After ten months of a Tyrion-free existence, life is good again. Game of Thrones is back, and my Sunday evening is filled with light and happiness. And corpses. Let’s not forget corpses. You can’t have this particular HBO show without a huge plate of sex and violence, with a side of intrigue. Or maybe it’s the other way around.
“Valar Dohaeris” starts where season 2 has left off, North of the Wall, where Sam finally flees the White Walkers (a.k.a. ice zombies of the north). He stumbles upon one of the brothers of the Night Watch, but the man is dead—and clutching his own head in his hands. As Sam is taking in this scene, a White Walker attacks, but he’s saved by Jon’s direwolf and the Watch, led by commander Jeor Mormont. “Did you send the ravens?” Mormont wants to know. No, poor frightened Sam did not. Pity. What with a veritable army of the undead heading south, Mormont and his men now have to warn the people of Westeros that winter may be coming, but that’s the least of their problems.
Jon Snow is also North of the Wall, led by Ygritte while children pelt him with rocks as he walks through the Wildlings’ encampment. Ygritte treats him with a combination of contempt and flirtation as she points out the giant in their midst and talks about his upcoming meeting with Mance Rayder, a former Black Brother who is now their King Beyond the Wall. “If Mance Rayder likes you, you’ll live another day.”
As we recall from the season 2 finale, Jon is actually on assignment, trying to learn why Mance has amassed an army, and he killed the ranger Qhorin Halfhand to gain the trust of the wildlings. Of course, Mance is no dummy and asks why Jon wants to join them. “Because I want to be free.” That’s not good enough for Mance. The men in Mance’s tent surround him. Jon gives an answer sincere enough to be accepted: After seeing Craster give his newborn boy to the White Walkers and learning that the commander knew about this, Jon wants to fight for the living.
In King’s Landing, Bronn is getting sexed up by a whore (and it took about fifteen minutes in. You’re slipping, Game of Thrones, you’re slipping.) Podrick Payne, Tyrion’s squire interrupts: Tyrion needs to see him immediately. Tyrion is waiting in his pathetic sickroom, healing from his wounds from last season’s epic Battle of Blackwater, when his sister Cersei arrives. Tyrion refuses to let her in, then grabs an axe as he relents, because for all of her loveliness, that is the absolute best way to greet Cersei.
Cersei is filled with little jibes against her little brother. My favorite: “They’d said you lost your nose, but it’s not as gruesome as all that,” a shout-out to the book where Tyrion has indeed lost most of his nose. It was a delicious scene, and actors Peter Dinklage and Lena Headey play it just right. My favorite moment of the episode comes when the innocent-acting Cersei strolls too close. Tyrion quickly swerves out of her way.
Cersei quickly works her way to the purpose of her visit: Tyrion will be visiting their father. But what, she wants to know, will be their particular topic of conversation? Tyrion knows what she’s trying to say—will he spill the open secret that their brother Jaime, and not her late husband Robert, is the father of her children—but he plays as dumb as he possibly can. Cersei says, “You’re a clever man, but you’re not as clever as you think you are.” He replies, “It still makes me more clever than you.”
(You can call the episode “Valar Dohaeris” if you want. I’m calling it “Tyrion: Still More Clever Than You.”)
And then Tyrion takes a drink, because when he’s not whoring, he’s making witty quips and drinking. Sometimes he’s making witty quips when he’s whoring. But he’s always quipping, because that, my friends, is how he rolls. But obviously his sellsword Bronn has been spending too much time around Tyrion, because he renegotiates his fee with the same ease of tongue. “I don’t know how much I’m paying you now,” says Tyrion. “Which means you can afford it,” replies Bronn.
Actually, Tyrion has a particularly painful reason to visit his father, who has not once visited him when he was recovering from his wounds. Stripped of his bravado, he demands, now that he’s bled for his family, what is his by right. He wants Casterly Rock, the stronghold of House Lannister. In a scene that was taken almost word-for-word from the book, Tywin tells Tyrion in no uncertain terms that he will be rewarded for his services as befitting his position, but Casterly Rock? It ain’t gonna happen. Oh, and the next whore that Tywin finds in his bed will be hanged.
That would be Shae, the prostitute that Tyrion has secreted within castle, the Red Keep, and has been given the role of Sansa’s maid. We see Shae talking with Sansa about the ships that are leaving King’s Landing. Sansa is trying to tell romantic stories about them, while Shae has no imagination. When Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish comes to talk to Sansa, Shae winds up in an amusing chat with the other prostitute of note, Ros, who had come from Winterfell.
Ros: “You’re her handmaiden.” Shae: “And you’re his…?” Ros: “I help manage his affairs.” Awesome.
But Ros, who has been on the receiving end of Littlefinger’s threats, warns Shae, “Watch out for her. Watch out for her with him.” Meanwhile, Petyr tacitly lies to Sansa, suggesting he knows where the missing Arya is. He offers to take her away from King’s Landing when he sails away on a mission.
Speaking of sailing, Davos Seaworth has been shipwrecked after the battle of Blackwater. He’s found by his friend Salladhor Saan, and he convinces the pirate to take him to King Stannis. Saan takes him to Dragonstone, but reluctantly. It seems that after the battle, Stannis’ priestess, Melisandre, had burned their captured enemies. When he arrives, Stannis is wordless, but Melisandra taunts him. Davos pulls a knife on her. Stannis has him arrested.
In the ruins of Harrenhal, Robb Stark, his mother Catelyn, and his now-wife Talisa, have a brief scene amid the pile of corpses. Robb has his men find a cell for his now-imprisoned mother (she had freed the Kingslayer last season), while his wife comes to the aid of a man who should feel happy to be alive and yet can’t manage it.
In King’s Landing, Joffrey is carried on a cart by his servants in Flea Bottom, where he was attacked in season 2, sniffing imperiously into a handkerchief. There he sees his future bride, Maergery Tyrell, ministering to orphans. (He doesn’t get out to greet her, of course.) At dinner that evening with Joffrey, Queen Cersei, and Maergery’s brother (the late Renly’s lover) Loras, we learn that the Tyrell family has been providing the poor of King’s Landing with food. Cersei voices her concern, but Joffrey is surprisingly gracious. “Lady Margaery has done this sort of charitable work before. I’m sure she knows what she’s doing.” You can see Cersei’s mind work as she answers, “I’m sure she does.”
Speaking of powerful women, we first see Daenerys with Jorah Mormont and what’s left of her Dothraki Khalasar (kingdom) sailing to the land of Astapor. Tailing them is her three dragons, who are growing bigger, but not fast enough for Dany’s plans to retake Westeros. When they arrive, Dany inspects the soldiers of her new army…slaves known as the Unsullied. They’re eunuchs who feel no pain, and to prove it, the slaver who wants to sell them to Dany randomly lops off an Unsullied man’s nipple. The Unsullied man is glad to be of service.
In another scene taken directly from the books, Dany questions the slaver, and slaver’s translator, Missandei, takes some amusing liberties with his words. “Tell this ignorant whore of a Westerner to open her eyes and watch” becomes “He begs you attend this carefully, your grace.”
Dany and Jorah argue the morality of owning slaves, when a young girl in the Astapor marketplace catches Dany’s eye. She tosses Dany a ball. And suddenly, from behind, a stranger attacks…not Dany. Hidden inside the ball can only be described as an evil death scorpion, but before it can eat Dany’s face, the stranger kills it. (It came courtesy of the warlocks from season 2.) He reveals himself to be Ser Barristan Selmy, Robert Baratheon’s and her father’s former kingsguard who was cruelly dismissed by Joffrey.
He bends the knee to Daenerys. Cut to black.