When Daenerys brings Missandei into her entourage, but warns her of the dangers she might face, Missandei reassures her new master that “Valar Morghulis” (“All men must die”). Much to her surprise, Daenerys is able to translate her words (could she all along?), and adds a brilliant twist: “All men must die… but we are not men.”
“Walk of Punishment,” written by showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, and directed by Benioff, was a fantastic display of the show’s best features. Game of Thrones has always been dark and twisted; however, luckily, there is also plenty of gallows humor throughout. This episode was a great showcase of both.
The title takes its name from a path Daenerys and her team follow in Astapor, where insubordinate slaves are left mutilated and dying. This episode was a walk of punishment for many of the characters, though none so much as the great Kingslayer. At least, unlike the road in the series, Benioff and Weiss allow us a touch of black comedy as we journey through, perhaps to make the suffering a little less disturbing. As Catelyn Stark says, at times “a person could almost be forgiven for forgetting we’re at war.”
The episode set the foundations of its dark humor right from the start with a comedic and then tragic display of impotence on Edmure Tully’s part. Unable to light the funeral pyre of his own father’s ship as it sailed down river, Edmure (Catelyn’s brother) is pushed aside by the much-larger Blackfish, his uncle, who manages to light the fire on the first shot.
Apparently, the Tully’s incompetence extends beyond the display along the river. Robb Stark confronts his uncle Edmure over the Tully’s rash campaigns for glory in the Riverlands. Instead of being patient and aiding the Stark cause, Edmure has won land that is all but worthless and has captured two distant Lannister relatives in the process, when much sweeter prizes (like Tywin Lannister himself) were at stake. We learn from Robb that the initial plan was for the Lannisters to be drawn out west, farther away from King’s Landing. Edmure’s campaign for glory pinned the Lannister forces down in an area close enough to King’s Landing, thus ensuring that Tywin and his troops could easily counter a Baratheon siege of the capital, which is exactly what happened. Now, the Lannisters have entered into an alliance with the Tyrells through Margaery’s upcoming marriage to Joffrey, which leaves the northerners with too few resources compared to their southern foes– and winter is coming, after all.
We know this better than most, thanks to Jon Snow and his mission to the north of the Wall. Jon is still a spy trying to blend in with the wildlings, but it is hard for him to hide his unease when they come upon a strange, satanic-like formation of severed horse parts. This is where the fighting occurred between the White Walkers and the Night’s Watch. This battle happened entirely off-screen for us between this season and the last (with only a few sword-clashing sound effects played to open episode 3.1). The human remains are nowhere to be found; as Mance suggests, they have likely been reanimated as the White Walkers’ soldiers (a.k.a. “wights”– imagine them as the more zombie-like figures in last season’s final scene).
Those who survived this battle at the Fist of the First Men have now made it back to Craster’s Keep. There, the old man who makes his daughters into wives seems especially unhappy to have the Night’s Watch as guests. He insults Samwell Tarly’s weight, causing the young man to flee outside. There, he witnesses Gilly giving birth to a baby boy. The horror on all of their faces reminds us how Craster has managed to stay alive, untouched, in the midst of the White Walkers: the boy will soon be sacrificed to their army.
This darkness is again balanced by several deftly-crafted scenes in King’s Landing. Two scenes in particular stand out in contrast to the doom and gloom of the rest of the episode. While, in my opinion, one was less necessary than the other (the lesser involving Tyrion’s squire, Pod, and an improbably successful encounter in a brothel), both were a refreshing counterbalance to the gruesome nature of the multiple attempted rapes and missing limbs (both man and beast).
The best of these scenes was the first meeting of the Small Council under Tywin Lannister. This man, who has been the de facto ruler of the kingdom off and on for decades, sits in an enormously powerful position: both literally and figuratively. This is no Round Table of King Arthur’s court; Tywin’s new table clearly delineates different seats of power. When the rest of the council arrives, they move for their seats in very telling ways. Without a bit of dialogue, Benioff and Weiss are able to say a lot about each character at the table.
For example, Littlefinger– the most outwardly ambitious of the lot– makes the first move and all but pushes Varys out of the way en route to the seat at Tywin’s left hand. There, Tywin discusses the next step in Littlefinger’s bid for power, which will take him out of King’s Landing and into the highly-coveted Vale. He already has Harrenhal, though only by name, since Roose Bolton’s troops have taken over there. Tywin assures him that this title is enough to get him the hand of Lysa Arryn (née Tully, of breastfeeding fame), who is holed up in the impregnable mountain-fortress at the Vale and currently unaligned in the War of the Five Kings.
Varys, meanwhile, is content to leave a little distance between himself and the seat of power. His willingness to let Littlefinger push his way to the front of the line is emblematic of his patience and pragmatism, as well as his willingness to work behind the scenes. Maester Pycelle, just happy to be alive and in any position of power, takes the open seat without complaint.
