[WARNING: There are spoilers from the premiere below. If you haven’t yet seen the premiere and don’t want to suffer through any spoilers, come back to this post after you’ve seen it.]
The long awaited season three premiere of Game of Thrones has arrived, leaving fans wondering: How long till season four? Heh, heh…
I hope you enjoyed the premiere! I was quite taken with it. In particular, I liked watching socially awkward penguin Jon Snow flub it up beyond the wall (seriously, if I were Mance Rayder, I would’ve killed that tokik). Absolutely loved Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell getting down and dirty with the common folk. She’s tearing that role up. And seeing Joffrey in his little cage was priceless. He looks so consternated—like my cat when she brings me her string, and I remain sitting at the computer. “Wha—what are you doing?! Don’t you see the string? And me? And me and the string?!” Poor kitty! She remains ever hopeful.
One thing I’ve always liked is that Benioff and Weiss are never shy about including meta moments in the series. If you’ll recall, in my review of the season finale of last season, I commented on Tyrion’s scar. In the book, Tyrion’s scar is described as being horribly disfiguring (like, half his nose is missing). They couldn’t really make Peter Dinklage hideous, though. So what would they do? As I commented last time, I thought the scar was well done: Not too bad, but by no means insignificant. Lest there be any complaints, though (was there? Were there any fans of the books complaining that Tyrion’s scar wasn’t bad enough?), D&D had Cersei comment directly on his scar—saying herself that it’s not that bad.
Of course, my favorite scene from the show was Tyrion and Tywin. I’m not sure how widely known it is, but Tywin Lannister is, far and away, my favorite character from the book series. Every scene with him in it is outstanding, but the scenes with him and Tyrion together are the best the book series has to offer. The scene in yesterday’s premiere lived up to the hype (well, hype probably only generated and felt by me). Just wonderful. Tyrion is always so self-assure, and is always quite smart (on display with his brief meeting with Cersei in this one), but he is absolutely flummoxed by Tywin. Tywin is Tyrion’s kryptonite, and Charles Dance is playing him beautifully. I can’t wait to see more of this as the season progresses!
But back to the point of this blog, let us talk about the Dothraki in this episode. The Dothraki on Dany’s boat did some wonderful Dothraki groaning and retching as they lurched about the rhaggat eveth. That was all me.
Seriously, though, be prepared for almost no Dothraki whatsoever this season. It’s not gone (there’s at least one short scene with at least one full line of Dothraki), but Dothraki is last season’s news (well, and the season before that. I wish English had a dual…). This season we get to see the one language that fans of the book series actually wanted to see: High Valyrian.
But not yet.
In fact, the only High Valyrian in the premiere was the title (a call back to the title of last year’s finale). The language spoken in the scene with Daenerys, Kraznys and Missandei is a descendant of High Valyrian which I call various things: Astapori Valyrian, Ghiscari Valyrian, Low Valyrian, Valyrian… The name doesn’t matter so much as what it is, which I’ll endeavor to explain here.
According to ancient lore, the Ghiscari Empire fell some 5,000 years prior to the time of action in A Song of Ice and Fire. The empire warred five times with the Valyrian Empire, ultimately falling each time because the Valyrians had dragons. After the fifth war, the Valyrians decimated the old city of Ghis, burning down the buildings and salting the earth so that none would ever return.
So what happened then? Well, Ghiscari had been the language of the empire. As the diaspora spread, the Valyrian Empire took over (until its untimely fall several thousand years later), and the High Valyrian language supplanted the Ghiscari language.
Naturally, what would have happened is that the residents of Slaver’s Bay who spoke Ghiscari would have gradually moved over to High Valyrian, creolizing it along the way. It seems likely that an aristocratic class would have maintained a working knowledge of actual High Valyrian to use with emissaries from the Valyrian Empire, but the day-to-day language would have evolved in a way similar to French or Spanish (i.e. not like either of those languages, but evolving in the way that those languages evolved from Latin). I contend that this evolution would have been separate from the independent evolution of Valyrian in the Valyrian Freehold.
Of course, when it comes to a name, it seems likely they all would have referred to this as the same thing: Valyrian. It wouldn’t matter that denizens of Slaver’s Bay spoke in a different from those in the Valyrian Freehold—or that neither group spoke the same way as their ancestors: They’d all just be speaking Valyrian, if you asked them. (Recall that there was no such thing as High Valyrian until there was a Low Valyrian.)
Whether the varieties of Valyrian spoken in Astapor, Yunkai and Meereen are different enough to be considered separate languages or dialect of a single language is a bit academic. It seems to me that they would likely be able to communicate with one another, but that the language systems will have grown apart. Even if they were different languages, they could probably meet at some middle ground to communicate. Out of world, this could be referred to as Ghiscari Valyrian, but I think it’d be more accurate to refer to each one separately (i.e. Astapori Valyrian, Yunkish Valyrian and Meereenese Valyrian).
This explanation has served to produce the following point: What you hear in the premiere is Astapori Valyrian. It’s descended from High Valyrian, with the old Ghiscari language serving as a substrate or basilectal influence. It’s not mutually intelligible with High Valyrian, but it is close to some of the languages of the Free Cities, on account of separate but similar evolutionary changes (which we didn’t talk about here [and by “we” I mean “I”]).
To give you an example, here’s a line from last night’s episode (one of Missandei’s):
- J’azanty ivetras ji vali nedhinki sizi zughilis vi murgho.
- “The knight says that even the brave men fear death.”
And here’s what that sentence looks like in High Valyrian:
- Morghot nēdyssy sesīr zūgusy azantys vestras.
This post is getting a bit long, so I better bring it to a close, but if you’d like to see some Dothraki, go check out the @GameOfThrones Twitter account today (edit: tomorrow at the time of publication. Oops!). Happy April Fools’!
[Edit: Bleh. I made a baby typo (should’ve been zūgusy not zūguksy, which is what it was originally. Unfortunately zūguksy is, in fact, a licit form of the verb, which was really throwing me for a loop, but it’s also one letter off from the correct form in this case, so it was obviously just a typo (was probably looking at the wrong field).]