Sunday, April 7, 2013

Sabers & Thrones: Men Don't Need Nipples: A Valar Dohaeris Review

Season Three of Game of Thrones got off to an interesting start in an episode that was short on action and heavy on intense dialogue.  Valar Dohaeris revolved around the forging and breaking of relationships between a number of characters, these scenes woven together into an episode provide us with logical starting points for where some of the central characters arcs will evolve over the course of Season Three and beyond.  Valar Dohaeris also provided one of my favorite scenes in the series as Tywin and Tyrion have a rather brutal father and son chat.

HBO's Episode Summary:
Samwell Tarly, Lord Commander Mormont and the other surviving men of the Night’s Watch retreat to Castle Black to warn the kingdoms about the White Walkers. Jon Snow is brought before Mance Rayder and pledges himself to the wildlings. Tywin Lannister, now Hand of the King, tells Tyrion he will never inherit Casterly Rock. Pulled from the sea, Davos Seaworth makes his way to Dragonstone where he is rebuffed by Stannis Baratheon and imprisoned for trying to murder Melisandre. Robb Stark and his forces survey the carnage at Harrenhal.
The Watch, The Free Folk and The Bastard

This episode kicks off with the lovable if marginally competent Samwell Tarly almost being killed only wight, being rescued by his Watch comrades only to reveal that he has failed in his one duty of sending ravens back to Castle Black.  This establishes the Watch's mission to return to the Wall and raise the alarm of the return of the White Walkers and their horde of wights.

Quickly we turn to the every lovely Ygritte leading her prisoner through the Free Folk's camp to meet the King Beyond the Wall, Mance Rayder.  We see in this trip a bit of eye opening for Jon Snow, seeing how the Free Folk live and meeting an unexpectedly familiar sort of individual in Mance.  Rayder is the sort of individual that would have been familiar to Snow south of the Wall.  An intelligent man of principles and honor it would seem that Rayder is a strange person to be leading the ragtag groups above the wall.

The way that Snow approaches this first encounter observing the polite protocols of Westros surprises and impresses Rayder.  Snow is a fascinating character because he is a bastard with honor.  He has everything you would want in a Knight or Lord except the legitimate parentage.  This illegitimacy we see in Season One meant little to his father who still cared for him deeply, but it formed the core of Snow's personality.  Understanding Snow's desire to be a hero, to make his mark and prove himself despite his social status is a key to understanding the character and it is this quick recognition and understanding that will be pivotal in Rayder's seduction of Snow to join the Free Folk.

Overall it looks like the story of Jon Snow is going to follow the familiar trope of the undercover cop having to cross the line while undercover and reaching that decision point whether to come back or to stay part of the criminal element.  I am fascinated to see how the relationship between Rayder, Snow and Ygritte go this reason.  Actor Ciaran Hinds who plays Mance Rayder, also played Caesar in HBO's acclaimed series Rome.  Hinds is a terrific actor and I think lends a regal air to the character that plays well in contrast to the rougher elements in the Free Folks camp.

The flirtation of Snow and Ygritte is no doubt to be a recurring theme in Season Three and provides a secondary motivation for Snow' ultimate likely defection to the Free Folk.  I certainly hope the lovely Rose Leslie is granted as much screen time as possible by the producers of the series, I am a sucker for the capable and confident female heroin, from Leia, to Ginny Weasley, to Ygritte and Arya, girls can kick butt and it's always fun when they do, particularly so when they get the better of the boys.

Pride of Lions

The Lannister's particularly Joffrey, Tywin and Cersei represent the vilest creatures on the show.  It is a total pleasure to watch this gang holding power at King's Landing.

The subplot featuring Jeoffry, Cersei and Margaery Tyrell is interesting.  We see what appears to be a very savy and capable future Queen in Margaery not only in how she treats the war orphans, showing personal bravery and compassion entering Flea Bottom unguarded.  But she also holds her own in a way that Sansa was never able to do.  Whether Margaery's heart is truly as kind as it appears or whether she is just much wiser than Cersei or Jeoffry remains to be seen, but she is one character I am rooting for in that nest of vipers.

