This review should be prefaced by congratulating David Benioff on his first foray into the world of directing. There were some beautifully shot sequences (Theon’s chase being a highlight), and the direction helped in making this the best episode of Game of Thrones since Blackwater. Walk of Punishment finally sees the various story lines taking action once again, and the overall plot moves decidedly forward.
The episode opens on a somber note, as Lord Hoster Tully is laid to rest after a long, drawn-out sickness. I found that this type of introduction to a new location and new characters was an interesting way to open an episode, and something new for Game of Thrones. It is here that we meet two highly anticipated characters on screen for the first time; Catelyn’s brother Edmure, and Brynden “Blackfish” Tully, her uncle and late father’s brother. I imagine that the show will refer to Clive Russell’s character solely as “Blackfish”, so as not to confuse viewers between him and Bran Stark…a decision we have prior experience of, as Asha Greyjoy became Yara Greyjoy on the show. Apart from an underestimation of the audience, I don’t see any problem with the Blackfish remaining purely the Blackfish on the show; it is who he is, and who he has been for decades, as established in his touching scene with Catelyn. It is during this scene that we see some of the finest acting in the show to date, as Clive Russell plays the steadfast but loving uncle to Michelle Fairley’s broken and regretful Catelyn, continuing on from her controversial, albeit heartbreaking monologue in Dark Wings, Dark Words. Clive Russell is an impressive addition to the cast. He embodies the Blackfish, and his respect for Robb and devotion to his cause mirrors the optimism of Greatjon Umber from the first season, an aspect in Robb’s story which has been sorely missed.
On the other hand, we have Tobias Menzies joining the ever-growing ranks as Edmure. While Edmure’s buffoonery is slightly exaggerated for the screen, his penchant for glory is well-placed. As an avid fan of HBO’s Rome, I am delighted to see that Menzies’ Edmure retains many of Brutus’ qualities; a young man with a good heart, who means well, is thrust into responsibilities that he cannot fulfill, and his desperation for glory and recognition find him nothing but trouble. Edmure, who with the death of his father, Hoster, is now Lord of Riverrun, has not seen Robb since Robb was very young. As such, we can sympathize that Edmure should feel disconcerted that his nephew now has authority over him, when he has only recently gained authority himself. One minor thing that bothered me during the whole Riverrun opening was Robb sniggering when Edmure’s second arrow missed the funeral barge. This would make sense in the context of the books, given that Robb is fourteen years old, but for this older, more mature Robb to laugh like this such at an important occasion in his grief-stricken mother’s life, it is not just rude and inappropriate, it is downright immature and out of character.
When last we caught up with Daenerys, she had just received an oath of fealty from none other than Ser Barristan Selmy. While not a fan of her storyline last season, I am looking forward to seeing her development this season. Indeed, some of it is apparent already in Emilia Clarke’s facial expressions and tone. Gone is the sulky and self-righteous attitude that dominated her last season. Instead, she now seems self-assured and authoritative without overdoing it. It is interesting to compare her bargaining scene with Kraznys over the Unsullied in this episode with her bargaining scene with the Spice King in the previous season. Whereas in Qarth, Dany believed that her hosts should be going out of their way to supply her needs and support her, she now understands that she lives in a harsh world, and must gain what she deserves. Her attitude in both scenes reflects this. In The Old Gods and the New, Dany’s response in the face of refusal was to sulk, throw a fit and make threats she could not possibly follow through on at the time. In Walk of Punishment, she responds with a compromise and a deft bargaining hand, all the while maintaining a deadpan expression. It should be noted that Dan Hildebrand is doing a wonderful job as the despicable slave-master Kraznys. It is often overlooked how much work goes into the world building of Game of Thrones, and the various languages are a large part of that. David Peterson has done a job perhaps no one else could have, in making the languages of both Dothraki and Valyrian sound not only authentic, but organic to the regions in which they are spoken. Dan Hildebrand speaks Valyrian so convincingly and with such venom, that when combined with his arrogant body language, we can be excused for not actually stopping to realize that it is not really his native tongue.
