It's often hard to extract some broader theme from an individual episode of “Game of Thrones,” since there are so many character plots to get through. The third episode, “Walk of Punishment,” is no exception. We're jumping around through nearly every storyline this week and end up with a number of plots that seem to teeter on the brink of a little mini-climax ... but don't quite get there yet. It's a very fast hour, and it cuts off much earlier than you'd like.
We open with the funeral for Catelyn's father, Hoster Tully. The Tullys go in for a Viking-type ceremony where the body is sent off on a ship downriver, then set alight with a flaming arrow. But Catelyn's brother, Edmure, has poor aim. Her uncle, the Blackfish, forcibly steps in, takes the shot, then turns and walks away before seeing if it strikes (it does, of course). If there was ever a time a “Game of Thrones” character needed a pair of sunglasses to put on coolly, that was the moment.
Back at the castle, Robb chews out Edmure for attacking a mill that he wasn't supposed to attack, which won the Northerners another battle (and a mill) but ruined the Young Wolf's plan to draw out the Lannister's mad dog, Gregor Clegane, and smash him.
Here's the thing that undercuts the whole supposed tactical genius of Robb Stark: It seems pretty obvious that Edmure is a bit of a putz -- the whole scene with Edmure missing his shot feels like it's not exactly a shock, like the Blackfish is always having to sort of step in and do things for his bumbling nephew. If we assume that the Blackfish has some inkling that his nephew isn't exactly a master of cunning and skill and take Robb at his word that the whole scheme with having Edmure stay put at Riverrun was essential, why did Robb not simply tell Edmure straight that staying put was absolutely necessary? Did a raven get lost or something?
Next, over in King's Landing, we have a hilarious game of Portentous Political Musical Chairs, where the members of the Small Council silently position themselves around Tywin Lannister. Cersei takes a seat at her father's right hand; Tyrion chooses to sit at the head of the table, directly opposite. Symbolism!
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The main point of this meeting is that Littlefinger is going off to the Vale to court Lady Arryn -- Catelyn's sister, whom you might recall capturing Tyrion and creepily breast-feeding her son (well out of toddlerhood) in season one. With Littlefinger gone, the realm needs a Master of Coin, and Tywin means to install his youngest son. (Tyrion's not exactly thrilled: “I’m quite good at spending money, but a lifetime of outrageous wealth has not prepared me for managing it!”)
Newly installed Master of Coin Tyrion, Bronn, and young squire Podrick go off to one of Littlefinger's brothels to collect the record books. Tyrion surprises Podrick with a reward for saving his life: a foursome with some of Littlefinger's girls, on the house! Podrick stumbles back a few hours later and gives the money back -- whatever he did, the girls liked it enough to refuse payment. (Tyrion: “We're going to need details. Copious details.”)
Those previous two scenes, plus the whole Margaery-Joffrey interactions in the last two episodes, make this book-reader glad that the producers seem to be getting increasingly confident with straying from “A Song of Ice and Fire.” Comic relief isn't exactly abounding in “Storm of Swords,” and a letter-perfect adaptation of the third book would likely be ponderously heavy. Thus far, the stuff created specially for the show has worked pretty well at filling in some of the perspective gaps of the book narrative and has helped give the audience a bit of a breather from all the foot-screwing or nipple-shaving.
There's also some foreshadowing of a Financial Crisis looming over Westeros. Tyrion, while examining the ledgers, discovers that Littlefinger's gift for finance mostly consists of borrowing lots of money. The Iron Throne owes millions to the Lannisters and tens of millions to the Iron Bank of Braavos, which is known to fund the enemies of delinquent debtors.
Across the Narrow Sea, Daenerys is still mulling over whether or not to buy a slave army. New adviser Barristan Selmy is against it, but Jorah makes a good point: the Unsullied are a disciplined force that won't sack cities or rape and kill the innocent. Daenerys decides to go for the slave army and offers the Good Masters a dragon in exchange for all their Unsullied. Barristan and Jorah are aghast, but Danaerys seems resolute. (Plus, she still has two dragons left over.)
At Dragonstone, Melisandre is taking her leave of Stannis for a bit. She needs some “king's blood” for her sacrifices, which Stannis is willing to provide, but she demurs. (“Your fires burn low, my king.” Ouch.)
Beyond the Wall, Jon Snow and the wildlings come across some White Walker installation art at the Fist of the First Men: chopped-up horse corpses, arranged in a spiral (which wouldn't be out of place at the Tate Modern or P.S. 1 these days). Mance sends Jon off with Tormund Giantsbane to climb the Wall and prepare to attack the remaining Night's Watch brothers at Castle Black.
Sam and the other survivors from the White Walker attack arrive at Craster's keep, and trouble is simmering. Some of the black brothers are eyeing Craster's wives enviously, but Sam only has eyes for Gilly, who's in labor. Gilly gives birth to a boy, just as she had feared -- doomed to be sacrificed to the others by Craster.
Theon has been let out of the dungeon by the same mysterious boy and sent off on a horse. But he's soon pursued by his (still unidentified!) captors and takes a rather nasty blow to the chest from a mace and chain. Just when it looks like Theon's about to be raped, his rescuer shows up again and takes out the soldiers.
The imprisoned Jaime and Brienne bicker, with the lady knight needling the Kingslayer about how she was able to best him in their swordfight. Jaime spitefully says she's probably going to be raped by their captors, but, when night falls and the hunters start roughing her up, he manages to spare her by convincing the hunters' leader, Locke, that the lord of Tarth will pay her weight in sapphires to see her alive and unharmed.
Jaime also tries buttering up his captor a bit and reminds him that Tywin would pay quite a lot of gold to ransom his eldest son. Locke takes issue with Jaime's fancy highborn language and decides to remind the Lannister knight with a very big knife that his daddy isn't here to save him. He stops just short of cutting Jaime's eye out before chopping off his hand. Fade to black. Even though this reader knew it was coming, it was still a bit of a shock.
Both versions of “The Bear and the Maiden Fair” that we get to hear this episode are lovely, though the enjoyment of the Hold Steady version played over the end credits is a bit dampened by the forced amputation we just saw.
Also, Hot Pie's bread-wolf is so cute! How long until the first fan makes their own version? Probably no less than three hours.
Not to be forgotten, Iain Glen (Jorah Mormont) is killing it this episode, delivering one of the best lines in the books right-on point: “Rhaegar [Targaryen] fought honorably. Rhaegar fought nobly. And Rhaegar died.”