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'Game of Thrones' Season Three Premiere Recap: "Valar Dohaeris"

It’s finally back! The third season of Game of Thrones premiered tonight on HBO with “Valar Dohaeris,” an episode that was relatively light on action, but took on the monumental task of establishing several of this season’s many storylines. If you haven’t seen “Valar Dohaeris” then scramble away from this recap like Samwell Tarly in the snow, because there will be spoilers ahead.

Indeed, it’s everybody’s favorite overweight raven-wrangler that opens the episode. Fitting enough, seeing as Sam and his comrades hearing the three horn blasts, and the White Walker madness that ensued, it how last season ended. Sam is trying to make his way through the snow and at last sees one of his brothers but…whoops! No dice. This guy is kneeling down, frozen solid. Oh, and his head’s been removed and he’s holding it in his own hands. What an artful touch! Of course Sam, in his horror, fails to notice the dead guy approaching rapidly, axe in hand. He is saved by Ghost, and eventually by his few remaining comrades, who light the attacker on fire. The Lord Commander questions Sam about the ravens, but of course he didn’t send them. C’MON Sam…your one job! The survivors plan to head back to the wall to warn those further South about this ancient evil that will be heading their way with the winter snows.

Jon Snow, meanwhile, is marching into the extensive wildling camp, Ygritte walking behind him, a little smile playing on her lips. He sees his first giant, but he can’t take too long to marvel. His black gear is drawing attention, and not the good kind. Ygritte takes him straight to Mance Rayder, although Jon, in his confusion, drops his knee to the wrong man. Indeed, as Mance says, rising to greet him, “We don’t kneel for anyone beyond the wall.” Mance and Tormund Giantsbane, a scornful redhead, take some time to examine Jon closely–find out his motives, why he would betray the Night’s Watch so readily. Jon tells Mance about his experience at Craster’s keep, learning what Craster was doing with his sons, and that the Lord Commander knew of it and did nothing. It’s hard to tell how much Mance believes him…indeed, it’s hard to tell what Jon believes himself. Mance is definitely intrigued to learn of Jon’s knowledge of the White Walkers, and for the time being Jon is safe.

In King’s Landing, Bronn (sorry, SIR Bronn) is enjoying some female company (it took us about fifteen minutes to get to the first bit of nudity–that’s impressive restraint for this show) when he is interrupted and summoned by Tyrion. Poor Tyrion, hidden away in his sad little room, examining his battle scar in an old mirror… When Cersei pays a house call, he is naturally suspicious, but reluctantly lets her enter. Cersei has come to ask Tyrion about his meeting with their father. “What do you want from him?” Tyrion’s attitude towards his father is still laced with bitterness. “Why do you care about what I want from him?” Cersei, despite her bitchy bravado, is nervous–she wants to know exactly what he means to say. “You’re a clever man, but you’re not half as clever as you think you are.” “Still makes me more clever than you.” Bronn, waiting outside Tyrion’s door, escorts him to his meeting with his father, making a point of requesting double the rate for Tyrion’s protection, now that circumstances have changed.

Poor Davos is, at last, rescued. There is a sticky moment where his rescuers want to know WHICH king he serves, and as he does not know their loyalties, that could have been a bad scene. Luckily, they belong to the pirate Salladhor Saan, an old friend. He lets Davos know the situation with Stannis–that he sulks in his rooms, sees no one but Melisandre, and burns all those who speak against him. Salladhor does not want to return to Dragonstone, and advises Davos not to go back either.

Next we check in with the Starks. Robb is leading his men and finds a gruesome scene–many of his countrymen, slaughtered and laying in puddles of their own blood. He is fittingly grim, and as they survey the scene, he orders his mother to be put into a cell. She is not forgiven for her release of Jaime Lannister. One poor man still breathes, and Talisa rushes to help him. Who knows if he’ll have tales to tell?

In Tywin Lannister’s quarters, Tyrion sits waiting, impatiently, while his father writes letters and seems unconcerned with his youngest son’s presence. When Tyrion finally breaks the silence by commenting on Tywin’s badge as Hand of the King, Tywin roundly condemns Tyrion’s peformance in that same office, citing his time spent with whores and drinking with thieves. Tyrion points out that he took on a very difficult task, endeavoring to protect the city when Joffrey abdicated all responsibility. “What do I want? A little bloody gratitude would be a start.” Tywin asks Tyrion to get to the point, and Tyrion requests Casterly Rock–a place that can no longer belong to Jaime since he joined the King’s Guard. In a truly heartwarming, fatherly speech, Tywin cruelly rejects his son’s claim to the family seat, throwing in a few choice insults for good measure, and Tyrion leaves in outraged silence.

