"Game of Thrones" returned to HBO with a record-breaking 4.4 million viewers watching the premiere, titled "Valar Dohaeris," on Sunday night. And nearly every television critic agrees that it was a good start to what looks like another strong season.
"It’s hard to discuss Sunday’s episode without spoiling some of the good stuff, so let’s just say fans will not be disappointed," David Hinckley of the New York Daily News wrote. "Life will not be dull in Westeros this season. Nor, presumably, will death."
Following Season 2's climactic battle for Blackwater, in which Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) successfully defended Kings Landing from Stannis Baratheon, IndieWire's Rodrigo Perez noted that the premiere — garnering a 91 Metascore on MetaCritic — was "more about picking up the pieces" than rushing right back into another battle.
"'Valar Morghulis' isn’t the most dynamic 'Game Of Thrones' episode ever, but the morning after a fierce battle is more about picking up the pieces, regrouping and recalibrating than it is rushing headfirst into another battles," Perez wrote. "While the episode slowly wakes up into this new era, lines are being drawn and chess pieces that will no doubt come into play later are being moved on the board."
One critic not a fan of "Thrones" chess-like approach to storytelling was the New York Times' Mike Hall.
"Season 3 of HBO’s “Game of Thrones” begins with satisfyingly crunchy sounds of slaughter and a haunting image: chubby Samwell Tarly, abandoned by his mates in the Night’s Watch, running in terror through the mists on the far side of the Wall," Hall begins. "And then people start to talk. And talk. And walk from here to there so that they can do some more talking."
But the talk has always been one of the show's most addictive qualities. Although there was a lot of it to start off the season, a lot of critics found it much more compelling than Hall. Especially Entertainment Weekly's Melissa Maerz, who praised the dramatic tension between incoming queen Margaery (Natalie Dormer) and the former queen, Cersei (Lena Headey).
"The most compelling characters in season 3 are the gentleladies. Margaery (Natalie Dormer) is manipulating Joffrey (Jack Gleeson), with help from her deliciously sharp-tongued grandmother Lady Olenna (Diana Rigg)," Maerz wrote to explain her accompanying A- grade. "And the chilly competition between past and future queens Cersei (Lena Headey) and Margaery could freeze a White Walker cold."
One of the perks of being paid to review television is advanced screeners. In the case of "Thrones," critics got their hands on the third season's first four episodes, leading Matt Zoller Seitz of Vulture to ensure that HBO viewers are in for another slow — but carefully crafted — build as executive producers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss continue to faithfully adapt George R.R. Martin's fantasy novel series.
"It takes season three of 'Thrones' several episodes to get going, because that’s how long it takes to maneuver several dozen characters spread out across various bits of terrain into the appropriate configurations," Seitz wrote. "Of course, if you watch the show, you already know that’s how it works, and you’re all right with it."
The Washington Post's Hank Stuever is all right with it and openly praises the "masterpiece in the making" for what it has in store for viewers this season.
"Having seen the first four episodes of this new season, I couldn’t stop thinking about the highest compliment paid by the basement-dwelling Wayne and Garth in 'Saturday Night Live' episodes of yore," Stuever concluded. "We’re not worthy!"