Game of Thrones Memory Lane 301: Valar Dohaeris


Only thirty days left until the Game of Thrones season 6 premiere! Time is flying now and the #GoT50 countdown is helping with our impatience. Today we begin season 3 in our rewatch, with another guest writer and WotW regular taking the wheel. Please welcome Greatjon of Slumber! -Sue the Fury


The first word spoken of Game of Thrones Season 3, said by Samwell Tarly as he flees the massacre at the Fist of the First Men, sets the tone for “Valar Dohaeris,” where almost every significant conversation is dominated by discussion of familial relations.

For Sam, a man who grew up with a harsh, steely father who withheld his love (a familiar situation in Westeros), his need for a connection with his brothers in black comes from a desire for structure, even it’s one that was forced upon him – and one that we shall see makes him feel a measure of betrayal after Edd and Grenn ran from him when they heard the three blasts that signaled the advance of White Walkers at the close of Season 2. And the open of season 3 does him no favors on this front, as the brother in question has had his head removed and carefully – and bloodily – placed in his hands.

Several of the early scenes of the episode make clear the importance of strong family connections and show the efforts of various characters to seek or strengthen connections through the evocation of family ties, no matter how tenuous, and do just as much to undermine those connections, no matter how strong.

Mance RayderWe meet Mance Rayder, a character who was first mentioned in the first season of the show. Now self-styled “King Beyond the Wall,” he makes it clear to Jon Snow that he considered the deceased Qhorin Halfhand his “brother,” and notes to Snow that he, too, was betraying his “brothers.” Those same brothers are the ones now trudging back to the Wall after the arguably disastrous plan by Lord Commander Mormont – latter referred to, in the fourth season as “our father” by Jon – to take 200 members of the Watch north to see what was the cause of the flight south by Wildlings and the strange occurrences and disappearances north of the Wall. But Mance Rayder, just as the more venal Karl, Rast and others later on, enjoyed that brotherhood when it was convenient to him, and abandoned it when it no longer served his purposes.

Cersei Lannister, just the same, quietly and plaintively announces behind a locked door that it is “your sister” when she visits Tyrion, who is understandably wary of seeing her after the plot to have him killed at the Battle of the Blackwater failed. With him still alive, she of course seeks unity with her brother against their common foe, their father, Tywin, even though throughout the rest of the season she would forever seek to undermine Tyrion.

Tywin and Tyrion

The centerpiece of the episode, arguably, is the difficult, strained conversation between Tywin Lannister and his son Tyrion, who has been dispatched from his duties as Hand of the King, now instead living in an antechamber with nary anyone to visit him other than his squire, Podrick, and the newly-knighted Bronn.

Tywin Lannister, as masterfully played by Charles Dance, uses familial ties as a cudgel, stressing the importance of living up to the Lannister name without providing guidance that would help Tyrion understand his position better. Tyrion as a result remains entirely self-taught, relying on his wits, in what makes him ultimately much like his father. His admonishment of Tyrion for expecting some kind of recognition or even a visit after sustaining injuries in the battle is sting enough, but what’s worse is him hearing that he would rather be “consumed by maggots” than give Tyrion Casterly Rock, which the latter sees as his birthright.


Several other conversations also suggest familial ties – Davos Seaworth, returned to life, speaking of his son with the always-welcome Salladhor Saan; Petyr Baelish tempting Sansa with discussion of her mother and sister; Roose Bolton’s mention to Rickard Karstark of the latter’s desire for revenge.

The episode closes with the reintroduction of Barristan Selmy, having been absent from the show since season 1, as he pledges his service to Danaerys Targaryen, by evoking the memory of her ancestors, saying years ago he “failed to protect her family,” vowing not to let the same happen to her.

Shae and RosOther Thoughts:

• This episode features a rare conversation between Shae and Ros, with the latter speaking of the difficulty of rising in the world for “girls like us.” It’s a nice moment for Esme Bianco.

• One doesn’t hear enough commentary on just how devastating Mormont’s decision to bring several hundred men north of the Wall. By the looks of the group gathered in front of Sam, it appears to only be about two dozen left, and even that might be generous.

