Game of Thrones season premiere recap: 'Valar Dohaeris'
The fantasy hit returns for season 3 with a fishing dragon, a snow giant and some wildly dysfunctional feudal family feuds
No more posters. No more trailers. No more $15,000 fan-art oil paintings. No teaser interviews and red carpet photos and viral videos. We’re done with all that. Game of Thrones is back and this is the season that fans of George R. R. Martin’s novels have been most excited about since the show’s pilot was first announced years ago. This is The Empire Strikes Back of the Thrones-verse — except on this show, the Empire always seems like it’s striking back.
We start in darkness. Howling, steel clanging, screaming — presumably the sounds of the White Walkers attacking the Night’s Watch since we then see–
Cold Open: A very cold open — Sam is running in a blizzard, as fast as he can considering he’s draped in a Wookie. We’re picking up the action moments/hours after the season 2 finale left off, when the White Walkers and a herd of the undead descended upon Sam and his Night’s Watch brothers.
Sam finds one of his dead brothers holding his own severed head. Ah, it’s good to be back — we’re only seconds into the Thrones premiere and already we have a decapitation. You wonder what happened here — was his head placed in his hands? Did it just fall there? And does the guy look like Jesus on purpose?
No time to wonder — there’s zombie coming with an ax. Sam is rescued by Ghost. Jon Snow’s direwolf starts chewing on the undead, who then bursts into flames. Ghost, you can breathe fire now! Oh, wait, no. The fire was from Sam’s surviving Night’s Watch brothers, who also just arrived. The Lord Commander gives Sam crap about not sending the ravens to alert Castle Black of the attack. That was his job, his only job! Sam glares at him like: Dude, I’m 260 pounds and just outran the undead while wearing a shag carpet in a blizzard, cut me some slack.
Credits: New stuff: Winterfell is smoking since it burned down in last year’s finale. There’s a new city: Astapor, where Dany is headed this season. It has these little rowing tracks. Perhaps Astapor is big on Pilates?
Frostfangs: Back to the snow. Or rather, Jon Snow. The Wildling camp is located near an inhospitable area called the Frostfangs. I bet Jon is kicking himself for not naming his direwolf that. Does Snow look like he’s limping as he walks into the camp? The actor broke his ankle last year, and a double was used in some shots (there’s a link at the end of this post to a story with more details on that).
Snow sees an army camp and a — giant … a giant giant. Big giant! Big-but-not-too big. Just-the-right-size giant. Big enough so you think “Giant!” but not so big you think “CGI!” or worse, “Jack the Giant Slayer.” Thrones is just throwing a giant in there in the first few minutes of the premiere, like it’s no big deal. I never loved adding yet another mythical creature into this grown-up fantasy saga — all it takes is one unicorn and I’m outta here — but the Thrones team did a nice job on this. The giant must have just returned from the Wildling’s day spa since he’s still wearing a detoxifying body wrap. Jon looks awed.
“First time you’ve seen a giant Jon Snow?” taunts humpy Wildling snow warrior Ygritte, who warns: “When they’re angry, I’ve seen them pound a man straight into the ground like a hammer to a nail.” Wow, hate to see them when they’re horny.
NEXT: Pay no attention to what’s behind the curtain!
As Snow goes through the camp, Wildlings throw rocks at him since he’s dressed like a “Crow” (Night’s Watchman). Ygritte warns that even if Wildling leader Mance Rayder sets him free, he’s still in danger because “then I’d be free to kill yah.” But we don’t believe her threat, she’s throwing way too many IOIs his way.
In Mance’s tent, Jon assumes a Wildling named Giantsbane is Mance. C’mon Jon, like any army would follow a ginger-head! The real Mance is played by Cirian Hinds (yes, Caesar from Rome). Notice how Thrones is leaning on European history here. Most of the ruling class in King’s Landing use British accents (even Joffrey, who is played by an Irish actor), while the Wildling rebels who love their freeeeedom! seem to have more Scottish-sounding accents.
