Game of Thrones: Season 3, Episode 3
Walk of Punishment
Adam O'Brien
Disclaimer: I am writing these reviews as someone who has read the books. Knowing at least the broad strokes of the story beforehand, it's not possible to feign complete ignorance. However, while my commentary may be colored by the books, I will make every effort to avoid spoilers. Any information I give that is not given in the show is tangential background to clarify or expound on the action on the screen, and then only when I can be sure it won't be a twist revealed later.

Shame on David Benioff and D.B. Weiss. I was ready to tear apart whatever first-timers they got to write and/or direct this episode, until I learned the show creators did both. A mess of filler, characters doing things very out of character, and gratuitous, impertinent sex that makes me wonder just how much truth there was in that Saturday Night Live sketch where a horny 15-year-old boy writes the show.

Let me start again, on a relatively positive note. Catelyn's and Robb's storyline, which seems to be towards the beginning of the episode recently, seems to be flowing smoothly, and while a larger story arc hasn't really formed yet, they seem to be laying a lot of groundwork where Robb is a great combat commander and strategist, but has several internal factors that are undermining his military campaign. Much like Jaime said to him, "Three victories doesn't make you a conqueror." Robb was raised well by his father, but he's still young, and it's starting to show how unprepared he is to rule. I think even he's starting to see it, as all throughout his scene with Edmure and Brynden Tully he kept comparing himself to Tywin and his chess master approach to war. Richard Madden never really appealed to me, and at times I wonder what they saw in his audition that got him the part, but he has settled into the role reasonably well.

Two secondary but fairly important characters were introduced this episode: Edmure, Catelyn's brother, and Brynden, Catelyn's uncle and brother to her late father. Edmure appeared on screen and almost immediately characterized himself. It's his job as the eldest son to light his father's floating funeral pyre, but he's so distraught he keeps missing, until his uncle Brynden, often called Blackfish, takes over and does it for him. Later, we learn that Edmure won a minor victory in his zealousness to prove himself, but spoiled a larger opportunity that Robb was counting on, for which the Blackfish reprimands him. In just two scenes it's established that Edmure is well-meaning but sort of fumbling, while the Blackfish is a lesser son of a great house: denied the inheritance of his family, but still a formidable and able man. It was one of the more artful introductions of new characters the show has had.

Again, I don't have too much to say about Theon. His plotline looks like what it is: filler to compensate for the fact that his character isn't in this book at all. His apparent savior frees him from captivity ("your sister is waiting!"), and then again when his captors catch up to him. Interestingly, the head jailer calls the man who saves Theon "little bastard," implying that he knows him.

Arya this episode said goodbye to Hot Pie. The scene where they said goodbye was kind of sweet, and now with Gendry saying that he wants to stay with the Brotherhood without Banners seems to be gearing up for a plot shift for Arya. She has one of the more dynamic storylines, as she has spent almost the entire series traveling to one place or another, and constantly changes company. It's a good contrast to some characters who spend the entire series in King's Landing. She is still angry at the Hound it seems. It was a nice reminder when asks him if he remembers the last time he went to that inn. It was when Sandor killed Arya's friend Micah, in "The Kingsroad" from season 1. It was subtle that she asked him if he remembered but didn't beat us over the head with "I HATE YOU THIS IS WHY!" The series works best when it assumes a bit of work on the viewers' part to remember things said or done.

The Brotherhood without Banners themselves are fun to see. They are warm and lighthearted, and though they don't look it at first, it gives the feeling that they are a genuinely benevolent bunch. They're a good foil for the other travelling warrior band, The Brave Companions. The group who kidnap Jaime and Brienne start off seeming like just a troop from the Northern army, but as we can fairly sure of after this episode, they are all kinds of dishonorable.

I have two main thoughts about the Lannisters' scenes this episode, and I'll start with the good one. When Tywin is holding his first small council meeting, he stands at the head of the table with all the chairs down one side, and as the councilors file in he watches which seats they take. Then, Cersei carries a chair around the table and places herself at her father's right hand. Tyrion, refusing the dance for his father, takes a chair and places himself at the opposite end of the table. It's all done without dialogue, and it's just perfect to remind viewers how every character sees themselves. Petyr of course dashes to be close to Tywin, though isn't so blatant as to put himself on the right. Varys is in the middle, unobtrusive. Pycelle is oldest and slowest, content to be placed far away as long as he believes that he is still powerful and respected. Cersei, who covets her father's position more than even his sons do, places herself as though she is his most trusted advisor. Tyrion, clever and defiant, places himself at the foot of the table, opposite his father. In a way it's the second most powerful seat in the arrangement, and a clever move which Tywin no doubt notes. And of course, being Tyrion, while Cersei carries her chair to where she plans to sit, Tyrion scrapes it across the room, recalling that scene in Men in Black where Will Smith drags a table across the room while others are clumsily trying to find a solid writing surface.

