Game of Thrones: a guide to where we are as season 3 begins
As the fantastically complex fantasy drama returns, even the most avid fans could use a reminder of exactly who's doing what and where...
Fantasy drama Game of Thrones is notorious as one of the most densely populated and politically complex shows on TV. Even the most dedicated fan could be forgiven for losing track of the precise movements and motivations of some of its characters. So as season three begins, here’s a reminder of where we find each of those key players with an eye on the future of the coveted Iron Throne of Westeros…
In the aftermath of Stannis Baratheon's attack at the Battle of Blackwater, power has shifted in the political snake-pit of King's Landing.
After delighting in his role as Hand of the King in season two, Peter Dinklage's battle-scarred Tyrion Lannister has been stripped of the title in favour of his father, Tywin. Disfigured, powerless and deserted by his allies, it's safe to say The Imp isn't going to be swanning around as gleefully in season three as he did in two. Instead, we're set to see a more vulnerable Tyrion, whose relationship with his ruthless family is strained even further.
Meanwhile, there's a new House in town: the Tyrells. Having come to the aid of King's Landing during the Battle of Blackwater, this mysterious family have been rewarded with the honour of joining their house to the Lannisters with the prospective marriage of King Joffrey to the brazenly ambitious Margaery Tyrell. It will be interesting to see not only how Joffrey's mother Cersei reacts to Margaery's subtle scheming but how the dynamic of King's Landing changes in general. Because the Tyrells – in particular Margaery's cunning grandmother Lady Olenna, The Queen Of Thorns – are even more intriguing than they initially appear.
And what of Sansa, the Starks' eldest daughter? She's been freed of her betrothal to Joffrey, but is told by the slippery Lord Baelish (aka Littlefinger) that the king will torment her anyway, and that Baelish canher avoid this by arranging her passage home to Winterfell. Whether Baelish can be trusted remains to be seen.
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Having suffered a devastating defeat in his attempt to usurp the throne at King's Landing, Stannis Baratheon is not his usual cheery self at the end of season two. He blames "the red woman", Melisandre, and her shadowy sorcery for wrongly predicting his victory and takes it out on her violently before she shows him something else in the mysterious flames. Given his failure, it's uncertain how big Stannis's arc is going to be this season but given that we will finally meet his wife, Lady Selyse, and daughter, Shireen, he is undoubtedly going to feature. But will he be reunited with his faithful right-hand man Davos Seaworth (an outspoken critic of Melisandre) whose ship was blown to smithereens at the Battle of Blackwater?
In the north
Winterfell lies smouldering in ashes. With no home or family, Bran headed north to The Wall in order to find his brother, Jon. In the books, however, there's another reason he makes that journey: to explore his growing skin-changing power. This is inspired by magical siblings, Meera and Jojen Reed, who were guests at Winterfell when it was taken by Theon Greyjoy. In season three, though, it looks like Bran will meet the Reeds on the way to the wall. A good call, really, as season two's narrative was packed enough without the Reeds and they're more a conduit for Bran's power than anything else.
What has happened to Theon after his failed occupation of Winterfell is unknown. The TV show has done a wonderful job of expanding Theon's character beyond just being an odious, sneering sod but even so, there are some fans who wish him only the worst.
In season one, rebel leader and would-be ruler of Westeros Robb Stark made an oath to the Freys that in exchange for crossing their bridge – a vital move in the war against the Lannisters – he would wed one of the family's daughters. After falling in love with and marrying Talisa Maegyr at the end of season two, it's an oath he has broken. The consequences of this – especially in the midst of war – will form the spine of Robb's arc this season.
Meanwhile, Robb's mother Catelyn is wondering whether her son will ever forgive the betrayal that saw her release their prisoner Jaime Lannister in an attempt to exchange him for Robb's sister Sansa.
Accompanied by Hot Pie and Gendry, Arya Stark is on the road yet again. When he freed her party from Harrenhal, the enigmatic Jaqen H'ghar offered her the chance to become a faceless assassin like him. While tempted, she refused; opting, instead, to re-join her brother, Robb, and take revenge on the Lannisters. A fine idea, perhaps, but nothing in Game of Thrones is quite that simple.
The same goes for Brienne of Tarth, who seeks to take her goading captive, Jamie Lannister, back to King's Landing in exchange for Sansa Stark. Their journey – shuffled a bit from book four - is going to be one of the most interesting to watch in season three, not only because of their developing relationship but also due to the gruesomely life-changing obstacles they will face.
Across the Narrow Sea
At the end of season two, we're given a taster of what Daenerys Targaryen's dragons can really do (as in: breathe loads of bloody fire). In season three, they have grown more powerful. The same goes for their mother. As determined as ever to assert her claim to the Iron Throne, in season three Daenerys finally becomes a major player in the most dangerous game of all.
Beyond The Wall
Whilst the kingdoms of the south fight over who gets to sit on a fancy chair, the real threat – as indicated by season two's final shot of a horrifying undead army – lies beyond the wall.
But our immediate interest is in Jon Snow, who, at the end of season two, turned double agent by killing fellow Night's Watch ranger, Qhorin Halfhand. In season three, we see him go deeper into the ranks of the Wildlings and finally meet the highly-anticipated King Beyond The Wall, Mance Rayder. As his feelings grow for the fiery Ygritte, however, will he be able to do what needs to be done?
Game of Thrones returns to Sky Atlantic at 9pm on Monday 1 April