Courtesy of HBO
A blank white winter wasteland opens the third season of HBO’s “Game of Thrones.” Picking up where last year’s season ended, Samwell Tarly (John Bradley), man of the Night’s Watch, is flailing his way through a blizzard while undead wights and frozen Others attack the Night’s Watch in the frozen lands Beyond the Wall.
“Valar Dohaeris,” the title of the first episode, is High Valyrian for “all men must serve,” a curious title for an episode with no battles.
The episode is full of talk and plot, but I’m worried the show’s creators have cut material from the books. Jon Snow (Kit Harington) meets Mance Rayder (CiarÃ¡n Hinds), leader of the wildlings Beyond the Wall, who is nowhere near as pleasing to the eye as the books would have us believe. Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) argues with his father Tywin (Charles Dance), foreshadowing a future confrontation. Petyr Baelish (Aidan Gillen) plots to steal Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) away from King’s Landing. Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) visits the slave markets of Astapor, seeking to buy an army.
What’s missing? Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) makes no appearance in this episode, and the only indication of her brother Bran (Isaac Hempstead Wright) is a burning Winterfell in the opening titles. Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley) is seen, still a prisoner of her son after the events of last season, but Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) are nowhere to be found. The Sorrowful Men, a guild of dreaded assassins, appear to have been replaced entirely by the immortals of Qarth, who the book says were all burned to death. The Reeds, friends of Bran, didn’t appear last season, and the only reason I know the Reeds will even appear in this season is the pre-release interviews with their actors.
Speaking of the pre-release interviews, director David Petrarca doesn’t seem to be worried by the rampant piracy of his show. At the Perth Writers Festival in February, Petrarca said that piracy contributes to the buzz surrounding the show, adding to its spread. HBO immediately issued a statement denouncing illegal downloading and touting the legal ways to watch, but the damage was done: fans no longer feel bad about pirating the show so they can watch.
“Game of Thrones” was the most torrented show last year, with an average of 3.9 million downloads per episode, way beyond the nearest contender, “How I Met Your Mother.”
What drives this demand? The only way to watch it legally is through the HBO cable and satellite channel or online through HBO Go, a video portal that can only be accessed by subscribers to the channel. Don’t have cable or satellite? You’ll have to wait for the DVD.
HBO Go is an adequate solution, but the long buffering times and occasional quality change to accommodate slow Internet speeds can be annoying. HBO Go is like YouTube – there’s no download option, just the stream. It would be nice to be able to pay a fee to download the highest quality video straight to my hard drive without having to also pay for cable.
But despite these gripes, this season looks just as promising as the last two. Margaery Tyrell’s (Natalie Dormer) dinnertime verbal jousting with the Lannisters was excellently written and acted.
The visuals continue to improve, with Daenerys’ dragon, Drogon, catching, cooking and eating fish straight from the ocean. It’s a great effect, and sets the standard for what will hopefully be a flesh-roasting, eye-watering, brain-gratifying season to come.
Grade: A on content, B on packaging