Now for my single biggest grievance. I suppose the writers needed Tyrion to fade to the background for a bit in terms of plot development, but I imagine that since he's the unofficial lead of the show, they wanted to keep him on screen. He tries to reward his squire, Podrick, for saving his life, by having a handful of prostitutes service him at once. Pod comes back with the money Tyrion gave him to pay and says they refused payment. Tyrion and Bronn then make a big show of saying, "Oh my god whores didn't make you pay?! They must have loved it please tell us your secrets!" presumably to bolster the boy's shaky confidence. I admit it didn't occur to me at first that Tyrion paid them before and he just wanted the boy to think he was that gifted, but it makes no difference. It was a stupid scene, and out of character for Tyrion to buy whores for his squire. His character is made up in large part of self loathing, and the reason he solicits so many prostitutes is because he believes he's hideous and unlovable (to be fair, people do seem to be fond of saying that to him). It will be relevant in the future that just to spite everyone he makes an effort to become the monster everyone thinks he is, but they are pissing on this major subtext. The writers of the show have reduced him to a whore enthusiast, thinking they're the solution to all life's problems (see also: Joffrey's birthday present from season 2). And Pod, he's scared of his own shadow. It's part of his charm. Salt on the wound is the weird enthusiasm with which he and Bronn hand Pod a drink and ask him for pointers (even if it is feigned). The only thing I can see redeeming this scene even a little is if it turns out that Podrick backed out and made up a story for Tyrion and Bronn. The entire scene felt like I was watching an episode of Hercules or Xena, those network adventure shows from fifteen years ago. There was a time and a place for that kind of silliness, and that was the late 90's and network television. There was no place for it here and I'm embarrassed to have seen it.

Only one brief Stannis scene tonight, and it left me similarly revolted. This Stannis and Melisandre scene was sort of cute at first, the way he sometimes does seem to see her as more of a wife than his actual wife, Selyse. But then he started confessing his love and how much he wanted her, which completely contradicts Stannis's whole deal. He's this honorable and dutiful man, and has a puritan conviction that triumph means sacrifice and anything pleasurable is most likely wrong, or at best a waste of time. I don't know who this horn dog is, acting so much like the brothers he reviled for being such libertines.

On the brighter side, after the debacle that was Season 2, I've been really primed to bitch about Daenerys's storyline, and I've never been happier to be wrong. I think a lot of viewers last year felt betrayed that her weird contrived plotline really brought the whole season down for other characters. I have to say that while there are some moments where I wonder why the writers make the decisions they make, I've been pleasantly surprised by her scenes so far, which seem to have gotten back on track. Instead of bumming around Qarth like a beggar, she seems to be getting back to the exiled princess that her character was always meant to be. I particularly liked the part where she tells Jorah and Barristan that she values their opinion, but not to question her in front of strangers. It was a very book Dany thing to say (even if doing it in the first place was very unlike Ser Barristan).

The one thing I worry about, and I'm just thinking big picture here, is how quickly they're burning through her plotline. After what looks like will be the story next week from the preview of episode 4, they will have gone through half of her storyline for the entire third book, which breaks into two fairly evenly. It's strange that they're going to do that much so early. I'd rather the story be embellished and expanded than have them rush through the good stuff so they can pull plot events out of their asses. Next week should be good, but since I doubt Dany will be left out for five episodes in a row, I'm prepared either to hate everything they do with her for the rest of the season, or if they do more of the book this season, next season could get dicey. I think most readers of the series would tell you that it's always a little grating when characters go off book, but I'm so in love with all of the sets and costumes this season that I'm willing to forgive it.

I had conflicting feelings about Jaime and Brienne tonight. Bickering back-to-back on the horse is just priceless. Two brilliantly written characters acted brilliantly with amazing chemistry and rhythm. It's for good reason that they come to be many readers' favorites. The scene is equal parts funny and touching. It begins with them arguing about who's the better swordsman and whether their fight was fair, and evolves into Jaime worried for Brienne, who is apparently about to be raped, repeatedly. Brienne, for her part, is the picture of chivalry, determined to deliver Jaime to King's Landing even as she faces certain rape and possible death.

