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Warning: This collection of ‘quick and short as I could manage,’ episode-by-episode reviews is brimming with spoilers. Tread with caution.

Valar Dohaeris


‘If I wanted to kill to you, do you think I'd let a wooden door stop me?’
Game of Thrones is setting a precedent with its series premieres and that precedent is ‘keep up or drop out.’ Once again, the audience is tossed head first into the complex lives of dozens of characters with zero regard for their memories of the previous events. Season three picks up right where season two left off – with an army of terrifying ice-zombies, known here as ‘White Walkers,’ attacking the Night’s Watch and marching towards the Wall. The White Walkers are, once again, largely left on the sidelines for the season, but their grotesque threat is well established in a brief scene where born loser Samwell Tarly (John Bradley) is saved from ice-zombie slaughter by his boss, Commander Jeor Mormont (James Cosmo), and his friend Jon Snow’s (Kit Harington) giant white direwolf. Jon himself remains in the custody of Ygritte (Rose Leslie) and the ‘Wildlings’ that live north of the Wall. This season gives us our first glance of Wildling life and all of its freezing depression. We also meet our first important new character, Mance Rayder (Ciarán Hinds), the King Beyond the Wall (though he only appears in a couple of episodes).

 Game of Thrones: Season Three
The other particularly important event of season two was the Battle of Blackwater Bay, where Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) unexpectedly led the defense of King’s Landing against impossible odds. Unfortunately, his father, Lord Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance), took all the credit. Tyrion, the series’ most enduringly popular character, has lost all of his social status in King’s Landing along with most of his friends. His angst is not undone by visits from his sister Cersei (Lena Headey). Meanwhile, slimy whoremonger Petyr ‘Little Finger’ Baelish (Aiden Gillen) begins an insidious courting of Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner), while the evil young King Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) is disturbed/confused when his new bride-to-be, Lady Margaery (Natalie Dormer), visits an orphanage filled with children whose parents died during the attack on Blackwater. Elsewhere, Ser Davos (Liam Cunningham) has survived the slaughter and makes his way back to his King, Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane), at Dragonstone where he is thrown in the dungeons for protesting the influence of the Red Witch, Melisandre (Carice van Houten). Robb Stark (Richard Madden), his army, his mother, Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley), and his bride, Talisa (Oona Chaplin) arrive at Harrenhal, looking for a fight, only to find everyone either dead or gone. Last, but certainly not least, The Mother of Dragons, Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke), has succeeded in securing a boat during her season two adventures and is accompanied by her bodyguard/advisor, Ser Jorah (Iain Glen), her dragons, and the surviving Dothraki on a trip to secure an army – slaves known as ‘The Unsullied.’

Dark Wings, Dark Words


‘This is cruel. And unfair. Cruelly unfair.’
Episode two begins by re-familiarizing the audiences with the rest of the returning cast, beginning with Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead-Wright), his brother, Rickon (Art Parkinson), and their protectors, Hodor (Kristian Nairn) and Osha (Natalia Tena). This small cadre meets up with another ‘seer’ named Jojen Reed (Thomas Brodie Sangster) and his tomboy sister, Meera (Ellie Kendrick), who have been searching for them in hopes of helping Bran achieve his destiny. The other young Stark, Arya (Maisie Williams), and her friends, Gendry (Joe Dempsie) and Hot Pie (Ben Hawkey), stumble across another new character, Thoros of Myr (Paul Kaye), and his Brotherhood without Banners – the Westeros version of Robin Hood and his Merry Men. After betraying the Starks and laying siege to Winterfell, Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen), wakes up to find himself crucified and is physicalyl tortured at the hands of the men he once led. His luck doesn’t improve at all over the next nine episodes in what becomes an excessive series of torture scenes. This marks the beginning of the season’s weakest and dopiest subplots. Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) continues to transport Ser Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) to King's Landing on controversial orders from Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley) and, despite some aggressive disagreements (their sword fight, though brief, is the season’s first standout event), the two begin to bond over their mutual hardship. Episode two also introduces us to another new character, Lady Margaery’s grandmother, Lady Olenna (Diana Rigg), a charming straight-talker that becomes one of the series’ strongest and most interesting women. Meanwhile, Robb’s crew continues their monotonous march through the politics of war, Jon learns to be a Wildling, and Cersei tries to convince her son that his bride to be is not trustworthy.

