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Game of Thrones Returns!

I love the cable model of short seasons presented all in one burst, as opposed to the network model of 24-or-so episodes strung out over a whole year.  But boy, sometimes it is really hard to wait for the many months between seasons of those cable shows!!  After an excruciating wait, my favorite show on TV these days has returned — Game of Thrones season three launched this past Sunday!

It’s fantastic being back in this world, and season three’s premiere, “Valar Dohaeris,” is a strong return for the show.  Over the course of the hour, we check back in with many of our characters (though many major characters are absent.  I guess we’ll have to wait until next week to see Arya, Theon Greyjoy, Jamie & Brienne, and Hodor & the little Stark kids who fled from Winterfell at the end of last season).

Right away, the premiere episodes addressed two major gripes I had with the end of last season.  First of all, I was very disappointed that, after getting quite a lot of development over the course of season 2, Bronn was totally absent from the season 2 finale!!  That was a real head-scratcher to me, and I have been left for months to wonder about his fate.  (I have not yet read any of George R.R. Martin’s books, and at this point, I don’t plan to until the TV series is done.  I am relishing not knowing where this story is going, and I don’t want to lose that.)  So I was delighted to see Bronn reintroduced very early in the season 3 premiere, and I was happy that he got several very nice scenes in the episode.  I am glad his friendship/partnership with Tyrion will continue, at least for now.

Secondly, I was very pleased to see the return of the pirate captain Salladhor Saan.  There was a whole big scene in season two in which Davos brokered a deal for Salladhor and his men to fight with Stanis Baratheon.  And then, we never saw him again!  That really made me wonder why the heck they had wasted our time showing Davos and Stannis’ meeting with the pirate captain in the first place.  So I was very pleased to see the character re-enter the story.  That was a pleasant surprise.

There was quite a lot to enjoy in this episode.  I was thrilled to see the return of the old, former Captain of the King’s Guard Barristan Selmy.  That was a great surprise, and I am intrigued to see where this heretofore minor character is going to go. That Daenerys just loves to collect washed-up old soldiers, doesn’t she?  Ser Jorah better watch out!  Speaking of Daenerys, it’s fun to see her dragons growing larger.  Going to be hard to keep their existence a secret for much longer, won’t it?

I loved the introduction of Mance Rayder, played by the great Ciaran Hinds.  I love Mr. Hinds’ work and I am thrilled to see him as a part of the show.  I am very curious to see where his character, and all of the goings-on north of the Wall, wind up going.  Jon Snow’s adventures in the north were one of the only mis-steps in season 2 in my opinion.  I am hoping things improve with season 3.  The introduction of snow zombies and giants certainly helps!  I would also love to more clearly establish Jon’s motivation.  He’s not really thinking about betraying the Night’s Watch to join the Wildlings, is he?  Why would any of the Wildlings possibly think that he would?  The staged death of the other Night’s Watch-man hardly seems like that would be enough.  I am interested to see where this goes.

Peter Dinklage continues to be the highlight of the show as Tyrion Lannister.  I have heard hat he will have a reduced role in season 3, and I really hope that is not the case.  He doesn’t have a lot to do in this premiere episode, but his scenes were among the best of the bunch.  The scene in which he verbally fences with his sister is brilliant.  And my lord the put-down his father gives him is brutal and tough to watch.  (Charles Dance is so good as Tywin Lannister.  So good.)  Here’s hoping Tyrion finds a way to get the upper hand on his father in a future episode.  I hope these two great actors have a lot more scenes together this season.

I have read some complaining on the internet, in the months since the end of season 2, and especially this week with the launch of season 3, in which reviewers bemoan the show’s standard approach and wish they structured more episodes like “Blackwater.”  The magnificent episode “Blackwater,” the penultimate episode of season 2, was the first time the show totally changed their structure for an episode.  Usually, they try to check in with every major character each week.  As the show’s cast of characters has grown and the stories have become more complicated, that has lead to some episodes feeling a little unsatisfying when taken on their own, because we only get to spend a few minutes with each major character before moving on to another character in a different location.  “Blackwater” dropped that approach, choosing to spend the entire hour with the characters in King’s Landing, both those defending the city and those attacking it.  Obviously, part of what made that episode so awesome was the incredible, movie-scale action epic that we got to see as the attack on the city unfolded.  This was the show’s first major action set-piece, and it was a jaw-dropper.  But many fans (myself included), were also taken by how effective it was to focus an entire episode on one set of characters in one location.  When the show switched back to its usual format for the final episode of season 2, I know I’m not the only one who was a teensy bit underwhelmed.  So, some have argued, wouldn’t it be better for the show to stop trying to check in with every character each week, and instead give each episode a tighter focus on just a few characters?

It’s an interesting argument, but I am not sure I entirely agree.  While I do see merit in the suggestion that a full hour spent with Jon Snow or Daenerys Targaryen would be far more effective and engaging, dramatically and emotionally, than the five-or-so minutes we spend with them each week, I also could see myself and other fans growing frustrated if the show took that approach and we then had to wait weeks between, say, appearances of Tyrian Lannister (Peter Dinklage).  Would that not be frustrating as well?

And while I found last season’s finale a little disappointing coming right after “Blackwater,” I found the season 3 premiere, assembled in the same style, to be far more engaging.  So perhaps it’s just that the storytelling in the season 2 finale wasn’t quite as sharp… or maybe it’s that ANY episode coming after “Blackwater” would have been judged to be a little wanting.  I was stunned, watching the season 3 finale, when the closing credits rolled — “Over already??” my wife and I exclaimed! — and yes, the show always leaves me wanting more.  But that’s one of my favorite qualities of the show.  It’s hard to think of another television program in the last few years that has left me more desperate to see the next episode.  (I think the last show I was this excited to watch week-to-week was Battlestar Galactica.)  And while the show’s style of storytelling can be a little frustrating when we have to wait a week between episodes, this more novelistic approach to each season works wonderfully on DVD/blu-ray, when you can watch one episode right after another, and that is the way in which the show will live on.

So I am delighted that Game of Thrones is back, and I am more than willing to take this ride in the style that the show-runners are creating it.  I am working very hard to avoid major spoilers, but from what I have read and heard, it seems there is a lot of fun stuff ahead in season 3, which adapts the first half or Mr. Martin’s third novel, A Storm of Swords.  I can’t wait!

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