“The girl likes yah, you like her back?” asks Mance and then asks why Jon wants to defect to join the Wildings.
First Jon gives the answer he thinks Mance wants to hear (“I want to be free”). Mance looks at him with curiosity, amusement and some kindness, which has to be messing with Jon’s head a little amid all the death threats. “I think what you want most of all is to be a hero,” Mance counters, which is probably right.
Then Jon gives an answer that’s closer to the truth, showing his disgust at the Lord Commander’s pact with the molest-y, baby-sacrificing Craster and his desire to fight the White Walkers. That answer gets him accepted — for now.
King’s Landing: Show of hands: Who wanted Game of Thrones season 3 to open with a Bronn sex scene? Well, you’re in luck sort of!
First we get a quick establishing shot of peasant kids happily frolicking in Blackwater Bay. That has to be unsanitary given all the dead bodies that went into the sea during last season’s climatic battle. Must be awkward when somebody’s dad washes up on the shore while playing Marco Polo.
Now we’re inside the brothel. Tyrion’s sellsword Bronn is chatting with a prostitute and we’re looking at her boobs and not really listening. She’s wearing this odd little cooter curtain and orders him to pull it aside with his mouth. He’s just about to comply, when suddenly a messenger sent by Tyrion interrupts their game of Expose the Wizard.
In his chambers, Tyrion is examining his scar from last season’s battle. You can tell he’s thinking: Like I needed something else for people to give me s–t about. Cersei is at his door. “It’s your sister,” she says, then adds unnecessarily, “the queen.” Oh, she’s a proud one. Technically Cersie is the Queen Regent until her brat-son Joffrey weds, but she doesn’t like to call herself that.
Cersei reassures paranoid Tyrion: “If I wanted to kill you, do you think I’d let a wooden door stop me?” More accurately: If she wanted to kill her brother, she would not be there. Cersei likes to have underlings do her handiwork. And that’s what Tyrion suspects happened last season — that Cersei ordered one Tryion’s own men to kill him during the battle.
“They said you’d lost your nose, but it’s not as gruesome as all that,” she says (a shout-out to the book version where Tyrion’s nose was lopped off).
They fondly reminiscence about the time when a young Cersei ordered her guards to beat a 9-year-old girl (see?) and she tells him, “You’re a clever man. But you’re not half as clever as you think you are.” To which Tyrion zings back: “It still makes me more clever than you.” Their banter sounds smart. But when you think about it, these two are practically regressing. They’re like two young siblings going, “I’m not stupider! You’re stupider!”
NEXT: The pirate bay
Cersei heard that Tyrion wants to talk to their dad Tywin, who has taken over Tyrion’s post of Hand of the King and failed to visit him during his recovery. “I’m sure he loves me dearly,” Tyrion assures himself, but Cersei is worried he’s going to tattle. Maybe accuse her of, oh, I don’t know … incest with her brother Jaime, murdering the king, attempting to have Tyrion killed, having no sense of humor … all sorts of sinister stuff. “It’s not slander if it’s true,” Tyrion says, pulling out defamation-law on her.
So I guess they’re both paranoid, though as Thrones showrunner Dan Weiss pointed out during my fall set visit, “Cersei is paranoid about people who are out to get her but they’re out to get her partly because of the things she does because she’s so paranoid. It become self-fulfilling to a certain extent.”
Tyrion takes a walk with his bodyguard Bronn, who wants more money. The castle ramparts are being repaired from last season’s battle. (It’s unclear why Tyrion sent so urgently for Bronn — he didn’t know Cersei and her guards were at his door until after he sent for him, but we’ll let that go). There’s some lively banter between Tyrion and Bronn that seems a shade too sophisticated for the sellsword, but I’m enjoying it. “I’m a sell sword,” Bronn says. “I sell my sword. I don’t loan it out to friends as a favor.”