• The wight menacing Sam (at his most helpless and useless) is of course taken out by that most Thrones-ian of plot devices, “Deus ex Direwolf.”

• Classism in play: Meryn Trant dismisses Bronn as an “upjumped cutthroat, nothing more.” Bronn nails it with Trant: “A grob in fancy army who’s better at beating little girls than fighting men.”

• Sansa sums it up pretty well: “The truth is either horrible or terribly boring.”

• We get yet another mention of the Mountain, noting that he and the Lannister forces have been running from the Northern armies since the Battle of Oxcross. The lack of presence from the Mountain undermines his eventual reintroduction down the road.

Mance Rayder, Tormund Giantsbane, a de-helmeted Rattleshirt, Qyburn, a Giant!, the ominous occurrence known as “Tywin Lannister writes letters,” the Tower of the Hand, Missandei, and Kraznys mo Nakloz (and the first ever connection to “Deadwood”).

A wight, courtesy of Jeor Mormont’s torch, about 200 members of the Night’s Watch (offscreen!), Jaremy Mallister (already dead), one freaky-ass looking manticore.

Finding the official Game of Thrones Season 3 main poster a little lacking, Jenny Slife made these three new ones. This first one plays on the title of ASOIAF book 3 A Storm of Swords:


There was also a Rains-themed option:


And this one paying tribute to the fiery duel to come.


Oh, Sam.


“Two hundred Northmen slaughtered like sheep.” Valar Dohaeris. Beautiful Death by Robert M. Ball


28 responses

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    1. Nice essay. I’m really digging the posters (even if some can seem spoilerish to book-readers).
      Regarding Qyburn, I wonder if he took his revenge when he had to “cure” the Mountain. A Kingsguard doesn’t need certain parts, after all 😉

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    2. In my memory I tend to think of this as the least eventful season premiere, but looking back there’s some pretty solid stuff here. Dany’s plot gets off to a good start, between meeting Missandei and the Unsullied and the reintroduction of Barristan (I’m not sure, looking back, whether bringing Barristan back into the picture really paid off that much — between Jorah being kept around so long and Selmy being killed off so soon after, he never had much chance to stand out). The Tyrion scenes, likewise good, particularly his scene with Tywin. The bits dealing with Margaery’s new role in the capital are good (albeit beginning the tradition where the Tyrells start each season as a big deal only to fade into irrelevance by the end).

      The Jon plot is, eh. I’m struck watching this how much better a job Hardhome did at developing the Wildlings as a cultural group than anything done with them in Season 3. Ciaran Hinds’ version of Mance wouldn’t really take off until his appearance in 410, in my opinion.

      There are a couple of stories here that feature really awkward shifts from the previous season. The show never did a good job of conveying Robb’s campaign, and here he’s suddenly marching on Harrenhal, which has been abandoned but for a bunch of corpses? And the Sam plot features him getting berated for not minding the birds when, last season, we saw him with the party on foraging duty?

      The LF/Sansa and Shae/Ros bits are actually, looking back, a warning sign on how Sansa’s plot this season has been adapted in a way that completely reframes it to her detriment. Instead of the audience being beside her and rooting for her to try to escape King’s Landing, the emphasis is all on how other characters need to protect her from Littlefinger (by keeping her in King’s Landing), with her characterization altered as a result. All of these adaptation choices are done to the benefit of other characters. These scenes are from the most egregious examples, of course (that’s still to come).

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    3. A good premiere episode. It’s no ‘Two Swords’ in terms of pacing, but still a very compelling hour or so, filled with all those little moments and bits of great dialogue that made me fall in love with the show in the first place. And yeah, Barry kinda sorta should’ve held off that bit about not failing till 5×04, haha. Though he did die fighting for his queen, which he, being all honourable and all, perhaps envisioned as the perfect way to go down all along.

      And of course, the usual: April 24th, sweetie, please be a dear and come soon.

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    4. No mention of dragons and dany on the ship ..I think that was one of the iconic moment of the episode and great start to her story that season..

