Welcome to the halfway-mark of The Wars to Come, the Game of Thrones rewatch project seeking to analyze the show when it was halfway decent. Last week we chatted about Season 2 on our podcast, while this week Kylie, Julia, and Griffin press onto Season 3, with a Benioff and Weiss (D&D) episode, “Valar Dohaeris.”
We pick up the season with a cold open: the miraculously living Samwell gets chased by a wight, until it is stopped by Ghost and then set on fire by Lord Commander Mormont. It’s the Night’s Watch brothers! Unfortunately, Sam failed to send a raven before they spotted the army of the dead, so their only chance to warn the realm is to all make it back to The Wall.
After the credits, we continue beyond The Wall, where Jon is taken to Mance Rayder’s tent. There he mistakes Tormund Giantsbane for Mance, who stands to reveal himself. The King Beyond the Wall asks Jon why he wants to join them, and after an unconvincing lie, Jon tells him about Craster handing his baby away to a White Walker, and Mormont not caring. “I want to fight for the side that fights for the living.”
Down in King’s Landing, Tyrion is still recovering from his injury. He decides to let Cersei see him, since she points out that a door wouldn’t stop her from killing him if she really wanted to. Bronn, meanwhile, is interrupted from a trip to the brothel so he can come protect Tyrion, if needed. Cersei asks Tyrion what he plans to talk to Tywin about, though he gives his sister only non-committal answers. She storms out before Bronn comes to head with the guards she had brought along.
As it turns out, Tyrion wanted to talk to Tywin about his inheritance, especially in light of everything he did for King’s Landing to save it from Stannis’s invasion. Tywin tells Tyrion (without thanking him) that he can get better chambers, a new job, and a wife as a thanks for his service, but he will never get Casterly Rock. He still blames Tyrion for his wife’s death, and looks down upon him for purchasing the services of sex workers. The conversation concludes with Tywin threatening to kill the next sex worker he finds in Tyrion’s bed.
Speaking of Shae, she and Sansa are watching ships leave King’s Landing when Littlefinger and Ros approach. Littlefinger tells Sansa that he may be able to get her out of the city with him soon, if she’s ready to go on a moment’s notice. Sansa agrees at once. Ros, meanwhile, warns Shae not to trust Littlefinger with Sansa.
Elsewhere in the city, Joffrey and Margaery Tyrell are passing through Flea Bottom in their individual litters when she orders hers to be stopped so that she can visit an orphanage. There she lifts the spirits of the children by telling them their fathers who died in Blackwater were as brave as knights. She lets the owner of the orphanage know that she can come directly to her for anything she may need. Later at dinner with Cersei, Joffrey, Margaery, and Loras, the queen cautions Margaery not to mingle with the smallfolk, though she tells her she’s accustomed to such charity work. Joffrey agrees with Margaery, and it’s clear she’s already gaining influence on the young king.
Just outside the city at sea, Davos is still alive and stranded on a small bit of land. He flags down a ship, and is asked which king he supports, to which he unequivocally answers Stannis. It turns out the ship belongs to Salladhor Saan, who is upset about the battle and done supporting Stannis. He tells Davos to abandon him too, since all he does now is listen to Melisandre, who’s been burning non-believers alive. Davos refuses, and goes to Dragonstone where he hopes to kill Mel. He meets with her and Stannis, and the red priestess declares that if she had been at the battle, Stannis would have won. When Davos tries to lunge at her, he is stopped and dragged away to the dungeons on Stannis’s orders.
Meanwhile, King Robb Stark and his men reach Harrenhal. They’ve grown dejected without a true victory in some time, though find the castle abandoned, with all the Northern prisoners put to death and left out for them. This angers the Northern Lords, and Robb demands Cat be locked up as some sense of justice, despite Talisa’s protests. Then she and Robb find one lone survivor among the bodies: a man named Qyburn.
Finally, across the narrow sea, Dany, Jorah, and the Dothraki still loyal to her have sailed to Astapor in Slaver’s Bay, where Jorah wants them to consider buying a slave army. Dany goes to hear the master of the Unsullied out. He is quite rude, though his interpreter Missandei makes a better case for him. There, Dany learns about the harsh treatment of the Unsullied, who have been castrated, forced to murder a baby in front of its mother, and don’t even flinch when mutilated by the master. Dany is appalled by the idea of owning slaves, though Jorah maintains it’s her best option. As they discuss this, a seemingly innocent child tosses a ball at Dany. She is soon knocked to the ground by a hooded man, who saved her life; the ball contained some kind of poisonous animal. The man turns out to be Barristan Selmy, who asks to join Dany’s Queensguard.
