kimberlee rossi-fuchs walks the walk …
After two slower outings designed primarily to lay the groundwork for what’s to come this season, “Walk of Punishment,” last night’s episode of Game of Thrones, started off a bit slowly, but culminated in a sickening, game-changing final scene that kicked the season into high gear and gives the sense that things in Westeros are about to go absolutely wild.
“Walk of Punishment” opens at Riverrun with the somber funeral services for Catelyn’s father, Lord Tully, a scene which serves to introduce us to two new characters, Catelyn’s brother, Edmure (Tobias Menzies), and her uncle, Bryden the Blackfish (Clive Russell). Although we don’t spend a great deal of time with him, we get the sense that Edmure is the Fredo Corleone of the Tully family, thanks to his embarrassing failure to ignite his father’s burial barge as his arrows repeatedly miss their mark and some non-sanctioned and ill-advised military moves, which cost the North army the capture of Gregor Clegane in exchange for two extremely ancillary Lannisters. Similarly, we get the sense that the Blackfish is pretty bad-ass (his arrows hits the mark immediately) and a much needed ace in the sleeve for Robb, who’s starting to see the tide of the war turn against him, thanks to Edmure’s costly military blunder and continued dissension over both his oath-breaking marriage to Talisa and his mother’s decision to free the captive Jaime Lannister.
Not much is going on in King’s Landing this week, with Joffrey, Margaery, and Sansa absent and the only event of any import being the Small Council meeting which determines that Littlefinger will marry Catelyn’s sister, Lisa Arryn (last seen breastfeeding her creepy eight year-old), to broker an alliance with the Vale and that Tyrion will take his place as Master of Coin, a position which burdens him with the daunting task of squaring away the Crown’s impossibly mounting debts. As is often the case, Peter Dinklage’s scenes serve to provide a bit of comic relief and even when they don’t do much to advance the plot, as is the case here, Dinklage’s charm always makes Tyrion a welcome site. His deft handling of the game of musical chairs at the council meeting was fun to watch and although the scene where he made it rain hookers for Podrick brought to mind the sexposition criticisms levied at the show, the resolution was certainly amusing, as Tyrion’s white lie about the hookers refusing his money was a nice little way to both reward Podrick for saving his life during the Battle of Blackwater and also to instill some much-needed confidence in his shy young squire.
Elsewhere, Mance Rayder orders Jon to join the planned attack on Castle Black in order to see where his loyalties truly lie. Commander Mormont, Sam, and the other surviving members of the Nights Watch return to the Craster’s Keep, where Gilly gives birth to a sacrificial baby boy. Hot Pie bids adieu to Arya and Gendry, who continue on with The Brotherhood and the captive Hound, and Stannis and Melisandre make an utterly useless appearance just to fill thirty seconds of screen time.
After going missing in action last week, Daenerys decides to proceed with plans to purchase an army of eight thousand Unsullied warriors, despite her strong objections to the ruling class’ treatment of Astapor’s slaves. While Daenerys continues to exhibit compassion, stopping to offer water to one of the crucified slaves along the city’s Walk of Punishment, she’s also beginning to display some shrewd bargaining skills and boldness, offering the callous slaver (perfectly vile in his palpable disgust and condescension towards Dany and her Dothraki) Drogon, her most powerful dragon, in exchange for the army she cannot otherwise afford. When both Jorah and Sir Barristan and object to the deal, Daenerys promptly and firmly puts them in their place, looking less like timid, mail-order bride she was at the series’ start and more like a rightful queen.
While the episode takes its title from the Astapor promenade where disobedient and runaway slaves are crucified, several of the show’s primary characters also find themselves walking down dark paths, reaping the seeds of the bad behavior they’ve sown over the previous seasons. Lady Catelyn, for example, finds herself increasingly consumed by grief and guilt, convinced that her two youngest sons died while awaiting her return to Winterfell. Theon’s overly ambitious and ultimately disastrous capture of Winterfell served not to bring him glory, but into the hands of torturers and a mysterious new friend.
And yet with all the widespread suffering in Westeros this week, it is poor Jaime Lannister who has the worst of it when Vargo Hoat (the character wasn’t named in the episode, but based on the novel, I’m assuming that’s who he’s supposed to be) takes umbrage at Jaime’s high-born demeanor and sense of entitlement and slices off his sword hand. Even though I knew it was coming, the amputation was brutal to watch and a particularly cruel fate for a man regarded as one of the finest swordsmen in the land. The fact that we are horrified by the attack is a testament to Nikolaj Coster-Waldau’s performance as Jaime. Whereas he was once one of the show’s most-loathed villains, not above tossing an innocent child out of a window in order to protect his incestuous secret, Coster-Waldau’s Jaime has become a layered, sympathetic, and sometimes noble figure, using his wits to save Brienne from certain rape at the hands of Hoat’s men. The evolving relationship between he and the Amazonian Brienne has been a highlight of the season (their antagonistic banter making them the Sam and Diane of Westeros) and should only grow more riveting as their situation has become dire, forcing them to bond together.
Jaime’s brutal maiming thus brought the very strong “Walk of Punishment” to a shocking, gut-punch of an ending. The moment felt huge not only because of its life-shattering impact for a major character, but because it served to shift the momentum of the season so far from a slow and steady build-up to explosive action. With one swift stroke of a carving knife, Vargo Hoat lit the fuse on season three and I can’t wait to see shit blow up in the next few weeks.