TV REVIEW: Game of Thrones - Valar Dohaeris

To say that the third series of Emmy-award winning of Game of Thrones was eagerly anticipated is something of an understatement.The build-up has been mounting since the very last fade-to-black on the tenth episode of the second season. Fortunately, Valar Dohaeris does not disappoint.

Much like the show's amazing opening credit sequence, the first episode is a bit of whip-round of all the major players in Westeros and beyond as it stands at the moment. Some characters didn't appear (Arya and Jaime in particular were noticeable by their absence), but it served as an excellent reminder of the big conflicts currently raging across the Seven Kingdoms and the quiet yet significant maneovres of those beyond the Wall or across the Narrow Sea. It also starts to set up some of the bigger plot-lines for this instalment, particularly Jon (Kit Harington) and his infiltration of the Wildlings and Dany (Emilia Clarke) trip to Astapor to purchase the Unsullied.

As ever with Game of Thrones, the most shocking, dramatic and brilliant moments offer lie in the quieter scenes between two fierce characters and this episode was stacked with a wealth of them. Everyone loves a clash between everyone's favourite siblings and we get a deliciously spiteful scene between Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) and Cersei (Lena Headey), layered with subtext and dark humour. Humour is something the episode is not short of, with Bronn (Jerome Flynn) taking on a couple of Kingsguard (Ser Whosit of Who Cares) and over in Astapor, Dany, Jorah (Iain Glen) and some very diplomatic translation. Humour is never just frivolously used in Game of Thrones though, but another aspect of character development. It is often in the snide remarks and pointed barbs that betray a character's weakness or fuels their bravado. 

The humorous aspects also never distract from the more dramatic moments and we get plenty of those in this season opener. Forms of betrayal and redemption are something of  recurring themes in this episode; former Targaryen Kingsguard Barristan Selmy (Ian McElhinney) asks for forgiveness and pledges allegiance to Dany, Davos (Liam Cunningham) is forsaken by Lord Stannis in favour of Melisandre (Carice Van Houten) and Robb (Richard Madden) still hasn't forgiven Catelyn (Michelle Fairley) for letting the Kingslayer go. In a show as densely plotted as Game of Thrones, is a testament to the clarity of the writing that these themes can be explored across the different settings, whilst still maintaining enough individuality to stop them from becoming heavy-handed or repetitive. Scenes like the one between Tyrion and Tywin (Charles Dance) certainly help.

Casting has always been one of the show's strongest aspects, but when it comes to Tywin Lannister, I don't think anything has been more spot-on; Charles Dance is Tywin Lannister. Appearing in the first season tearing eldest son Jaime a new one whilst butchering a deer carcass was one of the best character introductions the series has produced and this scene, in which he unleashes his cold fury on Lannister black sheep Tyrion was every bit as powerful. It was a monologue delivered with pure venom, each word dripping with disdain and credit must also go to Dinklage for Tyrion's decline. From boldly standing up to his father to admitting defeat, each step backwards was written across Tyrion's scarred face. 

Daniel Minahan's direction is solid and unfussy, allowing the familiar characters to excel in these quieter scenes. As is the case for the first few episodes of the season, the action is thin on the ground but there is a welcome return for the dragons, filmed beautifully by Minahan's sweeping point-of-view shots. As always the locations are second-to-none, each completely different to the next. The first new major addition to the titles' map is Astapor and whilst we also see a welcome return to favourite locations like Dragonstone, King's Landing and north of the Wall. 

The aim is clear with Valar Dohaeris, to set the scene and bring everyone up to speed with Westeros and beyond. It's a great start to the season and I'm already looking forward to the characters that we've not yet seen.

- Becky

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