a few thoughts on a catch-up binge of Game of Thrones: Season 3



As you may have noted, I spent yesterday on a catch-up binge of Season 3 of Game of Thrones. I often don’t get a lot of stuff done until there’s a deadline looming, and that deadline was tonight’s debut of Season 4.

I’m not sure anything — TV show or movie — that’s been based on a book has ever felt more like a book than GoT. This feeling may be aided by the fact that I have not read any of the George R.R. Martin series, so I’m not comparing it to the books in my head. But I’ve binged on entire seasons of TV before, but not until yesterday did it feel so much like lolling around all day reading. Part of it is, surely, that bingeing means the experience isn’t episodic… and while it sucks that I ended up so far out of the loop in talking about the show, it was wonderful not to have to wait a week to find out what would happen next.

Part of that bookish feeling comes from how rich the world here is. And it is an entire world. What other TV show or movie series have ever been this big? Even visually told stories that travel to lots of different farflung places — I’m thinking about Doctor Who, Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, and so on — are mostly set on a relatively small ship with a relatively small group of people who just get teasing glances at strange places. But we get deeply immersed in widely disparate peoples and cultures in GoT… disparate from one another and from our own. And then the extra beautiful thing is that even though these alien cultures are enough like our own that we can get some clues about lots of things that aren’t being explained, every once in a while something gets dropped in to remind us that we cannot take anything for granted, especially our own perhaps unconscious expectations.

Like with gods and magic in this world. Are they real? Enough characters seem to be skeptical that it would appear that even they haven’t seen evidence of their truth… but then we see something like the little band of religious mercenaries that Arya stumbles into, and their leader, who has been resurrected from the dead how many times?!

So there’s the capacity for surprise here. As many others have noted, GoT doesn’t follow the sort of narrative rules TV, movies, and even lots of book series have trained us to unconsciously expect are being followed. Major character die here without warning. And unlike in other geeky genres, people who die seem to stay dead!

It was impossible to avoid, last spring when these episodes first aired, hearing about the bloody Red Wedding, in a general sense. (I didn’t know anything more in advance than that: “bloody Red Wedding.”). I knew something big and bad was coming. But even so, all the talk throughout these episodes about Joffrey’s upcoming wedding to Margaery, and then the wedding of poor Tyrion and poor Sansa getting sprung on them (and us)… I was expecting that this Red Wedding would be occurring in King’s Landing. Even as Edmure’s forced nuptials approached and Walder Frey was being his usual ultracreepy self (man, David Bradley turns my stomach in this role!), I did not see coming what happened. The Starks, decimated…

But now there’s Bran with an almost terrifying new power: the ability to get into another human being’s head. This has potential for future revenge…

Favorite storyline of this season? Gotta be Jaime and Brienne. I can hardly believe it, but I was starting to suspect that Jaime was more than just a sister-incesting, boy-defenestrating bastard even before he got his hand chopped off and went all gooey. I mean, why would he bother to save Brienne from getting raped? Why would he go back for her when he didn’t have to. He doesn’t even like Brienne. My god, could Jaime have — I hardly like to say it — scruples? Astonishing. And apart from the Red Wedding, the scene in the bathhouse might be the most riveting of the entire season.

(There was a lot of rapey stuff in this season. And a lot of sexualized violence. Incredibly, men were victims of it about as often as women were. I wasn’t counting, but it felt that way. Now, if the show could only get the balance of sexy, nonviolent nudity right. I don’t mind all the naked women, there just needs to be more naked men. I mean, c’mon.)

Second favorite storyline is Daenerys’. Mother of Dragons and Freer of Slaves? Hell, I would follow this woman into battle.

Everything about GoT is superb, and best yet this season. The quality of the writing, on a grand scale as well as scene by scene, is incredible. Every single member of the cast is scarily invested in creating characters so plausible that you sometimes wish they weren’t quite so good: the guy torturing Theon is horrifying. Charles Dance as Tywin nearly made me pee myself in terror. Even the kids are amazing… though some of them are older than you think. Jack Gleeson, who plays Joffrey, is about to turn 22, so he hasn’t really been a kid through most of this show. Still, where does such evil come from in someone so young? And Arya, assuring the Hound that one day she will put a knife through his eye and out the back of his head? What do they do to these kids to get them to be so believing saying such things? *shudder*

I don’t even want to think about the logistics of shooting this show. Surely it must be created as one giant 10-hour movie — that would make the most sense. You know, you shoot all the Daenerys-in-the-desert stuff in one big go, and all the snowy Beyond the Wall stuff in a separate big go, and so on. And yet there are multiple directors, different from episode to episode even when different storylines are mixed up together… However they’re doing it, they’re getting it oh-so right.