Seeing Jorah and Barristan reminisce about battles past was a joy to behold, and the mention of Rhaegar was the icing on the cake. Barristan sees Rhaegar as the rightful king who never was, a true knight, honorable and kind, loved by all. His purpose it to have Daenerys achieve what Rhaegar never did, with the same qualities and characteristics he retained until his death. The conflicting ideals of Jorah and Barristan in pursuit of the same goal provide an interesting contrast. Jorah believes that in a corrupt and violent world, one must sometimes succumb to these vices in order to emerge above them. Barristan disagrees, and believes that bravery, honor and loyalty come above all, a code he has lived by his whole life. This prompts Jorah to respond with a line taken straight from A Storm of Swords, ‘Rhaegar fought valiantly. Rhaegar fought nobly, and Rhaegar died.’ One thing they both do agree on, however, is that Daenerys is making a grave error by agreeing to sell one of her dragons.
Beyond the Wall, we get yet another brief scene with Jon and his new allies. While still wishing that at least some human carnage had been displayed so viewers can get a sense of the massacre that took place at the Fist, I did appreciate the fact that the White Walkers are again established as more than a simple zombie horde with a hive mentality. Alas, I believe we have seen the last of Mance Rayder, for a while at least. I am a fan of Ciarán Hinds, and I feel that he was horribly underused. His acting skill, and indeed the character he is playing, deserves to be devoted more time than just a few scenes in which he acts as a glorified expository tool. Jon’s arc in general seems to be getting slightly neglected, although I expect the bulk of his material will be in the latter half of the season.
As the remnants of the Night’s Watch are begrudgingly welcomed back into Craster’s Keep under a very veiled threat of violence, tensions are high. Craster is as despicable as he was last season, and what small understanding he and Lord Commander Mormont had seems to be gone. Burn Gorman makes his first Game of Thrones appearance in this episode, as the shady man of the Night’s Watch who seems to be methodically probing Craster’s authority. With Sam witnessing the birth of Gilly’s baby boy, and since we know what happens to Craster’s sons, it is clear that all hell is about to break loose. A lot of factors contribute in making this a very uncomfortable scene, with the threat of violence seething just under the surface. The camerawork, lack of music, Sam’s nervousness, Craster’s constant mocking, Mormont’s silence, and the men of the Night’s Watch brewing in the background, make it a scene to behold.
On a more optimistic note, Arya and Gendry bid farewell to Hot Pie in an oddly touching scene. I was a fan of the awkwardness between the three when parting ways, as they had been travelling companions, but had never really bonded or become friends. Light-hearted scenes like this are always welcome in the show, as they offer a brief breath of air between the madness that exists elsewhere. In a nice callback to the first season, Arya asks The Hound if he remembers the last time he was at the Crossroads Inn, which was of course when he rode down her friend Micah. Rory McCann portrays Sandor Clegane brilliantly, and it seems he is becoming more in line with his book counterpart with his constant spiteful remarks; “You think you’re good with that bow, you little twat?”
In King’s Landing, we are presented with an ingenious feat of writing (or absence of writing) in the form of the first Small Council scene of season 3. In just under two minutes of total silence, we are told a wonderfully crafted story without the need for words. So much is conveyed within this short scene that it might be easily missed, but the main points are as follows. Tywin, the real power in King’s Landing, has relocated the Small Council chamber to his own quarters and seated himself at the head of the table, signifying that the other members must make an effort to come to him, and serve simply to advise him. Varys, after cautious hesitation, moves to align himself with Tywin. However, his effort is rebuked, as Littlefinger, a self-made man, goes out of his way to seat himself closest to the seat of power, at the expense of others. Pycelle, as loyal a servant as ever, seats himself in the midst of those not sworn specifically to House Lannister. Cersei removes herself from the “repulsive” schemers and seats herself in the place of honor, at the right hand of her father, while simultaneously segregating Tyrion, leaving him his “rightful place”. Finally, Tyrion takes his own initiative and seats himself in direct opposition to his father. All of these silent acts say so much about each respective character, and I believe it is one of the best scenes in the entire series thus far.
