Winter has come and went and finally the time that we have all waited for has arrived. The hugely anticipated premiere of the third season of HBO’s Game of Thrones hit screens on Sunday, or Monday for those of you in the U.K., and though it was only a year the wait has felt like much longer. Now we can go back to cursing the weeks for being so long because it is a whole seven days before the next dose is due.
The real question is whether the new episode lived up to expectations. The answer, however, really depends on the angle that you’re approaching the show from. If you have never read the books then maybe you would have had zero expectations for this episode and would have found it to be extremely interesting. Even then though, it would seem that anyone who has watched the first two seasons would have had pretty high expectations for this third season. When the show left us last June, an army of White Walkers had descended upon the Night’s Watch beyond the Wall. There was a great sense of peril instilled in the viewer at the end of the second seasons and it didn’t seem that great peril was followed up on as well as it could have been.
It was a good episode. There is little doubt about that, but in a series that has become known for great episodes, good episodes are always going to feel a little lacklustre. It isn’t that the episode required more action or theatrics. David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have always understood, as George R.R. Martin does, that the politics of war can be just as exciting as the battles themselves. It is unfortunate though that they seemed to have chosen the conversations that added little to the overall story as possible. Take for instance an early scene between Tyrion and Cersei Lannister. While it is always a pleasure to watch Peter Dinklage and Lena Headey, the scene didn’t really add anything to the ongoing story other than to remind us that Tyrion and Cersei do not like each other and that their father hadn’t come to visit Tyrion once since the battle of Blackwater. The latter point was brought up when Tyrion met with his father. Conversely, that scene felt like it actually meant something. Tyrion clearly wanted his father’s respect for successfully holding the city against Stannis Baratheon but when Tywin refused him even that he demanded his rights to Casterly Rock be acknowledged.
Another example of stories falling flat would be Ser Davos Seaworths’s reunion with Stannis at Dragonstone. Something about the entire portrayal of this story just felt off to me. His being rescued by Salladhor Saan was one of the better scenes but it just felt too soon. In A Storm of Swords, the third book of A Song of Ice and Fire series, Davos spends days, perhaps even a week trying to fend for himself on the rock that he washed up on before a ship comes anywhere close. It would have created a greater sense of danger for the character had the viewer seen him sucking the last remnants of fallen rain from rock pools or attempting to fell a gull with a rock. It might even have been a little humorous to watch him scramble up the rock to avoid the tide. I would rather have seen those feeble attempts to survive and reserved the actual rescue for the second or third episode.
Unlike the book, the television show didn’t take the time to really invest in these characters in this opening episode, which is unusual. Until now, the show was great at picking up on those little character moments that really captured the circumstances that plagued the characters. Sticking with Davos, when he later argues with Melisandre and she makes some rather compelling points, his reaction is to lunge at her with a knife. Granted, it was his intention all along but it paints Davos as rash and thoughtless since he has seen others attempt to kill her before and fail. He has even seen her willingly drink poison and suffer no ill effects. Why would a knife be more effective? In the novel, he is arrested before he even gets close to Stannis because Melisandre foresees his intent to kill her. That is a much more effective way of showing just how out of his league Davos is.
It is frustrating though because Benioff and Weiss have chosen to show a lot of needless conversations that don’t add anything to the over arcing story and instead cut interesting parts out such as Davos’ Bear Gyrlls impersonation. Even the grand reveal at the end of the episode with Ser Barristan Selmy was more effective in the novel as the retired Knight had been in Daenerys’ company since the end of the second book and his true identity wasn’t revealed until nearer the end of the third. It is understandable that television is a visual medium and therefore it might be less believable that Daenerys or Jorah Mormont wouldn’t recognise Barristan Selmy. However, it was clearly demonstrated through the opening battle sounds on a black screen that the creators understand that no everything needs to be seen. Selmy reveal wasn’t really strong enough to end the episode on either. Personally, I would have save the Lord Commander Jeor Mormont’s questioning of Sam and his speech until the end. It would have been a stronger close to the show and would have left viewers in a state of unknown about the condition of the Night’s Watch throughout the duration of the episode.
Perhaps the difference this time around is that I have read the books. During the year long break I read the first three books in the series and have recently begun the fourth. However, the show has changed things before and cut scenes or added their own and never before did it feel like they compromised so much. Despite being a little saddened by the exclusion of some interesting scenes, obviously they have some of their own ideas for the show this season and I am excited to see how it will all play out. One thing is certain though; it won’t involve Warwick Davis.