      This episode conversation between dany and jorah is clear foreshadowing for what’s coming in season 6

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    5. The lack of respect from Tywin to Tyrion at their first meeting after the Battle of Blackwater says it all? One can the hatred between father and son and the showdown in the final episode of S4 when Tyrion kills his father sitting in the privy is inevitable.

      Tywin: “You who killed your mother to come into the world! You’re an inmade spiteful little creature, full of envy, lust and low cunning… ”

      Interesting also is Bronn’s response to Meryn Trant? “A grob in fancy army who’s better at beating little girls than fighting men.” That line sounds prophetic to the events in the final episode of S5 when Trant was beating those girls just before Arya attacked and killed him?

      I wonder if B&W remembered that line from 301 when they wrote that scene?

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    6. A quiet premiere, but nonetheless one I really enjoy. Season 3 was a major improvement structurally, as they really began leaving out characters for an episode or several episodes at a time here. No Arya, Jaime, Brienne or Theon leaves so much more time, and allows us to have nice little arcs such as Davos’ play out.

      I recall I was among those disappointed by the lack of depiction of the Battle at the Fist, but looking back after Hardhome it was a wise decision. Unveiling the power of the army of the dead in Season 3 would have diluted Hardhome’s impact, as well unduly raising expectations for the White Walkers in Season 3 and 4. Martin had a similar issue with Feast For Crows in my mind. Storm showed the steady rise of the Others as a force, and there total absence in the following book is a hard pill to swallow, made all the worse by their continuing absence in Dance With Dragons. The show has generally done far better than the books at keeping the White Walkers in the audience’s mind.

      And speaking of White Walkers, Jon’s justification here is a clever bit of adaptation. It makes sense that an honorable, idealistic young man would be horrified by the compromises the Watch was making, and it doesn’t rely on the pretty damn implausible retcon of Mance Rayder being in Winterfell in aGoT either.

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    7. cosca,

      Mance being at WF would have worked if he was played by a younger actor.
      Trying too pretend Cirian could have climbed the Wall wouldn’t make sense.

      I’m not complaining at all tough, because I bloody loved Cirian as Mance, he was a tough older leader. He gave Mance a Caesar kind of look, witch I prefered much more then the ”bard” like character he is in the books.
      Also him actaully dying was a briliant decision.

      I was also a bit dissapointed that we didn’t see the battle at the fist. But now looking back I think this was a very good decision. Having the WW appear only to disappear for the next 2 seasons would have been a poor choice and would just repeat Martin’s mistakes.

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    8. I always liked the pairing of the Season 3 premiere title, “Valar Dohaeris”, with the title of the Season 2 finale. Sure, it doesn’t have a great deal of applicability to this episode (Arya doesn’t appear at all), but that’s fine. I suppose one could apply themes of service to Tyrion being forced into a subservient role by his father’s return, and the unquestioning obedience of the Unsullied. But it’s best not to stretch that idea too far, and just enjoy a cool bit of wordplay.

      Really, however, it’s the ties of family that run through this episode, as Greatjon of Slumber details in the excellent Memory Lane post above. That’s most apparent in Tyrion’s confrontation with his father, which is just a superlative scene. Any time that Charles Dance and Peter Dinklage share the screen is a time that I’m going to be utterly enthralled, but this is one of their very best exchanges. It’s all the more powerful for the naked honesty and resentment that both Lannisters allow themselves to display.

      I particularly love the moment when Tyrion, having been cruelly rebuffed by his father, turns to leave, and Tywin calls after him. Tyrion turns, but the moment Tywin starts in on his threat about hanging whores, Tyrion nods in knowing disgust and resumes his exit. He’s heard this speech before. Great acting beat by Peter Dinklage there.

      As cosca points out, skipping over the White Walkers’ attack on the Fist of the First Men was controversial to some at the time, even though it was expected by most of us. Hell, the books did exactly the same thing (and filled in what happened after the fact through Sam’s recollections).

      The decision wound up paying off, however, because the White Walker threat was inevitably going to take a backseat during Seasons 3 and 4. Several reviewers have aptly pointed out that once you unveil the full might of the Walkers’ army, all of the politics south of the Wall start to dim in importance. Since the strength of Seasons 3 and 4 (and the corresponding book, ASOS) is the climax of the War of the Five Kings and the new era in King’s Landing, that would have been a problem.