Onward to Season 4! (Which I will blog about along the way. Stay tuned.)

Game of Thrones: Season 3 is available on DVD [Amazon U.S.] [Amazon Canada] [Amazon U.K.] and streaming [Amazon U.S.] [Amazon U.K.]

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Sun, Apr 06, 2014 10:04pm

I envy you being able to watch it all at once like that… and I’m glad all the Red Wedding spoilers didn’t spoil you properly, so it was still a surprise. I’ve actually stopped reading the books, myself, so the next few seasons will be properly exciting for me — I can’t say I like the show more than the books, but man… maybe I do?

Sun, Apr 06, 2014 10:09pm

The fourth season was filmed by multiple directors in different locations at the same time. I believe it’s the first time they’ve done that.

Sun, Apr 06, 2014 10:20pm

It really is amazing how the show and the books love to start from a handicap in terms of making you invested in characters. I mean, if you had told me at the start of the series that Jaime would become one of the most interesting characters, I would not have believed it. I DEFINITELY would not have believed that I would come to respect him in any way. There is so much stuff I am looking forward to that should happen this season. I can’t wait! I even reactivated my cable for a two months so I can watch it legally and immediately.

Oh, now that you’ve seen the Red Wedding, you should watch the reaction videos on YouTube. (All cruelly filmed by people who have read the books.) Then you should watch the video of GRRM reacting to the reaction videos on Conan.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Drave
Sun, Apr 06, 2014 10:49pm

I’ve seen some of the reaction videos. I had the same reaction.

Dr. Rocketscience
Dr. Rocketscience
Mon, Apr 07, 2014 12:30am

Long, generally anti-GoT rant incoming:

I could never get engaged in this show from the very beginning. And I’ve only ever watched it binge-style. The stylistic choice to jump from plotline to plotline, with any given character only ever getting a few scenes per episode, and occasionally only one or two lines, is too frustrating. That, and the show’s incredibly unfortunate habit of telling us about all the important things that just happened off screen. I watched about half the first season more than a year ago, then in the last 6 weeks watched the rest. Eventually, I felt like I was doing it out of obligation more than enjoyment. It’s a well produced show to be sure. The actors are excellent, the dialog is sharp. But the whole thing holds me at arms length.

There was also a massive plot hole at the end of season 2*, and a plot contrivance at the end of season 3** that I’ve never forgiven.

As for the Red Wedding: for fuck’s sake, the apparent protagonist of the series is killed before the end of the first book/season. What’s more, the story keeps doing that. And yet, people are shocked, every fucking time. Everything up till then was leading up to that point: the total lack of political savvy of Robb and Catelyn (the Starks aren’t a clever clan); the total stall out of Robb’s campaign; the gorram pregnancy!*** As I commented on Twitter: “Oh shit, I’m running out of army. I know, I’ll go ask the crazy dude I fucked over once before! What could possibly go wrong!?” Crazy dude fucks him right back. “Oh noes, who could possibly have predicted this!!!”

people who die seem to stay dead!

Except for all the zombies. And that dude you mentioned. Also… *cough*

I don’t think Jaime has the scruples you’re implying. He has two things: 1) he doesn’t care to see defenseless people killed (which we already knew by how he didn’t kill Ned); “A Lannister always pays his debts” is one of the few things Jaime believes in, and I seem to recall him telling Brianne he owed her a debt.

Daenerys benefits from far too many informed abilities, and far too much luck. I’ll like her more if she ever starts having to work for it.

The end credits always list things like the “Dragon Unit”, the “Wolf Unit”, the “Ireland Unit”, etc. So, they have different crews at each location. Either all the directors are travelling to each location in a group, shooting all the scenes in that location; or they’re running production in all the locations more or less simultaneously, with directors flying in and out of each one (I’d hate to be them); or certain directors are responsible for certain plotlines, and the producers are navigating the arcane DGA rules to determine who gets credited as “director” for which episodes

I too am now going to have to watch one episode a week, with a 10 month gap between seasons. Not sure at this point how I’m going to maintain interest.

