Game of Thrones – Review: Hand of the Kingsguard
Review of Game of Thrones – Season 3 Episode 3 – Walk of Punishment:
“Walk of Punishment” is less about power itself than the management of power. This is a natural theme to explore, given that Game of Thrones currently depicts a land embroiled in the turmoil of war. But the episode takes it a step further, illustrating the ways in which people with power manipulate their circumstances to achieve the ends of winning more power. The title of the show has never been more literal than it is now, as it’s very much a game of political machinations and deceptions, since wars aren’t won with military strength alone, but with cleverness, with gold, with ingenuity and scheming.
Front and center is Daenerys (Emilia Clarke), who has to negotiate her way to the Seven Kingdoms with an army that can win her the Iron Throne. This means acquiring the services of the Unsullied, a legion of eunuchs raised from childhood to be among the best-trained warriors in the world — unfeeling, faultlessly loyal, and exceedingly talented in the business of war. Unfortunately, Daenerys doesn’t exactly have the money to afford this army. Worse, her two chief counsellors are divided on the subject of the Unsullied. Ser Jorah (Iain Glen) believes that the Unsullied would make a fine army for their purposes, since eunuchs wouldn’t rape or pillage, and their programmed loyalty means they would never put innocents to the sword, only the enemies of their master. Ser Barristan (Ian McElhinney), meanwhile, believes that it’s morally unseemly to purchase slaves to win a war. Dany weighs her options while strolling along the Walk of Punishment, an avenue in Astapor that is strewn with dying prisoners left to rot out in the sun. As a point of comparison, the men discuss Dany’s late brother Rhaegar, one of the noblest men of the Seven Kingdoms. Barristan talks about how his goodness won him the love of the Seven Kingdoms, yet Jorah says that while Rhaegar fought nobly and with great honor in the Rebellion, he still died. And with that, Dany’s mind is made up. She approaches Kraznys (Dan Hildebrand) about acquiring all 8,000 Unsullied. He refuses to sell since he knows Dany has no way of paying him. That’s when Dany cooks up a trade of her own: she’ll give Kraznys one of her dragons in exchange for the army.
This is where Dany begins to display some of her mettle as a potential queen. She haggles with Kraznys until it’s agreed that she will give him her biggest dragon (Drogon) while he will give her all 8,000 Unsullied plus his translator, Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel). Barristan and Jorah are practically up in arms at Dany’s decision, but she adopts a stern stance against her most trusted advisors, saying that while she appreciates their counsel, they will be counseling someone else if they ever dare to question her in front of strangers again. It’s a different Dany than what we’re used to, as she’s gone from a bargaining chip in the first season, and a frustrated would-be ruler in the second, to a shrewd negotiator in the third. She knows what she’s doing now, or at least she has a way of giving off the impression that she does. I’d argue that, for the first time since the series started, Dany feels like someone who could feasibly be queen, in more than just name.
However, Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) isn’t as confident about his new job title. He’s appointed Master of Coin by his father, Tywin (Charles Dance), inheriting the title from Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen). As Tyrion quickly finds out, Littlefinger managed to consistently produce funds for the Seven Kingdoms by borrowing excessively from the Iron Bank of Braavos. These are debts that can’t possibly be repaid with interest, as the ostentatious wedding of Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) and Margaery (Natalie Dormer) is expected to plunge the Kingdom even further into debt. It’s a storyline that introduces an interesting dilemma that further complicates the war, as Tyrion explains to Bronn (Jerome Flynn) that Braavos will bankroll their enemies if they fail to repay their debts. Of course, this fascinating development is somewhat undercut by the second half of the story, as Tyrion purchases his squire, Podrick Payne (Daniel Portman), a foursome with three beautiful women as reward for saving his life in the Battle of the Blackwater last season. When Podrick returns with the gold Tyrion gave the women as payment, learning that they essentially gave him a freebie, Tyrion is interested to learn about Pod’s apparent love-making talents, which are all the more surprising since Pod was a virgin. I’m not entirely sure what this adds to anything — having read the books, and being fully aware of how much story they have to fit into this season, I can’t help but feel like this time could have been better spent. But then, Podrick is one of those characters that I can never consider a waste of time. His fuddy-duddy nature is far too winning to get mad about, and hey, it’s Tyrion and Bronn drinking wine and talking about sex! It’s a total bro moment, but it absolutely works.
