With its third season, which started last Sunday, it is safe to say that HBO’s Game of Thrones has gained momentum. The whole world is watching. Or so it seems. And if not, then they’ve at least heard about it. Apart from the superb story, which was based on George RR Martin’s epic saga A Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones is just the title of the first book) there are couple of pointers to the superb quality of this TV series.
First one is how good it looks – it looks and feels like a film. Sure, a very long but nonetheless extremely enjoyable film. The question that literally asks itself is how do you make a 100% historically accurate world despite it being set in a time and place that never existed? This is the question of production and for example the GoT production designer Gemma Jackson, who took things on another level, apparently has the answer. Shot on real locations in Malta, Morocco, Ireland, Iceland and Croatia the series looks like it cost a lot more than it actually did. Still, there are a lot of naysayers (for most part people who read the books) that keep nagging about this and that – most notably the set, costumes and overall appearance of the characters. Why is it green in the North when it is suppose to be white? Why Daenerys has blue eyes when they are supposed to be purple? Dothraki are too clean. The wolves are too small. Casting is all wrong; Jamie Lannister does not look like that! Well, this is a TV series based on a book, which, just to point the obvious, is a whole different medium. As for me, Danish actor Nikolaj Coster Waldau is exactly how I imagined Jamie Lannister to be. You didn’t? Well, I guess this is what art is all about. We see things differently, we take from art what we want or how we feel, we draw different conclusions and so forth, regardless of the fact that we are actually watching, reading or listening the same TV series, film, painting, book or a music piece. It is what it is. It doesn’t match with how you imagined it? Well, don’t watch it then.
I am just happy we are lucky enough to have both, relax and enjoy the ride…because truth be told it is one hell of a ride!
Second, and perhaps the most important aspect of this gem is its superb cast. Game of Thrones is not built upon a star-driven model. In fact, the only “star” as well as the main character of the (first) series was Sean Bean (Eddard Ned Stark) who (SPOILER) got killed BEFORE first season’s finale! This decision had a suicidal feel to it at the time. However, they’ve pulled it of. How? Well, apart from Sean Bean (whom we scarcely miss considering we have other 500 000 characters to care for), the cast (mostly British) is uniformly excellent, which pretty much negates the fact that they are also uniformly unknown. Or at least they used to be. As for the resemblance… Sure, Lena Hadley is thinner than Cersei Lannister, the character she portrays. Also, she is not as beautiful (although some might disagree) yet her performance is spellbinding. She breathes a new life into the Iron Queen so does it really matter if her eyes are this color or that one or that her cleavage is not as luxurious as we have imagined?!
The opening episode of Season 3 titled Valar Dohaeris (High Valyrian for All Men Must Serve) was not the best Game of Thrones can offer us. It felt a bit sketchy, certainly not finished. Furthermore, Game of Thrones without (and especially at this point in the story) Arya Stark and Bran Stark or Jamie Lannister and Brienne of Tarth just doesn’t feel right. However, the second episode very quickly filled in the pieces, which is the reason why I wrote this text today and not seven days ago.
First episode picks up where we left of in the previous season finale, with Sam Tarly stranded in the middle of beyond the wall, minutes after the army of White Walkers (series rendition for the icy creatures that lurk beyond the Wall that Martin calls The Others in the book) and Whites (the undead corpses they’ve woken up) have passed by him, letting him live, for the reasons unknown. In the words of Stannis Baratheon – not only the self-proclaimed king of the Westeros but also according to Melissandre, the sorceress that accompanies him, the Azor Ahai in flesh – White Walkers are: “Demons made of snow and ice and cold…The ancient enemy. The only enemy that matters”. Next, we see something that never happened in the book – Sam is saved by the Ghost (Jon Snow’s direwolf) and his brothers of The Night Watch. In the book Ghost is still with Jon and Sam is the one who killed the White…with the Dragonglass (Obsidian, the only weapon that can kill a White Walker on the spot) found by Ghost and Jon Snow who left it on the Fist of First Men, for Sam to find it. Will Dragonglass be of some importance for the story in the future is left for us to see. Either way I have a complete trust in the showrunners, who have already proven themselves willing to diverge from the book and able to steer that ship. I would dare to say this divergence is a necessity, considering how big the story is, and how hard it is to scale it down to 10 episodes a year. With this being said I would also like to point out how Sam is not the only divergence. For example Bronn is an incidental character in the novels that really shines on the show, and for good reason. Rose doesn’t even exist and Margaery Tyrell’s nice little moment at the orphanage actually never happened. In the book she serves as a mere storytelling device so that Cercei Lannister can be threatened by her beauty, youth and well some other things I am not at liberty to discuss at the point being. Now image the series without Bronn. It sucks, doesn’t it?!
The biggest encouragement of Valar Dohaeris happened in the form of Daenerys Targaryen who finally managed to pull herself up on her feet again. After the entire second season of hanging around in Qarth, loosing her dragons and whining about it, seeing her proactive was such a refreshment. However, the most exciting part of her storyline is paradoxically not her but the people that surround her, most notably the superb army of eunuchs who kill slave babies and strangle their dogs to prove themselves worthy of being called the Unsullied. Not to mention Ser Barristan Selmy! For those of you who do not remember who Barristan Selmy is, here are some reminders.