Island: Davos survived the Blackwater battle and is wasting away on a tiny island. He looks half-way to zombie-dom. He gets rescued by Salladhor Saan, his old pirate friend who’s conveniently passing by (perhaps he’s the one hustling up episodes of Game of Thrones onto BitTorrent?). We learn that Stannis retreated back to Dragonstone after his failed attack on King’s Landing and his pet witch/mistress Melisandre has been burning followers alive who dare speak against her or her freaky religion. Davos vows to kill Melisandre, which sounds to us like a real long shot.
Harrenhal: Robb Stark and his mom/prisoner Catelyn arrive at Harrenhal. Robb’s men want a fight but the Lannisters have been wearing them down by keeping Robb’s army in pursuit. At Harrenhal they find 200 dead Northerners. And since Catelyn set Jaime Lannister free last season in an attempt to swap him for her captive daughter(s), discoveries like this further inflame Robb’s men at Catelyn for letting Jaime go. It all puts Robb in an awkward position (Mom, you’re embarrassing me in front of my friends!) and makes re-capturing Jaime all the more urgent. They find a survivor named Qyburn. Despite this ultra-brief introduction, we’ll be seeing more of Qyburn later in the season.
The premiere’s title, btw, is “Valar Dohaeris,” which is translated from High Valerian as “All Men Must Serve.” It is the common reply to “Valar Morghulis” (“All Men Must Die”) which was the season two finale title. We probably shouldn’t read too much into this title. You could say some characters (like Robb, Jon Snow and Tyrion) are struggling with their various obligations, but that’s pretty much the same as always.
King’s Landing: Thrones excels at two-actors-in-a-room match-ups. Everything about this next scene is awesome.
Tyrion sits impatiently and watches his father scribble a letter to…someone…
NEXT: Tywin Lannister — master debater, really awful dad
“The [Hand of the King] badge looks good on you,” Tyrion says. “Almost as good as it looked on me.”
Tywin gives his son grief about enjoying a whore (not Tyrion’s secret lover Shae — his dad doesn’t know about her). The comment also suggests that Cersei, who’s so worried about being tattled on, likely tattled on Tyrion’s most minor of sins (unless Tywin found out some other way).
Tyrion whines about how his father never visited him while he was recovering his battle. “Maester Pycelle assured me your wounds were not fatal,” Tywin says, which is just World’s Worst Dad material.
Tyrion starts ratting off his accomplishments last season, growing uncharacteristically defensive. He is so desperate for his father’s love. And everything he says sounds reasonable and accurate to us. But then Tywin fires back this: “Jugglers and singers require applause. You are a Lannister.”
Boom! You cannot win an argument with Tywin, especially when you’re trying to draw affection from him. Cersei might have been right — Tyrion is not half as clever as he thinks.
Tyrion gets to the point: He wants his birthright, dammit — the Lannister family’s wealthy fortress of Casterly Rock. Now that thought stops Tywin.
What Tywin says next, while he rejects Tyrion’s claim, is totally brutal. He calls his son an “ill-made spiteful little creature full of envy, lust and low cunning” and “since I cannot prove that you are not mine, to teach me humility the gods have condemned me to watch you waddle about wearing that proud lion … Go. Now.”
Marriage counselors will tell you the most damaging thing you can express in any relationship is contempt for the other person. Tywin’s speech is full of contempt.
When Tywin adds one more thing, I like how Tyrion turns his back on his father as soon as he realizes it’s yet another threat about hiring prostitutes. It’s a small measure of defiance, but it’s all Tyrion can get away with.
Outside: Here’s Sansa Stark. She’s hanging out with Tyrion’s secret lover Shae, who serves as Sansa’s handmaiden. They’re playing a game that makes up stories about the people on departing ships, vessels that Sansa wishes she were on. Pragmatic Shae genuinely likes Sansa, yet isn’t a fan of inventing stories. “Why should I make up a story when i know the truth?” she says. And then Sansa delivers my favorite line in the premiere: “Because the truth is always either terrible, or boring.”