Out by the water, Sansa sits with Shae and watches the ships coming in and out of the harbor. Their conversation is halted when Littlefinger approaches and requests a private audience with Sansa. He reveals that he has seen Lady Stark, and implies to Sansa that Arya is also alive. Sansa begs him for help. He promises to take her with him the next time he’s called away from the capital. Shae and Ros have a short conversation about their upward fortunes, connecting themselves to such important people, despite their…er…humble beginnings. However, the chat ends with a word of warning from Ros.

And at last the dragons make their appearance, swooping and darting around the ship that is bearing Daenerys and her people to Astapor, another foreign city where they will attempt to find an army of Unsullied–legendary warriors that can be bought for a price. (The Dothraki, it seems, are not too fond of ships, FYI.)

Davos finally returns to Stannis at Dragonstone. He has no kind words for his loyal servant, only “I heard you were dead.” Typical Stannis. Melisandre is, of course, present. Davos openly declares that she is the enemy. She draws closer, asking him if it was she that he fought at Blackwater…if it was she who killed all those men…in fact, she says, if she HAD been there, she could have saved them. She blames Davos, saying it was he who convinced Stannis to leave her behind. “Death by fire is the purest death,” she whispers to him, prompting him to fly at her in a rage. Stannis dully orders Davos to be thrown in the dungeon, and guards drag him away.

Joffrey is riding in his litter through the city, when their caravan stops because Margaery wants to speak to some poor orphaned children in Flea Bottom. She makes a point of embracing these poor and downtrodden, to Joffrey’s astonishment. At dinner, when he and his mother join her and Loras, they discuss her “charitable work,” a phrase Joffrey can barely choke out. Cersei coolly persists in pointing out the danger of mixing in amongst the lower classes, reminding them of how they were attacked not long ago when they were out in the streets. There’s a lot of subtle maneuvering at this dinner. Both Cersei and Margaery seem determined to undermine the other. Both know that whoever has Joffrey’s ear will be the de facto woman in charge.

Once docked in Astapor, Daenerys and Ser Jorah are shown the Unsullied warriors. The slave trader is a greedy, profane man (no shocker there, I guess), and directs his translator, a young slave girl, to tell Daenerys, who he repeatedly refers to as a “whore” whatever she needs to hear to get her to buy. He’s pretty sure that he can take advantage of her seeming ignorance. The description of the Unsullied’s training is horrific–conscripted at five years old, their training is constant, and only one in four survive it. They must kill a newborn babe to prove their readiness for battle, and they are machine-like, no fear of pain or death. The slave-trader then walks down to one of the soldiers, opens his breastplate and cuts his nipple clean off as a gruesome testimonial to the effectiveness of their training. Daenerys is appalled, but as she and Jorah discuss her options, she knows that there are limits to what she can do without an army. On the dock afterwards, she and Jorah are dogged by a tall, cloaked stranger. Daenerys is tossed a ball by a little girl, who motions her to open it. The cloaked stranger knocks it out of her hand just in time, and a hideous scorpion crawls out. The stranger stabs the scorpion with a knife, saving Daenerys’ life, although the little girl, not what she seemed, manages to escape. He then pulls back his cloak and reveals himself: Ser Barristan Selmy. He calls her queen and begs her forgiveness, bowing before her and asking to join her Queen’s Guard.

Thus the premiere ends. We had no Arya tonight. We had no Bran. We had no Jaime and Brienne. But it looks like we will be getting most of those characters next week. With so many threads it would have been impossible to pick up every story in the premiere. As GoT episodes go, it was a bit quieter, but character conflicts and new plans are being set up at every turn, which bodes well for season three.

Quotes of the Night: There are two, both from Tywin Lannister.

“You are an ill-made, spiteful little creature, full of envy, lust and low cunning. Men’s laws give you the right to bear my name and display my colors since I cannot prove that you are not mine. And to teach me humility the gods have condemned me to watch you waddle about wearing that proud lion that was my father’s sigil and his father’s before him. But neither gods nor men will ever compel me to let you turn Casterly Rock into your whorehouse.”

“Jugglers and singers require applause. You are a Lannister.”

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