At the beginning of “Walk of Punishment”, Catelyn Stark’s bumbling brother Edmure Tully learns a valuable lesson at his father’s funeral: if you don’t account for the wind, you’re likely to miss your mark.
Edmure fails to hit his father’s funeral pyre as it drifts on down the stream, Hot Pie can’t get the shape of his Direwolf loaf right and Tyrion can’t pay three prostitutes to service his shockingly skillful squire.
If this episode has an overarching theme I suppose overconfidence resulting in failure would qualify, but I couldn’t detect any sort of internal consistency beyond that. In trying to look for it, I was left stumped. Sort of like Jaime Lannister.
The episode begins at Catelyn’s father’s funeral and we meet the Tully clan, including Edmure (played by Tobias Menzies, Brutus in HBO’s Rome) and her hardened uncle “the Blackfish.” Edmure has attacked the Lannister host against Robb’s orders, and in doing so ripped an opportunity to capture “The Mountain” Gregor Clegane from Stark’s hands. Beyond that the sortie achieved little, and more importantly cost the Starks a handful of men, men they can’t exactly afford to lose. Edmure isn’t just shooting arrows blindly into the wind it seems, he’s pissing into it as well…
Down in King’s Landing the Lannister siblings Cersei and Tyrion are playing a game of musical chairs with passive-aggressive aplomb in the newly outfitted small council chambers. Tyrion is to replace Petyr Baelish as the Master of Coin, even though his privileged upbringing arguably makes him ill-suited for the position. Baelish, meanwhile, heads off to the Vale to court crazy Lady Arryn (the lady with the sky cells who breastfed her creepy 10-year-old son in the first season).
So if you’re keeping score, Baelish has now become the Lord of Harrenhal – if only in name – and is about to become the “Acting Lord of the Vale” according to Varys (who makes his long-awaited first appearance this season). Littlefinger’s clearly done better than anyone else since the start of this season, and his hand could be strengthened further if his plan to steal Sansa Stark succeeds.
In other small council business, no one knows where Jaime Lannister is. Turns out he’s tied to a horse and advising Brienne on how to stay alive when being raped by a band of Northern soldiers. It doesn’t look particularly likely that the Bolton bannermen who captured him will hand him over anytime soon – wait.
On the topic of how the episode dealt with Brienne’s likely rape – and the eventual attempt to do just that – we should first mention that rape is, needless to say, always a tough issue to dramatize effectively. That’s doubly true when you’re dealing with an unfamiliar – and in this case, fictional – culture with very different sensitivities and values than the viewer. Those of us who watch Mad Men saw how awkward discussions of this sort can get when a show gets that balance wrong, even in just a one off line (see: Betty and Henry’s twisted bedtime conversation about their daughter’s house guest from last week’s premiere).
When Jaime tells Brienne that she will probably be raped by their captors, he’s doing so as a matter of course. This is the brutal world where soldiers in King’s Landing were protecting their families from beseigers’ indignities during the battle of Blackwater, after all – not to mention the vicious Dothraki hordes who rape and pillage as a way of life. While Jaime is flippant about it one moment, “Close your eyes,” he briefs her “pretend they’re Renly,” he can also empathize with her and with the plight of women in her situation more generally. “If I was a woman I’d make them kill me, I’m not thank the gods.”
Ultimately Jaime conjures up a lie to stop it, telling their captors that her father is rich. The excuse leaves Brienne’s honour “un-besmirched” (though she’s clearly be severely roughed up). Overall, I think the show got the tricky balance of “portraying the horrors of life in Westeros for a woman in wartime” and “not treating the issue flippantly” just about right.
We’ll round back to the closing scene later, but I want to chat about one other note in this scene. On the topic of Jaime’s skill as a soldier, Brienne opines at length that Jaime is over-rated. “All my life I heard, Jaime Lannister, what a brilliant swordsman” she tells him. “You were slower than I expected and more predictable.” Jaime, meanwhile is in denial that he was even getting his ass kicked last episode (he was) while Brienne wonders whether or not “people just love to over-praise a famous name.”
With the exception of one fight scene where he killed Jory, the show hasn’t really portrayed Jaime’s mastery in combat or dwelt on his past exploits. Instead he’s mostly been shown to us as over-rated and soft. Jaime’s also a more likable character at this point in the television series than he was in the books, and I wonder if his overall lack of menace is a big part of why that is.
In other “marching about the Westerosi countryside” plotlines, which as a group are so much less interesting, frankly, than the stuff in Astapor or King’s Landing, Thoros assures Arya she’s not a prisoner of the Brotherhood without Banners. Sadly, she isn’t welcome to leave, either.
Beyond Hot Pie and the amusing visual of watching the Dog get the standard cop drama head tap, when the Brotherhood’s archer makes him hit his head against the top of the prisoner’s carriage, there wasn’t much to chew on here. Hot Pie will stay at the Inn, he tells Arya, while mispronouncing Winterfell and baking her a Stark Direwolf loaf that really looks nothing like a Stark Direwolf.
One thing that’s interesting about Hot Pie, perhaps the only thing actually, is he’s one of the few “common folk” characters in the show. In the limited number of conversations we’ve seen between servants – like in the season three premiere when Ros and Shae had a brief pow-wow – we’ve been shown the sorts of things that non-nobles can aspire to. The glass ceiling sure seems low, though. “Maybe I can be a prostitute handmaid for a wealthy, abusive lord if I play my cards right.” Pretty grim.
