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Game of Thrones: 301 “Valar Dohaeris” Review

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Reviewed by Phil Boothman.

At long last, Game of Thrones is back on our screens and I am here to cover every episode for the next ten weeks. I feel I should begin this review by stating that I am far from a purist when it comes to A Song of Ice and Fire, having not read any of the books: instead, I will be reviewing each episode on its own merits with very little influence from the novels, so other non-purists need not worry about spoilers for future episodes.

So, without further ado, what went on this week?

Beyond the Wall

Season 3 begins as season 2 left off, with Samwell Tarly fleeing from the White Walkers, and after stumbling upon a pretty gruesome reminder of what the monsters from beyond the Wall are capable of, he is saved from one by a rather beaten and bloodied cohort of Night’s Watch survivors. After discovering that Sam wasn’t able to send any ravens south to warn of the incoming army, the Lord Commander announces that the contingent is to head back to the Wall to warn them in person.

More importantly, Jon Snow is brought to the Wildling camp, and we are introduced to the existence of giants in the world, and given a glimpse of the kind of clout Mance Rayder wields beyond the Wall. Jon is taken before a fierce redheaded man whom he believes to be Mance Rayder, before being told that this man’s name is Thormund Giantsbane, and he is given the opportunity to speak with Mance Rayder himself. He briefly questions Jon’s loyalty, but upon learning what Jon witnessed at Craster’s Keep and that Jon wants to fight for the ones who fight for the living, he welcomes Jon into his ranks. Even with his brief introduction here, it looks like Ciarán Hinds is going to be a great inclusion to the show, lending real gravitas to the role, and I’m looking forward to seeing the chemistry between him and Kit Harrington develop over the course of the season.

King’s Landing

In the aftermath of the Battle of Blackwater, it’s fair to say that fan-favourite Tyrion Lannister isn’t doing so well: permanently scarred and relegated to far dingier living quarters than he is used to, he also seems to have developed a particular paranoia where his sister is concerned. He is visited by Cersei, who questions what he will say to their father when he meets with him, and is told by Bronn that he will be required to pay a much higher fee for his services. As if that’s not bad enough, in a tense confrontation with Tywin, he is refused recognition for his accomplishments during the climactic battle of last season, and told that he will not inherit Casterly Rock, the family home. The confrontation between the two Lannisters is one of the best scenes of the episode, with Peter Dinklage portraying a kind of noble disappointment and Charles Dance at possibly his very nastiest.

Meanwhile, Sansa Stark is clearly wishing to leave King’s Landing, as she plays a game with Shae where they guess what the ships in the harbour are leaving to do. She is approached by Littlefinger, who can’t seem to help but slither everywhere he goes, who informs her that he may be able to smuggle her out of King’s Landing in the near future. Ros informs Shae that she should be careful, and watch out for Sansa’s wellbeing, particularly where Littlefinger is concerned.

Elsewhere in King’s Landing, Joffrey sees Margaery Tyrell helping the orphans created by the Battle of Blackwater, and I would believe that she is the most altruistic character in the show if I didn’t believe she was doing it purely to gain points with the citizens of King’s Landing. It’s quite clear that Joffrey is smitten with Margaery, and it’s made more obvious in an awkward dinner scene in which Margaery and her brother Loras are treated to a game of insult-tennis between Joffrey and Cersei, and it becomes more and more obvious that all is not well in King’s Landing.

Dragonstone

Davos Seaworth, one of the characters missing after Blackwater, is found by Salladhor Saan, the pirate whose services were bought by Stannis: Davos reveals that his son is dead, and Salladhor reveals that Stannis is a broken man, in seclusion at Dragonstone and is essentially under the control of Melisandre, who is also arranging human sacrifices. Davos arrives at Dragonstone, losing his temper and attempting to kill Melisandre, and is sent to the dungeons by Stannis. I’m interested to see how the Stannis-Melisandre relationship develops after his defeat at Blackwater, and I can only imagine he’ll get more and more desperate as the season continues.

Harrenhal

Upon arriving at Harrenhal looking for a fight with the Lannisters, Robb Stark instead find the place deserted and over 200 Stark prisoners brutally slaughtered. We also see that his anger with Catelyn over releasing Jaime Lannister hasn’t subsided as he sends her to the dungeons. Robb soon stumbles across a survivor named Qyburn and Talisa sees to his injuries: so, not a great deal happens in this segment of the episode, but the grim scenes that await the men from the North are chilling, and I suspect their reactions are going to be violent.

Astapor – Slaver’s Bay

Daenerys, a character whom I felt didn’t develop a great deal throughout the last season, arrives in Slaver’s Bay and begins negotiations to purchase a contingent of the Unsullied, a eunuch slave army somewhat akin to Spartans in their fortitude. Surprisingly, there is some comic relief provided in this scene as there is a slight breakdown in communication between Daenerys and the slave owner: but it is quickly undercut by a gruesome demonstration of the fortitude of the Unsullied. Then, as Daenerys walks through a nearby market, a child, presumed to be sent by the sorcerers of Qarth, attempts to assassinate her, but she is saved by Barristan Selmy, former Lord Commander of the Kingsguard, who swears his allegiance to her.

Verdict: 8/10

Game of Thrones is a rare show that remains incredibly watchable even when nothing particularly earth-shattering occurs, and “Valar Dohaeris” is one of these episodes. The scenes between Charles Dance and Peter Dinklage, as well as Liam Cunningham and Carice van Houten are outstanding, but there isn’t a great deal of forward plot movement. However, this is to be expected of an opening episode, and I am looking forward to the rest of the season now more than ever!

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