If you thought Game of Thrones reached its zenith with Season 2, Season 3 climbs the mountains even further. If you feared for the safety of the show’s principal characters in Season 2, Season 3 will accelerate, amplfy and ameliorate those fears. And if you thought Season 2 delivered what could possibly be the show’s best penultimate 9th episode, Season 3 will leave you dumbstruck with your mouth wide open through The Rains of Castamere.
It’s tough to outright declare Season 3 as better than Season 2 since that Season had its epic share of episodes and moments as well. What does strike me though is how much more interesting, exhilarting and well connected I find Season 3 in a retrospective viewing; knowing what lies ahead and the seeds planted leading up to the big moments, spectacles carefully orchestrated to never quite feel out of place but instead evoke emotions that make you connect, care and fear for the characters and their lives. Season 3 ascends Game of Thrones from one of the finest shows on TV at the moment to one whose every episode is an event to be dissected, devoured and debated endlessly. It’s an event that brings most of pop-culture world at a standstill as they come together to watch the Houses game other Houses for political advantage, different Kings and their clans fight for the Iron Throne and characters interweave and play out their stories like it were life itself.
There’s so much that happens in these subsequent seasons that I’m not even sure where to start. Instead of going on with the narrative then, let’s discuss the characters that make a mark. The Lannisters certainly come to the forefront this Season, but it’s the father-son duo of Tyrion and Tywin Lannister that get some of the most memorable, yet painful and heartbreaking scenes. We already learned in Season 1 the horrible fate that Tyrion’s marriage ended up with; it’s infinitely worse to see him fight for recognition from his father, even so much as a small acknowledgment, only to be treated with constant snubs, insults and disappointing reminders of his birth having lost Tywin his wife. Both of them are given excellent material to play off with and they bounce back and forth cleverly, always staying in character, yet the script peeling off layers upon layers of hurt, hatred and agony. It’s also a stark change from the Cripples, Bastards & Broken Things days of Tyrion and we find a man who we once thought was unbreakable, broken in search for some acknowledgement and acceptance of his father’s love, respect or the least, his existence.
This isn’t the only pairing we get in Season 3 however. Brienne and Jaime forge an unexpected partnership which goes from them not caring about each other at the beginning to Jaime returning back from his route to King’s Landing just so he could save the Mainden fair from fighting a bear. That’s a relationship that has undergone a lot of growth, and a majority of it is attributed to a brilliant scene in Episode 5, Kissed By Fire where Nikolaj-Coster Waldau gives his best performance in the show by far as he breaks down in character to explain Jaime’s real backstory, of how and why he slayed the King, earning him the infamous title of Kingslayer. The scene closes off by Jaime reminding Brienne of his real name, which is a stark reminder of a man so broken by the tag of slaying the Mad King he’s frustrated that people do not realize how much of a service he did the city by saving it from burning under the fire of Aerys Targaryen and his dragons.
Speaking of dragons, the last standing Targaryen Daenerys gets a hell lot to do this season. I loved Dany’s arc in Season 3 a lot more in Seasons 1 and 2. What started off as a meek character surrendering to her brother’s wishes to be wed to the savage Khal Drogo has now evolved into the confident and self-assured Mother of Dragons, capable of taking down cities with her wit and weapons (dragons). Not only does she successfully take two cities, Astapor and Yunkai across Slaver’s Bay, but convinces the people to willingly fight for her rather than be subdued or coerced by her side. It’s a testament to the kind of ruler she has the potential of being, and it sparks even more respect for her from her loyal aides Jorah Mormont and Ser Barristan Selmy (yes, the former Kingsguard is now on her side). But not all’s smooth sailing and there are rumblings of some ruffled feathers or, more appropriately, hurt feelings when Daenerys begins showing some affection for Yunkai’s leader Daario Nahaaris.
New characters are thrown galore into the mix, but the scene stealer has to be Olenna Tyrell. The Tyrell family’s head-honcho, Olenna is played by Diana Rigg as a no-nonsense, smart, incredibly sharp and witty lady whose comebacks, punchlines and analogies silence even the sharpest of speakers. It helps that the writers utilize that to full extent, pairing her with every character imaginable in King’s Landing from Sansa, to Tyrion to even Tywin, with Olenna managing to one-up everyone in her scenes except the Lannister family head. The Brotherhood without Banners is also introduced and we meet Thoros of Myr and Beric Dondarrion who, with his ability to be reborn after dying, lends some mysticism to the proceedings and reminds viewers that this is a fantasy after all. The Boltons also become more prominent and tied into the central plot, and we see both father Roose and bastard son Ramsay introduced gradually into the fold. And the Wildling subplot gains unexpected importance, thanks to its direct ties to the White Walker storyline, who by the Season’s end are the central threat that everyone is talking about. Wildling leader Mance Rayder also makes an impression and Ciaran Hinds plays him with such confidence and swagger that it helps hammer home the message of the Wildlings electing and following their leader by choice, rather than lineage.
