Season 2 of Game of Thrones ended with the epic Battle of Blackwater, the burning of warlocks in The House of the Undying and the march of an undead army. Season 3 merely tries to pick up all those pieces.
In the nine months between seasons, I finally skipped ahead in George R.R. Martin’s sprawling novels, which only made me more excited for the HBO series to return. But that also proved a little disorienting for me as I tried to remember where each player was on the sprawling chess board as we rejoin Tyrion Lannister, Robb Stark, Daenerys Targaryen, Davos Seaworth and Jon Snow.
The answer for all four involves a little licking of wounds. Tyrion may finally get out of the janitor’s closet, but it becomes clear that Tywin Lannister will never grant him his inheritance of Casterly Rock. His masterful defense of the capital and his bravery at the castle gate have met with little reward and no affection from his father.
Robb continues to chase after his enemy to no avail, but it’s his mother’s betrayal—and release of the kingslayer—that continues to frustrate him most.
Daenerys has secured a single ship, but her army is still just a ragtag group, ill-equipped to retake her throne back in Westeros. She does add one to those ranks, though, when Ser Barristan Selmy, who was Kingsguard to her father, saves her from an assassination attempt by the warlocks.
The Onion Knight, Davos, is stranded upon a pile of rocks, blistered and thirsty when he’s rescued by his pirate friend Salladhor Saan. But no sooner is he safe on shore than he tries to kill Melisandre, who’s been advising King Stannis to burn heretics alive.
And up north where dead men walk, Jon Snow is delivered to the King Beyond the Wall, Mance Rayder, played by HBO vet Ciaran Hinds. He convinces Rayder of his loyalty with a story about babies being sacrificed to the White Walkers.
There are plenty loose ends still left hanging from last season. We don’t see Arya and Bran Stark, Theon Greyjoy or Jamie Lannister. The best and worst part of this expansive tale is in all the interwoven threads. At this point in the story, there is only time in an hour-long episode to move each plot point so far. Winter may be coming, but if the first episode of Season 3 is any indication, it’s taking its sweet time. Enjoying Game of Thrones may require some patience, but fortunately the show excels in the small moments as well as the big ones. That can be credited to the cast as well as the writers.
In this episode, it’s Charles Dance’s turn to shine as Tyrion’s cold, arrogant father Tywin. In one of the few scenes that Peter Dinklage doesn’t steal, Tyrion is left to stew as his father’s cruelty resurfaces when he deigns to make claim on his title. The indignities of his lowly residence are nothing compared to the humiliation Tywin puts him through. It’s a heartbreaking scene in world whose characters’ goodness shines brightly because the light of kindness is so rare.
Of course, for some fans, all that really matters is that the dragons are getting bigger. I’ll admit, they’re pretty cool too.