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'Game of Thrones' Review and Recap, Season Three Episode 1: 'Valar Dohaeris'

Thompson on Hollywood By David Chute | Thompson on Hollywood March 29, 2013 at 7:10PM

As the third season of HBO's epic drama series of back-stabbing ambition and dynastic intrigue, "Game of Thrones," launches on Sunday, it's just possible that the trace elements of generic fantasy in GoT -- a dragon here, some evil sorcery there -- could be jettisoned without much impact on the viewer’s pleasure.
Game of Thrones

In part it is precisely the brutal realism of this show that has taught us how to savor a daring, slow-fuse episode like this one. We understand that the undercurrent of menace in these scenes is no idle threat. The rendering down of often much longer passages from the book is artfully done, which for a story geek like me is a pleasure in itself. Especially apt is the decision to streamline a major plot thread by giving Aidan Gillen's watchful manipulator Petyr Baelish (the Guardian’s pick as the series' Cromwell equivalent) an earlier and more central association with the gnawing ambition of Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) to slip the clutches of the evil, incestuous Lannisters.

The novel on which Season Three is based, "A Storm of Swords," is generally regarded as the strongest of the first five, and it is certainly packed with plot, whiplash reversals to rival anything that’s come before. I’ve been gleefully warning people who haven’t read it to hold onto their hats, they ain’t seen nothin' yet. What we’ve learned is that, for Martin and his adapters, the most startling twists are never just arbitrary shocks. They grow out of a sense of the way the world works that may be grim, but is never less than completely plausible, in this all-too real world that happens to have dragons.

This article is related to: Television, TV Reviews, HBO, HBO's Game of Thrones

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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.