Initial, quick reaction
Kylie: I think I went in expecting Season 3 to be kind of shoddy from the start. And don’t get me wrong: throughout this episode I was reminded of what’s to come and it’s gonna be one journey, that’s for sure. However this episode in and of itself? It was fine. Season openers on this show tend to be, now that I think about it. The zooming around to check in with most people works well to establish a decent pace, and though the stakes are set for the nonsense that will unfold, there’s just not enough detail in it yet to be noticeably bad. I have definite quibbles, and definite frustrations from an adaptational standpoint, but as an episode of TV, this was fine.
Julia: To be very honest, I really didn’t want to watch this episode at all, and had to force myself to do it. And, like Kylie said, it was fine. The time went quite quickly. There was a lot of book dialogue. I don’t think I was screaming at the screen at any point.
Griffin: I didn’t feel it was long, which is rare for this show, but I’m also reminded of the Season 2 opener where I had very similar feelings. It was just, go, go, go, bing bang boom. All set-up, but in a way that made sense because a BIG THING had just happened and we hadn’t really dealt with the fallout entirely yet. New status quos are typically reserved for season openers, as that is the nature of how serialized television typically operates (it’s also easier for the viewers and the production team to work with) but this one wasn’t…really that different. It acted like it was different, but was it really?
Dany is still running around somewhere else, the Lannisters are still in King’s Landing, Robb is still banging that hot time-traveling field nurse, and Jon is still beyond the wall. Stannis is still Stannis, I guess. A few circumstances and specifics may have shifted, but overall it wasn’t this huge change that the episode structured itself into being about. It was fine, though, I guess. Watchable, but not super engaging.
Kylie: Can Emilia Clarke act? This wasn’t a highlight, but I did have a moment of feeling stirred during the Astapor scenes because it was clear she could understand what was being said, and her emotions were easy to pick up. I’d call this a “nice surprise.”
Margaery was actually my highlight, and I say that absolutely hating what this character’s function is, what the implications are for how the setting is scripted, and certainly what ultimately becomes of her. However, Talisa already blew the hole in the wall, and Marg just walked on through, with her delightful grin and easy grace. She’s a character that’s effortless to root for, because she too has been beamed in from a different time, but at least she’s fun, you know? I’ll take anything I can get. Plus it’s clear that her “charity work” schtick is self-serving, and I’m always drawn to flawed characters like that. Do D&D have a single clue what they’re doing with her? Of course not! Does her employ make any sense as time goes on? Of course not! But I do enjoy the way she shakes it up for now, especially with Joffrey and Cersei’s dynamic.
Everything else felt kind of beige to me, if I’m being honest. I guess Davos’s mini plot was a lowlight, if only because I feel the least engaged with that plotline altogether. Though I do love how Carice Van Houten continues to be far too good for this show, with her absolutely selling Mel’s convictions and self-assuredness.
Julia: I noticed Ms. Clarke’s face too! I was so proud of her! Like, when they do have the “reveal” that she understood Valeryian this whole time, it will neither be a cheap shock, nor will it have been spoon fed. Good job, boys!
That might actually be my highlight. That or Missy’s debut. And the fact that we got an extended book scene like that. There were quite a few book scenes, like Tywin and Tyrion and Davos’s sub plot.
I know you like it, Kylie, but Marg’s stuff is a large part of my lowlight: that random sprinkling of tiny anachronisms that were just enough to drive me a little nuts. I know, I know, the Kool-aid man’s already been through, but for some reason it stuck in my craw. First there was Marg’s Lady Di charity stuff, that was immediately preceded by her ruining a dress that probably took someone hundreds of hours to make, because she’s so progressive. (Has there ever been a clearer indication that they don’t understand this world?) Then there was the dinner dress itself, which might as well be her running around naked as far as Westerosi would be concerned. Also, what kind of climate do they even have in King’s Landing. Marg and Shae are walking around with exposed backs while Sansa is totally covered chin down. They can’t both be comfortable.
And then there is Talisa. Dear, you’re a queen now, at least brush your hair.
And lastly, it was a very small thing, but it got me. Mel was all, “what would you have us do with the infidel, Ser Davos?” No! Stannis didn’t burn dudes because they didn’t believe in his dumb new magic friend; he executed them for treason or murder or whatever, and used a method of execution consistent with his religion. He may be an asshole in the show, but he’s not goddamn ISIS.
