We are but three episodes into Season Three of “Game Of Thrones,” and yet we are already catching glimpses of what the future has in store for some of the characters. Fate has many faces in this world, sometimes kind, but more often cruel and unyielding. Episode Three, “Walk Of Punishment,” takes us on a journey around the world to witness where the paths of some of the players have brought them, a paths that led to glory, to joy, to sadness, and to suffering.
For the Starks — at least Robb Stark, anyway, fate has brought conflict and complications, burdens of the crown. After an uncomfortable yet grimly humorous funeral ceremony and a blistering and gruff introduction of Brynden “The Blackfish” Tully (Clive Russell), we continue to see just how heavy a burden that is. It’s not just the battles and the bloodshed, but also being forced to rely on the men around you — and knowing that sometimes, those men are not worthy. Yet despite the ineptitude of his bannermen, the scene was a wonderful portrayal of the hardened, stern Blackfish, but also the fact that Robb is no longer the boy king. He is the king, the King In The North, a man of cunning and wisdom, whose plans are filled with complexity and nuance. He is also a man of dwindling patience who suffers fools poorly, a leader with little time nor tolerance for those who fail to follow his orders.
In King’s Landing, fate has taken a more curious turn, while also providing some much-needed levity to the episode. After an unexpected — and most unwanted — promotion for Tyrion resulting from the meeting of the new small council (featuring some bizarre and yet brilliant silent politicking all stemming from seating plans), Tyrion must adjust to his new role quickly. Of course, this means meeting with that slipperiest of eels, Petyr Balish, as well as the long-absent and much-missed Varys. Tyrion’s position as Master of Coin presents the same brand of challenges as did that of the hand — protecting the kingdom in spite of a King and Queen Mother who have little regard for what is actually best for it, and the newly discovered almost-bankrupt state of the crown promises to be an interesting conundrum.
As for the levity, while the small council scene brought forth a chuckle, Tyrion’s… ah… gift to young Podrick was one of the rare instances where I actually found merit in the show’s frequent and gratuitous displays of nudity. All too often, particularly when it comes to the depiction of prostitutes, it’s felt like the showrunners were thinking, “hell, it’s HBO. We can have nudity, so let’s have nudity!” without it feeling organic or a relevant to the plot. And while I won’t go so far as to say that tossing a young man into a room full of prostitutes is relevant, at the very least they made it clever and amusing. Yet what sells the entire setup is the payoff — the sheepishly proud Pod, returning to face Tyrion and Bronn, only for them to have their sexual worlds turned upside down. For one man, at least, fate brought nothing but pleasure.
“We’re going to need details — copious details.”
Yet what faces Daenerys Targaryen feels less like fate and more like the end result of her own righteous anger. After witnessing still more atrocities in the name of everyday living in Astapor, she begins a campaign that is not just to gather an army, but is also so much more than that. Daenerys is not just a queen, she is a self-made savior, even though her efforts at salvation occasionally end in disaster. And while I’m enjoying Dan Hildebrand’s nasty portrayal of Kraznys mo Nakloz, Emilia Clarke was fantastic in all aspects of the scene. Her steely-eyed negotiations, her berating of her two advisers for questioning her, and her final moments with Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel), thoughtful and curious as she seemed to cavalierly take her from her life of forced servitude and bring her forward into a fate much more uncertain, yet also much more promising.
So much of this scene was well done, yet some of the best bits were conveyed simply through a series of glances — mo Nakloz’s disdainful sneers, Dany’s rolling of the eyes which panned her gaze up to the slaves watching from above, her steely, unblinking stare at Mormont, all spoke volumes. Missandei’s final moment — a knowing, wry whisper of a smile, punctuated the scene perfectly. As for Daenerys? It appears that she will have her army, though at such a massive cost one can only wonder how that bargain will affect her future.
“Yes. All men must die. But we are not men.”
Any semblance of joyfulness or celebration ends there, however. Theon Greyjoy is another character that the show has crafted masterfully, much like Jaime Lannister. Greyjoy is a contemptible little snit, and yet Alfie Allen’s portrayal has been so consistently solid and the writing so well-executed that I still find myself sympathetic to him. His scenes were a study in emotional contrasts — the desperate high of his escape, the horrific and painful recapture which almost led to the ultimate debasement, only to be snatched from that awful outcome once more by his mysterious benefactor, who is clearly much more than we thought. Everything about Theon’s predicament is a mystery right now — who captured him, who rescued him, even where he is — all unanswered questions that promise a riveting story going forward.
Yet no fate was as cruel, as vicious and unexpected, as that of Jaime Lannister. Much like the death of Ned Stark, I knew this moment was coming from the very beginning of the episode, and I dreaded it every step of the way. The near-rape of Brienne was a brutal, horrid moment (this episode had a way too much rapiness for my tastes, an unfortunate consequence of the viciousness and senselessness of a world at war), even as she stood proud and unrelenting in the face of it, contrary to Jaime’s terrible, yet oddly kind advice. Yet that kindness, and her subsequent rescue from a nightmarish fate thanks to Jaime’s quick thinking, was repaid in the worst possible way. Jaime Lannister, a warrior and soldier at the very core of his being, played for a fool and then suffering the one thing that he cannot recover from, taking from him that one thing that has made him who he is. It’s not without a sense of irony that two of “Game Of Thrones” most stirring and sorrowful scenes were so inextricably linked — the death of a Hand for the Starks, and the loss of a hand for the Lannisters.
To be sure, there was more to “Walk of Punishment,” yet the other scenes — Stannis Baratheon and his mysterious Red Woman, and the scenes north of the Wall — failed to live up to the expectations brought by the stellar other moments. Stannis and Melisandre seemed tacked-on and ultimately without purpose, while the scenes of the Night’s Watch once again ground the episode to a halt. I know that what happens there is critical — particularly now that Mance has set forth to take Castle Black — yet the way it’s being shown fails to stir any real emotion. Yet the rest of this episode was a thundering success, demonstrating just what makes this show great. The highs were wickedly charming, and the lows were shocking and devastating to witness (even when immediately followed by The Hold Steady’s wonderful rendition of “The Bear and the Maiden Fair.” Yet it just goes to show what we’ve always known — there is no quarter given in “Game of Thrones.” No one is safe, not even the lions.