Tyrion is appointed as the new Master of Coin, a prospect amusing to all present but Tyrion himself, while Littlefinger is dispatched to woo Lysa Arryn and secure the allegiance of the Vale. Conleth Hill has always been a personal favorite of mine in the show. He brings such flavor to Varys, and his sniping at Littlefinger in this scene over the lordship of Harrenhal is a joy to watch. It is also during this scene that we finally hear the first mention of Roose Bolton’s first name. The constant referring to of all things Bolton should signify to viewers that soon we can expect to see them…fleshed out.
Speaking of the Boltons and fleshing out, Jaime and Brienne have found themselves in a horrible situation. Their first scene together establishes that Brienne is almost certainly going to be gang raped upon stopping for the night. This is reflected later when Locke remarks “Orders were to take the Kingslayer alive, nobody said shit about you.” It is quite clear by now from a show watcher’s perspective that these men, sworn to House Bolton, are not your typical honorable northerners. Furthermore, if Locke is Roose Bolton’s “best hunter”, and he trusts this loose cannon with such an important assignment, not to mention have him in his employ, what does that say about Roose himself? It is worth noting that Gary Lightbody of Snow Patrol fame makes his cameo appearance in this episode, as he breaks into “The Bear and the Maiden Fair” while Locke’s company is on the march.
Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Gwendoline Christie are nothing short of magnificent in the campfire scene. Brienne, refusing to abide by Jaime’s earlier advice and succumb to brutal rape, pleads by naming her father and status. Locke nonchalantly dismisses her and prepares to abuse her before Jaime steps in and attempts to save her. To the delight of anyone who has read the novels, Jaime uses the promise that Locke will be rewarded in sapphires (or thapphireth) for returning Brienne to her father ‘unbesmirched’. It is from here on that Jaime begins digging his own grave, as each subsequent comment, unbeknownst to him, serves to alienate from and elevate himself above Locke, who is simply a lowborn cutthroat. Noah Taylor shines as Locke plays along with Jaime’s game, and his fantastic portrayal retains a lot of Vargo Hoat’s (his book counterpart) characteristics.
As Jaime is made feel more and more comfortable, Brienne watches in horror. She can see right through Locke and his motivations, yet she cannot speak out for fear of her life. As Jaime is unchained and led to the campfire, we can see Brienne pleading with Jaime with her eyes, silently screaming at him to open his own eyes, attempting to save him just as he saved her. All Jaime sees is Brienne admiring his wit, in awe of the ease with which he bargained his way out of captivity. When the tables turn, neither of them can do anything, and Locke’s resentment of Jaime’s condescension and flaunting of his highborn status comes to the fore. This is a man who harbors a bitter, violent hatred for men and women with privileges. He now has the opportunity to get the upper hand (unintentional pun) on a highborn man, and he takes it. Locke sums up the situation completely before taking Jaime’s hand; “You’re nothing without your daddy, and your daddy ain’t here.” There are two things in Jaime’s possession that have always ensured his safety; his name, and his skill at swordsmanship. As a Lannister, he automatically has the advantage of being connected to the richest and most powerful man in the Seven Kingdoms, a man nobody would willingly cross without a justified reason. The fact that Locke cares nothing for Jaime’s name is truly terrifying, and that strips away one of Jaime’s ever-present privileges. By chopping off Jaime’s hand, he has stripped Jaime of his very being and his way of life. Back in the second season, Jaime remarked; ‘It’s a good thing I am who I am. I’d be useless at anything else.’ When that knife came down on Jaime’s wrist, he was stripped of everything in an instant. The scene was perfectly paced, beautifully shot, and very well acted by not only Coster-Waldau and Christie, but also Noah Taylor, who gave a chilling and memorable performance.
Overall, his was a very solid episode, building upon the introduction in the previous two. So far, it is my favorite episode of season 3, and I hope each episode will continue building on the previous one’s merits, as has been the case so far this season.
- Jaime and Brienne. Everything worth saying has been outlined above, but it is no harm to give more credit where it is due. This storyline is one of the most compelling of this season, aided by the high standard of acting from Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Gwendoline Christie both.
