Review: 'Game of Thrones' - 'Walk of Punishment': Musical chairs
A review of tonight's "Game of Thrones" coming up just as soon as I have a mill instead of my enemy's head on a spike...
"Let them have what they want? What does it matter?" -Jaime
As it toggles back and forth between its various locales, "Game of Thrones" also shifts between the stories of those in power (the Lannisters in particular) and those with no power at all. "Walk of Punishment" is a rare episode to not feature King Joffrey (though Tywin gets to issue orders as Hand); instead, it largely focuses on characters scrambling to find a tenable position in situations where they seem to have little to no control over their fates.
Brienne and Jaime are now prisoners of Robb's bannermen, and what had been a purely antagonistic relationship becomes more complex. There's still the usual banter (and it's amusing to hear Brienne heckle Jaime for a change), but also a sense of camaraderie that didn't previously exist. Jaime may be a cruel, selfish man, but he's also developed respect for his giant traveling companion, and tries to keep her alive (and later, unsullied) when their captors wish to have their way with her. Their conversation on horseback (quoted in part above) speaks not only to the difference in their genders, but in their stations in life. Until his recent unpleasant captivity with the King in the North, Jaime has lived a life of privilege and power, in which people tend to do what he wants, or else fall quickly to his steel or his father's forces. And though Jaime suggests Brienne comes from wealth, nothing we've seen of her previously suggests that she's anything but a woman who's had to fight for everything she's gotten, and isn't the type to just lay back and endure it. Jaime's fast tongue is enough to prevent her rape, but not enough to prevent him from getting a permanent reminder of how far he's fallen in life, when his captors chop his right hand off. It's kind of remarkable what being in Brienne's company for a while has done for Jaime; where his disfigurement might once upon a time have seemed an applause-worthy moment (remember: in his first episode, he throws a little boy off a roof because the boy saw Jaime having sex with his sister), it's now a horrifying act, coming only moments after he commits one of the more noble deeds we've seen on the show in a while.
Jaime's younger brother isn't in nearly so dire a position, but Tyrion is nonetheless on unsteady ground with his promotion to Master of Coin. As Dinklage-related scenes often are, the Small Council meeting was one of the episode's lighter moments, with the battle to sit closest to Tywin followed by Tyrion dragging his chair as far from his father as possible while still being in the room. In general, Tyrion has proved himself a quick study, but his first read through Littlefinger's books — and the realization of just how deeply in debt the government is — suggests an enormous task in front of him.
After getting last week off, Dany's back to continue negotiating for the purchase of the Unsullied, whose acquisition might finally make her a legitimate challenger to the Lannisters. As with last season, her story seems to be moving in very small steps so far, but it's more on point than her journeys through the Red Waste and Qarth were. Offering to trade one of her three dragons for the Unsullied seems a bad idea, for all the reasons Jorah and Barristan Selmy state, but given the close bond Dany has with those three fire-breathing critters, my immediate assumption was that she has some kind of fancy footwork in mind in her dealings with the cruel slavemaster. (And as relatively weak her position may be, Dany is still vastly better off than the slaves themselves, many of whom pray for death simply because there will be no masters in the grave.)
Another rape gets averted before Brienne's, as Theon gets away from his captors, then gets caught again, and then rescued again by his mysterious ally (who quotes the Stark family motto at him) while his pants are down and a sexual assault is imminent. It's one of many incidents in the episode, and series, where the powerful attempt to take cruel advantage of the powerless, simply because they can. Joffrey's the king many of these people deserve, and that the rest are unfortunate enough to be stuck with.
Some other thoughts:
* The opening credits provide our first new location in a couple of weeks with the addition of Riverrun, where Catelyn gets to reunite with several members of her family, including her uncle Brynden, known by all and sundry as Blackfish.
* Farewell, Hot Pie. I'll miss you most of all!
* As slow as Dany's story moves at times, at least each visit with her feels long enough for her to be a character. Stannis' latest appearance — in which Melisandre prepares him for "sacrifices" that will have to be made to increase his power — clocks in at under three minutes. I like Stephen Dillane, but the TV version of Stannis remains a cipher for the most part.
* North of the Wall, Jon Snow's appearance is brief, as Mance sends him as part of an assault on Castle Black that's sure to test his loyalty. We do get an extended visit with Jeor Mormont and his surviving crows as they return to Craster's farm. Gilly's just giving birth, which helps give us some sense of how much time passed over the course of season 2. In general, clarifying the passage of time isn't something the show's terribly interested in (and it can get confusing based on the growth spurts of the younger Stark kids), but we know Gilly was visibly pregnant last season and in labor here.
* So what is it, exactly, that Podrick might have done to get all of Tyrion's money refunded by Littlefinger's whores?
As always, I'd like to keep the book/spoiler issue as simple as possible, however difficult that may be for some to understand. We are here to discuss "Game of Thrones" AS A TV SHOW, NOT AS AN ENDLESS SERIES OF COMPARISONS TO THE BOOKS. Therefore, here's the only rule you should remember: if your comment contains the phrase "the books" without it being immediately preceded by "I haven't read," then you should probably delete what you've written and start over. Anything even vaguely questionable will be deleted, and if you see something that I haven't already removed, please feel free to email me. You may think you're being clever and not giving too much away; in almost every case, you are wrong.
As usual, I've set up a message board discussion thread where you can do as much TV vs. books discussion as you want. And if you don't want to go to the message boards, by all means go to one of the dozens upon dozens of sites (whether "Thrones"-specific or not) that provide a venue to discuss the books to your heart's content. In these comments, everything book-related that has yet to come up on the TV show (plot, characters we haven't met, motivation, etc.) is verboten.
Based on the comments to that initial review, a lot of people are having a hard time understanding this, so I will put it very simply: If people cannot stop themselves from discussing the books in the comments, then there will no longer be comment sections for these reviews. Life's too short.
What did everybody else think?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at email@example.com