From there, the episode sort of jumps all over the place, telling a host of different stories, but never sticking with one long enough to tell a prolonged arc:
-The Night’s Watch returns to Craster’s Keep, where Craster continues to bang his daughter-wives and give them children. Sam (John Bradley) bears witness to the birth of a son for former object of his affection, Gilly. If we recall from season two, Craster doesn’t take kindly to the threat of other males in the family, though whether Sam plans to act to defend Gilly and her son remains to be seen.
-Arya (Maisie Williams) and her party remain “guests” of the Brotherhood Without Banners, and the main development of the storyline is that the company parts ways with Hot Pie (Ben Hawkey), who decides to stay behind at a local inn when he proves his worth as a talented baker. Is it weird that I’ll miss Hot Pie?
-In one of the most amusing moments of the episode, we go to Riverrun for the funeral of Catelyn’s (Michelle Fairley) father, and we are introduced to Edmure Tully (Tobias Menzies), who fails to hit the late Lord’s funeral pyre with a flaming arrow. Enter Catelyn’s uncle, Brynden Tully (Clive Russell), the “Blackfish”, who steps in for Catelyn’s prideful brother and hits the mark. What results is an argument about power, as Brynden argues that Edmure needs to respect Robb (Richard Madden) while Robb argues that they need to remain focused, since Tywin Lannister isn’t lacking for patience. It’s not much in the way of development, but we do get an excellent scene in which Catelyn recounts waiting for her father to return from battle as a little girl, and reflecting on whether Bran and Rickon did the same for her. She believes her sons are dead, though Robb continues to believe his brothers are alive, since he needs to believe in order to remain strong. Robb’s humanity is contrasted starkly (pun not intended, I swear) with the legend surrounding him, as Talisa (Oona Chaplin) tells two young Lannister captives that the legends are true: Robb is part wolf and he eats the flesh of his enemies. She’s simply scaring the kids with a bedtime story, but it still illustrates how the idea of Robb Stark is seizing hold in the minds of his enemies.
-We get a brief check-in with Jon (Kit Harrington), who comes across the slaughter of “Crows” at the Fist of the First Men. It’s such an insubstantial check-in that I found myself wondering why they even bothered, but I suppose it helps to keep Jon in the conversation, narratively.
-Melisandre (Carice van Houten) is going off on some errand, leaving Stannis (Stephen Dillane) to question her motivations. Melisandre gives him a look of pity when he tries to seduce her, telling her he wants to make another shadow baby. She tells him that he’s too weak, and that his “flames burn low.” Making another shadow would kill him, which is good to know, since I imagine many people were wondering why he didn’t just father himself an army of whispy shadow monsters.
-Theon (Alfie Allen) gets bailed out of Winterfell by his mystery benefactor (Iwan Rheon), who comes to him on behalf of his sister, Yara. Theon rides his horse through the night, searching for his sister’s battalion, only to be hunted by a gang of marauders. Just as Theon is about to be raped (I know), his helper comes to the rescue, killing his would-be assailants.
Of course, all of these developments pale in comparison to the business with Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and Brienne (Gwendoline Christie). Having been captured by a host sent by Roose Bolton, Jaime is accosted by their leader, Locke (Noah Taylor). Locke’s men carry Brienne off to rape her, and Jaime, in a fit of sympathy, tells Locke that Brienne’s father is Lord of the Sapphire Isle, and that he’ll pay a king’s ransom to have his daughter back. Locke orders his men to stand down, and Jaime naturally thinks he’s won the man’s trust. When Locke acquiesces to Jaime’s request to loosen his chains so he can sleep on his back, Jaime thinks he has an opening. But Locke is apparently not a complete moron. He has his men force Jaime down onto a log, at which point Locke berates Jaime for thinking himself so clever, and for thinking his father’s power and fortune could get him out of any dilemma. Then Locke takes his antagonism to its extreme: he raises his sword and brings it down on Jaime…cutting off his sword hand. And that’s our episode.
“Walk of Punishment” details power and not only its management, but its manifold abuses. It’s an episode rich in character development, giving us a better sense of what each character’s goals are, while keeping things vague enough to compel our interest. The episode is setting the table for what’s to come, and in this sense, nearly everything that happened was absolutely essential to the endgame.