Kylie: Everything you’re saying is more than fair and a very good criticism of how they approach this setting. But I just…don’t really like most of these characters, even at this point. Ugh, it’s probably a bad sign that my highlights are already dipping into silly, ironic territory.
Griffin: I don’t know much about any of that, but I guess my highlight had to be…nothing? Nothing really stood out to me as “good” aside from the CG on the dragons, which looked fantastic. Seriously impressive what they did with shot composition; same with the way they meshed practical and digital to make that giant look perfect. There’s no way his beard wasn’t a practical effect. Hair can look good on computers, but not that good. Especially not in direct sunlight surrounded by reflective surfaces. As for lowlight, uh I guess Sansa and Shae’s little game sort of existed.
Quality of writing
Julia: The difference between the scenes that are just a copy-paste from A Storm of Swords and the original material is like night and day.
Griffin: Tyrion is still Tyrion, and thus more or less the one bright spot within this show that is never not entertaining. Other than that, I guess Davos was fine? He seemed more like his book counterpart than any other moment in the series so far.
Kylie: There is that unevenness, for sure. I may have enjoyed Marg as just a break from what we normally get, but she sticks out like a sore thumb with how she’s written. I’d also point to Sansa and Shae’s boat game as an excellent example of an original scene that has very clunky dialogue, especially when Ros comes over to get in on the action.
Julia: D&D are into the social mobility of sex workers; aren’t they great guys?
Kylie: Is “the truth is either terrible or boring” a trailer line? It kind of sounds like it was crafted as that.
Griffin: Now that you mention it, it does sound exactly like that. That and part of Tyrion’s whole thing about saving the city and not being remembered. Or did Tywin say that? Either way, that kind of thing.
Julia: He said that all Tyrion did was waste his time drinking and with harlots or something? And poor Tyrion is such a saint he didn’t defend himself.
Our 8th grade book report (on themes)
Kylie: Episodes that jump around like this are always super difficult, but I guess “self-image” is one? Dany struggles with what kind of ruler she wants to be viewed at and the implications of a slave army to that, Tyrion wants to be recognized as politically important and worthy of his titles given his actions last year, Marg wants to be loved by the smallfolk, Robb wants to be seen as just to the point of locking up Cat, and Davos…more thinly ties in here, wanting to fight for Stannis without having to also support burning people alive, I guess. I can’t fit Jon in, though, and that’s mostly because this show actually doesn’t make the case for why he’s committed to the Night’s Watch in the first place. What he said to Mance is like, “…yeah. Good point. Defect, Jon!” So it didn’t really seem like he was grappling with much, even if he’s supposed to be.
Julia: New threats and challenges? That might be a bit “no duh” for a season opener. Dany has to deal with this new ethical dilemma while she more actively seeks power, Cersei has a new rival, Sansa has a new plan, I guess. So does Jon.
Griffin: I kind of saw it as “none of this matters, neither high-born nor small folk” because of the whole impending doom from eternal winter and undead hordes. A curiously comprehensive rejection of the feudal system that cannot possibly have been on purpose, since it’s my understanding that the showrunners really have a hard-on for it. It’s not super explicit, but showing us so many different facets of a broken system, and then also showing Jon making a choice to say “screw that I’ma do something that matters” is…important if the show was as smart as it thinks it is.
Julia: Yeah, I can totally see that. And Tyrion’s material ties into how unjust this non-merit system is. And even Marg doing all this work on her own and still having to pay lip service to Joffery’s wonderful “leadership.”
Cracks in the plaster
Julia: I feel like we should rename this section. GoT is fully formed except they happen to have some book scenes sprinkled in.
Shae as Sansa’s unironic defendant is giving me feelings.
Kylie: I can’t believe it’s not thematically relevant! I know we harp about Sansa’s arc from the books getting scrapped, but it’s in full evidence here. And nothing comes of it. Shae throws her under the bus to the point where Sibel Kekilli had to join the ranks of actors telling D&D to write something that made sense.
Sorry, ~spoilers~. We could just rename this section “the butterfly effect.” It’s already pretty clear Talisa set the stage for Marg, you know? We’re also seeing the results of Robb as the foregrounded lead. What to do with Cat then? I guess lock her up. Then, of course, there’s D&D’s infatuation with their own created characters. Ros was originally just to offer a grounding, smallfolk viewpoint, and now she’s playing the game and offering snappy advice to canon characters.
Julia: I’m for the name change.
Kylie: I swear it will be done. Also please note the butterfly effect on Bronn, who will get increasingly one-note.
