Recap: Game of Thrones 3.02 - Dark Wings, Dark Words

This is going to contain spoilers for this episode, and also for the books. I won't tell you what happens in the fifth book, or what I think is going to happen in the next episode, but I will talk about differences between the book and the show thus far. Deal with it.

The third-season premiere of Game of Thrones felt like an extended recap for the previous season. Lots of catching up with characters and reminding the viewer of their place in Westeros. There were some fine moments, and the show was buoyed, as always, by fantastic acting. But if I was awarding letter grades to episodes, I might have dinged it a little for lack of momentum. 

The second episode, Dark Wings, Dark Words, definitely feels like it has some movement to it, even though we're still checking in with the show's massive cast. But with Robb headed to Riverrun and the Tyrells getting in the game (of thrones!) and Arya running into the Brotherhood Without Banners, the wheels are clearly in motion. 

And I'm starting to get a little worried. 

Last night we met a bunch of new characters on a show that already has a huge cast. The showrunners have continued their streak of impeccable casting, which is encouraging. Diana Rigg is brilliant as the Queen of Thorns. Jojen and Meera Reed are aces. The members of the Brotherhood Without Banners are slightly more compelling than I remember them being in the books.

But we also meet more members of House Bolton. And Theon is back, even though he disappears for the entirety of the third book. And there are still more characters to come. Important ones!

You know what did it for me? When the Brotherhood Without Banners revealed they captured Clegane (who proceeded to blow up Arya's spot). I completely forgot about The Hound! But when I saw him I realized how I hadn't given him a single thought, two hours into the third season.

It's like there's so much information about Game of Thrones in my head, portions are getting overwritten. Which forces me to ask: At what point is this show going to reach a critical mass, that the quality suffers?

It's hard to pick a favorite story thread, with so many good ones to choose from, but I really enjoy what's happening north of The Wall, because that seems to be the story that really matters. I loved the transition from Catelyn Stark's confession of her feelings toward Jon, to Jon trudging through the tundra. 

And after only a few minutes with him, we move on to another character and another story. And I long for episodes like last season's Blackwater, which picked a location and stuck with it for the duration of the hour. 

I feel like I'm being a little harsh in my criticism, because the show hasn't actually fucked up yet. Dark Wings, Dark Words was another strong episode, with some truly fantastic moments.

Sophie Turner does an amazing job selling the rock and the hard place that Sansa is stuck between. I'm encouraged by what they're doing with Margaery Tyrell. As I noted last week, the character in the books doesn't do much more than serve as a threat to Cersei Lannister—to Cersei's beauty, and youthfulness, and power. The showrunners are making that juxtaposition much more dynamic, showing us Cersei's failed attempt to manipulate Joffrey, and Margaery's successful charm offensive. She's instantly more compelling, and this plants the seeds for an interesting conflict between the two. 

Speaking of new characters, the introduction of the Reeds is worthy of the giggle. In the books, they escape the sack of Winterfell with Bran and Rickon. But that would have been too much to bring to bear on last season, so here they are, wandering out of the forest. And it kind of works. Though theirs is one of the lesser storylines in the book, it's also one of the trippiest, so I'm excited to see how it plays out.  

Oh, and Brienne houses Jaime, who is supposed to be the greatest knight in Westeros. This is another storyline that I'm excited to see unfold. I just hope it gets time to breathe—like all the others.

But with only 8 hours of show left this season, I'm curious to see if it's going to work. 

Other stuff:

  • Mad Men demonstrated last night that a season premiere doesn't have to feel like a character checklist. But then again, that show doesn't have five hundred cast members. 
  • Michelle Fairley as Catelyn Stark is one of the show's stealth MVPs, I think. She doesn't get a lot of play, but when she's called upon, she knocks it out of the park. 
  • No Daenerys this week. Sad face. 
  • Last week, one set of boobs. This week, no boobs. I don't even know this show anymore. 
  • Jojen Reed is portrayed by Thomas Brodie-Sangster who, as my wife pointed out, was in The Family of Blood from Doctor Who. And he's the second member of The Family of Blood to appear, after Harry Lloyd (Viserys Targaryen). This, ladies and gentlemen, is why I married her. 
  • Bran hit puberty! Round of applause, everyone. 
  • Last night we joined some friends for a Game of Thrones dinner party before watching the show, using A Feast of Ice and Fire: The Official Game of Thrones Companion Cookbook. On the menu: Beef and bacon pie, mashed turnips, and a salad that supposedly comes from Dorne? Whatever. It was delicious. 

So, discuss! What did you like? Can you follow all these characters? Are you disappointed or encouraged by the lack of boobs? Don't you wish you were at our Game of Thrones party? 

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leahzero's picture
leahzero from Chicago is reading everything Fitzgerald wrote. April 8, 2013 - 8:42am

This is exactly the way I felt when I first read the books. It's Book 3 where the world-building bloat sets in, and all the trivial side characters and factions start cropping up. But I still had faith in Martin then that all of this would pay off in a spectacular way...and, after ADWD, I'm still waiting.


Book 3 does have some excellent scenes, which of course I won't mention here, but IMO this is the tipping point where the weakness of Martin's writing will begin to adversely affect the show. At least in the novels, Martin can indulge himself in 50 pages of Character X's Irrelevant Side Story. In the show, we're dealing with a much more constrained and unforgiving medium. I fear it's going to result in spreading the show too thin across too many subplots.


GoT would greatly benefit from trimming some of the tangential, insignificant plot threads/characters and releasing them as webisodes, a la The Walking Dead.

Joshua Chaplinsky's picture
Joshua Chaplinsky from New York is reading Library Books April 9, 2013 - 7:12am

I agree, the first two eps feel spread a little thin, and because there haven't been any huge events yet they don't stand out as much, but the show is still greatness.

Cristina Padovan's picture
Cristina Padovan April 10, 2013 - 12:15am

Oh gosh, only eight hours left... I totally forgot about this "little" issue!
Anyway, I think we should wait for episode 3 to worry/say something/praise it/etc because to those who didn't read the books these first two episodes were well needed to recap and it's not easy this way, neither: I've read the books, my boyfriend didn't, sometimes during these episodes I had to explain some stuff... and it's quite hard not to spoil anything since I am in a different place with the story! XD

Anyway I really can't wait to see how the tv show will dish everything out (at least half book 3, apparently).

Renfield's picture
Renfield from Hell is reading 20th Century Ghosts April 10, 2013 - 8:13am

The beginning of STORM OF SWORDS book is particularly slow, but for me all those peripheral characters introduced are some great ones. Knowing what they're planning for the big finale of this season, I think they're doing a great job of fleshing out the characters. Maybe a little more tits and blood would be cool. But the highlight of this episode for me was that scene with Margaryne and Joffrey and his little crossbow. That was brilliant. And yeah, I think the reenvision of the intro of the Reeds worked out quite well.

Also did anyone else know that that Brienne is super tall and godesslike IRL?