      Now, however, with only a few seasons left, the time has come to shift the heart of the series towards the North. In that respect, waiting until “Hardhome” to show the Walkers’ hand was absolutely the right call. It also enabled the show to devote more time, resources, and money to the Night’s King and his forces. The results were spectacular.

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    9. Black Raven,

      Errata! I listened to those lines again 😉 I thought ‘inmade’ didn’t sound correct or make sense! It should have read:

      Tywin: “You who killed your mother to come into the world! You’re an ill made spiteful little creature, full of envy, lust and low cunning… ”

      It all makes senses now. Tywin has always been bitter that his younger son was born a dwarf.

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    10. Mance Raydar loses some color in his translation to the screen, yet I quite like his introduction here (But no, I don’t miss his singing. Some things are better left on the page). It would have been interesting to see Dominic West’s take on the character, but Hinds definitely grew on me in Season 4 and especially Season 5. Tormund, meanwhile, is great from the jump. Kristofer Hivju is an excellent example of fan casting coming true, and working out perfectly.

      I also like the scene with Robb in Harrenhal. You can see the Northern campaign slowly but surely coming undone as the Lannisters deal with the Young Wolf’s military prowess by refusing to meet him in the open field. Good introduction to Qyburn, too. As Tywin of the Hill points out, it’s fun to wonder if Qyburn took additional pleasure in turning the Mountain into his little science project after Clegane’s forces attempted to cut his throat. Maybe he used a few more sharp implements than were strictly necessary …

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    11. Season 3 is Dany’s best or second-best season so far, and it gets off to a strong start here. Dan Hildebrand is great as Kraznys. No one expected much from him, but I remember he was a revelation. He does such a great job capturing the cruel arrogance and casual misogyny of the slavers, which of course makes his fiery downfall in “And Now His Watch Is Ended” all the more satisfying!

      After Kraznys died, Hildebrand wound up getting an impromptu Curtain Call on the old website because people wanted to commemorate his performance. A great example of an actor bringing a villainous character who could have been insufferable to vibrant life.

      Missandei gets a nice debut as well. Her careful reframing of Kraznys’s disgusting remarks to Dany are darkly hilarious. (“Tell this ignorant whore of a westerner to open her eyes and watch.”/ “He begs you attend this carefully, Your Grace.”)

      I know not everyone agrees, but aging up Missandei was absolutely the correct call in my opinion. A wise-beyond-her-years child character is very difficult to pull off, even for a show that has mostly struck gold with casting kids. It could have been corny even if the show found the right actor, and that’s not a fate you want to tempt more than absolutely necessary.

      Making Missandei an adult woman and Dany’s contemporary in age allowed the show to cast a more seasoned actor, and created a more believable friendship between them (she effectively replaces Dany’s Dothraki handmaidens, who were more subservient anyway – and have also either died or disappeared at this point). Even better, that actor wound up being Nathalie Emmanuel, who I think is one of the more underrated performers on the show. Her scenes are mostly understated ones, yet she’s extremely talented at injecting pathos and intelligence into those quiet moments. And no, it doesn’t hurt that she’s also one of the most beautiful women ever be cast on Game of Thrones. (Superficial interlude over).

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    12. George told D&D the endgame right before filming season 3 right? Or was it between seasons 3 and 4?

      Anyway, loved that they changed Jon’s reason for ‘joining’ with Mance. It was not exactly a lie; you can tell he was really troubled by the NW allowing the WW to thrive.

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    13. Finally, while Barristan saving Dany’s life from the manticore and offering her his service is an understated ending by this show’s lofty standards, I actually like it a great deal. I also enjoy the way that the little girl reveals her blue teeth and jumps off the dock … only for the water to remain undisturbed while she teleports to a distant ledge. Cool little bit of magic there.

      Dispensing with Barristan’s secret Arstan Whitebeard identity was the right choice – it would have been impossible to pull off. It also renders Strong Belwas extraneous. While I personally don’t miss that character, I know many people do, so pour out a bowl of locusts for him if you must. Preferably not honeyed ones.

