Last night fans of the A Song of Fire and Ice novels finally got to see the latest episode in the live action Game of Thrones series from HBO. For the first time since this series debuted I can actually say that I’ve read the book that this season is based on, and it definitely affected the way I watched and ultimately felt about “Valar Dohaeris”. It’s still a great episode that drives the overall story arcs forward, but just like any property based on a book there were many liberties taken.
Please DO NOT continue on with this review if you don’t want to read about SPOILERS! You have been warned!
Now that I’m a learned man of the George R.R. Martin novels I have a completely different perspective on the Game of Thrones TV show. With that being said I’d like to tackle these mini-reviews in a new and unique manner. Rather than formulating a standard review/impression piece, I’m going to break these write-ups into two sections. One will be dedicated to what I liked about the episode, and the other will be dedicated to what I didn’t like based on what I read in A Storm of Swords (the book this season is based on). SPOILERS will be present so please do not continue on unless you know what you’re getting into.
What worked in “Valar Dohaeris”
The season 3 premiere picks up right where season 2 left off as we get to see what Samwell and his Black brothers have been up to since we last saw them. The Night’s Watch has been attacked by the Others, and only a small band of survivors have made it through the attack. This scene serves as a preview of what’s to come for the Night’s Watch and Westeros, and while it is much simpler than how it played out in the book, I still think it did a fine job tying season 2 to the events to come in season 3.
After the opening we then get to see what Jon Snow has been up to since taking his secret mission with the Wildlings, and I found his meeting with Mance Rayder to be an ideal portrayal. It played out very closely to how it does in the book, and it highlights the ever evolving character of Jon Snow. I loved seeing the Wildlings camp, and it was awesome to see one of the giants that I read about in the book. The show’s producers definitely nailed what I imagined this location to look like in my mind, and I appreciated their level of detail.
From this scene on most of the events of this episode center around the main players of the game that are located south of the wall. I especially enjoyed Tyrion’s scenes with both his sister, and his Father. I found his meeting with Lord Tywin to be almost spot on to how it went down in the book. It portrays the strained relationship between these two men perfectly, and it’ll begin to make you feel sorry for the Imp if you haven’t begun to already.
The focus on the show skips around from here, but I thought that Daenerys centric scenes were well crafted. It was great to see her on her newly acquired ship as she watches her much larger dragons play like children. I found the Astapor scene with the Unsullied inspection to be spot on to how it played out in the book, and I can only hope that it ends the way it did in the book (FIRE!). One can truly see how much Dany has grown since the first season, and so far she’s progressing on screen just like she does in the novels.
Ultimately, the first episode of this new season of Game of Thrones does a great job kicking things off, but I did find a few issues with some of the minor scenes that are far from being such in the book. I understand why these changes were implemented, but at the same time they robbed some of the deep personal moments that were showcased in the novel.
What didn’t work in “Valar Dohaeris”
Anything I mention in this section will sound elitist, but there were a few scenes in this episode that felt cheap when compared to their counterparts in the book. The first discrepancy I took issue with were the Davos scenes. In the book a whole chapter is dedicated to his plight on the rocky crag that he crash landed on. It really exposed how much remorse he had for his turning away from his Gods, and the hatred he now has for the Red Priestess, who he feels is poisoning the mind of King Stannis. Obviously this scene couldn’t play out the same way it did in the book, but I didn’t think it did a good job at exposing Davos’s frame of mind towards Melisandre.
This carries forward all the way to his landing on Dragonstone, which is also slightly altered from the book. In the show Davos gets to see Stannis before he’s arrested, where in the books he’s sent to the dungeon almost immediately because Melisandre forsees his plot to kill her. The show almost made it feel like Stannis is the cause for Davos’ punishment when he clearly is not.
The next issue I have with this episode is the scene between Sansa and Petyr Baelish. This part is completely fabricated for the show and never takes place in the book. The book doesn’t reveal Petyr as being Sansa’s helper until close to the end, and it is done in a “No Shit!?” type of way, which is how most of the reveals of this nature take place in the novel. I would’ve liked it to be less obvious, so I’m interested to see where the writers take this thread moving forward.
My final issue with the first episode of Game of Thrones is the reveal of Ser Barristan Selmy to Dany. In the book this doesn’t even happen until more than halfway through it. He’s portrayed as an aging squire named Arstan Whitebeard who works for Strong Belwas, who is a sellsword sent to aid Dany in gathering her forces to reclaim her throne. Neither of these characters appear in this episode, because Selmy reveals himself right away to the Queen, which I felt to be lackluster. Obviously since this is a TV show and characters can be seen, I understand why the reveal went down the way it did, but in the books this new piece of information is a huge moment, so the on screen retelling did a poor job making me feel surprised.
By no means did I hate this episode of Game of Thrones. It’s a great addition to the previous 20 entries in the series, and considering how lengthy the book is I understand why some of the choices were made by the writers. I don’t want to sound like a pompous ass, but this franchise is definitely one that is much more rich on the page than it is on the small screen. I guess that’s my fault for finally reading the books, but I’m glad I still did so.
Outside of a few key scenes that were stripped down for the TV show I still found Valar Dohaeris to be a great piece of fiction to take in on a Sunday evening. I’ll never hate a fantasy based show, so please take my critiques as minor, but at the same time take them as a sign that you should read the excellent books as well.
It’s on to episode 2 next, which you can watch a preview of after the break. From the looks of it we’ll get to see what some of the characters who were absent from the first episode are up to. Namely Bran and Arya. Make sure to stop by next week to read up on my opinions of episode 2! You’ve been seriously needing to give up your ban on reading books for this franchise…
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