Griffin: I don’t think the show really gave the audience, or Jon, any actual reason to not see the Wildlings as the objectively superior faction to join, like Kylie said. The whole thing with Craster was, as I recall, not totally explicated in the books, but even then that dude was a disgusting monster that the Night’s Watch declared a necessary evil. Meanwhile, the Wildings rape and pillage the seven kingdoms pretty much every time they get past the wall, and we’re, if I recall, either shown or told that in the books by this point.
Mance Rayder used to be a Ranger, yes, but…the show makes them out to be the plucky good guys, and I don’t think that was entirely intentional. Like, it seems almost comically ridiculous that Jon even has trouble choosing between the nihilistic self-defeatist jerks who loathe him and literally any level of emotion…or the pseudo-tribal union of people seeking freedom and not dying from an undead horde everyone else is too petty to pay attention to. If Jon’s primary motivation is honor, and it is, then the honorable thing would be to sacrifice his vows to the Night’s Watch and fight alongside the Wildlings to defend the realm. Y’know, what he literally signed up for.
Kylie: Definitely agree. The Night’s Watch has been done zero favors by this show for two years, and it’s kind of getting to the point where I’m realizing how little the audience has to go on at all. It’s the world’s worst penal colony, and Jon hasn’t yet articulated any of what’s important to him other than “fighting for the living.” Well hey, that is Mance.
Julia: I wouldn’t be surprised if even attentive watchers thought Qorin wanted Jon to defect earnestly. Like you said, so he could actually fulfill his vows.
If I recall, in the books, Jon’s “reason” for defecting was basically “the feudal system screwed me over,” but it was preceded and followed by extensive internal monologues about how confused and offended he was by the Free Folk and their wacky, democratic, sexually liberated ways. So it’s clear that he’s nowhere near challenging the feudal order in any meaningful way, and he never loses his commitment to the Watch. Here, why wouldn’t the audience believe him as much as Mance does? I suspect this will be important for the remainder of the season.
Kylie: Okay, okay, let’s talk Marg as an adaptation. I realize the book character’s performance of pious maidenhood isn’t as plucky and fist-pumping as a sass-talking boss-ass-individual who wants to be so intimately involved that orphanages come “directly” to her, but yee gads is this not what makes sense for the setting. I did like the mention of the Tyrells bringing food with them, since that’s legitimately a way to appease the smallfolk and what happened in the books (with the Tyrells also having been the ones who cut off the supply in the first place). But that entire point was overshadowed by Cersei’s zingers about Marg’s bare midriff, and…well, Marg’s bare midriff.
Julia: I mean, this is exactly the same thing they did with Jeyne Westerling, which is really the same thing they did with Sansa. They reject any notion of traditional femininity as politically useful in this type of setting. So even something as “soft” as Marg doing charity work has to be tinged with sexy dresses and the implication that she looks over the non-profit’s books herself.
I’m still not over the “let’s walk through this alley with no guards and walk in shit puddles!”
Not just because the lack of care it shows for the people who will have to clean the poop from her shoes and all that, but, like…if this is supposed to be a cynical move to be popular with the small folk, then wouldn’t you make a huge show of this? Bring guards, then more people will come to watch. Go talk to the orphans out in the street where everyone can hear you. The way it’s shown, as a spur of the moment thing and just to be nice, implies that Marg’s charitable efforts are…earnest? Which, are they supposed to be? Is she a good guy sexual manipulator?
Kylie: According to Nat Do, she is a shrewd politician who sees the benefit of helping others, but also does like doing it and believes in it. So I guess she’s sexually manipulating for the greater good! As for the lack of ceremony around that visit, Joffrey was there so he mattered in terms of seeing it, and I guess the idea was to start associating the Tyrells with aid. And grinning at kind of creepy looking men!
It makes some sense to me, but this definitely sets the stage for the High Sparrow, who believes his beliefs but also is a shrewd political player (and is the only honest man in Westeros, except when he’s not).
Julia: Yeah, except when he’s not. I guess that applies to Marg too, who seems to forget all this charity stuff as soon as she actually becomes queen. Too many brunches.
Carol Watch: who is Cersei this week?
Kylie: Carol is emerging, and will soon take over. We didn’t get confirmation this week about Joffrey giving Moore the orders, but that’s coming. However for her, it was a relatively nice conversation with Tyrion. Cersei is still there though, to a degree, at least to slut-shame Marg.