 Game of Thrones: Season Three

Walk of Punishment


‘Yes, all men must die. But we aren’t men.’
With episode three, the season already begins to feel like it’s spinning its wheels. Unfortunately, there’s still an awful lot of track to lay before the more visceral events can unfold. Walk of Punishment increases the momentum by hammering out the rather dull details of Robb’s planning alongside the rather creepy goings-on in the north, where Jon discovers his friends in the Night’s Watch are dead and turned into White Walkers. Knowing the Night’s Watch is weak, Mance Rayder sends Jon and the Wildlings to climb the Wall. Tywin gathers a council consisting of his daughter, his son, Lord Varys (Conleth Hill), and Little Finger. Here, he announces that he is assigning Tyrion as the new treasurer (‘Keeper of the Coin’) of King’s Landing. While he’s collecting the ledgers from Little Finger and discovering that the kingdom is deep in dept, a cute side plot occurs – Tyrion awards his squire, Podrick (Daniel Portman), with a trio of prostitutes for saving his life at Blackwater. Podrick proves to be such an outstanding lover that the women refuse payment. Later, Daenerys shocks everyone when she offers to trade one of her dragons for all 8,000 Unsullied. She also demands that slavemaster Kraznys mo Nakloz’s (Dan Hildebrand) turn over his translator, Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel), as a gift. The episode ends on a big, gory shock when Jaime uncharacteristically stands up for Brienne after the soldiers that have taken them captive threaten to rape her and has his hand cleaved off for his trouble. Meanwhile, Melisandre reveals to Stannis that she knows there is another Baratheon. Oh, and Theon is tortured some more.

And Now His Watch is Ended


‘Oh, no, please, seduce away. It's been so long. I rather think it's all for naught. What happens when the nonexistent bumps against the decrepit? A question for the philosophers.’
Episode four is where things start getting good. Every scene is a good one (well, almost every one – we still spend an awful lot of time with Theon and his torturers). Varys gives Tyrion a rousing pep talk in patience while telling his entire back-story. The tale ends when he gingerly opens a large wooden box and reveals it to be a torturous prison for the man that castrated him. Lady Margaery continues her efforts to subtly manipulate Joffrey by placating his childlike bloodlust. This is among the season more subtle character cues and helps renew interest in this part of the bigger story. The surviving Night’s Watch members are divided while stationed at Craster’s (Robert Pugh) Keep. There is a revolt, Craster and Jeor Mormont (James Cosmo) are killed, and Sam escapes the chaos with one of Craster’s wives, Gilly (Hannah Murray), and her newborn son. Arya and Gendry, having said their goodbyes to Hotpie, set out on the road with the Brotherhood, who have taken Sandor 'The Hound' Clegane (Rory McCann) prisoner. When they arrive at the Brotherhood’s hideout, they are introduced to Beric Dondarrion (Richard Dormer), the group’s secondary leader who challenges The Hound to trial by combat. And Now His Watch has Ended climaxes as Daenerys’ plan comes together. After handing over her dragon to Kraznys, she reveals she can speak Valyrian, tells the Unsullied they are free, and asks them to kill their slavemasters. In one fell swoop, she frees an entire race and gains a loyal army. It’s very satisfying.

 Game of Thrones: Season Three

Kissed by Fire


‘This one was only the watcher. Hang him last, so he can watch the others die.’
With the track finally and firmly slid into place, season three propels forward, but, with only six episodes left, the rolling waves of disparate narrative threaten to overwhelm the audience. Kissed by Fire opens with Beric and The Hound’s mano-a-mano battle. The Hound wins the fight, but he is shocked when Thoros brings Beric back to life. True to their word, the Brotherhood sends The Hound on his way, much to the chagrin of Arya. This is a good place to note how good Maisie Williams is on this show – even with limited screen time, she regularly manages to steal the screen from actors three or four times her age without ever resorting to histrionics. Jaime and Brienne’s situation improves when they’re dropped off at Harrenhal, where Lord Roose Bolton (Michael McElhatton) offers them minor comforts, like beds and medical attention. Their interaction in the Harrenhal baths is another of the season’s exceptional moments. Here, Jaime mournfully tells the true story behind his status as ‘The King Slayer.’ Stannis is also given a more human dimension when we’re introduced to his wife, Queen Selyse Baratheon (Tara Fitzgerald), and his daughter, Princess Shireen Baratheon (Kerry Ingram). Shireen doesn’t believe her father’s assertions that Ser Davos is a traitor and sneaks into the dungeon, where she teaches him to read. It sounds goofy when I describe it so simply, but I assure you, the ensuing interactions are adorable. Things are looking up at King’s Landing, until Tywin announces a plan that makes absolutely nobody happy – Tyrion will wed Sansa, ruining her chance to finally escape the Lannister’s reach, and Cersei will wed Ser Loras (Finn Jones), designating a second time her father has married her off for political power. Meanwhile, in an oddly romanticized, Harlequin romance sequence, Jon Snow and Ygritte finally consummate their relationship, Robb is forced to punish Lord Rickard Karstark (John Stahl) and five of his men after they murder the imprisoned Lannister boys (I think they’re cousins or something), and Daenerys gets to know her army, including their chosen leader, Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson).