Season 3 is notable for peaking and climaxing multiple times. Unlike the earlier Seasons, Season 3 feels like it has three finales, in Episodes 4 (And Now His Watch Has Ended), 9 (The Rains of Castamere) and 10 (Mhysa). And as I elaborated, there’s a lot that goes down on this episode from Robb and Catelyn’s journey, betrayal by the Karstarks, subsequent weakening of their forces to Theon’s prolonged torture to the Hound and Arya’s unexpected teaming up. Despite having a lot to throw at us in terms of information, events and backstories, the episodes breeze by, yet get the necessary room to breathe in its silent moments. The balance is well achieved by allowing directors to helm two episodes consecutively, with showrunners David Benioff and D. B. Weiss helming an episode themselves as well, their first this season and their directorial debut as a whole.
But any review of Season 3 is incomplete without discussing the gut-wrenching 9th episode The Rains of Castamere and its horrifying aftermath. The episode hits you like a jolt, presenting a scenario with an outcome you never expected and a betrayal you never saw coming, yet one whose seeds were sown throughout the season, subtle clues and moments here and there to indicate the terrible fate that befalls the Starks courtesy the Freys. I’m particularly impressed with Michelle Fairley’s and David Bradley’s performances as Catelyn Stark and Walder Frey respectively. Fairley channels all her emotions in a crucial sequence towards the episode’s end that really conveys the sense of loss, despair and resigned fate of her character, sealed after Frey’s apathetic response. David Bradley is despicable as Frey and that’s as big a compliment as can be given for an act that seems so seamless you’d hate Frey as much as you loathe Joffrey.
At this point, it would be futile to marvel at the technical accomplishments of Game of Thrones but it’s worth acknowleding the effort put behind the scenes. The production design, costume and makeup work is simply top-notch and if you thought Qarth blew you over with its setup, wait until you watch Astapor and Yunkai. Everything from Tyrion’s chambers to Theon’s torture-house to the Riverlands feels lived in for centuries. Visual effects get some more work handed to them with the dragons growing up and breathing catastrophic fire, the dragon effects are always convincing and I suspect part of that has to do with their sparing use. And it helps that the Season had a $50 million budget; while a fraction of what most movies would get, Game of Thrones makes the most of it.
A hugely satisfying part of watching a Game of Thrones episode is also the orchestral score by Ramin Djawadi. As if the iconic theme isn’t enough (I’ve yet to skip the opening intro), Djawadi has been carefully cultivating subtle variations that very neatly fit in George R. R. Martin’s world. There are also some new ones here and of particular interest is Jon and Yggritte’s theme, which is at once romantic, sweeping, epic and incredibly sad and emotional. That’s a lot of emotions to convey but such is his score that it gradually build to a crescendo and is then unleashed at a key point in the character’s journey; in case of the aforementioned theme, after multiple teases and brief cues, it fully plays out in the closing moments of Episode 6, The Climb.
On the whole, Season 3 is an extremely satisfying binge, even more so upon a second viewing. For in a repeat watch, you’re already familiar with the core ethos but are looking to make more sense of the events, draw future connections and dissect plot threads for clues to what lies ahead. I’m surprised by how well Bran Stark’s arc has been written; his flashes and his abilities as a warg have been present for quite a while, as does he possess some other abilities that will be revealed in due Seasons. Everything fits neatly and flows seamlessly and ends with a gratitutous display of violence and horror that will linger on with you for hours, days, maybe weeks on end. Game of Thrones Season 3 has no equal in television viewing and cements the show as one of the greatest things to have happened to Television in the last decaade.
Game of Thrones Season 3 Rating: 10.0 out of 10.0
In this For The Throne retrospective series, we take a look back at all seasons of George R. R. Martin’s hit fantasy show Game of Thrones, uncovering new insights, identifying connections and spotting plot points and teases that go on to play an important role in the final season. These posts are littered with spoiler so exercise caution when reading.