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GAME OF THRONES Season 3 Review & Episode Scores

March 14, 2019

Game Of Thrones Season 3 Review

In this series, we are building toward a ranked list of every Game Of Thrones episode by combing through the series one season at a time. The episodes are broken down to a granular level, with each storyline within each episode receiving a 1-5 score in each of the following areas: Story, Worldbuilding, and Entertainment. These component scores are then combined and used as the basis for the Episode Scores. The series will continue all the way through the Season 7 Review, which can be expected around the time of the Season 8 debut. As you rewatch the show in preparation for the final season, and re-listen to Binge Mode, you can also follow along here.

Previous Entries:

Introduction & Rationale

Season 1 Review

Season 2 Review

Without further ado…


Did the third season of Game of Thrones manage to top what came before? By and large, yes. Yes, it did. The first 20 episodes were dotted with exceptional hours of television, but Season Three delivers arguably the series’ quintessential episode in The Rains of Castamere. Even with seven seasons of hindsight, it’s no stretch to name Castamere as the show’s signature accomplishment, upping the ante considerably on the Stark family trauma from Season One. This third batch contains a number of exemplary episodes, including Kissed By Fire and Second Sons, that repeatedly push the series to greater heights. These plaudits are slightly tempered, as the series also manages to delve to a new low. The extended (…gulp) torture storyline arguably rears its head in a few too many episodes which gives the season an unnecessarily nasty streak. Still the story continues to broaden and new compelling characters continue to enter the fray. Season Three boasts growth beyond what the first two seasons could offer, while still leaving room for growth. Not a bad place to be.

[3.01] Valar Dohaeris

Valar Dohaeris

Episode Score: 80

Season 3 gets off to a strong start by launching a number of intriguing new arcs in Valar Dohaeris. Qarth was a bit confining for Dany, but Astapor is a more visually interesting locale, and this premiere introduces us to Missandei of Narth (Nathalie Emmanuel) and the army of Unsullied soldiers Dany intends to purchase there. North of the Wall, Jon meets Mance Rayder (Ciaran Hinds), the “King Beyond the Wall,” who has done the impossible by uniting the petty wildling tribes into a force that can break Castle Black’s defenses. The machinations of King’s Landing, as usual, are highly entertaining on a number of levels. If Valar Dohaeris falters, it’s in the few “check-in” scenes with Davos, and then with Robb Stark entering Harrenhal. The Harrenhal scene is slight, but at least it introduces us to Qyburn. Overall, it’s a fine opening chapter for Season 3.

[3.02] Dark Wings, Dark Words

Dark Wings Dark Words

Episode Score: 68

Dark Wings, Dark Words is both blessed and cursed with having to introduce a huge number of new characters, thus balancing many first appearances in the show. Lady Olenna, the Tyrell matriarch (played by Diana Rigg); Thoros of Myr, a drunken red priest (Paul Kaye); Locke, a Bolton “handyman” (Noah Taylor); the Reed Twins (Ellie Kendrick and Thomas Brodie-Sangster); and one of Theon’s captors who is not yet revealed to be Ramsay Bolton (played by Iwan Rheon)—just to name a few—all make their first appearance in this episode. Unfair as it is, this glut of character introduction results in an unwieldy number of story lines and precious little screen time for most of them to really register. Which ones work best? Bran’s encounter with Jojen and Meera Reed really breathes new life into the young Stark’s story; and Paul Kaye’s magnetism as Thoros, not to mention the reappearance of the Hound, makes for a memorable leg of Arya’s story. Ultimately, it’s only a theoretically strong episode, sapped by overcrowding.

[3.03] Walk Of Punishment

Walk of Punishment

Episode Score: 72

Despite the episode’s title, in Walk Of Punishment, King’s Landing delivers high comedy in the form of Tyrion explaining the concept of debt to Bronn, and Podrick Payne becoming inexplicably popular with the ladies. Elsewhere, Robb’s bumbling uncle Edmure, joins the circus when he fails to light his father’s floating funeral pyre with a flaming arrow, and is then shown up by his own uncle, Brynden “Blackfish” Tully. It’s not all fun and games though, as Dany strikes a deal that will secure an army, but cost a dragon. After finding the remains of a grisly White Walker attack on his brothers of the Night’s Watch, Jon departs on a mission with Tormund, Ygritte, and company, to scale the Wall. In the most memorable scene, Locke shows that he’s true to his flayed-man banners by gleefully lopping off Jaime’s sword hand. Shout out to whoever had the cheeky idea of following Jaime’s maiming with a smash cut to the credits accompanied by that boisterous version of the popular Westerosi jam, “The Bear and the Maiden Fair,” by The Hold Steady. A strong if imperfect episode, that, at the very least, gives its best scenes the right amount of breathing room.