The Climb


‘The laws of my fist are about to compel your teeth!’
The title of The Climb refers mostly to the episode’s central set-piece – Jon and his new Wildling friends attempt to scale the Wall (Little Finger’s episode-capping speech to Varys also refers to ‘the climb’). This sequence does not benefit from the most convincing special effects, but it is thoroughly suspenseful, thanks to strong performances and riveting sound design. The climax, where Jon takes Yigrette’s hand and leads her to the edge of the Wall to see the view, is also particularly satisfying. Tywin and Lady Olenna engage in an outstandingly witty mental chess game over the marriage of their children, while Tyrion and Cersei discuss their current plight (this includes verification that Joffrey was the one that ordered Tyrion’s assassination at Blackwater). Later, Tyrion makes the best of a horrible situation and tells a heartbroken Sansa about the wedding plans – right in front of his ‘girlfriend,’ Shae (Sibel Kekilli). Meanwhile, Bran diffuses tension in his party as they continue towards the Wall, Robb strikes a deal with Lord Walder Frey (David Bradley) that will lead him to utter ruin, and Bolton announces that he will send Jaime back to his father – without Brienne, who will be charged with treason. Oh, right, and Theon is tortured some more.

 Game of Thrones: Season Three

The Bear and the Maiden Fair


‘You waste time trying to get people to love you, you’ll wind up the most popular dead man in town.’
After successfully scaling the Wall, Jon is forced to admit that he can’t remain loyal to both Ygritte and the Night’s Watch. In his angst, he tries to convince Ygritte that their journey is a wasted one. This is contrasted against footage of Osha, a former Wildling, trying to dissuade Jon’s brother, Bran, from his campaign to cross the Wall to the north. Later, the episode parallels scenes of Margaery comforting Sansa and Bronn (Jerome Flynn) comforting Tyrion about their mutual discomforts (Shae is not as forgiving…), while Tywin discusses leadership with a particularly uppity King Joffrey. Daenerys and her army come upon the city of Yunkai, which holds no strategic value in terms of conquering of Westeros, but does hold thousands of slaves, which she means to free. She is once again underestimated by her advisors and her abolitionist stance continues to define her as the most worthy successor to the Iron Throne. Or at least the easiest of the supposed heirs to root for. Furious that Melisandre convinced the Brotherhood to hand over Gendry in the previous episode, Arya runs away and is captured by The Hound. Meanwhile, Talisa informs Robb that she is pregnant (a development that only appears to further serve the tragedy that befalls episode nine), Theon suffers the unkindest cut (it takes an awfully long time to arrive at the inevitable), and Jaime risks his life and freedom to rescue Brienne from a bear (Bart the Bear, Jr.) she has been forced to fight for the amusement of the Harrenhal soldiers.

Second Sons


‘A man who fights for gold can't afford to lose to a girl.’
Daenerys’ advisors learn that the Yunkai have hired the services of the Second Sons, a mercenary group led by Captain Mero (Mark Killeen) and lieutenants Prendahl na Ghezn (Ramon Tikaram) and Daario Naharis (Ed Skrein). She offers them an alliance, but, in private, the three decide to murder her under the shadow of night, in hopes of avoiding a full-scale battle against the Unsullied. They draw straws (so to speak) and Daario ‘wins’ the task, but he surprises everyone when he delivers Mero and Prendahl’s heads to Daenerys, instead. Later, Melisandre returns to Dragonstone with Gendry, intending to sacrifice him to the Lord of Light. Stannis explains the plan to Davos, who, unsurprisingly, doesn’t approve. Melisandre attempts to change Davos’ mind with a demonstration involving leeches bursting with Gendry’s blood. In the episode’s most touching scene, Tyrion has a heart-to-heart with Sansa, where he does everything he can to put her at ease about their union. His promise of protection has a moving, fatherly subtext – one that is understandably sullied when they’re forced to make babies. Their wedding is a melancholy and small affair, but there is a definite sense of relief for Sansa as the reception ends, especially when Tyrion tucks her into bed, unmolested. Meanwhile, the Hound explains to Arya that he intends to take her back to her mother and brother for a reward and Sam fends off a White Walker with a ‘dragonglass’ blade.

