By the light of R’hllor, what a fantastic hour of television — this is Game of Thrones at its best. So many scenes this week were quietly indicative of character. We didn’t need to rely on sexposition or chatter to get at the heart of things: a simple dragging of a chair spoke volumes. Even though the show jumped around again this week and visited almost everyone (giving some, like Jon and Stannis, only a few moments of time), it still felt laid-back, accessible, and not frantic in its pacing. Time spent at Riverrun and King’s Landing and even in the woods with Brienne and Jaime was slow and thoughtful, and did a lot in the way of character building. Hit the jump for why horse-part crop circles are all the rage north of the Wall.
A few more new characters snuck in this week, and their introductions were, for the most part, masterful. The opening scene at Riverrun was one of the more beautiful “show, don’t tell” moments the series has ever achieved, boiling down so much talk about Edmure Tully’s history and personality, and summing it all up with his misfires towards his father’s funeral pyre. It was dark humor in a time of mourning, where Edmure was roughly shoved aside by his uncle, the Black Fish, who also in that moment established himself as the one who keeps Edmure sorted.
Even without that scene, Edmure would have been damned by his impatience and pomposity in disobeying Robb’s orders (Robb, though dwarfed by the Tully men, woke up from being lovesick and became kingly again as he dressed-down Edmure and spoke smartly about his battle plans), losing 208 men for an inconsequential mill instead of capturing the Mountain, but it added a lasting impression that this wasn’t just a one-off impertinence: Edmure is kind of a fuck up.
I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to adapt a work like A Song of Ice and Fire, with its myriad of POVs, internal thoughts and pages and pages of legend, exposition, description of meals and the legacy of the old houses. But the most important thing though to me is keeping the central integrity and motivations of each of the major characters intact, even if the actual scenes don’t match up to the book series. It’s why characters like Talisa bother me so much (because why? Just … why?) along with some other character change quibbles nag, but a scene like the aforementioned one at Riverrun or, even more spectacularly, the Small Council meeting are so brilliant.
Tywin keeping all of the chairs on one side was a nice game elevated by Littlefinger, Varys and Pycell jockeying for position (and Littlefinger swooping around Varys to get the seat closest to Tywin). Cersei, taking her rights as a Lannister as well as separating herself from the “others,” quietly picks up her own seat and situates herself at her father’s right hand, which he seems to gaze upon approvingly. Tyrion, on the outs, scrapes his chair as loudly and slowly as possible to the end of the table, making him both equal and as far away from his father as possible. It was a fantastically visually descriptive scene.
What was done so masterfully in “Walk of Punishment” was its purely visual storytelling, something that seems obvious but hasn’t always been executed well on the show. Maybe it’s because we’re finally far enough in to the series that everyone feels comfortable with most of the characters, but of course that doesn’t explain the Tullys great entrance. Last week, the introduction of Thoros and Anguy were similarly memorable — important for new characters — whereas Jojen and Meera dropped knowledge like “warging” and “by the way I can visit you in your dreams” without much fanfare.
For established characters though who didn’t get a lot of time this week, there were also varying degrees of success. A few moments with Arya and Hot Pie (with a guest appearance by the Hound) were very engaging, whereas Jon had a blink-and-you’ll-miss-him moment that didn’t really establish enough (like the Robb at Harrenhal scene from the first episode this year, it seemed shoehorned) aside from a focus on the undead. Stannis had a brief but intense appearance, apparently going slightly mad since his defeat, and leaving questions about his future (and what of Davos?) We stopped by Craster’s again and got some more creepy time fun, and also had a dose of some more hilarious subtitle / translation juxtaposition in Astapor with Dany, along with the news that she would trade one dragon for the Unsullied, to the dismay of her advisors.
But the night really belonged to Jaime and Brienne and that final, shocking scene. The two have had great chemistry onscreen just like in the books, and it was an important transition for Jamie to go from not caring whether she lived or died to advising her on her certain rape (“close your eyes and think of Renly,”) to actually attempting to do something about it by telling the Bolton bannerman that her father will reward him in sapphires if she remains undefiled. Jamie pushes his luck too far though, and the bannerman takes his right hand. In the book series, he loses his hand for reasons that have to do with larger political motivations, but I can see, maybe, why this change happened: one, because those political motivations aren’t really in play in the onscreen version, and two, it completes Jaime’s total fall from grace, privilege, and his cocksure attitude.
All in all, a really nicely done episode that, to me, showed what Game of Thrones is capable of at its best. There was a lot of humor, too, which also probably helped things (bless you, Bronn). These first few episodes have been setting up a lot, but it’s important for the show to also less us have a little fun with our lessons, something “Walk of Punishment” certainly did in spades.
Episode Rating: A
Musings and Miscellanea:
— As much as I hate Talisa, I can’t grumble about too much because she genuinely gave some good cheek to the Lannister hostages.
— In Theon news, he gets released by a helpful broomsweep, but can’t manage to not get captured again. Worse, this broomsweep has to rescue him with his pants down. Oh Theon … you should have stayed with Robb! The Drowned God is doing you no favors. But who is this helpful friend?
— Loved the singing of “The Bear and Maiden Fair,” especially the unexpected rock version over the credits.
— Burn Gorman just showed up as a member of the Night’s Watch, I love that guy!
— Bronn calling Littlefinger “Lord Twatbeard” and just about everything else he said had me cackling. I love Jerome Flynn‘s portrayal. Also, the comic relief of Pod satisfying three whores (oh hey, nudity’s back! Now with acrobatics!) so much that they gave the money back to him, and Tyrion and Bronn wanting to know every detail was utterly fantastic.
— Two actors from HBO’s Rome are now on the show, and I couldn’t be happier: Ciaran Hinds (Caesar / Mance) and Tobias Menzies (Brutus / Edmure). Et tu, Edmure?
— Hot Pie’s wolf bread was hilarious.
— “Always the artists,” – Mance
— Missandei: “Valar Morghulis.” Dany: “All men must die. Yes, but not today.”