As far as season premieres go, the opener for “Game of Thrones” was fairly tame. I expected to see some catch up on all the current storylines, and that was by and large what the episode concentrated on.
A short montage of clips served up a reminder of where season two left off, and we then we launched right in to continuing the story. First up are Sam Tarly and the Night’s Watch. It’s clear that the men of the Watch have been fighting and the Commander is furious at Sam for failing to send off the Ravens to warn of the White Walkers. The casting here is so spot on that this scene can’t come off as anything but completely believable and you can feel Sam’s shame and Mormont’s anger at the failure of duty. The Brothers of the Watch need to get back to the wall and warn all Westeros of what they’ve been facing.
We then switch to Jon Snow as a prisoner of the Wildlings. He’s being taken to Mance Rayder, the King beyond the wall and as Ygritte leads him through the camp, the Wildlings show their displeasure at seeing a member of Night’s Watch by pelting him with insults and stones. With a little trickery reminiscent of the books, Mance is revealed to Jon and the King beyond the wall shows he’s neither a savage, nor ignorant to the world around him as he knows Jon is Ned Stark’s bastard son. Jon manages to convince Mance that he wants to join them to “fight on the side of the living”, and it seems Mance is satisfied with that answer. Again, well played by the actors.
Catching up with Tyrion is next, and he faces Cersei for a little verbal sparring over lies and who is cleverer than the other. For many, Tyrion is the heart of the show and he doesn’t disappoint in this episode. Picking up right where he left off, he continues to have the most entertaining lines that are both funny and completely in character as he runs intellectual circles around those who surround him. Later, when he visits his father, he truly shines as he makes his demands of Tywin, but is rebuked and turned away. As his father insults and berates him, you can just see the wheels turning as he lets the sting of his father’s words burn in without reply. You can tell there is something bad going on in Tyrion’s brain and you almost feel badly for his father whenever that plan hatches. This was by far the best scene of the episode.
We cut to Davos Seaworth from there. Davos survived the battle of Blackwater, but has been burned and stranded on one of the islands in the bay. Before long he is brought before Stannis and Melisandre. As he questions Stannis he’s taunted by Melisandre and loses control by attacking her. Davos is dragged away after Stannis commands he be thrown into a cell. Clearly Stannis is a puppet of the Red Woman and even though he is still in charge in name and title, he largely does as she suggests. This is the part of the episode (and the books) that seemed to drag. I think the audience needs to be shown where and how this is affecting the War, and right now it seems the motives and machinations are still too subtle and hidden. This is where the episode lost me for a time and I’m sure I’m not alone.
But it got me back with an update and continuation for Daenerys’ story. We see her Dragons are growing quickly and her Dothraki followers are obviously not having a fun trip across the sea. When we return to Dany later in the episode, she meets with the man in charge of selling the slave army called “The Unsullied.” Dany is horrified to learn of how and what the Unsullied must endure and carry out before they are deemed worthy and earn their shield. She questions if she owns them after they perpetuate such deeds, then what does that make her? A strange and unusual assassination attempt follows, which is thwarted by Barristan Selmy, the Commander of the King’s Guard. Dany is a very interesting character on the show and has probably shown the most growth and development of all the main characters. Her journey here and the conflict within her is no exception.
Overall it was a pretty good opener for a new season. The pace of “Game of Thrones” is very different than most other shows on television, but it continues to stay at a very high level in both performance and story. This was an episode heavy on dialogue and light on action, so it’s bound to be disappointing for some, but I didn’t have much of an issue with it. It’s a talky show for the most part anyway. I for one would have liked to have seen Arya’s story continue and more of Theon, Bran and Osha, but the story is so dense with characters that they likely had to choose where to focus and go forward first. It’s probably going to work out like the novels and follow some story lines more than others as they go forward, switching back and forth between the groups in the spotlight from episode to episode. The premiere asks some interesting questions in what it means for Westeros with Daenerys acquiring her army, how much is Stannis controlled by Melisandre, and the White Walkers beyond the wall. I think we’re in store for quite a season!
Sunday’s on HBO