Since Game of Thrones is the biggest show on television, the major beats of the story will be condensed into the geographical regions instead of what happens chronologically in the episode. Be warned of any potential spoilers.
- Beyond the Wall
The season premiere episode of Game of Thrones opens up to find The Night’s Watch decimated after the battle with the army of wights we saw in the closing moments of last season, although the entire battle happens offscreen. Where once their army stood hundreds strong, it appears that maybe twenty or thirty of them are left alive. Lord Commander Mormont resolves to return back to the Wall, so they can warn the rest of the Seven Kingdoms.
Meanwhile, Jon Snow arrives in the camp of Mance Rayder, the King-beyond-the-Wall. We come to see that Mance’s army actually has giants. When Jon meets Mance Rayder and Tormund Giantsbane, he is asked why he has “betrayed” the Night’s Watch by killing Qhorin Halfhand. He tells a clever lie that seems to actually fool Mance for the moment, and they accept him into their army.
- In Harrenhall
Robb Stark and his armies arrive at Harrenhall, where they find two hundred northmen slaughtered. This angers their troops and their commanders alike. Robb also has his mother Catelyn confined to a prison cell, punishing her for freeing Jaime Lannister at the end of last season. We do see that two of Robb’s allies, Roose Bolton and Rickard Karstark, are not pleased with the slaughter, or how Robb has been leading lately. There is no mention of his secret marriage to Talisa, so we must assume that it is not yet public knowledge.
- In King’s Landing
King’s Landing is attempting to heal the wounds left by Blackwater Bay. While Bronn has become a knight anointed by the king himself, Tyrion lives in his small chambers, afraid of retribution from his sister. Cersei had one of the Kingsguard try to murder Tyrion during the battle of Blackwater and he is certain she will try to kill him again. Eventually, Tyrion has an audience with his father Tywin, the new Hand of the King, who hasn’t visited him once since returning to King’s Landing. Tyrion demands that Tywin reward him for his triumphs at Blackwater by giving him his birthright: stewardship of the Lannister ancestral home, Casterly Rock. Tywin angrily refuses, and promises that he’ll hang the next whore he finds Tyrion with.
Joffrey and his fiance, Lady Margaery Tyrell, are being carried through Flea Bottom, the slums of King’s Landing, where Joffrey was attacked in the riot last season. Much to his surprise, Margaery is not intimidated by the prospect of the angry citizens, and she insists on stopping to visit a local orphanage. She comforts the children, some of whom have been orphaned by the battle, gives them toys and promises her support to ensure that they are taken care of. Later at dinner, Queen Cersei speaks disapprovingly of Margaery’s antics and eventually earns a sharp rebuke from her son, who seems to have been impressed by Margaery’s charity.
We also see Sansa speak with Littlefinger about when he can take her from King’s Landing, like he promised. He advises her that he’s waiting for the opportune moment, but still recommends that she be ready to leave at a moment’s notice.
- In Dragonstone
Davos Seaworth is rescued from a barren rock island by his friend, the pirate Salladhor Saan. On the ship, Davos hears how Stannis Baratheon has not taken his defeat at Blackwater well. He has isolated himself, and won’t see anyone but Melissandre, who has been burning anyone who speaks out against her at the stake. Davos resolves to kill Melissandre, since he blames her for the death of his son at Blackwater. However, when he does arrive in Stannis’ throne room, he allows Melissandre to anger him to the point of trying to kill her in front of Stannis and his guards. The guards seize Davos and haul him down into Dragonstone’s prison.
- In Essos
Danaerys and her army are sailing from Qarth to a city called Astapor to see about buying an army. The army in question are referred to as The Unsullied, who are some of the finest soldiers in the world. Dany is reluctant to purchase a slave army, thinking it will stain her reputation, and is also appalled by the training tactics that the Unsullied are forced to go through. After leaving to consider her options, she is nearly assassinated by a some sort of warlock or demon. She is saved by a mysterious hooded figure, who is revealed to be none other than Ser Barristan Selmy, the former Lord Commander of the Kingsguard. Belmy seeks her forgiveness for failing to protect her family in Robert’s Rebellion, and seeks to join her now. The episode ends before Dany can give her answer, but she doesn’t look pleased.
I won’t say that this episode of Game of Thrones wasn’t worth the wait, but I’m sure that there will be other people who will.
Game of Thrones‘ greatest weakness continues to be the sheer size of the story and cast. At this point, there is so much going on, that we don’t even get to see all of the major players in this episode. Certainly we do see the Lannisters quite a bit, as well as Danaerys, but we only get one scene with Jon Snow, Robb, and none with Arya. This must mean that we’ll see her next episode. I’m sure the writers are doing their best to ensure that all the storylines move forward quickly, but this episode did feel like there wasn’t much going on overall. It didn’t feel like a season premiere.
However, Game of Thrones still earns its place as one of the best on television with the material they do have. I enjoyed seeing the dragons at their larger size and the assassination attempt where Barristan saves Dany. Margaery’s visit to the orphanage showed that she is a much shrewder player than Cersei, effectively buying the loyalty of some of the peasants with her support. What impressed me is how at the dinner scene, they actually showed how Joffrey seemed to feel awkward around Margaery like any other young man who can’t find his tongue near his crush. He also seemed displeased with how his mother was treating his new future bride. I’ve noticed that the writers of the show seemed to have focused on making Joffrey more human than he is in the book in some places, and this was the latest step in that progression. While Joffrey is one of the characters I hate most in all fiction, I did appreciate that they gave him a kind of depth we don’t usually see him with.
By far, my favorite scene of this episode was Tyrion’s confrontation with Tywin about his inheritance. It was clear that while Tyrion was doing his best to be brave in front of his father, he does still want his father’s love, and is still a bit intimidated by him. Tywin’s powerful refusal was venomous and reminded us all why is he one of the most loathsome men in Westeros. The viewer will feel for Tyrion after that harsh rebuke. Last season, we saw Tyrion often getting the better hand of whomever he dealt with, but he clearly lost that battle with his father. This scene defined their relationship, and will set the tone for stories to come.
There were however some moments that I did find silly, but they’re probably just me nit-picking. Even though Jon Snow did kill Qhorin in front of Ygritte and the Lord of Bones, I don’t think they’d trust him enough to let him follow them through camp unbound. You’d think they’d be a bit more canny than that. I also thought Davos’ attempt on Melissandre didn’t feel legitimate. They may have justified it by Melissandre’s charismatic goading, but I still thought it felt forced. My biggest problem with this episode was that we didn’t get to see any of the Night Watch’s battle with the wights. I understand they probably had to cut it out due to budget restraints, but I was still disappointed we didn’t get to see the Night’s Watch find an army of zombies. Who wouldn’t have liked to see that?
I liked seeing all of these characters again after so long a wait for them to return, but I just wish they had more to do. However, I can’t really fault the showrunners for that. There really is just too much going to eat all at once. They may have served us a mere appetizer here, but I’m sure the next few Game of Thrones episodes will sate our appetites for more.