- Musical Chairs. The Small Council scene was an iconic scene, and I hope it will be remembered as such. I thought that only shows such as Deadwood were capable of such art. I was wrong.
- Theon’s chase. I am putting this segment as a highlight for two reasons. Firstly because, for myself at least, it was a highlight. Secondly, and more importantly, I am unable to write about Theon’s arc in detail in the main review without alluding to spoilers. This was a beautifully shot sequence, and I again commend David Benioff on his professional directing of this episode. The reprise of What Is Dead May Never Die, or “Theon’s theme”, was welcome, and the faster tempo with interluding percussion served only to increase the growing tension. Theon’s near rape and subsequent rescue by a strangely proficient servant boy with a bow will have interesting consequences. That is all I will say on the matter.
- SexGodPod. While highly entertaining in its own right, this scene was a complete and utter waste of time in terms of story progression. It ate away at the precious screentime Benioff and Weiss are always so eager to use as an excuse for changes. While I thoroughly enjoyed the scene(s) and smiled at Tyrion’s coy generosity to Podrick, the episode would have benefitted greatly from this screentime spent elsewhere.
- Stannis. I never thought I would regard Stannis as a low point in an episode of Game of Thrones; he is one of my favorite characters in the novels. This unrestrained lust for Melisandre took me completely by surprise, a feeling she herself shared, it seems. If this is the only instance of such an unexpected change of character, I will forgive t. While I cannot fault Stephen Dillane’s portrayal, I hope that soon we will see our bitter, rigid Stannis enter the fold again. In fact, I expect that he will return to his normal self after a chat with a certain onion.
- The Bear and the Maiden Fair. I had been looking forward to the maiming of Jaime for a long time, and was absolutely delighted with the result, as mentioned above. What I did not approve of, in any way, was being completely thrust out of the situation by a punk rock version of what should be a drinking ballad. I’m sure The Hold Steady are a talented band and are proud of their rendition, but my experience of one of the most unexpected and chilling scenes in the entirety of A Song of Ice and Fire has been contaminated by what came immediately after. Some people have noted that this often happens in True Blood. I agree, but this is not True Blood. It completely rips the viewer out of the moment before they can register the incoming emotion they are about to feel, and at the same time rips them from the world of Westeros. Some may say that “it’s only the credits/not part of the episode”. My answer would be that just as the opening credits slowly introduce us to Westeros, the closing credits take us on a journey back to reality, where we can reflect on what we have experienced. The most relevant (and my favorite) example of this is the ending scene of A Man Without Honor, the seventh episode of the second season. Theon reveals the burnt corpses of “Bran” and “Rickon” to the residents of Winterfell as Pay The Iron Price, an ominous twist on What Is Dead May Never Die plays in the background. Just as it reaches its climax, the scene fades to black, the credits roll…and the piece continues. That scene was a truly horrifying cliffhanger, and the credits reflect that. Benioff and Weiss have defended their reasoning for including “The Bear and the Maiden Fair” as the post-credits sequence by claiming that it is as unexpected as Jaime’s fate. While I agree, why then was there not a punk-rock rendition of something like “The Rains of Castamere” straight after Ned lost his head? Was that not similarly “jarring”? I feel that the resonance that Jaime losing his hand should have had was diminished by this version of “The Bear and the Maiden Fair”. Hopefully this is the first and last instance a decision like this will be made with this show.
What did you think of Walk of Punishment? How did it compare to the previous episodes? Do you agree/disagree with my feelings about “The Bear and the Maiden Fair”? Let us know in the comments below.
In the meantime, here’s a preview for episode four, “And Now His Watch Is Ended”:
Cian is a student of Theology and History. He frequently confuses the real world with Westeros, and if he’s not talking about A Song of Ice and Fire…he’s talking about Game of Thrones. Mainly interested in old HBO classics such as Rome, Deadwood and The Wire, he currently maintains a vested interest in Treme and Game of Thrones. He also runs a personal blog detailing his writing endeavors.