Why I love this line: It’s initially quite funny. It shows character growth — how cynical Sansa has become after the horrifying events of the last two seasons. Yet it also sticks with you because it’s profound (though, sure, totally pessimistic).
Then perv Littlefinger comes over to perv on her. He promises, like a middle-age guy trying to pick up the small town girl working at the Dairy Queen, to take her all away from this someday. Littlefinger’s helper Ros gets a moment with Shae. Ros is able to recognize Shae as a fellow girl-for-hire via some secret whore handshake or something.
Sea: Okay, Thrones, the season 3 poster promised us a flying dragon. So let’s have it: Where are our dragons!?
Ah, there they are.
NEXT: Dragon teppanyaki
Dany is on a ship on the way to Astapor. Her dragons are bigger this year. And kind of spiky. One of her kids goes fishing and charbroils the fish in midair. Do her dragons bring any seafood back for her to eat, I wonder? Can she make specific requests, like, “ahi, medium rare”?
Dany has a new blue dress this season, which brings out her eyes. She is impatient. She says her dragons aren’t growing fast enough (you’re telling us) and she declares, “I need an army” (as if she hasn’t been saying that for the last two seasons!). But don’t you worry, Dany’s story is great in season 3.
Meanwhile her remaining Dothraki, unaccustomed to sea voyages, are miserable from the trip, and we get a shot of them looking like they’re on the deck of the Carnival Champion.
Dragonstone: Lot of water shots in this episode, huh?
Davos chats with Stannis, who wants to speak with his king alone. But Melisandre can tell when her lover’s best friend just wants to trash her and sticks around. She messes with the captain’s resolve, saying it’s his fault their attack failed because he talked Stannis out of bringing her along to the battle. She then reminds him that she told his son, who died in the battle, that death by fire is the purist way to go — so she knew what would happen all along. Davos draws his dagger. Melisandre says she likes Davos but he’s chosen darkness; Davos is arrested.
King’s Landing: Joffrey is traveling through the slums in his posh litter crib. This was he can navigate the crowded streets of unkempt humanity in peace and comfort. I wonder if it’s possible to rent one of these for covering Comic-Con.
He spies his bride-to-be Margaery Tyrell getting out of her litter and happily stepping around thugs and poop. He’s bewildered — Never leave the litter! She embarks on a lovely PR tour in King’s Landing’s worst slum, which is called Flea Bottom (George R.R. Martin isn’t quite as snappy at coming up with names as J.K. Rowling, but that one is worthy of any Harry Potter novel). The princess stages an impromptu Oprah-like town hall with the grubby orphans. She gives out some toy soldiers (“You get a toy! And you get a toy! And you get a toy!”) and says their fallen dads are heroes. Clearly, she’s just the sort of sensitive Good Cop that Joffrey’s reign of terror needs.
Later, a fun scene at dinner. Margaery (who has ditched her poop-dress) along with her secretly gay brother Loras dine with Joffrey and Cersei. The king was late because he attended a small council meeting. “At what point does it become treason to waste the king’s time?” he asks and we suspect: Not very long.
Cersei lobs some thinly veiled sarcasm at Margaery about her cleavage-exposing dress, making it sound like she’s talking about the weather. Margaery wisely plays along and pretends not to notice her insult. Joffrey, however, is utterly oblivious to the subtext and offers her a shawl.
Margaery’s volunteerism has Cersei fuming. I particularly love the way Jofrrey struggles to express what Margaery was doing earlier. “This sort of charitable work…” the king says, as if his mind is just reeling trying to comprehend the concept. When Cersei rebukes her efforts and Joffrey takes Margaery’s side, you can see the Queen Regent is just dying inside. This young, pretty, smart, kind woman is not only luring her son away but, with their marriage, Margaery will replace her as queen. “Mother’s always had a penchant for drama,” Joffrey says, “facts become less and less important to her and she grows older.”
The Tyrells exchange a quick look and you know they’re thinking: Uh-oh, these two are really f–ked up.
