One of the enduring themes of Game of Thrones, it should be painfully obvious, is loss. With “Walk of Punishment,” the show treads once again into very grim territory, and the results, while often hard to watch, add to the power of a season that’s already begun to gain a lot of steam.
NOTE: Because this is an advance review, I will continue to refrain from spoiling the events of this episode in particular. However, there will of course be spoilers from season two, as well as spoilers from the two season three episodes that have already aired, so if you’re not caught up you might want to click away.
In Riverrun, Catelyn (Michelle Fairley) and Robb (Richard Madden) unite with Catelyn’s Tully kin for the funeral of the House’s Lord (and Catelyn’s father), Hoster Tully. In King’s Landing, Tywin (Charles Dance) musters his small council and makes some changes, while Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) seeks to pay a debt and Margaery (Natalie Dormer) continues to work her charm on Joffrey (Jack Gleeson). In the Crownlands, Jaime Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) tries to talk his way out of a situation even worse than the one he was in before. In the North, Arya (Maisie Williams) gets used to life in the Brotherhood, and the presence of The Hound (Rory McCann). Beyond the Wall, Mance Rayder (Ciaran Hinds) make a big decision and makes Jon (Kit Harington) a big part of it, while tempers flare among the men of the Night’s Watch. At an undisclosed location, Theon (Alfie Allen) gets unexpected aid. At Dragonstone, Stannis (Stephen Dillane) and Melisandre (Carice van Houten) argue about their future. And in Astapor, Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) makes a surprising bargain.
This episode gets an automatic extra dose of excitement because we get to see new characters and get a look at a new place. In this case, it’s Riverrun, and if you’ve read the novels you’ll know that it’s positively perfect. The bittersweet beauty of the castle, the metaphor of the river and the fish, it’s all there, and it’s a wonderful addition to this ever-growing world.
But there are certainly other reasons to call this episode notable, not least of which is the fact that it contains what might be my favorite scene in the entire series so far. I won’t spoil it of course, but I will say that it’s a King’s Landing scene, it’s completely wordless for more than a minute, and yet without using words the entire cast perfectly sums up their characters. It’s a prime example of the human element that we so often forget to talk about when discussing this show. Yes, we want the beheadings and the dragons and the battles, but often what keeps us hooked are the simple things. This is one of them, and I could watch it over and over and over.
I was also very impressed with the way this episode dealt with the theme of loss without necessarily beating us over the head with it in quite the same way that, say, “Baelor” did in season one. Loss is a constant thread running through the show, but while some episodes are simply about its after-effects, this episode turns out to be a full-blown meditation on it, and it allows for some of the best performances of the series, particularly where Michelle Fairley is concerned.
And yet, this too might be a Thrones episode that you’ll come away from thinking it was a little too slow. I get that, but I will once again stress that this has never been a series that’s all about full throttle all the time. Sometimes you have to slow down so you can speed up later. And believe me when I tell you, we will be speeding up later.
(Advance screening courtesy of HBO)