Every couple of weeks here on my First Time Writing blog I look back over a past season of Game of Thrones after re-watching it and give it an informal review/ share some spoilery thoughts now that we have the benefit of hindsight. This time I’m looking back over the third season of the acclaimed fantasy drama.
Normally I would do an introductory paragraph about the season as a whole before I jump into specific moments and characters but season 3 is different. The entire season, almost the whole show, is overshadowed by a monumental event that changed everything, not just for the characters involved but the entire show and the audience’s perceptions of it. The Red Wedding cemented the show as unmissable and willing to go to places other shows dare to tread, it’s for lack of a better phrase the most ‘Game of Thrones’ Game of Thrones has ever been and probably will ever be. Upon re-watch, having seen it before, read it before and seen the aftermath it brings it doesn’t waver in emotional intensity or immediacy; although I knew it was coming it still somehow surprised me. However its pungency and depth has partly been lost due to it dominating popular culture so much since its occurrence.
Let’s look at who we lost on that fateful wedding night. In season 3 Robb commanded a greater sense or authority than before both through his language and actions, he has to kill one of his Bannermen, Lord Karstark, early in the season and this leads to the audience fully committing to Robb and believing one day he could be King. Talisa becomes a more fleshed out character and their relationship thrives onscreen which makes the Red Wedding more emotional when it finally happens. Upon re-watch you can see that these developments were primarily included to give us a deeper connection to these characters making their deaths all the more shocking. It’s a clever way to emotionally set up the Red Wedding which is seen only on a second viewing and not spoil, but enhance, the shock. Catelyn Stark’s wider family is finally introduced in season 3 (they were introduced much earlier in the novels) and while her younger brother Edmure is fairly two-dimensional as a fool who does little but to serve his purpose in the story, her uncle ‘The Blackfish’ is very intriguing. He is a tertiary character but in his little screen time manages to be engaging at a level few guest stars have been. He survives The Red Wedding and rumour has it that he will pop up again in season 6, hopefully with more importance.
Characters with my least favourite storylines in season 2 such as Jon and Daenerys have some of my favourite this season and it also works the other way with Tyrion’s going from being my favourite last season to being one of my least favourite this season. Up beyond The Wall we are witness to the enigmatic entrance of both the fabled but rarely seen Mance Rayder (impossible not to say in a northern accent) and Tormund Giantsbane. Looking back over the five current seasons Mance has a big legacy and is strongly remembered and so it surprised me on the re-watch how little screen time he has; we see him about three times early in the season and then he doesn’t pop up again until the season 4 finale. Jon’s deep cover is a classic plotline from thrillers and it’s nice to see it in a fantasy setting with nothing explicitly said about his allegiance until the final two episodes and so it is left to the audience to ponder his true intentions. Despite the cold, the North is where romance blossoms this season between both Jon and Ygritte and Sam and Gilly who wander the frozen landscape with nothing but a baby and a obsidian blade but still manage to be insanely watchable.
Unlike season 2 Daenery’s storyline is fast paced and adds greatly to the wider story and well as her personal character development which worked better for me on the re-watch because I have now gained patience and I’m not constantly willing her to invade Westeros already like I was one my first watch/read. It was cool to see Barristan Selmy again although it’s a shame they couldn’t do the same introduction they did in the book but it just wouldn’t have worked for TV. I am a little surprised there was no mention of him in season 2 to keep him relevant in the story because I wouldn’t be surprised to hear more casual viewers not remembering him when he finally returns. The fourth episode of the third season features some of the best Daenerys moments from the entire show, ends her Astapor storyline and culminates in a single dramatic word: “Dracarys”. The Targaryen words of Fire and Blood are brought alive onscreen. The second half of her season is not as strong as the first but is still miles ahead of season 2 and introduces us to Daario Naharis played by Ed Skrein. I was never a big fan of the Skrein version of the character and glad it was recast for season 4 onwards; upon re-watch you pick up on just how different the two portrayals of Naharis are, they almost feel like two different characters.
