In the aftermath of season 2’s big scuffles, the third season of HBO’s epic fantasy adaptation finds itself concerned with moppings-up and re-groupings as all the involved players plot their next move. As such it consists rather a lot of people moving from one place to another, and by the series’ end, some of them still haven’t got to where they’re going. Alas, the pitfalls of adapting only a half a novel, instead of the whole book…
Thankfully, with such incredible resources available both in front and behind the camera, viewing is seldom dull. New cast members joining the already impressive roster include big names like Ciaran Hinds, McKenzie Crook and Diana Rigg – who gets the Lion’s share of the series’ best lines. Inevitably though, not everyone gets much in the way of screen time, with some - Clive Russell, Tobias Menzies – not getting stacks to do, but hopefully being set up for more down the line.
The overcrowding is unavoidably problematic, and an issue the show still isn’t sure how to handle. And yet some of the many, many plot lines seem frustratingly to cover hardly any ground at all. You could write the storylines for Bran, Theon and Stannis/Melissandre/Davos on a postcard, yet they’re dragged in bitty fashion across the series, taking time away from more dramatic stories. This leaves big arcs like Daenerys’ on-going march of victory to be told in almost rationed snap-shots.
The overcrowding also inevitably damages dramatic execution. Some big events, namely two colourful duels, get almost no build-up. Suspense is developed by knowing something’s coming – when you drop a flaming sword or a massive bear into the mix unexpectedly, it might make you sit up straight, but it doesn’t bring you to the edge of your seat.
The biggest crime the series commits is the using of incidental music to compensate for the drama that it just can’t find room to deliver. Watch how often a character gets to perform a big speech to a gradually building soundtrack because there hasn’t been room to set the scene or the tone.
That isn’t to say that the series doesn’t have more successes than failures. A climb up an icy rock-face is appropriately hair-raising, as is another encounter with the menacing white-walkers. And the now established episode nine game-changer is suitably jaw-dropping.
And though the episodes are bursting at the seams, it’s not as if they’re not skillfully written and beautifully performed by the cast. Once again, it’s the devious Lannisters who get most of the best material. Nominally they’re the villains of the piece, but ruthless as they are, they’re as much victims of the game as everyone else (they’re just on top).
One the big surprises of the season is the revelation that the sly-tongued Jamie, who seemed to have no redeeming features beyond his looks, has more humanity than we might otherwise have guessed, leading to one of the season’s most unexpectedly emotional and surprising scenes.
It’s Emilia Clarke as Daenerys though who impresses most; her rise from resourceful, determined girl into a fully-fledged leader is completely convincing. And even when speaking in a made-up language, she’s able to make the character’s strength of will and purpose seem truly electrifying.
Whatever its faults, Game of Thrones remains compulsive viewing.