Game of Thrones Revisited: 3.03 Walk of Punishment
Game of Thrones, the critically acclaimed TV series by David Benioff and DB Weiss and developed from the best-selling series of novels by George RR Martin, has become a cultural icon. The tentpole of HBO's programming with a stellar cast and mix of medieval-style political drama and war with a healthy dash of fantasy, Game of Thrones has enthralled audiences worldwide. And in 2019, the show will come to a dramatic end in its final run of feature length episodes. In the lead up to season eight, I explore every episode leading up to the final battle for Westeros and the rest of the world. Next up is an episode that sets up plenty of double bluffs for the viewer as Ramsey Snow and Daenerys Targaryen play the long game...
Warning: There may be spoilers for seasons one to seven...
Now firmly in post-Battle of Blackwater territory, season three of Game of Thrones continues to take established characters in intriguing new directions. Almost every character this episode is out of their comfort zone and that is fascinating to watch; Jon Snow gets more entangled with the Wildlings, Tyrion finds himself in an unfamiliar position in King's Landing, Theon is played by the Northerners and Daenerys seemingly does the impossible to gain her army.
In retrospect, there are a lot of double bluffs at play in Walk of Punishment. In Astapor, Daenerys's negotiations with Kraznys mo Nakloz sees her offer one of her beloved dragons as payment for eight thousand Unsullied. It's a bold twist but not one unexpected of the impetuous Targaryen Queen; she's had a hot head before and berating her advisors Barristan Selmy and Jorah Mormont for questioning her in front of the slaver is something we've come to expect from her.
But what is really happening of course, is that Daenerys is playing Kraznys at his own game. Her care for the poor slaves crucified on the titular Walk of Punishment and the observations of the child slaves scattered throughout the city do not go unnoticed. It is also the beginning of her friendship with Nathalie Emmanuel's Missandei, who Daenerys demands from Kraznys as a gift, the first of many slaves she will free.
It's hard to work out whether we're supposed to root for Theon this episode as a bigger and more twisted game is played around him this episode. On first viewing, Walk of Punishment is presented as Theon's frantic escape from the Northerners. Iwan Rheon's Ramsey is still presented as a loyal servant and ally, helping Theon to sneak out of the castle on horseback and then, after a thrilling chase through the woods, saves his life once more. It's a twisted game that will have a dramatic pay off; the idea that Ramsey would play the hero here, killing his own men to 'save' Theon, is a glimpse into the twisted mind audiences will soon come to understand.
North of the Wall, there is a great sense of forbidding for the darker things to come. The discovery of the spiral of decapitated horse parts in the snow is a chilling reminder that something awaits even more dangerous than the wildlings. Mance Rayder sends Tormund, Ygritte and Jon to scale the Wall and attack castle Black; that climb will become one of season three's most striking moments. There is also great tension and atmosphere as the Night's Watch reach Craster's Keep; you can feel that it is a powder cake about to explode.
Series co-creator and director of this episode, David Benioff, also manages to inject some welcome humour into Walk of Punishment too. The opening scene introduces us to Riverrun and Tobias Menzies' Edmure Tully who fails repeatedly to fire the flaming arrow into the boat carrying his and Catelyn Stark's dead father. Clive Russell makes a fantastic first impression as Brynden 'Blackfish' Tully, taking over from Edmund making the shot first time. There's also a great scene with the Blackfish and Catelyn as he consoles his niece on all that has happened.
There's also plenty of awkwardness in the scenes at King's Landing as the first small council is assembled under Tywin Lannister. To see everyone on tender hooks as they wait for Tywin to sit is amusing, but Cersei triumphantly taking her seat at her father's side and then Tyrion dragging the seat noisily to sit opposite them add some simple but effective moments of comedy.
Of course, this episode sees Tyrion on the back footing, not only with his father and sister but Littlefinger, who is still revelling in his meddling that helped secure the Tyrells to the Lannister cause. Appointed Master of Coin, Tyrion is immediately out of his depth but, like his role as Hand of the King last season, quickly starts to show his worth. It's also great to see the double act of Tyrion and Bronn continue, as they mentor young squire Podrick in the ways of manhood. The acrobatics of the whores presented to Podrick were a bit much though; Game of Thrones playing with the line between entertaining and gratuitous.
In the Riverlands, the scene where Hot Pie says goodbye to Arya with a gift of wolf-shaped bread was incredibly touching. It's a place where Melissandre is heading towards too, a noticeable change from the books. There is some grim foreshadowing in her departure from Stannis at Dragonstone; he continues to become a cold, rough, vile villain, demanding a son from her. But it is Melissandre's suggestion that there is royal blood that can be sacrificed that stands out; knowing the chilling fate of his daughter Shireen Baratheon in season five.
The episode ends with the first big shocking event book readers had been waiting for coming into A Storm of Swords territory. Jamie shows his first hint at redemption, convincing his captor Locke to stop Brienne's attempted rape with offers of Lannister and Tarth wealth. Locke's offer of food and freedom from chains leads to a truly horrific ending as he cuts off Jamie's hand with a carving knife, the Lannister's screams echoing into the credits. At this stage, it was hard to feel sorry for the villain but it is a moment - like the books - that will see Jamie's transformation into something of an antihero.
Walk of Punishment is another strong episode, deftly flitting between characters while giving those the episode chooses to focus on enough screen time. It's a stronger episode on rewatch too; knowing where things are heading shows just how cleverly the show's creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss are able to craft a story book readers might be familiar with while still surprising the viewers further down the line...