Columns > Published on April 1st, 2013

Recap: Game of Thrones 3.01 - Valar Dohaeris

This is going to contain spoilers for this episode, and also for the books. I won't tell you what happens in the fifth book, or what I think is going to happen in the next episode, but I will talk about differences between the book and the show thus far. Deal with it. 

Let's get something out of the way real quick. When we last left Game of Thrones, Samwell Tarly was surrounded by White Walkers and frozen zombie monsters and things were looking pretty grim. There was a White Walker looking right at himAnd the third season opens with Sam running away.

C'mon. Dude was surrounded. And Sam is a big guy. The White Walkers were on zombie horses. Even a zombie horse has to be faster than a chubby Night's Watch steward, right? Could they really not catch him, or did they just not try?

After getting past that logical fallacy, I was quite pleased to be back in Westeros, even though nothing happened in this episode.

here's the strength of this show: Even though it's just scene-setting, it's still pretty damn good.

Seriously. Nothing happened. Pieces got moved around the chessboard. We checked back in with some of the major players. And when I say some of, I mean exactly that. One episode down, and nary a glimpse of Brienne, Jamie, Bran, Rickon, or Arya. And those are fairly important characters. 

Here's the strength of this show: Even though [this episode is] just scene-setting, it's still pretty damn good.

I would watch an entire episode of Cersei and Tyrion trading verbal barbs. I would watch an entire show about Bronn being awesome. Is any other show cast this well? Especially on this scale? True Blood has a pretty big cast, but a lot of those characters are obnoxious (True Blood should be about Alcide and Eric as small-town supernatural cops, and at the end of the first season I will probably be a little gay).

While my world wasn't lit on fire by this first episode, I looked on it a little more kindly after following it with the season finale of The Walking Dead. That's another show where nothing happened and it was so boring. And it was a season finale, where everything is supposed to happen.

Watching those shows back-to-back clearly demonstrates how a strong cast and strong writing can carry a show through the quieter moments (and magnified the shittiness of The Walking Dead). 

So since a lot of this is scene-setting, it raises questions of where we're headed. Which, so far, who knows? 

If advance word is to be believed, this coming season will only cover half of A Storm of Swords, the third book in George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series. Which is fine. The book covers a lot of ground, and for this material to be effective, it needs space to breathe. 

The showrunners have already proved themselves willing to diverge from the source material. A necessity, considering how big the story is, and how hard it is to scale it down to 10 episodes a year.

This season is already veering away from the books, though only a little. The first person we see in King's Landing is Bronn, an incidental character in the novels who really shines on the show. And Margaery Tyrell has a nice moment in the orphanage. In the books she's not much more than a storytelling device, so that Cersei can be threatened by a pretty young thing.

There were also some encouraging bits with the heavies tonight. The biggest being Daenerys, who really got shafted last season. All she did was hang around Qarth and discuss the relative location of her dragons, so it's nice to see her being a little more proactive. 

And we met some new folks! Tormund Giantsbane, for one. Weren't we all waiting for him to show up?! Oh, and also some dude named Mance Rayder, the King Beyond the Wall, portrayed by serious actor Ciarán Hinds. I'm not entirely sold on this casting—after reading the books, I'm not sure Hinds is who I pictured. Though, he's a talented guy, so I'll give him the benefit of the doubt. 

I'll give the entire show the benefit of the doubt. Because the first episode of the first season, I didn't want to keep watching. There were so many characters and locations, I thought it was impossible to follow.

The first episode of the second season was an improvement because I knew the characters, but it still felt shaky, that the creators were just barely keeping the balls in the air, trying to give everyone the appropriate amount of screentime. 

This premiere felt more confident and assured. As we ping-pong between King's Landing and Astapor and the tundra north of The Wall, it felt like one episode of one show, as opposed to a collection of vignettes, which is a very real danger with something like this. 

It may have been scene-setting, but it set those scenes pretty damn well, and I think it's a solid start to the season.  

Other stuff: 

  • I got way too excited to see which new location would get a spot in the opening theme. Astapor!
  • A whole 16 minutes until our first glimpse of boobs. C'mon GoT, you're slipping. 
  • This past summer I read all five books back-to-back. And it's pretty remarkable how little I remember from them. It's not a matter of poor retention, it's just that with such a huge cast spread out over something like 5,000 pages, your brain eventually stops absorbing new information. Thank you, A Wiki of Ice and Fire
  • Did anyone else envision The Unsullied as kind of goofy-looking? They seemed more goofy in my head when I was reading the book. I'm glad the director of this show saw 300, though. 
  • Who is hotter: Emilia Clarke (Daenerys Targaryen) or Natalie Dormer (Margaery Tyrell). How do we even go about answering this? It is a question for the ages. 
  • This article gave my spell check a serious workout. 
  • Apropos of not much: You know what didn't suck? Orphan Black, which premiered on BBC America this past weekend. Funny, well-written, a little creepy. It has potential. If you're looking for something new to watch, maybe give it a shot. 

So, discuss! What did you like about last night's episode? What didn't you like? Tell us all of your emotions related to this show. 

About the author

Rob Hart is the class director at LitReactor. His latest novel, The Paradox Hotel, will be released on Feb. 22 by Ballantine. He also wrote The Warehouse, which sold in more than 20 languages and was optioned for film by Ron Howard. Other titles include the Ash McKenna crime series, the short story collection Take-Out, and Scott Free with James Patterson. Find more at

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