NEXT: Come play with us, Dany…
Astapor: Dany is shopping for an army and meets a slaver named Krazny and his cute slave interpreter, who translates his High Valyrian for Dany. We get to see what he’s really saying via subtitles. He’s privately totally degrading to Dany, but isn’t this sort of what we suspect every car salesman is thinking about our questions regarding gas mileage and warranties?
His army is called The Unsullied. Their brutal training is like that of Spartan warriors or Apple factory workers, except even more barbaric. They’re all castrated. Only one boy in four survives the training and their final task is to kill a newborn slave baby “to make sure there is no weakness left in them.” To add insult to injury, the owner of the grieving mom-slave is paid compensation for the child, not the mother herself. Slavery is bad.
“They fear nothing,” Dany is told. “Death means nothing to them.” Krazny demonstrates their fearlessness by slicing off one soldier’s nipple arguing, hey, men don’t need ’em! (And to answer the follow-up biology question that some of you might wonder after watching this scene: Men have nipples because during embryonic development we all start off as female). “This one is pleased to have served you,” replies the nip-snipped solider.
Walking back to her ship, Dany is fuming. She hates the idea of buying slaves. She was sold to the Dothraki and knows how slavery feels. Sure, all that horse-lord rape eventually became totally fun for her, but that still doesn’t make it right!
“A great injustice has been done to them, closing your eyes will not undo it,” wise Ser Jorah says. Here I’ll translate that one for Dany: “Quit being so damn picky.” Also now wondering: Does Ser Jorah really smell like urine, or was that just an insult?
Dany takes interest in a cute girl who rolls a ball at her and urges her to open it. Come play with us, Dany, forever, and ever, and ever… Inside is — yah, evil scorpion thing! She’s rescued by this assassination attempt by a hooded figure. The girl shows us her grumpy yuck mouth — she’s a warlock. Apparently those guys are still annoyed at Dany after last season.
Who’s this Obi Wan anyway? Ah, Ser Barristan Selmy! Welcome back. We last saw the former Kingsguard member angrily stripping off his armor in the throne room in season 1 when Joffrey decided to replace him for “failing” to protect his father. And now–
What the…that’s it?! Where’s Bran? Where’s Jaime and Brienne? Where’s Arya? Where’s Hot Pie? Is he safe? Is he hungry for pies? And was he really named Hot Pie or is that a nickname?
Yes the premiere is over and The Show That Mounted the World still has more story to start. But EW has plenty more Thrones content for you to read. There’s a super brief chat with the producers about tonight’s giant surprise — that’s a pun! And there’s our premiere ratings prediction post of Thrones vs. The Walking Dead vs. The Bible. And then there’s our 17 Days of Thrones project, below, which has interviews with all the major characters and producers with interesting character insights and behind-the-scenes tidbits.
BEST SCENE: Tyrion vs. Tywin.
BEST LINE: “The truth is always terrible, or boring” — Sansa (Yeah, I dropped the “either,” so what? This way is better.)
[Box set giveaway fulfilled! Code phrase hint was hidden in middle of recap. I am sorry if you didn’t win; wish I had more]
This is the part of the season premiere recap where I say to please be courteous to those who have not read the books and avoid posting spoilers in the comments etc etc etc. Season 3 is full of twists and turns, light and dark, and obviously the best way to find out about these events is to either read them in Martin’s novels or to see them on the show. But this time I’m shaking this disclaimer up and doing a two-way warning: If you haven’t read the books and don’t want to be spoiled, watch Game of Thrones live on Sunday nights, avoid social media until you’ve seen the episode, and avoid Thrones comment boards in general this season. I hate typing this because I suspect it will result in fewer people participating in the comments on these recaps and I enjoy seeing what you all have to say (well, most of you). But I’m really trying to maximize your Thrones-ian pleasure (and why does that sound like a condom ad?). Until next time, I’ll try to remember the send the ravens. And for those who brave the comment board, let me know what you thought of the recap. The truth now. Even if it’s terrible, or boring.
17 DAYS OF THRONES