After all the hype, the endless premieres and numerous teaser trailers, Games Of Thrones is back and it’s a relief to get stuck into the action again after weeks of anticipation. Of course, the first episode of any new season can be tough going for viewers, especially as HBO have a zero tolerance policy towards people who don’t pay attention or simply forget what happened last time out.
With no ‘Previously On Game Of Thrones‘ to help us, it was tricky at times to recall exactly what had gone on at the end of Season Two. Not the big stuff, of course, like the Battle Of Blackwater (one of TV‘s finest hours), but the whereabouts and circumstances of some of the characters were a bit of a mystery to me. With so many to catch up with, it was inevitable that we wouldn’t see everyone in this episode, so the likes of Arya and Bran Stark and Jaime Lannister and Brienne remained off screen.
Of those we did see, the Khaleesi’s fortunes have picked up again after a season mostly spent wandering the desert having her baby dragons stolen from her. Now she’s got a ship, teenage dragons that can both catch and cook their own meals and the potential of an ethically-dubious army of slaves. The scene with the dragons was a delight and a sign that this most crucial aspect of the production isn’t going to be a let-down, they look impressively ‘real’ and the prospect of seeing them in action is as tantalising as it was at the end of the first season.
The scenes with the Unsullied soldiers and their mercenary salesman were entertaining too, making good use of the old trick of having a character insulting another in a foreign language while a poor translator has to come up with diplomatic alternatives. ‘Westerosi Whore’ was a particularly nice phrase and it was amusing to see Sasha Valentine from Hollyoaks following Louise on that curious career path from Chester to Across The Narrow Sea. Also enjoyable was Ser Jorah’s face when an even older, gruffer and wiser soldier pledged his allegiance to Daenerys.
Of course, the sight of the Wight Walkers was the main event at the end of the last season and this one picked up with the aftermath of a bad battle for the Night’s Watch (one of those that sadly takes place off-screen) and Sam almost got eaten. Meanwhile Jon Snow finally met Mance Rayder, with the only surprise being that it’s taken Ciaran Hinds two full seasons before he arrived in Game Of Thrones. The first sight of a giant was pretty cool too, and it’s always nice when the show drops these fantasy elements in.
Back at King’s Landing it was all about power and politics, of course, with Tyrion trying to stand up to Tywin (and failing) and Cersei and Joffrey both being wrong-footed by the sweet and cunning Margaery. The upcoming warfare (of the mental kind) between her and her mother-in-law-to-be looks like it will be one to watch, while you can’t imagine Tyrion will stay down for long, despite his rough treatment since saving the city only two episodes ago. And then there’s Littlefinger plotting, this time to rescue poor forgotten Sansa, but what’s his real plan?
Elsewhere, Davos reappeared, having been assumed dead from the wildfire explosion, but soon found himself heading for more flames when he dared cross Melisandre, whose control over Stannis is now total. Up at Harranhal, Robb Stark arrived to find all the prisoners slaughtered (bar one) and those of us with short memories got reminded that his own mum is currently his prisoner for letting Jaime go. Hopefully they’ll catch up with someone else soon and not just spend the season wandering the Northern Irish hills looking grumpy.
So, by necessity, it was a season opener short on high drama and big on exposition, but it was by no means lacking in events and was full of the usual class when it came to dialogue (particularly at King’s Landing) and ambition. It’s a show that could easily over-reach, with so many characters, plot lines and settings, but so far there’s barely been a mis-step. It’s great to have Game Of Thrones back, my only complaint is that, post-House Of Cards, it feels like an age before next week’s episode.