The Lannister siblings, however, both need to make a big show of breaking the rules. Cersei starts it off by dragging a chair across to the other side of the table, taking up to the right of her father and directly across from Littlefinger. Her triumphant stare might be reminding him of their famous exchange from last season: “Power is power.”
Tyrion, ever the rebel, loudly (and hilariously) drags the giant chair across the length of the table so that he is seated at the other end. Tyrion takes the head of the table to go toe-to-toe with his father, while at the same time maintaining a healthy amount of distance from him.
While everyone is still jockeying for power in Westeros, Daenerys purchases the complete army of Unsullied from Astapor by promising Kraznys mo Nakloz her largest dragon (will the dragon go to its new master as willingly as the Unsullied warriors will go to theirs?). These eunuch warriors are programmed to follow the orders of their owners, which makes Dany’s new advisor, Ser Barristan, uneasy. He does not like that the soldiers have no choice in following her into battle, and questions the honor of it all. Jorah Mormont, her longtime companion, believes that these fighters will not wreak havoc on the innocent, unlike the typical male soldier; he understands better than Ser Barristan Daenerys’s belief in her divine mission to protect the helpless, and knows this to be a selling point.
More than anything, Jorah knows that Ser Barristan is wrong to argue for honor above all else. In the world of Game of Thrones, honor is not rewarded. When the old knight tries to convince Dany that her brother, Rhaegar, was followed into battle “because they believed in him and because they loved him,” not because they were ordered to, Jorah stuns everyone with the brilliant retort: “Rhaegar fought valiantly, Rhaegar fought nobly, and Rhaegar died.” (This quote is a personal favorite of book readers and is kept here almost entirely intact.)
In the world of Game of Thrones, honor is not only unfavorable; it is often punished. Just take Ned Stark, for instance. Was there ever a more noble figurehead to grace the kingdoms of Westeros? He paid for that honor with his head. By now, Ned’s political machinations seem infantile and naive in comparison to the work of the artful power-players we have seen since.
To this point in his life, Jaime has managed to play the game as well as any Lannister. His every move has been calculated not with his honor (or lack thereof) in mind, but instead on the value of self-preservation. To Jaime, there is no such thing as an honorable death. He could care less what people think of him, so why should he care about their opinion when he’s no longer around? Why not try to live by any means necessary? It’s this line of thinking that has prompted him to push an innocent child out of a window, seemingly without remorse, simply to protect the secret of his incestuous love affair. He’s not necessarily cruel-hearted, nor does he enjoy the pain of children outright (like some characters on this show might), but he’ll stop at nothing to protect himself and his family.
Therefore, it is surprising when Jaime breaks character over Brienne of Tarth and her impending rape at the hands of the Bolton bannermen. Brienne, a woman who embodies the code of chivalry and manages to beat him at swords, has earned something like his respect– a feat we had yet to see before this moment. This inspires him to attempt to save her dignity, as she may just be the one person with anything like it left in all of Westeros.
To do this, he plays a rich man’s game with the leader of their captors, a man named Locke (who is similar to Vargo Hoat, or “the Goat,” from the books). He promises him a hearty ransom not only from his own father, but from Brienne’s, claiming that the “Isle of Sapphires,” home of House Tarth, is thus named for its wealth in jewels. He plays this exchange with the same cocky bravado as his younger brother, which is successful in saving Brienne. Jaime has never seemed more alike and unlike a Lannister as in this scene.
But, of course, this is Westeros and no noble deed goes unpunished. Ned Stark lost a head, and Jaime lost a sword hand. The episode ends abruptly on a haunting sound: Jaime Lannister, so cocksure and undaunted by life’s misfortunes, shouting in bewildered agony as he raises a stump where his right hand used to be.
Other thoughts on “Walk of Punishment”:
- The credits cut in suddenly, along with a jarring, indie rendition of “The Bear and the Maiden Fair,” the song that Locke’s men were singing earlier. While I hated it at first, I enjoy it the more I think about it, because the music only highlighted the shock of the ending. I’m also starting to enjoy the song on its own merits, and am not ruling out the possibility of starting a rousing rendition of this next time I’m hanging out with my shamelessly nerdy friends.
- I love that the Tully armor looks like scales (see: Edmure and The Blackfish), given that their house sigil is a fish.
- We see Stannis briefly in this episode, and he spends most of the time begging Melisandre not to leave him. We don’t know much about what she is doing or where she is headed, but she mentions something about others with Baratheon blood. Just in case you’ve forgotten the “Black of Hair: Ned Stark, Private Eye” special from Season 1, this is likely in reference to Gendry, Arya’s blacksmith companion who was found by Ned to be the only true son of Robert Baratheon (the rest are, of course, Jaime’s golden-haired children).
- It’s not clear who this boy is that keeps saving Theon just in the nick of time, but clues are there to the super-discerning viewer. Have fun speculating over what it means (if anything) that he says “Winter is coming,” or the reaction from Theon’s torturer just before the savior shoots him through the head. Is he sent from Theon’s sister, as he claims? Or the Starks? Or someone else entirely?