Julia: I thought that conversation with Tyrion was pretty Cersei-like. “Oh, someone tried to kill you, how sad.” She was even a little drunk sounding. I think good ol’ LH remembered some of that “Blackwater” magic.
Kylie: I guess mild paranoia too? Fine, I’ll give it to Cersei this week.
Exposition Imposition: good or clunky?
Julia: The one big dump was probably the Unsullied and their introduction. And it made sense that it was the way it was. Maybe I’m only saying that because it was a book scene.
Griffin: I remember reading that scene extremely vividly because it was so long, or at least it felt that way. I initially read that chapter in the book, took a break from the books, and then started listening to the audiobooks starting with Book 3 during an hour-long commute I used to have. That scene, combined with all of the other extensive mentions of genital mutilation over and over and over and over again exhausted me and tanked my mood so much that I had to quit listening because it was honestly making me miserable. WE GET IT MARTIN. YOUR POINT IS MADE. DEAR GOD JUST STOP.
But he didn’t, and that’s why the Unsullied scene here was so, so, so, so, so, so, so, much better in terms of execution, at least from my point of view.
Kylie: I don’t remember it being quite so drawn out, though Dotrice certainly makes you hear every word. I thought that cutting off the nipple was very effective to quickly communicate everything, though as Julia said, it was clearly an adaptation of that scene. This is also a benefit of a visual medium, where you can get a lot across in few words.
How was the pacing?
Griffin: Weirdly consistent, to be honest. I don’t recall it being too fast or too slow in any one moment, and I didn’t ask “how is this not over yet?” once. And I do that a lot.
Kylie: I know, I hear it. I didn’t catch you looking at your phone once either. I think the Davos scenes were the closest I came to that, though it’s through no fault of Liam Cunningham. There’s just literally no reason to be excited about Stannis on this show. I do think this is about as well-paced as any Game of Thrones episode gets.
Julia: Yup. I didn’t even notice how much stuff we haven’t touched yet. No Arya, no Brienne and Jaime, no Theon. Though the longer we’re without Theon the better.
Kylie: No Bran, too. The longer we’re without Bran, the better they think we are, so…
Let’s talk about sex, baby
Kylie: We had Bronn get interrupted by Pod, and then I remembered what’s coming with Pod and sex workers and my soul left my body. I have nothing to say other than, “oh wow, completely unnecessary nudity.”
Julia: I was, like, “Oh wow, she actually has lines and isn’t just chilling with her tits out in the background. That’s how you know this is season 3 and not 5.”
Kylie: Also Bronn was able to have a conversation without the word “cock.”
Julia: He did call the brothel an “establishment,” though. What is even with that?
Griffin: They think it makes their show seem fancy and mature because they believe usage of that term carries the overarching effect of making literally everything sexual in their narrative sex-positive and empowering towards women. At least, that’s my read on it.
Kylie: ‘Cock’ or ‘establishment’? Why are we still talking about this??
Griffin: Establishment, as Julia so aptly established.
In memoriam…those Northerners at Harrenhal
Kylie: This is where I think we’re really feeling the effect of cutting out Arya’s actual A Clash of Kings plotline. That she was in a place with many, many Northern/riverlands prisoners of mild importance was kind of crucial. Now the impact is lost, because it’s just some random pile of bodies that feels disconnected from everything. And then that this find results in Robb getting mad at Cat all over again is just stupid. Jaime Lannister quite obviously had nothing to do with this.
Griffin: Wait, that was Harrenhal? Holy crap, I thought that was Winterfell. That’s…were there any kind of identifying markers to signify that? It was cold, there was snow. Robb and Cat looked horrified, so I thought, “oh they went back to Winterfell that’s weird.” I don’t even think we got an establishing shot, which would have cleared this up real quick. Did we? I don’t recall seeing one, but I could have blinked at the wrong moment. Kylie tells me I missed one, but even still I didn’t think they’d find bodies like that anywhere else aside from Winterfell.
Kylie: That makes sense, though I promise there was an establishing shot, and a quick back-and-forth with Roosey B. about how the Mountain would hold anything Tywin tells him to.
Julia: Imagine if Arya had bonded with a Manderly rather than Grandpappy Tywin.
Kylie: You mean that sad old dude on a bench? Nah.
We do have to wrap things here, though I feel bad since we barely touched on Sam. I guess the wight died? Either way, we’re eager to hear your thoughts. Was the episode as fine as we stated? Are there obvious highlights that we missed? And was Emilia Clarke really moving her face muscles?
Let us know your thoughts, and we once again wish you good fortune in The Wars to Come.