June 10, 2013



There are a multitude of serialized dramas on television these days, but none has fully embraced the form in the way that GAME OF THRONES does.  The other serials nearly always hedge their bets:  there’s a storyline introduced and resolved within each hour, and an arc that’s concluded by the end of the season. Thrones, though, taking its cue from George R. R. Martin’s novels, barely has beginnings and endings to its seasons.  Instead, there’s a constant flow of narrative that we join when the season begins and leave for a while when it ends.

Tonight’s Season 3 finale, written by series creators David Benioff and D. B. Weiss and directed by David Nutter (he also directed last week’s massive Red Wedding episode; Benioff and Weiss, for their part, wrote all but 3 of this season’s episodes themselves, with one of the remaining trio written by Martin), didn’t make any attempt to compete with the bloody intensity of the Red Wedding.  The hour, rather, was both epilogue and prologue, dealing with some of the aftereffects of the massacre and setting things in motion for Season 4.

Generally speaking, the message–hardly a surprising one after last week–is that the carnage has just begun.  Arya (Maisie Williams) has committed her first murder, and it definitely didn’t feel like it would be her last, especially under the tutelage of the Hound (Rory McCann), whose only complaint is that she killed the man without telling him first.  Theon Greyjoy’s (Alfie Allen) torture continues, and now, against her father’s wishes, his sister is on her way to kill his tormentor and rescue him.  There’s so much hatred and paranoia boiling among the Lannisters that it seems like only a matter of time before they start slaughtering one another.  Shae (Sibel Kekilli), despite the best efforts of Varys (Conleth Hill) and her own wildly mixed feelings about her lover Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) being married to her charge Sansa (Sophie Turner), refuses to leave King’s Landing, and it’s hard to imagine that’s going to end well.  Jon Snow (Kit Harington) is very nearly killed by his lover Ygritte (Rose Leslie) and her arrows.  Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) now has an army of supplicants to go along with her actual army, not to mention her growing dragons, and eventually she’s going to arrive in Westeros and all hell is going to break loose.  And most–worst–of all, people are starting to realize that the White Walkers really are coming, creatures that only one man, the unlikely Samwell (John Bradley) has successfully vanquished in thousands of years.  The Walkers are so fearsome that Melisandre (Carice van Houten), sorceress of fire, orders that her nemesis Davos (Liam Cunningham) be spared even after King Stannis (Stephen Dillane) calls for his death after Davos freed Baratheon bastard Gendrie (Joe Dempsie), because he’ll be needed for that war.  Also aiming to be a valuable soldier against them:  crippled child worg Bran (Isaac Hempstead Wright), now armed with Samwell’s weapons.

The ten hours per year that we get of Game of Thrones, even though each episode this season was extended to nearly a full 60 minutes, and even though this season covered only half of a Martin novel, never seem like enough, chafing and straining to fit all the characters and stories into too little time–and without a better picture of where it’s all going and which pieces are ultimately going to be most critical, it’s hard to know whether the balance is optimal.  While scenes among the Lannisters feel like they could be a series all by themselves (really, who wouldn’t want to watch a spin-off of Tywin, Cersei, Joffrey and Tyrion fuming and sniping at one another each week?), the Theon Greyjoy sequences this season felt a bit too close to torture porn, especially for a character who so far doesn’t seem to be all that important.  Why, instead, couldn’t we have gotten more of Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and Brienne’s (Gwendolyn Christie) journey back to King’s Landing?  And what’s going on with Littlefinger (Aiden Gillen)?  Benioff and Weiss also may be leaning a bit too hard on Dany’s adventure of the week as their default episode-ender, taking advantage of the fact that her stories tend to be self-contained, with the most pure spectacle.

But really, what a luxury it is to complain that a show has too much that’s good: too many indelible performances, too many shocking plot twists, too much heartbreaking tragedy, too much expert blending of action, wit, sex and sheer narrative wizardry.  The great news for us all (although perhaps not for Benioff and Weiss, for whom this is becoming a life’s work) is that Game of Thrones has only become more of a ratings phenomenon this season, neck and neck with True Blood as HBO’s (and all of paycable’s) biggest hit, so while only Season 4 has been ordered so far, it’s safe to assume that the show will continue to be around indefinitely–or at least until George R. R. Martin runs out of ideas.  And since the War in the North looks, if anything, more deadly and intractable than anything we’ve seen thus far, there will be no shortage of material in Westeros.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."