Game of Thrones Season 3 Review: Another Excellent Year Soaked in Tragedy

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HBO’s fantasy saga concluded its exciting third season last night, leaving long seasons ahead.

Season three of Game of Thrones never did quite hit the heights of season two. And I’m not just referring to Blackwater.

The biggest issue was the sheer number of people we followed this year. Season one never had more than five stories going on at once. Season two expanded it to seven, a perfect number without being overbearing. Only Jon Snow’s story really seemed to get too muddled. Season three had ten, and at times, the show began to burst at the seems.

Luckily, enough of the stories were very much worth watching.

After being held captive most of last season, Jaime Lannister was the standout character of the season. His travels with Brienne not only featured some of the better action moments this year, but gave Jaime some form of redemption. Losing his hand, and much of his dignity, Jaime is humbled by Brienne’s determination to return him to his family, however reluctant she might be to trust him. Their arc this season truly ended when Jaime jumped into the bear pit to save her a few episodes back. But Brienne’s weak smile as the pair entered King’s Landing was a perfect cap on the best story of the season.

Ironically enough, the other standout saga of the season was so far removed from the rest of Westeros. But we’re used to it by now. Daenerys is becoming the ruler everyone hoped she would. As her dragons grow larger she becomes more lethal, but that never stops her from being kind. She conquered two cities this season, building her army with slaves she freed from kindness. The final scene of the season was perfectly uplifting as she told the new free people that they chose their freedom, not her. For a while there it seemed the Mother of Dragons might become too power hungry. But her heart is still in the right place, as the newly free people lifted her up, her dragons flying overhead as a symbol of that same freedom.

We needed this glimmer of hope. Especially after the rough season all the Starks had.

The Red Wedding was yet another example of characters making terrible mistakes and paying the ultimate price for it. Things seemed to be going too well for Robb, with his new wife and all. Catelyn sort of knew that Walder Frey wouldn’t be kind. But the wedding itself was a happy affair, until the arrows rained on the Stark forces. Robb and Catelyn were a strong reminder that no one is safe on this show. It was also fuel to the fire for some revenge in the future for Arya, Bran, and the other Stark younglings.

Bran actually had a fantastic arc this season. Early on, he learned that he had the power to control other beings. Some new members of his party say he is called a warg. His mission becomes to head over the wall and do what he can to stop the impending war with the White Walkers. By the end of the season he was able to control Hodor as well as the wolves, allowing him to get Jon Snow out os a sticky spot. Yet he still had the kindess to send Osha and his younger brother Rickon off to be safe. Bran is growing up to be a worthy son of Ned and Catelyn.

Jon Snow’s newfound romance with the wildling Ygritte pulled him out of the slump from last season. Gone was the meandering in the snow, replaced with a chemistry that could melt the thickest ice. But Jon is still undercover, working with the Nightswatch. This made the events of the last two episodes the most difficult break-up to watch in the three seasons (not that Thrones is known for its break-ups).

Arya didn’t have nearly as compelling a season as the previous two years. She mostly just traveled from point A to point B until the final two. Yes, now she is dealing with the loss of her family, and she killed a man in the finale. Still though, there was nothing as charged as her serving Tywin Lannister, or learning how to use a sword.

King’s Landing was pretty eventful this year. With the largest concentration of characters located there, things were allowed to happen at a slower rate. Tyrion, Cersei, Sansa, Joffrey and the rest were plagued with two major new forces in their land this season, Tywin and Margaery. Tywin basically rules the land, despite Joffrey being king. Just as Margaery is manipulating the king into marrying her, Tywin moves some pieces around arranging marriages between Tyrion and Sansa, and Cersei and Loras. These aren’t really ideal for anyone involved, but Tyrion and Sansa appeared to be making the best of it by the end of the season. At least until she learned of her brother and mother’s demise that is.

Joffrey seems to be getting on everyone’s nerves too. His time may be limited on the throne.

Meanwhile, Stannis dealt with his loss at the Battle of Blackwater. This lead to Davos Seaworth having some of the best character development this season. While Stannis’ daughter teaches him how to read, Melisandre plots to sacrifice Gendry, Stannis’ nephew, and heir to the throne that his brother Robert once held (feels like so long ago since his death doesn’t it?). Davos does the heroic thing and saves Gendry, covering it but delivering an important letter to Stannis. Now their army is headed to the wall to battle the White Walkers. It’s the most intriguing set-up for season four.

Now I have to address the stories that really didn’t work this season.

I know the writers are aiming to adapt George R.R. Martin’s works the best they can, but Samwell is not a character strong enough to follow on his own little story. He was pretty much just taken from point A to point B. Significant things happened around him, the massacre of the Nightswatch, Bran getting to the other side of the wall, but Sam seemed unchanged by the end of the season.

Then there’s Theon, who was tortured all season and put in boring circles that had no payoff or development until the finale. First he’s let go only to be brought back. He’s given women only to have his “little-Theon” cut off. He’s told some facts that are then retracted. We get it, the guy torturing him is a dick, but he’s hardly Joffrey or Tywin. At least the finale had the added bonus of Yara going after him.

So all in all, these couple of weak storylines made this the weakest season. With too much jumping around, and sometimes to stories we didn’t care about, Thrones struggled this year. It didn’t have the focus of the last two seasons, which allowed for bigger payoffs. But enough of the storylines did have these things to still make this a fantastic season of television. Grade: A-

By Matt Dougherty

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