After the previous two scene-setting episodes, Game of Thrones needed to start upping the ante for Season 3 so did David Benioff's first directorial effort succeed? Did it ever.
Please don't read this review if you haven't seen Walk of Punishment yet, as it will spoil the episode for you in a rather major way.
Walk of Punishment saw several of the show's major players take a massive step forward in their respective narrative arcs, whilst making time for some well-pitched comedy and the first major shock of the season. It was the best instalment so far of Season Three and a good sign that the focus on scene-setting in the first two episodes will lead to some excellent pay-offs later. Of course, one of which awaited at the end of this episode, but more on that later.
What really impressed me with this episode was how well some scenes were performed without dialogue to great effect. Lannister Musical Chairs has to be one of the best representations of the political manoeuvrings of the family, as well as one of the funniest scenes the show has produced to date and with barely a word spoken. Then again, once the Lannisters enter into conversation, it isn't long before the barbed words start flowing. The first meeting of the Small Council finds Littlefinger (Aiden Gillen) with the title of Lord of Harrenhal and with a mission to win over and marry Lysa Aryn (Cat's sister, breastfeeder of ten year olds and Season One all round mental if you're struggling to place her). With that, the position of Master of the Coin is soon handed over to an unimpressed Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) who reasons that 'a lifetime of outrageous wealth hasn't taught me much about managing it'. Then again, as Cersei (Lena Headey) points out in rather blatant subtext, Tyrion is just being set up for a fall.
In another dialogue-lacking scene, but on a more blackly comic level, our first outing to Riverrun (making its debut in the credits map too) introduced us to Cat's family, most notably Brynden (Clive Russell), also known as the Blackfish, and her brother Edmure (Tobias Menzies) who looks like he's going to be every bit as bumbling and useless as he is in the books. The scene in which he fails repeatedly to set his father's funeral boat alight was both intensely awkward, yet very funny. The Lannister scene may have affirmed their family dynamics, but those of House Tully were instantly put in place in preparation for Robb's best scene yet.
One of the standouts of the various dialogue-driven scenes, Robb's dressing down of his uncle was well-written, giving both Robb (Richard Madden) and Edmure a chance to take centre stage for a bit. Robb has largely been confined to looking perturbed and glaring at his mother so it was refreshing to see him engage with other characters and remind us all why he has become the King in the North. Menzies made a good impression in his first appearance as Edmure, but it was Madden who stole the scene, presenting a worn-out leader who is winning all the battles, yet not gaining any ground, both militaristic and familial.
Further away from Westeros, we also had some developments for Jon (Kit Harington) beyond the Wall, as well as his former brothers' who have made their way back to Craster (Robert Pugh), much to the disappointment of Sam (John Bradley). Jon Snow's character arc is a favourite of mine from the books, but I've not felt that this season hasn't done it justice so far. Whilst the horse spiral was suitably icky, there hasn't been a lot of the internal conflict that characterises Jon's journey, partly due to Harington's slightly lacklustre performance, but also due to the writing. Much of this conflict comes from his relationships with Mance Rayder (Ciaren Hinds) and Ygritte (Rose Leslie), but neither of them have been developed that well just yet. Obviously this could all be still to come, yet there seems to be a drop in tension once we hit the snowy plains of beyond the wall. Let's hope the attack on Castle Black will go some way to address this.
By contrast, Dany (Emilia Clarke) is already way ahead of her book counterpart in terms of level of interest as the scene in Astapor was brilliantly handled. Clarke has always been exceptional in the role, even during Season 2 when she was given practically nothing to do but moan about her missing dragons, and she excelled again here. Like Robb's scene, this one reminded us all of why Dany has the potential to go all the way to the Iron Throne and she also had her very own Eowyn-type moment; 'yes, all men must die. But we are not men'. The conflict for her affections between Ser Jorah (Iain Glen) and newly-arrived Ser Barristan (Ian McElhinney) is playing out nicely in the background but both of them were united when she decided to trade 8000 Unsullied warriors for one of her dragons. Considering how protective she was over them last season, it's clear that giving them a dragon doesn't exactly carry the definition that the slave trader expects.
And finally, we get to that scene. The biggest, boldest and shout-at-the-television worthy scene in the season to date, Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) found out what happened when you try to play the 'daddy's got loads of money' card one too many times. Preceded by a rather hilarious scene between Pod, Bronn (Jerome Flynn) and Tyrion, the final sequence of events began in much the same way, with Brienne (Gwendolyn Christie) and Jaime bickering whilst tied together on the back of a horse. Their adversarial relationship is a joy to watch and the humour and levity of the situation made what followed all the more harrowing. Brienne is taken off by their captors to be raped but Jaime, in rare moment of thinking about someone else, concocts a story and manages to save her from being 'besmirched'. An intriguing development, it served to demonstrate that, despite his bravado, Jaime clearly respects Brienne and their relationship is now becoming more than just prisoner and guard; he needs her to survive.
Of course, with the horrific screams from Brienne in the background and the foreshadowing of rape, you could be forgiven for not expecting what came next. After Jaime successfully negotiates her release, he manages to talk his way out of his chains and into a hot meal. Alas, that's not exactly what Locke (Noah Taylor) had in mind as the episode closes with Jaime's right hand, crucially his sword hand, chopped off. Coster-Waldau has been the perfect Jaime, capturing the bravado and arrogance that the Kingslayer is famous for, and I have every faith that his performance will continue to impress now that he has to play a Jaime who has just lost his defining feature. It was also a brilliantly shocking way to end the episode and remind audiences of just how twisted, violent and unexpected Game of Thrones can be.
As a fan of the books, one of the aspects that I thought would be lost in the transition from page to screen would be the songs that crop up so often throughout A Song of Ice and Fire. As this rather good Den of Geek article points out, the songs are an essential part of Westeros, a way in which the world feels more real because of its history and identity as a nation. Thankfully, Benioff and Weiss have also seen the importance of this, because they have ensured the songs remain and have used them to great effect. This episode saw a rather brilliant use of The Hold Steady's version of The Bear and the Maiden Fair as a jolting end credits song after the hand incident and whilst not quite up there with The Rains of Castamere from Season 2's Blackwater, it made quite the impact.
Easily the best of a good bunch so far, I cannot tell you how hyped this episode has got me for the rest of the series. It was also so action-packed I have completely forgotten to mention Theon (Alfie Allen) until now, but I liked his chase scene and I'm looking forward to seeing what happens to the treacherous git. The week-long gap in between instalments is already starting to become painful and I think it's going to be torturous once we get past halfway...
You can read Becky's review of the previous episode Dark Wings, Dark Words here.
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