[3.04] And Now His Watch Is Ended

And Now His Watch Is Ended

Episode Score: 78

And Now His Watch Is Ended delivers a crucial Daenerys scene, one in which she takes command of her army, keeps all of her dragons, and teaches the first of many lessons to the cruel masters of Slaver’s Bay. Even with the hindsight that comes with seven seasons of Game Of Thrones, this is still one of her best moments. In King’s Landing, the Tyrells begin sewing seeds to consolidate their power in the capitol, while Varys and Olenna have an memorable exchange and pose an existential question for the philosophers. After a respite for Theon last week, his torture recommences, as the boy who helped him escape sadistically leads him straight back into captivity. At Craster’s Keep, the despicable Karl Tanner leads an mutiny resulting in the death of Craster and Lord Commander Mormont. Though overshadowed by the more set-piece-driven episodes to come, And Now His Watch Is Ended is a sneakily excellent episode, filled with great moments and fantasy spectacle.

[3.05] Kissed By Fire

Kissed By Fire

Episode Score: 84

Kissed By Fire is a thrilling and pivotal episode that delivers cloak-and-dagger political dealing, revelatory character moments, and a blazing sword fight. Cersei upends the Tyrells’ wedding plans, and unwittingly commits herself to an arranged marriage in process. Jaime lays bare his sins to Brienne in the baths of Harrenhal, forcing her to consider whether she would have done anything differently if she were him. Jon breaks his vows in a steamy cave with Ygritte. The Hound slays Beric Dondarrion in a trial by combat, only for Beric to be resurrected by Thoros. Sure, we’ve seen a trial by combat before, but not one adjudicated in a cave and with a flaming sword. There are no weak story lines in this episode, and many of them approach greatness including the quiet but touching debut of Shireen Baratheon.

[3.06] The Climb

The Climb

Episode Score: 72

The Climb is bound to remembered as being a little better than it actually was. It is sprinkled with excellent moments that manage to buoy an episode with little depth. The Good? Tywin and Olenna discuss their children’s marriage plans (#realtalk); Arya confronts Melisandre during her visit to the Brotherhood Without Banners; Littlefinger delivers his “chaos is a ladder” bit (it’s less than a speech but more than a line); and, well, Jon, Ygritte and company climb the Wall in thrilling fashion. It sounds like a great time on paper, and at times it is; however, the rest of the episode overflows with all-too-brief status update scenes. It’s a difficult episode to evaluate in hindsight, as it’s arguably more memorable than most, yet it doesn’t deliver the consistently high-caliber storytelling of the series’ best.

[3.07] The Bear And The Maiden Fair

The Bear and the Maiden Fair Episode

Episode Score: 74

The name of this seventh episode comes from one of Game Of Thrones’ popular in-universe tunes. The Bear And The Maiden Fair is another highly memorable episode from the third season. The series earns its notoriety and reputation for brutality when Ramsay emasculates Theon. It’s not all so grim though, as Jaime demonstrates his heroic streak when he saves Brienne from entertaining the Bolton army by fighting a hungry bear. Outside Yunkai, Dany shows her strength when she tosses an altogether reasonable offer back in the face of a Yunkish master who had hoped to send her on her way without a fight. Another mixed bag of an episode. The highs and lows make this one of the more indelible episodes even though it lands in the middle of the pack.

[3.08] Second Sons

Second Sons

Episode Score: 86

Not content to save all the best stuff for the ninth episode as the first two seasons did, Second Sons is packed with crucial and massively entertaining scenes. It’s quietly one of the series’ very best episodes. Joffrey continues antagonizing Tyrion and Sansa, this time at their wedding; while Dany treats with Yunkai’s mercenary company, The Second Sons, and gains an unlikely ally. Elsewhere, Sam protects Gilly by killing a White Walker with dragonglass, and Melisandre seduces Gendry to get a taste of his royal blood. Even the episode’s slightest scene, a brief catch-up with Arya and the Hound on their way to meet Robb Stark at the Twins, is entertaining and illuminating. It’s episodes like Second Sons that really show why Game Of Thrones is great. The episode delivers everything we love about the show, and does it all without being built around a battle or definitive set-piece. Five story lines, all of nearly equal weight, and all excellent.