* Theon finds out Winterfell is “surrounded by 200 Northmen”; Theon gives a rousing speech, only to be knocked unconscious; Bran & Co. emerge from hiding (where?) to find Winterfell burned and abandoned. By whom? And what happened to the “200 Northmen”? (I know it all happens differently in the book. But in the show, it happens like that.)

** Bran & Co. are approaching the Wall from the south. Sam and Gilly are approaching the Wall from the north. Somehow, they end up in the same place, south of the wall, at the same time? I don’t think so. And why have them meet at all? Apparently so that Sam can tell Bran about Dragonglass and what it does to White Walkers. But Bran has visions: you don’t need to have any character deliver information to Bran. He, of all the characters, gets to know whatever he needs to know, whenever he needs to know it. Otherwise, what’s the point of visions? Later, Sam is going to very pointedly not tell Jon that Bran is alive (can’t have Jon Snow knowing things, can we?), so that’s not really a good reason for them to meet either.

*** BOOK SPOILER, but I think it’s important to note that this is an invention of the show. In the books, Robb’s wife, Jeyne Westerling, is alive and well and decidedly not pregnant. Also, Robb marries Jeyne for reasons of chivalry (to protect her “honor” have they have sex) rather than love. I think I prefer this version, as it makes it clearer that it was (at least in part) the social rules of Westeros that doomed Robb Stark, and not (just) his asininity. Makes him more sympathetic, in my mind.

reply to  Dr. Rocketscience
Tue, Apr 08, 2014 8:52pm

Season 1 didn’t grab me, so I didn’t watch any more. I don’t find it a massive social handicap even in the circles I move in.

Mon, Apr 07, 2014 2:34am

Coincidentally, the New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd also binged on GoT recently:


Mon, Apr 07, 2014 11:17am

I’m so glad you are blogging about this show. Ha! I said exactly the same thing about the lack of male nudity tonight.

Mon, Apr 07, 2014 11:32am

Like you, I had somehow been spoiled, by only the two words, “red wedding.” And I still didn’t make any connection. One, I had semi-forgotten reading those words prior to Season 3, and two, because the interpretation I had given to them was entirely different.

I figured “Red Wedding” had something to do with Melisandre, since that’s her color, and that it would involve some marriage, perhaps metaphorical to unfathomable evil from beyond by way of an arcane ceremony of blood magic.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  David_Conner
Mon, Apr 07, 2014 11:48am

Yes, I figured the Red God would be involved too!

Karl Morton IV
Karl Morton IV
reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Tue, Apr 08, 2014 10:20am

The books stopped being fun for me after I read the red wedding, so I stopped. Maybe I’ll try again sometime, maybe not. George is a dick who likes pulling the limbs off his people. Talented writer and all, but he’s probably got lamp shades made of human skin in his house or something. *shudder*

Having said that, did you guys see any of the video compilations of reactions to the red wedding? *skimmed down, saw that someone already brought this up* Ah. Nevermind, but fun, huh? :D

reply to  Karl Morton IV
Tue, Apr 08, 2014 5:24pm

i stopped reading after the first book. i am sure the series makes for riveting television, but i got the impression from the first book that GRRM gets a certain visceral thrill from the violence in his books — he writes the scenes not for character or plotline development but for sheer pleasure. i may be very wrong on that (so all you GRRM friends and fans don’t jump downmy throat) — i have met the man once, and he wasn’t exactly the friendliest, but a lot of authors can be shy or socially awkward. but i am not inspired to go on to read the rest of the series. i am interested in *seeing* the tv series, and have the first season, but just can’t seem to get started on it.

Mon, Apr 07, 2014 5:26pm

Couldn’t get into it. It seemed TOO dense, too off-putting, too much like work, too grim. And before folks rush to tell me how shallow I am, let me say one of my favorite defensive lines: “I like what I like. You like what you like. Sometimes we like the same things, and sometimes we don’t.

Dr. Rocketscience
Dr. Rocketscience
reply to  Beowulf
Mon, Apr 07, 2014 5:32pm

Dude, you’re not wrong.

Of course, I say that knowing that last night, when I turned on my TV intending to catch up on “Arrow”, my DVR was tuned to HBO, and it was about 15 minutes into the GoT premiere, and I ended up watching the rest of the episode. FML.

reply to  Beowulf
Mon, Apr 07, 2014 5:50pm

too much like work

Jesus. Where do you work?!