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Game of Thrones Season Premiere Recap: A Few (Thousand) Good Men

In Game of Thrones‘ third season opener, Daenerys meets a group of guys so tough, they make Khal Drogo look like a mewling babe in comparison. (No disrespect, you beautiful Dothraki stallion. I’ll pour some fermented mare’s milk on the ground in your honor later.)

Elsewhere in the seven kingdoms and beyond, Jon Snow gets some northern exposure and Tyrion thinks his new facial scar has a very specific asking price. Let’s see how all those vying for the Iron Throne made out in “Valar Dohaeris.”*

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HOUSE TARGARYEN | One of the coolest shots in the hour is of one of Daenerys’ dragons cavorting in and around the sea while she and Ser Jorah watch from a ship. Her little babies are getting so big! Her khalasar, unfortunately, isn’t thriving in the same way: Bereft of horses and fearful of the “poison water,” the Dothraki are left to puke and groan as the vessel bears toward Astapor. Once at their destination, a slave trader shows the khaleesi his legion of warriors. The Unsullied, as they’re known, go through hellish training from childhood on; the ones that survive are castrated and forced to kill a newborn before they are considered full soldiers. They’ll stand until they drop and nothing bothers them, the slaver boasts, proving it by cutting off one fighter’s right nipple while Dany watches. The soldier doesn’t flinch. (Meanwhile, I still haven’t uncrossed my arms.) There are 8,000 men ready to fight for her, the slaver says, if she decides she wants to buy them.

Daenerys and Jorah walk near the docks while she mulls the proposition. A cute child catches her attention and rolls her a wooden ball; when she picks it up, he mimes for her to open it. But when she does, a lethal, scorpion-looking bug (if you know the actual name, shout it out in the comments) jumps out and prepares to attack her. Out of nowhere, a cloaked stranger skewers the skittering creature. The child reveals itself as one of the House of the Undying’s warlocks – still sore about her leaving Quarth with the dragons, I’m guessing — and disappears. The stranger calls Dany “my queen”: It’s Barristan Selmy, the former head of the Kingsguard! (Joffrey dismissed him right after Robert’s death, remember?) Selmy says he was not able to prevent her father’s death, but he wants to join her queensguard. “I will not fail you again,” he promises.

HOUSE STARK | Robb’s men have the Lannister forces on the run, but they’re itching for a fight. That urge calms itself a bit after Robb, Catelyn, Talisa and the rest of the group come across 200 northmen – including at least one of Catelyn’s father’s bannermen – massacred. And just in case you were wondering whether Robb has forgiven his mother for “freeing” Jaime, I’ll direct your attention to the cell he orders her taken to when they make camp.

Far away in King’s Landing, Sansa wiles away the time with Shae and clings tightly to Littlefinger’s plan to remove her from her oppressors’ power soon… ish. But Baelish’s redheaded whore Ros – pardon me, redheaded business manager Ros – gives Shae a friendly warning to watch out for young Lady Stark where the slippery Littlefinger is concerned.

HOUSE BARATHEON | After the Battle of Blackwater, Ser Davos Seaworth is nearly dead on a rocky island in the Bay when a ship sees him and rescues him. With his son killed and Stannis’ fleet defeated, Davos is determined to end Melisandre and bring his king back into his right mind. Of course, She Who Ground a Smoky, Evil Spirit Out of Her Hoo-hah at will isn’t one to blanch at threats. When he launches himself at her, she has him hauled to the dungeon.

THE MEN OF THE WALL | When Sam Tarly nearly gets gutted during a bizzard, it’s clear that the fight between the brothers of the Night’s Watch and their neighbors to the north isn’t going so well. Even worse: Poor Sam didn’t send the ravens when the fighting broke out, so no one outside of their group knows what’s up. Commence the long slog back to the Wall, men! Or, as their commander warns: “Before winter’s done, everyone you’ve ever known will be dead.”

Having killed one of his sworn brothers in last season’s finale, Jon is deemed worthy of meeting Mance Rayder, the King Beyond the Wall. As she walks young Snow through the wilding camp – which looks so chilly, I put on an extra pair of wool socks just watching — Ygritte takes great pleasure in his shock at seeing a giant for the first time. She also fends off the children who stone him and call him “crow” based on his black Night’s Watch garb. He’s confused: Wasn’t Mance Rayder once a ranger for the Watch himself? “All crows want to fly free,” she intones.

In Mance’s tent, there’s general hilarity among the men when Jon mistakenly bows to Giantsbane. No one bends a knee north of the Wall, son, and certainly not to him! The King Beyond the Wall steps up and introduces himself, wondering why Snow suddenly wants to forsake his vow. The younger man replies that the Night’s Watch commander knows there are White Walkers on the move, but chooses to do nothing about it “I want to fight for the side that fights for the living,” he says. It’s good enough (at least for the moment) for TKBTW, who orders a new cloak brought for his guest.

HOUSE LANNISTER | Tyrion’s scar is healing, and when she visits/spies on him, Cersei flippantly remarks that she’d heard he lost his nose. (Side note: I was so relieved at the end of last season when the show and the books diverged on that small, but disgusting, point.) But he’s still relegated to a cluttered back room while his father assumes the duties of the Hand. So he meets with Lord Tywin to ask for what’s rightly his by birth: Casterly Rock, the Lannister estate. In one of the most blistering denunciations in the series so far – and the Lannisters are a sharp-tongued crew, so that’s saying something – Papa Lion makes it clear that Tyrion is an embarrassment and a disappointment who will never inherit the family seat. Tyrion’s all, “But I held the city during an enemy onslaught! Remember the giant underwater chains? And the fire that burns even on water? And my face?!?” Tywin’s not hearing it, and as his younger son leaves, he makes sure to add: The next whore I catch in your bed, I’ll hang.” Shae, hide!

Meawhile, Joffrey’s future queen Margaery stops the royal procession on its way back from the sept and exits her carriage to visit at an orphanage. (Joffrey, it should be noted, won’t set foot outside his little pod.) The people loooove her. With her bouncy brunette hair and pretty dresses, she’s King’s Landing’s Kate Middleton. Once she’s done some great PR for the palace, she and Joff head back for dinner with mom and Margaery’s brother, Loras. In just a few minutes, Cersei insults Margaery’s skimpy dress and mocks her desire to mingle with the same people who tried to kill a Lannister retinue not that long ago. But Joffrey makes it seem like his mother is being an alarmist – and her snotty son taking his future bride’s side instead of his beloved mother’s is something that does not go unnoticed by the queen regent. Joffrey praises Margaery’s talents and experience ministering to the poor and says he has faith she knows what she’s doing. “I’m sure she does,” Cersei grits into her wine goblet. I can’t wait to see the highborn cagematch between these two!

Now it’s your turn. What did you think of the first episode back? Of the characters we didn’t see in this episode (Arya, Brienne, Jaime, Bran and the rest), who do you miss most? What did you think of Ciarán Hinds as Mance Rayder? Give the premiere a grade via the poll below, then sound off in the comments!

*“All men must serve” in High Valyrian


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