[3.09] The Rains Of Castamere

The Rains of Castamere

Episode Score: 95

If your threshold for shocking story developments wasn’t overwhelmed by Ned Stark’s death in Baelorthen the deck-clearing “Red Wedding” in The Rains Of Castamere really ought to do the trick. The Red Wedding, this episode’s centerpiece, is Game Of Thrones at its most defiant, unexpectedly tying off the most conventionally heroic character arc in the show at the time. The sequence at The Twins, Walder Frey’s Riverlands stronghold, is also set-piece filmmaking at its finest, lending the necessary gravity to the series’ most ballyhooed plot twist. The drama surrounding Robb and Catelyn Stark takes center stage, but the episode’s remaining arcs do not pale in comparison. New ally Daario hands Dany yet another pivotal victory, and back in Westeros, Bran and company continue north, and Jon makes the painful decision to part ways with his flame, Ygritte, and return to Castle Black. A stunning episode from start to finish worthy of its immense reputation.

[3.10] Mhysa

Mhysa

Episode Score: 81

After the bleakness of The Rains Of Castamere, season four’s finale, Mhysa, picks up where the Red Wedding left off, allowing viewers the opportunity to grieve in its wake, as well as gloat with its perpetrators. The Red Wedding is one of the shows darkest moments, and while Mhysa begins in the immediate aftermath, it also closes out the season for good with a few unambiguously bright, hopeful moments. Davos saves Gendry from the fate of a sacrificial lamb, and convinces Stannis that there is another path to the Iron Throne. Sam and Gilly run into Bran and company, and ushers them north of the Wall to continue their quest. Jaime arrives at King’s Landing after two full seasons of longing to return to Cersei’s side. Yara vows to rescue and avenge Theon. The biggest moment of them all? Dany being hoisted up on the shoulders of Yunkai’s freedmen, to the swell of Ramin Djawadi’s memorbale track, “Mhysa.” Even with a bit more heartbreak for Jon, as Ygritte leaves him with an unwanted parting gift (or three), Mhysa, is a one of the series’ stronger season finales and goes out with an entertaining bang. Also, pour some out for Ed Skrein, who made a strong impact as Daario Naharis before being recast prior to season 4. No offense to Michiel Huisman (also great), but Skrein was good enough that it’s genuinely surprising he only appeared in three episodes.

Analysis

While Season 3 doesn’t reach the numerical highs and lows of Season 2, it does occupy a similarly wide range of scores, spanning from the mid-60s to the mid-90s. Like Blackwater from Season 2, Castamere was a considerable outlier on the high end, with the other nine episodes adhering to the more cohesive range establised in the first two seasons. As indicated by the story scores across this season, the plotting regained much of the propulsive momentum of the first season. Worldbuilding dipped slightly, but the entertainment value reached a new high-water mark. New characters notwithstanding, the entertainment uptick feels attributable to improved season-on-season cohesion (especially in the writing and acting), a phenomenon observed in many series regardless of genre.

Overall, Season 3 improved on Season 1’s total season score by less than three tenths of a point. With the heightened degree of difficulty in harnessing a story that grows more diffuse by the episode, balanced with the old cliche of “finding a groove” as the show matures, this scoring progression makes sense.

Minutiae

Episode Averages for Season 3:

– Episode Score=78.56

– Story=77.8

– World-building=72.3

– Entertainment=87.2

Castamere aside, episode 8, Second Sons, nabbed the highest episode score with an 86.

Highest Story score went to The Rains of Castamere, with a score of 96.

Highest World-building score went to The Rains of Castamere, with a score of 89.

Highest Entertainment score went to Second Sons, with a score of 100.

Season Two landed 4 episode scores in the 70s, with one in the 60s and one in the 90s.

Season Three Episodes Ranked By Score:

  1. [3.09] The Rains of Castamere (94.07)
  2. [3.08] Second Sons (85.33)
  3. [3.05] Kissed By Fire (83.81)
  4. [3.10] Mhysa (80.95)
  5. [3.01] Valar Dohaeris (80.00)
  6. [3.04] And Now His Watch Is Ended (77.14)
  7. [3.07] The Bear and the Maiden Fair (73.33)
  8. [3.06] The Climb (71.67)*
  9. [3.03] Walk of Punishment (71.67)*
  10. [3.02] Dark Wings, Dark Words (67.62)

*Editor preference served as the tiebreaker between episodes with identical scores.

Stay tuned for our review of Season 4, more episode rankings, and more Game Of Thrones stuff in general as we wait out the long winter that must pass before Season 8.

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