Lines open to interpretation aside, it's the first time I can remember really seeing Jaime's cold persona start to melt a little. He's still committed to being a snarky jerk, but he can't help but keep a real note of concern about his companion when faced by a larger threat. As I said last week, Jaime is a character who unintentionally stirs up a lot of trouble just by being who he is. He realizes that the only reason Brienne is in this situation is because he's a valuable prisoner, and it bothers him. "Close your eyes. Pretend they're Renly." It's a heartbreaking line, because Jaime knows he's powerless to help this relatively young and innocent woman. The best he can offer her in this hard world is to tell her to go away in her head with what little he knows about what would make it easiest for her.

That night, Jaime tries another approach. He tells the men holding them that Brienne's father is rich, and it's worth their while to preserve her honor. This finally convinces their leader (I believe his name is Locke in the show), though to Brienne's credit she seems to have been putting up quite a fight all throughout their conversation. Jaime then lays it on even thicker, trying to convince the leader that if he just delivers Jaime to his father he'll have lordships and riches and more than he can imagine. Locke appears to consent, but comments that Jaime is too arrogant, and decides to cut his sword hand off to teach him that he doesn't own the world.

It's a hard handful of scenes to read. I at first thought it was too rushed, not built up enough, and lacked pathos. Mostly I just wanted more scenes and it to move a bit more slowly, maybe over two episodes instead of one. What's the point of stretching the book over two seasons if not to take time where it's needed? Regarding the last scene especially, I felt it was moving too quick, then changed my mind and thought it was clever that right up until it happens we don't expect it, and then all at once it cuts to black. I then thought again that there was just something too True Blood about the ending, and especially the credits.

It was unexpected and weird when The National's recording of "The Rains of Castamere" played after "Blackwater" last season, but I let it go because songs are a part of the books and they were just trying to include that. I was absolutely appalled at The Hold Steady's recording of "The Bear and the Maiden Fair" tonight, though. It really was a True Blood kind of song to play, and it just destroys the effect of this medieval world to play a rock song like that over the credits. I've always considered Game of Thrones to be the gold standard for HBO, already considered the classiest channel on television. They may as well start playing Black Keys songs in the background during scenes.

I'm fond of telling people that the worst Game of Thrones episode is better than the best episode of just about anything else, but at the moment that's a hard stance to defend. The promos from previous weeks are always so exciting: "I'm gonna light the biggest fire the north has ever seen." "There's a beast in every man, and it stirs when you put a sword in his hand." Lines that sound good on their own but in the context of the scenes they're in they are trivial and forgettable. There were definitely some really good moments in tonight's episode, but there were also such cringe-worthy moments that I felt cheated that this was 1/10th of the season, and that we waited a whole week for it to come out.

Grade: C

Other thoughts:

-I feel like it's not enough to dedicate a paragraph to, but Talisa's scene with the frightened little Lannister kids makes it look as though they'll be playing some part in the future; something about how she comforted them, saying her husband the wolf doesn't eat children.

-The song "The Bear and the Maiden Fair" was more upbeat than I imagined, but I still loved to hear it.

-We finally learn what valar morghulis means! But how did Daenerys know?

-A favorite line from the books among fans was the bit about Rhaegar fighting nobly and valiantly and dying, but it really fell flat. I'm trying to give them the benefit of the doubt and say it was a middle finger at people who like to Photoshop lines onto pictures, glossing over one of their favorite passages in five seconds. In either case, I will forgive all if we can just get story time with Ser Barristan at some point.

-Jorah and Barristan have great chemistry onscreen. Ser Jorah's been Daenerys's main advisor for so long, I was worried adding another person to the equation would be weird, but the combination of sort of disliking each other but wanting to serve their queen is really excellent so far.

-The one redeeming line of the brothel scene was Tyrion talking about the "Meereenese Knot," a reference to what author George R.R. Martin calls a cluster of story conflicts in later books.

-I'm a little sad that they killed off Hoster Tully before we got to see Cat talk to him at all, but whether intentional or no I felt like there was this parallel between only seeing him right at his funeral and the way we only got one little shot of Jon Arryn's body in the pilot.

-I'm not sure what the significance of the White Walkers placing the horse heads in a spiral was.

-In case anybody forgot in the last nine episodes, Craster is a creepy, creepy old man.

-I liked Brynden Tully's little line, "It often comforts me to think that even in war's darkest days, in most places in the world absolutely nothing is happening." It reminded me of that bit toward the end of The Return of the King where Samwise talks about our conflicts and even our evils being a small and passing thing.

-That little bastard hasn't earned the right to tell Theon winter is coming.

Tags: Game of Thrones
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