Davos remains one of my favourite characters in the show despite his lack of screen time and his actions continue to mirror Ned Stark’s as he is sent to the dungeon for his honour to his Stannis and questioning Melisandre’s influence. His prison time is a shocking turn of events but he spends far too long there with multiple episodes passing before we even hear about him again, let alone see him. Something I completely forgot about until I re-watched it was that we get the reveal that Stannis saw a great battle in the snow when he looked into the flames last season. Which battle from the future of the show we don’t know, there a multiple possibilities, but I like the setup of such a battle (even if I did forget about it). However the Leech scene is something I did remember in which Gendry’s blood is sucked by three leeches which are promptly thrown into the fire while Stannis states the names of three ‘kings’ he wants dead. Robb is dead the next episode, Joffrey next season but Balon Greyjoy still lives. If the Kingsmoot is to take place in the new season then maybe then we will see Balon finally fall (or get pushed) from that bridge. I love the ambiguity of this scene; it could be coincidence or it could be a magical event with greater effects than the battle of Blackwater from Stannis’ story last season.
This is the weakest season for both Tyrion and King’s Landing politics on a whole despite Tywin becoming Hand of the King bringing a new level of antagonism to Tyrion. I think that it is the weakest mainly down to just the other storylines being so good and taking precedent. Shae is barely seen this season with Sansa becoming the woman in Tyrion’s life. Their marriage is still a surprise but it works well especially after re-watching the previous two seasons, they are the two outcasts who others want to get rid of but can’t and so they neutralise both of them with a forced marriage. Tyrion always works best as a character when accompanied by another character just as unique and quirky like Bronn, Varys and from this season onwards Podrick.
Also in King’s Landing, Olenna Tyrell appears finally giving us a psychological opponent to Tywin and ushering in a new age of politics which will sadly and slowly remove Littlefinger and Varys from the equation as they begin to scheme more openly. Joffrey pointlessly kills Ros to remind the audience just how evil he is which never needed to happen, it’s impossible to forget Joffrey’s reign of terror even now as we approach season 6. And now that we know the prophecy we discover in season 5 Cersei’s attitude and manner towards Margery makes much more sense that it did on first viewing.
Jaime has probably the biggest character shift on the show and somehow it works. His arrogant shell is disintegrated by Brienne who he forms a bizarre but touching relationship with. The scene in the Harrenhal bathhouse is among the best the show has ever produced giving us reams of history, lore and characterisation; it’s not only Jaime who changes but the audience’s perception of him as he becomes one of the most developed characters on the show. The scene in which he loses his hand is one of the most surprising moments in the show for me, more so than some deaths, due to its suddenness and the quick and distorting change of tone as we cut to black and a rock version of ‘The Bear and the Maiden fair’ plays over the credits.
Arya’s season starts dull with the Brotherhood without Banners and ends surprisingly well with the start of her complex relationship with the Hound. The most interesting part of her season is probably when Melisandre turns up out of the blue. It’s interesting to see Melisandre talk to Thoros and Beric about bringing people back to life and I wouldn’t be surprised that it is setup for when Melisandre will probably end up doing it to Jon in season 6. Something very interesting that I had forgotten from my first watch was Melisandre telling Arya that they will meet again, can’t wait for that to happen.
Theon is the focus of my least favourite plotline this season with him being tortured over the ten episodes and nothing else happening what so ever. We spend the first 9 episodes not knowing who the torturer is but the mystery doesn’t hold up because we presumed it was Bolton’s Bastard after the comments made last season. Although ten episodes of torture is a great way to introduce Ramsey Snow who becomes the new character we love to hate.
What’s your favourite Season 3 moment? Let me know in the comments and geek out with me about Game of Thrones on Twitter @kylebrrtt. Like, Subscribe and why not have a look at all the awesome stuff on the site like the many podcasts and blogs. I’ll be back next week so come back then for some more First Time Writing.