, Daenerys Targaryen cruises the waves with her growing dragons, looted riches and a ship full of seasick Dothraki. They end up at the slave ports of Astapor, home of the Harpy. There we get our first look at the fabled Unsullied, eunuch-slave-soldiers who Daenerys contemplates purchasing to create her army. The slave merchant she bargains with is probably the most unlikable figure in the episode. He slyly calls her whore (repeatedly) through his translator, cuts the nipples off an unflinching Unsullied and casually talks about the benefits of mass infanticide. In a final scene, Daenerys survives an assassination plot with a particularly nasty insect that appears to have been the work of those ticked-off Quarth sorcerers. Her savior (she’s always in need of saving it seems) turns out to be none other than Ser Barristan Selmy–who got dismissed from King’s Landing when the monster took the throne. Apologizing to Daenerys for betraying her father, he pledges himself to her as the true ruler of Westeros. My only question is, where the heck is Strong Belwas?
So that’s the season opener in a nutshell. Not bad. Not much action, but lots of setting up. Till next week, where we’ll hopefully get to see Arya, Meatpie and Gendry meet a drunk Red Priest!