 Game of Thrones: Season Three

The Rains of Castamere


‘All men should keep their word, kings most of all.’
So far, every season of Game of Thrones has been overshadowed by a single event and, so far, that event has occurred during each season’s penultimate episode. First was Baelor, which ended with the death of Ned Stark. Next was Blackwater, which depicted the spectacular Battle of Blackwater Bay. Season three’s big, traumatizing event (it became a internet craze for people to film unsuspecting loved ones while they watched the episode) occurs at the end of The Rains of Castamere, when everything Robb Stark has achieved over the last two seasons is undone. It turns out that Edmure’s wedding to Roslin Frey (Alexandra Dowling) was just an elaborate ruse to get Robb, his wife, his mother, his trusted associates, and his army in one place at one time. At Lord Walder’s behest, everyone is indiscriminately slaughtered, including Robb, Catelyn, Talisa, and the unborn baby. The episode makes a considerable efforts to galvanize the audience’s hopes concerning Robb’s attack on the Lannisters’ home base, Casterly Rock, but there is also a heavy glaze of dread that clues those of us that haven’t read the books into the oncoming assault. In other remarkable events, Jon Snow’s Wildling friends stumble across Bran and his group, who are seeking shelter within an abandoned windmill. Unfortunately, during the ensuing battle, Jon never actually sees Bran and is also forced to ditch a heartbroken Ygritte. Meanwhile, Ser Jorah, Daario, and Grey Worm overcome great odds to gain control of Yunkai for Daenerys and Arya and The Hound arrive at The Twins just in time to witness the horrors of the Red Wedding from just outside the castle.

Mhysa


‘This War of Five Kings means nothing. The true war lies to the north, my king. Death marches on the Wall.’
The season ends with a few more climaxes, but is largely a lead in for season four, which will likely have more substantial payoffs, considering it is being taken from the second half of the third book. Arya and The Hound escape the Twins together and begin an unexpected alliance. Arya’s grief (for all she knows, she is the last Stark living) overwhelms her, giving her strength to commit her first murder. The showmakers also remind us that Jaqen H'ghar still owes her a favour with an image of the coin she carries. The news of Robb and company’s death spreads quickly to King’s Landing, where it drives a wedge between Tyrion and Sansa. Sam and Gilly stumble upon Bran and his friends. After showing them a way under the Wall, Sam hands-over their remaining dragonglass blades and wishes them luck on their future travels. Meanwhile, Davos frees Gendry after a brief bonding session, Varys tries to convince Shae to leave Tyrion (for the ‘right’ reason), Jon makes it back to Castle Black, and Jaime finally returns to King’s Landing. Theon’s elongated torment continues, but there is end in sight as his sister, Yara (Gemma Whelan), disobeys their father and (wo)mans a ship to save her brother. The season ends on the moving spectacle of the freed slaves of Yunkai embracing Daenarys as their new ‘mother’ – even if the image of any Aryan woman being praised as the savior of a sea of brown-skinned characters is always troubling.

 Game of Thrones: Season Three

Video


Game of Thrones is still shot using Arri Alexa digital HD cameras and continues its tradition of trying to make the grim ‘n gritty show appear to have been shot on film. The first season, which featured more limited locations and fewer digital FX, was particularly naturalistic, while season two was more smoothed out by colour grading and sported an increase in CG set extensions. Season three sees the production crew getting the hang of all the digital augmentations, making it something of a middle ground in terms of the balance of clarity and grit. Once again, the 1080p, 1.78:1 episodes have been spread over seven discs, which is sort of unnecessary, but certainly counteracts any compression problems. The images vary from location to location, each of which is given its own specified colour palette. ‘Classic’ locations appear generally the same, while new locations require further colour-coding. The areas north of the Wall are still gritty, cold and blue, King’s Landing still glittering with reds and greens (though a bit more orange & teal than previous seasons, specifically indoors), the locations across the sea, especially Yunkai, are warm and yellow, like Qarth was in season two (also, they’re often shot using softer and shallower focus), and Dragonstone glows with vibrant, softly blended oranges. The directors and cinematographers opt to embrace the clarity of the digital format (occasionally to the detriment of the computer generated effects). The outdoor location shots (some of which are actually very impressive, indoor sets) still appear quite lush and natural, including more lifelike layers of texture and colour. The brighter, hyper-clean, and more explicitly digitally-enhanced images display similar qualities, but the lack of contrast makes them a little less impressive overall. The really dark images are perhaps a hair sharper than previous release, though the hardest edges still show minor halo effects.