It will be interesting to see how Cersei fights against the growing power of her son and his betrothed in Season Three, because I have a feeling that she will not fade into the background quietly.

I am also going to squeeze in a quick comment about Sansa and Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish with the Lannisters because it fits into the palace intrigue.  Sansa is infuriating naive and it is hard to root for her character given, frankly how stupid and petty she was in Season One.  Clearly she has no idea who to trust and now finds herself in the unenviable position of being the former betrothed of the King, a toy he will not share or give away despite the fact he no longer wants to play with himself.  I have about as much faith in Baelish's motives as I do in the chastity of his employees.

My favorite part of this episode was without a doubt the show down between Tywin and everyone's favorite character Tyrion.  There are some interesting parallels between Tyrion and Jon Snow that make these two main characters compelling, being part of these great families but still being separate gives these characters the chance for some very interesting character growth and independence going forward.

When first we meet Tyrion again he is tucked away in a dark corner of King's Landing fearing assassination as the former Hand of the King.  He summons Bronn to his side for protection which provides us with the episodes funniest moment as well as its requisite nudity.  Tyrion's meeting with his sister proves rather uneventful but serves to heighten tensions as we see Bronn and the Kingsguard almost come to blows.

This serves to set up nicely the high stakes meeting between Tyrion and his father where Tyrion is finally standing up for himself against his imposing papa.  Tyrion stinging from the fact that his father did not once visit him while he recovered from his wounds, how his father is receiving all the credit for winning the Battle of Blackwater Bay and how he has not received the title and property that are his by right, calls out Tywin rather pointedly.  Tywin the bully that he is quickly dismisses and slaps down Tyrion's claims in a most hurtful way, it is clear that Tywin is ashamed of his son's defects and blames the boy for his wife's death.  There is a great deal of hatred in Tywin Lannister.  While I have not read the books, it seems clear to me that Tyrion will inevitably either break from House Lannister or take over the House displacing his father and sister.  His intelligence, humor, and bravery are a great combination and provides for a fascinating character who I hope can survive the most dangerous environment in which he finds himself despite his physical limitations.

Water and Fire

Nothing personal but the story of Davos Seaworth rescue at sea and his return to Dragonstone to confront
Stannis Baratheon and Melisandre was probably the weakest part of the episode.  The evil enchantress and the King under her sway is not a new concept.  I am not sure where they are going with this story after the imprisonment of Davos, but I get a feeling that given the historical ownership of Dragonstone, that we may see a confrontation between Daenerys and the followers of the Lord of Light involving lots of flames.

Knights and Dragons

Dany and her dragons are back along with her friend-zoned knight Jorah Mormont and her queasy Dothraki.   Dany decides that she cannot wait for her dragons to grow fully before she attempt to seize the Iron Throne and with the advice of Mormont she travels to Astapor to negotiate for the purchase of the Unsullied a group of eunuch slave warriors.  Despite her moral qualms about slavery, after witnessing the Unsullied's discipline including the nipple-ectomy without flinching of one soldier, Dany seems ready and willing to purchase the 8,000 man army.  Can she afford such an investment?

The episode ends with the attempted assassination of Dany and the return of former Lord Commander of the Kingsguard Barristan Selmy.  Selmy rescues Dany from death and subsequently in noble fashion apologizes for failing to protect her father.  Selmy pledges loyalty to Dany and now she has two older gentleman looking out for her.  It will be interesting to see and seems almost certain that Mormont and Selmy will come into conflict at some point this season as Mormont will no doubt be jealous if anyone intrudes on his position within Dany's confidence.

Concluding Thoughts

While Valar Dohaeris was largely an episode stitched together to give us a reintroduction to where the characters are now and what directions they are going in the rest of the season, the lack of an overarching story within the episode was more than made up for by the interesting relationship dynamics that where on display.  North, South and East, things are getting pretty interesting in Westros.

Next Time on Game of Thrones: Episode 22 "Dark Wings, Dark Words."


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