Prepare yourselves! Season three of HBO's blood 'n' boobs and 'n' Baratheons fantasy series Game of Thrones returns on Sunday night, meaning the long wait of the superfans is nearly over. But was it worth it? Will the third season thrill and delight in the same old ways, while also moving the story forward and growing the world? Well, based on what I've seen, I'm relieved to say: yes and yes.
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As most anyone who's read the book series will tell you, the third book is the best one. So much happens in it, in fact, that the showrunners decided to split the book into two seasons. (That probably also had to do with the fact that George R.R. Martin still has two more books to write and HBO didn't want to run out of story too soon.) And I would suspect that many people who read the books will have a little trouble figuring out where things have been snipped or combined on the show, which characters have been made composite or deleted altogether. And that's a good thing! The show needs to exist on its own terms to truly work as a series. Turns out, I love some of the changes they've made, most of all the characters they've coaxed out of the dark and made fully realized. (Hello there, Shae!) The first two episodes of the third season continue that artful tweaking, the writers having to work even harder as Martin's story grows denser. But they pull it off!
Those who haven't read the books but who are still all caught up with the show will be pleased, as all the fan favorites get some good, juicy moments and newer characters get a chance to show us their stripes. I especially liked a charged scene between bratty King Joffrey and his soon-to-be wife Margaery Tyrell, one in which she deftly endears herself to his dark side while seeming clueless as to her appeal. Natalie Dormer is a wily actress and is terrifically cast, like so many on this show. Another delight is Dame Diana Rigg as Lady Olenna, Margaery's sharp and feisty grandmother. All told, the Tyrells are a welcome addition to the Game of Thrones family. As are Meera and Jojen Reed, arriving in the second episode. Though, it is a bit jarring to see the little cherub from Love Actually all grown up.
Also adding a nice bit of familiar-face flash is the great Ciaran Hinds, making his first appearance as wildling leader Mance Rayder. All of these august British actors are remarkably willing to throw themselves into this curious world of giants and dragons and mystical wolves. I suspect their gameness has largely to do with the sharpness of the writing, which is keenly adapted from Martin's text and shaped into dialogue as deliciously witty as it is dense and robust. Good writing attracts good actors, and so far the third season is rife with both.
I do have one major concern, though. As our fair Daenerys travels ever further into the abyss that is Essos, I'm worried we'll lose her. She kinda gets lost in the books, buried under a pile of X- and Z-filled names. So far she's still firmly present, Emilia Clarke as forceful as ever, but I don't feel good about the show having to head into Martin's most muddled storyline. Hopefully one of the changes they'll make from books to screen is to condense or reshape Dany's adventures in the slaving east. The plot could really use it. And maybe a nip and a tuck could help get rid of some of the books' troubling racial undertones, too. (Though, they're still on display in the first of Dany's scenes this season.) I just hope the show treads carefully and wisely through this particular narrative mire. And really I've only evidence to suggest that they will. These guys are good.
All told, the third season of Game of Thrones is so far smooth and assured. While it's still hard to imagine the series surviving all the way to the end of Martin's book series — again, he still hasn't even written two of them — it's certainly hale and hearty and seemingly unwinded so far. Even Peter Dinklage's accent is better this year! That's quite an achievement. Because that accent was very bad when he started. Really, season three finds everyone operating with the confidence of people who know they are making something special. And while disaster could always be potentially awaiting us, as with any television series, there are so many exciting and game-changing events to come this season that I simply don't see how they could go astray. Hubris, they might call that, but what did the Greeks know about Westeros anyway?