Ser Barristan Selmy was the member of the Kingsguard during the reign of Aerys II (The Mad King, Daenerys Targaryen’s father). He was in love with Ashara Dayne (one of the alleged mothers of Jon Snow), sister of Ser Arthur Dayne (the best friend of prince Rhaegar Targaeryen) who was killed at the Tower of Joy, together with Gerold Hightower (the Lord Commander of Aerys’s Kingsguard) by Eddard Stark and Howland Reed (father of Jojen and Meera Reed). During the Battle of Trident (where Robert Baratheon killed prince Rhaegar for abducting Lyanna Stark, Eddard Stark’s sister who died in his arms at the Tower of Joy) Ser Barristan Selmy was badly hurt. However, Robert Baratheon decided not only to allow the maester to tend his wounds but also to pardon him and consequently let him continue his service. Eventually he became the Lord Commander of king Robert ‘s Kingsguard. All these events happened before the events in the book and are told via flashbacks or character dialogues. As for Ser Barristan Selmy in the series, he only appeared in the first season – the last time we saw him he left the King’s Landing and Kingsguard furious and deeply insulted by the new king, Joffrey Baratheon, who offered him a retirement, something that is simply not done to a knight of the Kingsguard (being in Kingsguard or Night Watch is like being married – till death do you part minus the women part).
DARK WINGS, DARK WORDS
The second episode is probably one of my favorite episodes of the entire series. Reading the book I often wondered how would they pull of the vast amount of new characters introduced in the third book The Storm of Swords. And now I have my answer. Key word: subtlety. Not a single character was forced in. And we are talking about the Queen of Thorns, “the female version of Tywin Lannister”, Thoros of Myr, Anguy, Orell, Jojen and Meera Reed, Vago Hoat and the ultimate subtlety that came in the form of Remsy Bolton (nee Snow, the bastard of North, not related to Jon Snow). Eight new characters on top of other 500 000 we already come to know and (dis)like. I felt like my heart is going to explode from all the excitement!
(The importance of these characters is not to be taken lightly).
However, one of my favorite story threads (also not in the book), among so many excellent ones, belongs to the good old familiar face – Lady Stark. Saying that Jon Snow was her child after all, even for a long night, brought tears to my eyes. The transition to Jon trudging through the North with Wildlings by his side didn’t help either. We got a glimpse of Orell, the Wildling Warg, a scene that ties in nicely with another Warg we know, little Bran Stark, who hit puberty and is growing super fast. The meeting with the Reeds departed from the book considerably but it worked nonetheless. Although their story is one of the lesser storylines in the book, it’s definitely one of the trippiest, so I’m excited to see how it plays out. The introduction of the Thoros of Myr and his Brotherhood without Banners (BwB) coming from afar only to cross path with Arya Stark whilst singing the infamous Rains of Castamere was a perfect foreshadowing I have to say. Also, I have to put a bit of an emphasis onto this, some would say, detail. For the sake of nonreaders I will not give it away…but brace yourself for what comes in the penultimate episode of this season. Another reminder: Brotherhood without Banners is the group of people formed by Ser Berric Dondarion on the command of Eddard Stark from the time he served as the Hand of the King in the season one. If you do not remember, my suggestion is to do a re-watch. They were sent to find Ser Gregor Clegane and strip him of his title, among other things. Ironically, they found his younger brother instead, Ser Sandor Clegane, aka The Hound, who served as plot device in reveling Arya’s identity (another difference).
The best is saved for the end. The character you probably dislike the most – Ser Jaime Lannister – happens to be my favorite character, by far! The reason? Well there are far too many but one of them is definitely Brienne, the maid of Tarth. This is another storyline that I’m excited to see unfold. I just hope it gets time to breathe—like all the others. Basically there are five scenes revolving around these two that happened in the novel, five scenes that cast a very long shadow on all the others and by watching the trailers and finding out the titles of the upcoming episodes we have four more to go.
The Escape. The Loss. The Bath. The Bear. The Oath. One of them might not end up in this season if what they are saying is true – the season three will go as far as first half of the book. This will be a shame but considering we have seen Theon Grayjoy, who literally does not exist in the third book, it is safe to say that they are combining The Storm of Swords with the Feast for Crows. Either way, the escape-sword-fight already happened and it delivered. Brienne of Tarth housed Jaime Lannister, who is suppose to be the greates knight of Westeros and I enjoyed watching every minute of it…that is, until Vago Hoat put the end to it. A perfect ending for what will befall Jaime and Brienne, perhaps even in the following episode.
Some say how Game of Thrones reminds them of the Mexican soap opera – there is no enough blood or fighting which is expected from the medieval piece. This is neither a medieval piece nor is it about the war per se. Game of Thrones is well, about the game of thrones. It is a character driven story and in order to love it you have to let go. The story is a non-space timeless story that can easily be applied on any given situation humans find themselves in…and that is the third reason.
p.s. still waiting for Tyrion to shine…any minute now!
Text written by: Monika Ponjavic
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