16 Apr 2013

[Review] - Game Of Thrones, Season 3 Episode 3, "Walk Of Punishment"

Courtesy of HBO

While I still maintain that Blackwater is a better exemplar for the structure of episodes, and I will continue to beat that dead horse until it is little more then ripe jam, if I had my druthers, every episode of Game of Thrones going forward would follow Walk of Punishment's tone. As I mentioned last week, the show (outside of Tyrion's story) has never been big on humour, and if there is one major fault to the show it is that it is very dour and morose. The only writer that has ever been able to find room for jokes has been Vanessa Taylor, which makes the fact that this episode was written by Benioff & Weiss all the more remarkable.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that once traded their first born child in exchange for a bit of light housekeeping.

I noticed something in the premier episode, but didn't mention it then, but everyone on this show is very stiff. The performances lack any real flourish, aside from Peter Dinklage, and from here on out let's just assume he is the exception to everything. The performances are fantastic, don't get me wrong. It is, for the most part, a fine cast. But everything seems very down the line, by the book, in terms of the way the performances are, well, performed. Everyone stands very straight. They walk along lines. There is rarely any exuberance to the characters, and body language is often unused. What there is, is always deliberate. No character has ever seemed honestly comfortable, within the world, or themselves. I hadn't noticed because everyone was doing it, save Tyrion, and he's meant to be shunned and alien, so it worked.

What made me notice was Dan Hildebrand's performance as Kraznys, the Astapor slave dealer. It was alive, and fiercely so. He used his eyebrows and lip as more then just facial features. He used his hands when talking. He paced, and seemed like he was saying genuine things rather then reciting lines. The amoral, insulting slave peddler suddenly was the most human character on the show, as he had no hesitation, nor censorship, nor had to speak in that semi-Shakespearean way that all fantasy characters seem obligated to speak in, and never ever sounds natural (see the first twenty minutes of Thor).

This episode, while far from a romp, had humour. It had lots of it. And it was everywhere, not just focused on a few specific characters. They managed to even make Jamie's instructions on how to survive a rape lighthearted, without being flip. It was wonderful, because it made Westeros feel like a real place. It has always looked real, but it never felt like the people were human; they were always far too serious. Humour can most often be found in the face of greatest peril, as it is the easiest way to deflate tension and calm nerves. Sarcasm aside, no one in Westeros has ever displayed much of any sense of humour at all. And this episode proves that they have it in them.

There wasn't a single scene in this episode that felt wasted, or that wasn't a joy to watch. Everyone was in fine form, and the writing was at its peak. Even the scene with Stannis, arguably the only scene that didn't really fit, was fun and energetic. The look that Melisandre gave Stannis, so full of pity, like a puppy who had over turned its water bowl, was the most relatable she's been since her introduction. There was a real feel about that scene of a couple breaking up. It couldn't have been more plain then if Melisandre had said "it's not you, it's me."

The episode was also a focal point for some serious deviations from the original source material, which I'm fully in favour of, and enjoyed. The important thing is consistency within the medium, and motivations that make sense based in this version of events, not an adherence to the novels. The show needs more and more to forge its own identity. Melisandre leaving on a mission unknown goes against the fiercely loyal literary version of the character, but the televised one has always felt a little more self serving, or at least more in line with the idea that Stannis is a means to an end rather then the end. Her leaving is proof that, while she may still be for Stannis, she isn't tethered to him. And I'm interested to see where this leads, and what she's up to.

Changes came to the Tully household too, and the Viking funeral was a subtle and effective way to set up the family dynamic at Riverrun. Edmure is insistent, impulsive and misguided; the Blackfish is steady and judgemental; Cat stands back and pretends that everything is fine while everything goes wrong. And Robb stifles his laughter and looks away while what needs to be done floats down the river. A very telling scene, which was undercut by the next scene where all of those personalities are spelled out in black and white. It was a shame to waste all that subtly.

Dany got perhaps the smallest change to her story, but the biggest change to her character. The offering of her largest dragon shows a determination, and a calculation on Dany's part, that was absent in the books. In the novels the choice is forced on her, demanded by the slavers and left her no choice but to make the deal. Here, the slavers never broach the subject. Dany suggests it, and the slavers are at first in disbelief. While Selmy and Mormont bicker like an old married couple, Dany weaves her own plot. It is an important change to the character, as it shows that she is becoming both decisive and sacrificial. The biggest flaw of Dany's story in the books is that it tends to stagnate while she dithers. Hopefully this change shows that the Dany moving forward will be one of action and consequences rather then one of contemplation and hesitation.

As is often the case though, the night belonged to Tyrion, and his scenes were wonderful. I'll be honest, I was uncertain what they would find for Tyrion to do this season, the majority of his storyline taking place in the second half of the novel, or next season on the show. So, along with hitting the important plot points; his position as Master of Coin and such, they are able to include scenes like the Lannister family version of musical chairs, and his wonderment over what Pod could have done to make a whore give his money back. Pod, like Margaery, is one of those minor characters in the books that was never important enough to elaborate on, and was introduced so benignly last season I feared he'd never receive any characterisation. I didn't expect it to happen this way either, but for a show that coined the phrase sexposition, I guess I shouldn't be surprised.

It is early days, to be sure, but I think we have an early candidate for best episode of the season. In terms of humanising the characters, in setting a tone I feel should become more standard, and managing to find a way to balance all these spinning plots, it will be a hard episode to beat.

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