Richard Madden plays Robb Stark in the season 3 premiere of HBO's "Game… (Helen Sloan / HBO )
It's been nearly 10 months since we've seen a fresh episode featuring the troubled lands of Westeros, but finally the long winter (and summer and fall) of our discontent is at an end. HBO's "Game of Thrones" is back.
As Episode 21 (“Valar Dohaeris”) unfolds, there’s hot action in the frozen wild lands north of The Wall. Cowardly Samwell (John Bradley) barely survives his encounter with an advancing army of eerie White Walkers. He rejoins what’s left of his Night’s Watch patrol as the weary Rangers trek south on a critical mission – sound the warning about White Walkers or “everyone you have ever known will be dead”!
Valiant Jon Snow (Kit Harington), however, has no intention of retreating to The Wall. Instead he seeks to swap his black Ranger cloak for wildling garb and confront the baby-eating White Walkers head-on. But first Jon must win the trust of King Beyond the Wall Mance Rayder (Ciarán Hinds), who united the wildling clans into a ragtag yet massive fighting force.
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In the sunnier yet equally treacherous climes of King’s Landing, diminutive Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) feels no love from his ruthless family – even after destroying the invading armada of Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane). Stannis, by the way, is holed up with black magic girlfriend Melisandre (Carice van Houten), burning dissenters alive and plotting a comeback.
At Tyrion’s humble chambers, Queen Cersei (Lena Headey) conducts some unwelcome intel-gathering. Then Tyrion meets with “beloved father” Tywin (Charles Dance) in a session that devolves from awkward to devastating.
Not only is small-but-mighty Tyrion denied the reward he justly deserves – he “bled in the mud” for his family, after all – father threatens to hang any whore found in Tyrion’s bed and dismisses him as an “ill-made, spiteful little creature.”
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Still at King’s Landing, young Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) remains a reluctant “guest” of evil teen King Joffrey Baratheon (Jack Gleeson). Lady Sansa receives an offer by oily Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish (Aidan Gillen) to escape with him by sea, but can she trust this cunning pimp? Sansa should ask her daddy’s headless ghost for a character reference.
As for Joffrey, he’s warming to the feminine wiles of Lady Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer), who developed a sudden affection for destitute orphans. Joffrey seems impressed with her charity work but potential mother-in-law Cersei doesn’t buy the piety act.
Far nobler monarchs, King in the North Robb Stark (Richard Madden) and his new bride Talisa (Oona Chaplin), have yet to lose a battle in their steady march to capture King’s Landing. But their quest grows grim when they discover the corpses of 200 North men “slaughtered like sheep.”
And Robb, who could never be accused of nepotism, imprisons his mother Catelyn (Michelle Fairley) for freeing “King Slayer” Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) in a desperate bid to rescue daughter Sansa.
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So many plotlines! But wait, there’s more. Dragons!
Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke), her maturing dragons (less cute, more fearsome) and her faithful Dothraki followers sail into Slaver’s Bay in search of soldiers. Incidentally, Dothrakis love horses but obviously hate boats in this time long before Dramamine.
Once on terra firma, Daenerys survives an assassination attempt shortly after bargaining for an 8,000-man slave army. Brutally trained as warriors since age 5, these guys are tough! Nipple-ectomy? Didn’t need it anyway.