      A few posts above, Sean C questioned whether, in light of Barristan’s early death in Season 5, if it was really necessary to bring the character back. I’m glad that they did. Ian McElhinney added a lot of gravitas and warm care to his role, and during his three seasons in Dany’s service, Barristan got to share some interesting conversations with both Jorah and Dany about the nature of loyal service and the history of the Targaryen family. He was the noble, steadying presence that Jorah, for all of his many virtues, could not be.

      For me, that was worth the price of his screentime – not every character needs to fulfill some grand purpose. And as I’ve said before, I believe that Barristan’s life in the books is on a ticking clock as well. A short one, at that.

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    14. Jared:
      Making Missandei an adult woman and Dany’s contemporary in age allowed the show to cast a more seasoned actor, and created a more believable friendship between them (she effectively replaces Dany’s Dothraki handmaidens, who were more subservient anyway – and have also either died or disappeared at this point).

      I don’t really have a problem with aging up Missandei, per se, but I don’t see how it’s more believable. Their relationship in the books is completely different, more of a surrogate mother/daughter thing; it’s about highlighting Dany’s maternal instincts.

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    15. Sean C.,

      True, but Dany was aged up as well. She’s 13 or 14 in the books, only a few years older than Missandei. She may consider herself a mother to all of her people, but she’s still a young girl in many ways. Meanwhile Missandei acts significantly older than her age. As a consequence, I never saw their relationship as a mother-daughter relationship in the books either. Older sister and younger sister, maybe.

      With Dany being in her late-teens/early twenties on GOT, the show more closely captures that dynamic by aging Missandei up along with her. Again, that’s just my opinion.

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    16. Jared,

      Agreed totally on Barristan. His honorable presence was important in making us question both Dany’s methods and Jorah in general, in case we’d forgotten that Jorah is still a pretty damn sketchy guy.

      I also agree that I can’t see him living much longer in the books.

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    17. -The “beneath the surface” dinner conversation between the Tyrell’s and the Lannister’s was great
      -Daniel Minehan is one of the more underrated GoT directors and one of my favorites. Some of the shots of Selmy in his hooded garb (especially the one of him walking towards the edge of the pier to look for the warlock after she jumps off the pier) are awesome and remind me a little of Unbreakable.
      -I remember the argument a couple of days ago about whether or not Little Finger had seen Arya at Harrenhaal. Does his dialogue in this episode not put that to rest? Or could he just be lying?

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    18. Among all of the great lines in this episode, one that no one has mentioned: Tywin telling Tyrion, “I cannot prove that you are not mine.” I wonder if the show will ever give us that proof.

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    19. LatrineDiggerBrian:
      -I remember the argument a couple of days ago about whether or not Little Finger had seen Arya at Harrenhaal. Does his dialogue in this episode not put that to rest? Or could he just be lying?

      He’s trying to bait Sansa into coming with him, so I don’t think that’s indicative either way.

      Though this is never mentioned again either way, so we’ll probably never know (unless Baelish is shown genuinely surprised when Arya turns up alive in the future, or something).

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    20. I remember liking this premiere more than Season 2’s, but it’s not one of my favorites. The pace just felt slow, maybe because most of the characters we visited were either stationary or directionless.

      Barristan’s reveal at the end was not a particularly good ending, imo. I mean, I kinda like the character, but his suddenly showing up after a season of being absent just didn’t have an effect on me. Compare the ending of this premiere to the ending of pretty much all the other ones, and I think it pales by comparison. I remember thinking “That’s it?” after the episode was over (which is not just because of the ending, but it didn’t help).

      That Tyrion/Tywin scene is maybe their best scene together, though, and that’s really saying something. Liked the scenes in Astapor as well, and I actually thought Mance’s introduction was pretty good (don’t miss the singing, and Jon’s reason for deserting is, I think, much stronger on the show). I have my frustrations with how the wildlings, and Mance particularly, were developed in Season 3, but my problem is more with how they squandered the time given in the next couple episodes rather than how it started off here.

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