Monday, April 1, 2013

[Review] Season III, Episode I: Valar Dohaeris

Spoilers galore! Ye have been warned.

All right, it's Game of Thrones time again. Feels like only a few months since I was all excited about learning that a TV show based on A Song of Ice and Fire could become a reality. And now we're hitting A Storm of Swords already. I know at least one guy who should be feeling stressed about that.

I liked the first season well enough, despite the changes to the book. I've always thought the books are pretty much ready to go as script material, and I think a lot of great dialogue from the books should have been kept intact (alas!), but they managed a nice balance in the first season. I also think they did an outstanding job with casting, and many of the actors of the show now pop up in my head when re-reading the books.

I was disappointed with season two, thought they strayed too far from the books, and some of the new actors didn't have "the look" I was hoping for - whereas people like Varys, Littlefinger, Bran Stark, Sansa Stark and Ser Barristan Selmy (to name a few) looked like they were teleported out of the books and onto the TV screen, I found it harder to wrap my head around the look of the actors portraying Ser Davos Seaworth, Melisandre, Margaery Tyrell, and Xaro Whatshisname Ducksauce. That, together with the aforementioned straying from the book (A Clash of Kings) made me less invested in the series to the point that I have only rewatched it once (see a post from not too long ago) - but I admit it improved massively on a second viewing. 

So there I was ready for season three. And no matter how many disappointments being a fan of the series has brought me personally (mostly in the form of long waits), I was still hyped up and ready - if apprehensive.

Valar Dohaeris was a pleasant surprise. The increased production values, the acting, and a core that felt more in harmony with the book (even though, again, there were some massive changes), some solid dialogue, interesting set and costume designs and a nice pace between scenes all had me digging this episode as much as the first season. 

The strongest scene by far was a simple verbal confrontation between father and son - Lord Tywin Lannister and Tyrion Lannister. The producers should take note that this scene was perhaps the closest to the book, and it worked like seven hells. As I said, Martin's prose is already so good, why go around and change so much of the dialogue? In this scene, we finally get to see a little of the Tywin as he is in the book, and Peter Dinklage's acting here is just icing on the cake. 

In contrast, perhaps the weakest scene is the opening of the show with Samwell Tarly running, getting attacked by a wight, and then rescued by Ghost and Lord Commander Mormont. It felt very cheap, what with the black screen and sounds, and all of a sudden there's only one wight around after season two gave us at least a hundred. However, it was the dialogue that irked me the most, with Mormont asking Sam if he got the ravens off and Sam saying, uhm, no? I wonder why they changed this. And I miss Chett, dammit with his angry boils. 

Daenerys' scenes were enjoyable, and the second strongest scene has to be her going to check out the Unsullied - and again, it is a scene that is quite close to the book. Take note, producers! The books are in fact better than your changes, and maybe just maybe the show can work with more of the books' dialogue intact. Just saying. 

Oh well; when an hour's episode feels like ten minutes, it has to be somewhat entertaining am I right? I liked Davos' scenes (though I still don't "see" the actor as Davos), Margaery Tyrell's scenes were enjoyable (again, I think they found the wrong actress for the character look-wise, but she did a great job I admit); Bronn was and remains a highlight, and once again Tyrion Lannister had some fun lines ("You must be proud to be as funny as a man with his balls hanging to his knees" or something to that effect had me chuckle). 

It is hard getting over the fact that this is an adaptation; I still think they are too far away from the source material and hopefully they drag themselves a little closer to the line. The only apt comparison I can think of is The Lord of the Rings movies, which also had drastic changes but more often than not were closer to the book they were based on (or I'm remembering this all wrong, could be). 

A Storm of Swords is just so damned good, it feels like a shame not to stick close to it even for a TV show.
I am well aware that non-readers find the series confusing enough, and they have a schedule and a budget and yadayadayada, but, again, there's a fine line between adaptation and "inspired by". There was a sequence with Bronn and a whore and Pod picking him up that could have been spent on more dialogue or character actually from the book....'s so weird to both like and be frustrated by Game of Thrones. All in all, I call Valar Dohaeris a successful premiere episode, perhaps the best of the three so far, and I am eagerly anticipating episode two next week. I do wonder why they chose to call it Valar Dohaeris though. My guess is the Unsullied and Ser Barristan Selmy's return. 

Oh, one more note; gotta love the shout-out to Tyrion's not-hacked-off nose from Cersei. And the dragons looked great. And I have almost gotten over the fact that King's Landing doesn't look like King's Landing at all. And I loved the panoramic shots of Astapor, the Red Keep, Robb's host...and the surprise appearance of Qyburn did come as a surprise. I hope this doesn't mean we lose the Bloody Mummers...

Episode I, Valar Dohaeris: 8.8

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