Hell, baking at an inn is probably a relatively cushy gig. Maybe one day Hot Pie will get to feed a lord. That would probably be his life’s biggest accomplishment. Life sucks in Westeros without a silver spoon in your mouth.
The action from there jumps back to Riverrun. Catelyn is sure Rickon and Bran are dead, though Robb doesn’t quite believe it. Her uncle the Blackfish advises her to be strong for Robb, and let him carry on the fantasy. The King in the North, the King of a doomed cause at this point by all accounts, doesn’t have time to mourn; meanwhile the show hasn’t given Catelyn time to do much of anything else.
Finally we shift up north of The Wall where we’ve seen many of the strongest scenes this season. Mance Rayder and his Wilding host arrive at the site where the Night’s Watch battled Wights (and lost) in the prologue of the season premiere. Instead of finding dead Crows (what Wildings call the Nights Watch, remember?), there’s just a whole whack of dead horses, laid out in a seemingly endless and endlessly ominous spiral. “Always the artists,” Rayder says of the forces responsible.
I continue to be impressed with the characterization of Mance Rayder. I genuinely like and am rooting for him even though he’s only been in about 15 minutes total of screen time. We’ve seen that he has his own odd sense of honour (calling the late Halfhand his enemy and brother, once), and that he’s a calculating, smart leader.
Of course, Mance has a Wildling army to save from the White Walkers, and he’s still focused on the task at hand. It may not be personal, but Mormont stands in his way. Realizing the Night’s Watch have a weak hand, he goes all in and orders an attack on Castle Black. “Climb the wall,” he tells Tormund Giantsbane, planning an attack on a castle with a giant wall that only protects one side. “I’m going to light the biggest fire the North has ever seen!”
Down at Craster’s Keep things are as creepy as ever, and the desperate Crows seem less likely to deal with it in a tolerant way. Craster’s daughter Gilly, who Samwell Tarly promised to help a season ago, has finally given birth to a boy – or as they call boys there, White Walker lunch.
I really liked the two Theon sequences in this episode, even if they had no relationship with the rest of the action. First the dungeon janitor frees Theon and gives him a tall horse with which to escape. How tall is the horse? Fifty Jaime Lannister hands tall.
Then the non-descript guards chase Theon down in a wicked horseback chase scene, ultimately knocking him brutally from his horse, strip him of his pantaloons, and prepare to rape him. Before they can however, a mysterious man – who looks suspiciously like the dungeon janitor, as book readers know all too well by now – kills all of Theon’s pursuers and offers him a friendly hand while saying the Stark’s words. Seems odd that a Northman would be friendly to Theon at this point, and also that the soldiers who were about to rape poor Theon seemed to know he was the one who caused Winterfell so much trouble.
We get a token Stannis scene with Melisandre who is leaving him for some reason – seemingly because he’s unwilling to sacrifice a person with King’s Blood, or something. Like Mance Rayder, Stannis is a character who plays a sort of peripheral role – one of many Kings with his own motivations. But with Mance the show has conveyed so much about his motivations and personality in no time at all. Stannis just seems like a vessel, a misguided guy who bounces between righteous anger and righteous moping while having weird sex with his cult priestess.
Back in Slaver’s Bay (that’s the city of Astapor in the opening title sequence), Dany is made queasy by the treatment of slaves. She’s also on the fence, at least at the beginning of the episode, about purchasing slave soldiers to fight for her. On the one hand the Unsullied won’t rape and pillage when Dany invades Westeros. On the other hand, they just don’t bring the intangibles the elder knight Barristan Selmy summarizes romantically as loyalty. On Dany’s father, Selmy says of his soldiers: “They died for him. Believed in him. Because they loved him. Not because they’ve been bought at a slaver’s auction.”
Mormont reacts by pointing out that Rhaegar still lost despite the “loyalty factor” and probably pulled out a scatter graph explaining that the r-squared correlation between loyalty and “battles won” is like .2 and not all that strong. In other words, that quick council meeting was pretty much the Game of Thrones version of Moneyball (MoneyBattle?).
I wonder what Dany heard in that conversation that changed her from being torn about acquiring the Unsullied to demanding all of them – in addition to those still in training – in exchange for her precious, much yelled-about dragons. We know that she glances up at the slave children before offering up Drogon in exchange for 8,000 men, but beyond that her motivations remain opaque. I don’t think she’s exactly negotiating in good faith here.
I enjoyed Dany’s decisiveness here: e.g., her insistence that Rhaegar wasn’t “the last dragon,” and her quick disciplining of Mormont and Selmy for contradicting her in front of company. Also an interesting line disguised as a throwaway is the advice Missandei, the slave master’s handmaiden, has for her about the Unsullied: “Once they are yours, they are yours.” There has to be an exploitable loophole here!
There wasn’t much meat to Baelish’s discussion with Tyrion, beyond the joy of watching Peter Dinklage and Aidan Gillen banter together. I would watch an entire episode featuring just those two, along with Varys, playing spy versus spy versus spy in King’s Landing. I also got a good laugh out of the Podrick twist: the young, shy squire is outrageously talented in the bedroom.
Finally we get to the gripping closing scene: Jaime Lannister violently loses his right hand. I remarked last week that Jaime is similarly skilled in witty banter as his brother is, but that we never saw that until he was in a desperate situation as a prisoner. In this episode he tries to talk and buy his way out of trouble – as we’ve seen Tyrion do time and time again over the course of this series – but he doesn’t quite have his brother’s knack for it. What a nasty shot to end the episode on. The ending was so good that it really helped obscure how dense and listless so much of the rest of the episode was.
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