Created by: David Benioff and D. B. Weiss. So as much as I like poor, fat, useless Sam Tarley (even though, by calling him “Samwell”, Mr. R. R. Martin strays a bit too close to “Samwise”, that other great bumbling, lovable idiot sidekick of fantasy literature), I was a bit disappointed to see him walking around alive and well in this season. The last time we saw him was the last shot of the last season, as his companions were running for their lives, leaving poor fat Sam to hide behind a rock before he was completely surrounded by an army of White Walkers—and that last shot of the badass zombie King guy on a dead horse was definitely a bit of a hook for me to keep watching the show. As much as I love Sam, this show has prepared me for the fact that good people die pretty easily and, apparently, Sam’s time was up. That’s a shame—see you, Sam! But here we are in the third season, and Sam’s doing just fine. What the fuck? Did I miss something? The show went out of its way to pull back and show us that he was surrounded by literally a fucking army of flesh-eating zombies, but we have to assume…what? That they just didn’t feel like eating him and just passed him by unharmed? Do these zombies just do that? Because if they do, they’re not exactly the terrifying, rampaging force of destruction that they’re cracked up to be. This show gets so much praise for being so unsparingly unsentimental, so willing to kill its beloved characters for the sake of story—this season has the (in)famous Red Wedding sequence!—and generally for just being a “quality show”, that I found it all the more jarring to see this blatantly artificial cliffhanger moment come at the expense for narrative continuity.
All of my nerd bickering aside, this was a great season, and now that I’ve seen it, I totally understand what all the “Red Wedding” hype was about last year. I was sort of expecting a crazy wedding to happen, and when Tyrion and Sansa’s wedding came and went, I kind of didn’t think anything of it. And when the other wedding came, I sort of didn’t think anything of it, either. My guard was down. And even when it was obvious that some bad shit was going to happen, it still didn’t prepare me for THAT. I really do enjoy a good surprise in fiction, even when it’s pretty obvious—I’m a pretty gullible viewer. Phew! What a scene! I was completely devastated. There’s something really universally upsetting in seeing a pregnant lady stabbed to death: truly a new threshold in awful shit to see on television. That scene justly gives people pause to wonder if this show’s “greatness” isn’t just predicated on the amount of horrible shit they can think of to throw at us. Last season’s bedroom torture orgy thing with Joffrey and the crossbow was a pretty alarming moment (in a series full of alarming moments). This Red Wedding seemed to just elevate it—and the Red Wedding was just one scene in a season full of rape threats, multiple beheadings and a castration. But on the other hand, that scene wasn’t jarring just because of the blood and death, but because of what it asserted about the direction of the show. If you can find a single plotline to thread this entire show through—beyond the major theme of lots of people struggling to gain power of a particular place—then it’s the overall plot of the Stark family struggling to gain supremacy and establish justice and peace throughout the realm, happily ever after. I think it’s a mistake to assume, as some seem to have, that the Red Wedding means that none of that can happen now—after all, there are still 4 Stark children out there (5 including Jon Snow) and one Lannister who’s pretty good—but what the Red Wedding definitely does mean is that we are in this struggle for the long haul. It means that the bad guys win for a while longer, and the entire realm of Westeros now is in the hands of the Lannisters for at least one more season. And it was genuinely shocking to see two of the main “good guys” with any power—Robb and Catelyn—get chopped up.
It’s nice to see that some of them are finally taking the White Walkers seriously, even if it is just Stannis and Davos and the witch lady. I’d like to see something really come of that whole subplot—the whole war north of the Wall. At the end of last season, it looks like we’d finally see some action there, but instead it was just a little bit of development with the Wildlings and their army, but Westeros is basically unaffected. Now there are three subplots threatening to shake up Westeros and make all of the specific politics looks like child’s play, but none of them—Daenerys in the East, the Wildings on the march, and the White Walkers on the march (marching where?)—really get any traction in this whole season. Seriously, that army of White Walkers marching at the end of last season must have a terrible sense of direction. Before I leave, I will take a moment to highlight the great cameos this season. First, the unfortunately short one-episode appearance of Ciaran Hinds as Mance Rayder. Ciaran has such gravity in everything he does—a pedo in Prime Suspect, and fantastic supporting roles in everything from Veronica Guerin to Munich to Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy—he’s a fucking chameleon and I could talk about him all day. I’d like to see him in every episode, but it really only takes one episode for us to understand why Mance Rayder is so feared, to understand what he’s all about. Again, I could go on about the casting all day. The tremendously disturbing, off-putting, mind-fuck torture guy who castrates Theon Greyjoy? That’s Iwan Rheon—that’s Simon, the awkward misfit in Misfits! And the throwaway role of the tough lord who intercepts Jaime and Brienne and cuts Jaime’s hand off? That’s the one and only Noah Taylor, Australia’s great character actor, like a modern day Harry Dean Stanton. When I saw him I thought: Of course! It’s about time they got Noah Taylor in this thing! And of course, the Wildling who can “warg” into his falcon, that’s the unmistakable Mackenzie Crook, the hapless Gareth from The Office (and star of this Paul McCartney video). And I nearly didn’t recognize the legendary Diana Rigg as the delightfully wiley grandmother of the Tully clan. These casting bits are a good half of what I love about the show. But, as I said before, I’m fucking hooked anyway.