Dany's storyline expresses the theme of the episode best. Dany arrives in Astapor, which is a slave city, and learns about The Unsullied. Jorah explains that they are the best army in the world, but they're slaves. Dany learns that they've been cut. One Unsullied man doesn't move when his master cuts off his nipple. They stand until they fall. They kill a newborn baby as the baby's mother watches. Jorah warns Dany that they aren't men and that they've lost their humanity. Slavery's the ultimate form of servitude. Moments later, she's nearly killed by a nasty looking spider/scorpion hybrid. The warlocks are still after her, but her life is spared by a man in a hood. The man removes his hood, and he's none other than Barristan Selmy, last seen throwing his sword at Joffrey's feet following his dismissal from the King's Guard. Selmy pledges to serve, apologizes, and asks to serve the Rightful Queen to the Iron Throne. I loved Emilia Clarke's eyes after Selmy knelt down to her. Her eyes expressed a mixture of surprise, disbelief, and hope. Jorah described him as the best swordsman in the Seven Kingdoms.
But, of course, Bronn and Meryn Trant's little exchange outside of Tyrion's chambers expressed the idea of 'all men must serve' well, too. Bronn and Trant were going to come to blows in the service of Tyrion and Cersei, respectively. Bronn later reminds Tyrion that he's not his guard anymore, not since he became a knight. Service for him means double the amount of money Tyrion had been paying him for his protection. Their brief exchange transitions well into Tyrion's chat with Tywin about his reward for his service in the Blackwater battle. By rights, Tyrion argues, he is owed Casterly Rock. Tywin, in a word, disagrees. Tywin's a proper bastard. He accuses Tyrion of killing his mother during birth, of being a disgrace to the Lannister name, and of whoring around instead of serving as the Hand of the King. Tywin's definitely rankled by Tyrion's dig about his service in Harrenhal while he, Tyrion, laid the defense plans for the city and led the troops to war against Stannis. Tyrion leaves Tywin's chambers with nothing but hurt feelings.
"Valar Dohaeris" can't catch up with every character in the series. The series is too vast, but it sets up what's to come quite well. Benioff and Weiss promised a season that dwells on the rise of people into power as well as the fall of powerful people. Ros got the memo since she warns Shae about Sansa Stark of all people. Margaery Tyrell stands out the most in the crowded season premiere. Margaery's two scenes establish her convictions and motivations really well. Season 2 established her designs on the throne, i.e. to become the True Queen. This episode wants to show another side of Margaery, the side of her who stops a royal train to talk to the orphans in Flea Bottom. They are children made orphans by the war. Loras tells Cersei that his sister helped the poor a great deal in Highgarden. Margaery and Loras have a significant effect on Joffrey. Cersei had told the Tyrell siblings about their unfortunate stop in Flea Bottom, which was where the riot broke out in season 2 and where Joffrey nearly lost his life. Joffrey's not the momma's boy, so he disputes Cersei's claims, chalking them up to the concerns of a soft and aging woman. In short, he declares he was unafraid and that the riot is well over-blown. These two scenes worked because it developed each character's relation to one another subtly.
Beyond The Wall, Jon Snow convinces Mance Raydar, the King-Beyond-The-Wall of his defection from the Night's Watch. The Wildings don't trust Jon. Halfhand gave his life for the sake of Jon's legitimacy among The Wildings (a legitimacy he never had whilst in Winterfell under the domineering and judgmental eye of Cat). The story Beyond The Wall might take a bit of time to move forward. It's notable that Jon saw a giant, and that the wildings reminded him he's free to go under the covers with Ygritte. Mance is a fascinating character as he once wore the black of the crow. Jon looks on The King-Beyond-The-Wall somewhat hesitantly, as if peering into his eyes will break his resolve, his duty, and he, too, will become truly cast out by his brothers of the Night's Watch.
The Night's Watch is yet another shining example of servitude in the Seven Kingdoms. King's Landing dismisses warnings about the strange tales from Beyond The Wall. The Night's Watch are undermanned and dealing with The Others. They are all that separates the Seven Kingdoms from the wildings and The Others. Their dire warnings are very real. Sam forgot to send the ravens. Jeor orders a retreat back to The Wall to re-group. The reminders of what's happening Beyond The Wall seems to dwarf any of the political nonsense happening in the Seven Kingdoms.
Of course, it is strange to title an episode "Valar Dohaeris" and not include Arya Stark, but that's neither here nor there. Robb and Catelyn Stark get one scene, and Robb chooses to lock his mother in a cell for her decision to release Jaime Lannister. Robb makes his choice upon witnessing the massacre in Harrenhal. It's worth noting Roose Bolton says he's got someone hunting the Kingslayer down. The purpose of the scene is twofold--Stark's men are dispirited by what they find, and Robb and Cat are severely divided.
Division's not what any character needs, especially in this world where one will stick a knife into your cut the second after commending you in battle. This world is a world where Ros plants potentially dangerous mistrust about Sansa Stark in the mind of Shae. Power falls to the unions, and the divided fall. All men must serve, yes, but so too must all men die.
-The premiere is light on new characters. I may be mistaken but I think Missandei and the entirety of The Unsullied, as well as Mance, are the only new characters introduced. There are 15-16 more characters to meet this season. Don't worry, friends and well-wishers, I will keep the characters straight.
-Emilia Clark's lovelier than ever in "Valar Dohaeris." Dany's written much better than she was throughout season two. I'm really, really hoping the series got Dany's arc right for the third season.
-Davos briefly mourns the death of his son while with Saan. A Storm of Swords' chapter in which Davos is stranded on the rock deals with Davos' mourning over his son's death. Martin's writing is beautiful and really quite moving. It's a worth read.
-Saan warns Davos that Melisandre's burning men and women who oppose her god. Melisandre's just pissed when she sees Davos about being left out for the battle. Basically, she blames Davos for excluding her, arguing she would've prevented what happened with the wildfyre. Stannis absolutely believes her.
-Littlefinger told Sansa stuff about leaving King's Landing. Yeah.
-David Benioff and D.B. Weiss wrote the episode. Daniel Minahan directed it.
THE YOUTUBE CLIP OF THE WEEK