Monday, April 15, 2013

Game of Thrones (S3E03): "Walk Of Punishment"

The third episode of Season 3, titled "Walk of Punishment," is by far the best episode of the season so far, and may be one of the best episodes of the entire Game of Thrones series. Like the other episodes so far this year, the focus of S3E03 moved rapidly from one location to the next, updating us on how the story is advancing for various characters. However, unlike in the first episode, where the rapid scenery changes were jarring and distracting, diminishing the impact of the story, in this episode the various threads seemed to be brilliantly linked. Perhaps, it was just better editing, but I tend to think it was better writing. For example, at the end of the opening scene depicting the funeral of Catelyn Tully Stark's father, Robb Stark mentions Tywin Lannister's name and there's an instant cut to a scene of Tywin assembling the new Small Council (Varys, Maester Pycelle, Cersei Lannister Barratheon (the Queen Regent), Lord Peter Baelish and Tyrion Lannister). This happens repeatedly in the episode, with the last word spoken in a scene visually connected to the very first image or word spoken in the next. The connections between the scenes seemed clearer and led to a much more cohesive sense of a complete story being told. Oh, and "Walk of Punishment" was good because a lot of stuff happened!

Recap (with spoilers)
Both "Valar Dohaeris" and "Dark Wings, Dark Words" spent most of their running time setting up characters for the numerous stunning events which happen to the characters we have gotten to know so well through two entire books A Game of Thrones and A Clash of Kings (a.k.a. Season 1 and Season 2 of the show).

However, "Walk of Punishment" has an absolutely world-shattering event in it, which is the chopping off of Jaime Lannister's right hand off! Lannister's hand is probably the most famous hand in the Kingdoms, since he is known as the Kingslayer for killing the Daenerys Targaryen's father and is even more famous for being the most skilled swordsman in the world (Westeros). That such a horrific thing has happened to Jaime, who started off the show as being a bad guy (he is part of the villainously rich Lannister clan, after all, and he did push one of the Stark children out a window to a near-fatal drop in the first season) is now viewed with more nuance since he has been a captive of the Starks since mid-way through the first season and we have seen him with one of the most popular characters on the show, the physically imposing Lady Brienne of Tarth. In fact, that Jaime loses his hand just minutes after he has managed to spare Brienne (who has now also been captured) from a gang rape by their captors by pointing out her worth as a ransom to her very wealthy father on the Isle of Tarth (where all the sapphires in Westeros come from), is especially shocking.

The episode also has two of the most delicious dialogue-free sequences in the entire series so far. The first is the opening scene in which an archer is trying to hit a floating bier with Catelyn's father's corpse on it in order to set it afire. He shoots, and misses. And misses again. Nervous and somewhat pained looks in the assembled mourners. The guy shoots again for the third time. And misses! An older guy sighs exasperatedly, grabs the bow from the younger person (who appears to resemble him) and pulls the bow way, back, aims and hits the target (which has now floated significantly downstream since the scene began and was almost out of sight) and it bursts into flame. The older guy throws the bow at the younger guy and stomps off. Later we learn that the older guy is BryndenTully, commonly known as the Blackfish, Catelyn's father's brother (her uncle) and the younger guy is Edmure Tully, Catelyn's brother. Edmure is not the sharpest tack in the world.

An even more riveting scene (again, completely dialogue free) was the scene at the meeting of the Small Council. Tywin is in the chamber first, since he has ordered the meetings to be moved to this room closer to his chambers. Varys, Littlefinger and Pycelle are all wondering where to sit at the remaining 5 chairs (which are all arranged on one side of the table, with Tywin sitting at one end). Varys hesitates and Littlefinger jumps ahead and grabs the seat closest to Tywin. Varys sits next to him, and Pycelle walks slowly to the seat third farthest from Tywin. At that point Cersei walks in, quickly surveys the room, and picks up one of the empty chairs and carries, it soundlessly to the right side of Tywin, clearly closer to Tywin;s right flank than Littlefinger is to Tywin on the Hand's left. Tyrion sees all this, walks over to the last remaining chair, and slowly, excruciatingly slowly, drags the chair over to the other end of the table so that he is farthest from his father, but also directly opposite him. It is an absolutely brilliant marriage of acting, writing and direction, with  all of the principals communicating their anxieties and insecurities as they reveal their relations to the power in the room, whch of course resides in Tywin.

Those two wordless scenes were the highlight of this episode, although. The scream Jamie makes when his hand is chopped off is pretty harrowing. The sheer contempt that the slaver in Asatpor demonstrates for Dany before she surprises him by offering to give him one of her priceless dragons for the cost of 7,787 deadly fighting eunuchs called Unsullied is horrifying to behold.

Again there's a short (apparently pointless) scene with Stannis Barratheon and Melissandre and it is hard to know why. The Red Witch is leaving the Iron Islands and Stannis appears besotted with her kissing her and saying he wants another child. If you are not following closely you think he's just a horny dude. But, when he says "I want Joffrey dead. I want Robb Stark dead." what he's saying is that he wants his queen to create another magical dark smoke creature like the one who killed his brother (and claimant to the Iron Throne) Renly Barratheon. Some viewers may not realize that was the reason why Stannis is upset Melissandre is leaving.

The only other lowlight for me was the whorehouse scene because it is getting more than just a little ridiculous how many fully-naked women the producers will show on screen, just because "it's HBO, not television." Even though we do get to see Theon Greyjoy bared butt when his escape is thwarted and one of his captors says he's going to "f*** him into the dirt," the entire Theon plot thread is still somewhat confusing, especially since Theon really doesn't appear in the source material (A Storm of Swords) at all.

Grade: A+.
Overall, one of the best episodes of the series with some memorable scenes that are not from the book, and some that are from the book which were brought to life with verve and creativity (and humor). The departure of Hot Pie from the company of Arya and Gendry is an example of one such scene. Next week should be even better as we find out more about Brienne's fate (will she get raped or not) and Jamie (will he die fromm blood loss?).

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