Game of Thrones – Valar Dohaeris
I don’t speak the formal, latin-like language of Westeros, I can barely follow the common banter but a quick google of the phrase that gave this episode its title revealed its meaning and more. No, thankfully I wasn’t spoiled on anything but i did find out quite quickly that there are a large number of people around who seemingly do speak the language of this world, that they know this phrase well enough to have it embroidered on shirts, marked on mugs and needle-inked into their own skin alongside its twin ‘Valar Morghulis’; the phrase used as the title of the second season’s finale, the episode preceding this one.
It took me a bit of research to notice the clever little connection that the show’s creators had crafted here, research that most viewers won’t indulge in but for those tattooed fans whom the nod was surely aimed at this kind of attention to detail is what makes Game of Thrones such a demanding and demanded adaptation. Honestly this morning I could have taken or left it, still not sold on the show by the end of the second season, but this return to the world of Westeros was a much relished event for many and I may be starting to see why, though my skin will not serve similarly unless the show addresses the strong structural issues that have stuck with it over the break.
Game of Thrones was initially pitched to us puerile non-readers as something truly amazing, as Middle-Earth’s The Wire. A ludicrously lofty goal for a show to be sure and one that you could, at first, see the show shooting for but this season premiere seems to mark the shows shift into territory more alike HBO’s biggest commercial success that its critical one: True Blood. The world of Westeros is still wide, its inhabitants still deep and their dialogue still deviously witty but the plots that they enact are pulp. They once had something of a political bent but now its more of a paranormal one, what with giants, possessed girls and gaudy CG bugs now standing alongside the zombies, witches, wizards, dire wolves and dragons that had appeared prior. This though is not so terrible a thing, for once you drop all presumption of the shows sophistication these stories could become satisfying in the same way as a soap-opera, in the same way as Scandal, Revenge or General Hospital. Only whereas those shows have their story delivery down to a science Game of Thrones is still muddling about and messing up the pacing if this is to truely become a melodrama.
Dohaeris is a season premiere and so it was never going to be the biggest or best episode of the show, however it should have been one of the more solid outings offered. Premiere’s should stand as the foundation of what’s to come, the steady ground that later episodes can shake and splinter, but it was stringy and threadbare from the very beginning. The quick jumps that we are given of each plot in the episode served not as reminders, successions or fresh starts but attempts to serve all three masters, failing at each in turn. Again, I don’t know how the book began but this seemed a strange chunk of story to start the season off with, given that it seemed more akin to that which we would see in the middle of one. Now you could argue that it isn’t simply a season long story that is being told here but a series one and that this kind of serialization is admirable, but I question whether this episode truly served the story, if it actually stepped it forward far enough to justify an hour of our time.
The reason behind this is that with season three the show has stepped out from its ‘One book equals one season’ model, which should theoretically give the show the ability to slow down and deliver more character moments so as to make the eventual plot movements more potent. There were some of these scenes present during the premiere -as to whether there were more or less than there usually are I’m not sure, ask someone with a stopwatch- and nearly all of them worked in the moment: Tyrion testing wits with the two relatives of his who fence that way was wonderful, Sansa making a melancholy game out of the ships that sail by her wide prison window was suitably emotive as was the awkward tension at the royal dinner. I enjoyed it whenever the show would slow but each of these moments is sandwiched between a scene of foreshadowing or (failed) tension that are asking you to be excited instead for what will be coming far further own the track.
The time signatures of the two shows are simply not in sync with one another and thus the result is far from melodious though there is still something magic in this world. When the show goes big, when it makes a leap there is very little that can provide shock or satisfaction of a similar strength however those moments have become few and far between given the increasingly epic scope of the show (that pilot and the few episodes after it seem almost like a bottle-episode in comparison to the current fare). Somehow too its small moments are often just as strong and these the show manages to deliver almost every week an with much more consistency; they are I think the scenes that the show should favor though its preferences (and profit centers) lie elsewhere. Given Games‘ structure it is far too early in the season to be making many big claims but if the show can’t reconcile serving these two masters soon I may have to start missing it