 Game of Thrones: Season Three

Audio


Game of Thrones, like most big-budget television shows, is mixed to compete with feature releases and HBO delivers another complex, expansive DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix. The clear and natural talk-heavy scenes are wonderfully supported by a wide range of ambient noises that help the world of Westeros spring to life without distracting from the dialogue. Much of the sound design is so delightfully pitched that it’s easy to miss altogether, but those taking the time will notice a bevy of stereo and surround enhancements fluttering amid all but the absolute driest dialogue scenes. There is nothing as ambitious as the Battle of Blackwater Bay this time, but there are still plenty of aural highlights throughout the seven discs. Beric and The Hound’s episode five battle, fueled by a flaming sword and hectic editing, is an early standout. Among the more supernaturally-endowed multi-channel attacks is the end of episode eight, where a massive murder of crows surrounds Sam and Gilly and their threatening, loudly-layered calls go shockingly silent as a White Walker approaches. The climbing of the Wall is perhaps the season’s most aggressive aural moment, including the deafening swirl of arctic winds throughout the stereo and surround channels and the LFE-rumbling terror of the ice breaking apart. Ramin Djawadi’s music continues to play a vital part in the mix as well. The operatic theme he has written to close out the season is the perfect cherry on a wonderful track.

 Game of Thrones: Season Three

Extras


The extras once again begin with a series of audio commentaries:
  • Episode 1 – Actors Jack Gleeson and Natalie Dormer, writer Vanessa Tayor, and director Daniel Minahan
  • Episode 2 – Executive producers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss.
  • Episode 3 – Production designer Gemma Jackson and costume designer Michele Clapton.
  • Episode 4 – Director Alex Graves and actors Diana Rigg and Lena Headey.
  • Episode 5 – Writer Bryan Cogman and actors Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Gwendoline Christie.
  • Episode 6 – Director Alik Sakharov and actors Kit Harington and Rose Leslie.
  • Episode 6 – Actors Sophie Turner, Maisie Williams, and Isaac Hempstead Wright.
  • Episode 7 – Director Michelle MacLaren and co-executive producer/creator George R.R. Martin.
  • Episode 8 – Director Michelle MacLaren, and actors John Bradley and Hannah Murray.
  • Episode 9 – Director David Nutter and actors Richard Madden and Michelle Fairley.
  • Episode 9 – Weapons Master Tommy Dunne, stunt coordinators Paul Herbert and David Foreman, and swordmaster C.C. Smiff.
  • Episode 10 – Actors Emilia Clarke, Iain Glen, and Iwan Rheon.


 Game of Thrones: Season Three
Other extras include:
  • In-Episode guides – Each episode includes pop-up facts about on-screen characters, locations, and the relevant histories.
  • Deleted/extended scenes (14:30, HD, disc 5)
  • A Gathering Storm (14:00, HD, disc 1) – A recap of season two with the cast and crew.
  • New Characters (9:40, HD, disc 1) – A series of vignettes introducing season three’s new characters: Olenna Tyrell, Missandei, Mance Rayder, Tormund Giantsbane, Orell, Jojen & Meera Reed, Blackfish & Edmure Tully, Thoros of Myr, and Beric Dondarrion.
  • The Rains of Castamere Unveiled (46:40, HD, disc 4) – An in-depth breakdown of the season’s ninth episode that runs alongside the episode itself, including cast and crew interviews, behind-the-scenes footage, and additional features accessible when a sword icon appears on the screen (I lost count of how many of them there were).
  • The Roots of Westeros[I] (disc 5) – An interactive guide that includes text & image-based info on the legacies, locations, and factions of the various Westeros regions.
  • Histories & Lore (HD, disc 5) – A second interactive guide that covers various pre-series histories that play important parts in the third season. Each of the 16 selections features a narrated, motion comic video.
  • [I]Inside the Wildlings (6:20, HD, disc 5) – A quick look at the history and customs of the Wildlings, along with the process of designing their weapons and costumes.
  • The Politics of Marriage (8:40, HD, disc 5) – An exploration of the ways Game of Thrones characters use marriage as a political tool, including the historical relevance that inspired Martin’s stories.


 Game of Thrones: Season Three

Overall


Game of Thrones season three is characteristically busy and takes a solid three episodes to rev up to the proper momentum. Still, once it finds its footing, the high points are high, indeed – perhaps even the best in the show’s history. I have not read the books, so I don’t know exactly what is coming (no spoilers!), but assume that season three’s bigger structural issues are in service of the second half of the third book, which will make up season four. HBO delivers another stellar Blu-ray collection, including a sharp picture, an expressive DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack, and a nice collection of extras, headed by audio commentaries, interactive guides, and an in-episode experience for episode nine.

 Game of Thrones: Season Three

 Game of Thrones: Season Three

 Game of Thrones: Season Three

* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-rays and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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