Monday, November 7, 2016

Game of Thrones Rewatch 3.3: "Walk of Punishment"

Read the previous entry in this series here.
Read the next entry in this series here.

3.3 “Walk of Punishment”
Written by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Directed by David Benioff
Commentary by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss

There’s only a small, thin thread of a theme running through this episode, but it’s one of power and intimidation, and the ways different groups try to scare other groups, especially those less powerful than they, but still a threat to their existence.

This theme is played briefly for humor in the early scenes, first in Riverrun and then in King’s Landing. At Riverrun, the Tullys and Starks are laying Hoster Tully, Cat’s father, to rest. This means pushing his body out into the river in a small boat and setting it on fire. Edmure, Cat’s brother and now the Lord of Riverrun, has some trouble getting the flaming arrow into the boat, so Brynden, Cat’s uncle, snatches the bow away, fires the arrow, and stalks off without even waiting to see if it hits.

It does.

This is a wonderful way to introduce both of these characters and tells us a whole lot about their personalities without either one of them ever saying a word.

A different kind of power jockeying happens in King’s Landing, where Tywin has changed the location of the Small Council meetings, so there’s no real “assigned” or habitual seats anymore. Again, without a word being spoken, and in ways that exemplify their personalities, each one of the councilors takes a seat. Tywin, of course, is already at the head of the table. Petyr makes a quick dash to the seat immediately to his left. Varys isn’t far behind him, and Pycelle piles on in the next seat. Cersei comes in, takes a look at the table, picks up a chair, and carries it to Tywin’s right. Tyrion takes the last chair and drags it (awkwardly, with lots of squeaking) to the foot of the table.

These two scenes happen almost immediately one after the other; there’s a brief moment in Riverrun with Robb and Brynden scolding Edmure, but that’s all that separates them. Both scenes do a lot with silence and meaningful looks, and Conleth Hill (Varys) deserves a shout out for his face acting in this scene.

 There’s only one more moment of levity in this episode, but I had a serious problem with that scene/group of scenes, so we’ll get to it later. Otherwise, everything is terrible.

Jaime and Brienne have been taken captive by the Brave Companions/Bloody Mummers, and they spend some time bickering about whose fault it is that they were captured. Then Jaime thinks he’ll give Brienne some advice about being raped—let it happen, don’t fight, just imagine they’re Renly. Brienne asks if that’s what Jaime would do in her position, but of course it’s not. Later, Jaime rescues Brienne by convincing Locke that she’s worth her weight in sapphires, but only if her honor is “unbesmirched.” Locke fools Jaime into thinking that he’s considering releasing him to his father for lots and lots of money, then pins him to a stump and gives him a speech about how without his father, Jaime is nothing. Then, as a reminder, he chops off Jaime’s right hand.

There’s a kind of minor issue with adaptation in this whole section, and it has to do with how the Bloody Mummers are treated. Mostly, they’re not. They’re sort of in the background, never really talked about, hardly ever seen, and not nearly the massive threat they are in the books. The books show them at Harrenhal, where they’re seriously awful people, and instead of joining up with the Lannisters, Rorge, Biter, and Jaqen have joined the Mummers. They’re established early as a seriously bad group of dudes before Jaime and Brienne ever encounter them. Also, they replaced Vargo Hoat with this Locke guy, and he’s not even really an amalgamation of several characters, just a straight-up one-to-one replacement for no really good reason. The sense of dread we get in the books while Brienne and Jaime are in their clutches is gone; heck, they even have the whole group singing “The Bear and the Maiden Fair,” which parallels Thoros singing “The Rains of Castamere” while walking down the road, and Thoros turned out all right(ish). I get that the show only has room for so many characters, but they handed most of the scary from the Bloody Mummers to the Mountain and his crew, so I don’t see why they wouldn’t leave it there. There’s no reason the mercenaries have to be the Bloody Mummers at all if all the bad people are with the Lannister army proper, even if they had to have a quick explanation that this particular batch had peeled off from the main force and gone rogue. The one member of the Mummers that sticks around for any length of time is Qyburn, and they don’t even have him explicitly as a member. So the Mummers feel really tacked on and lose a lot of their impact.

Meanwhile, north of the Wall, two different power plays are being . . . played. Mance’s people reach the Fist of the First Men and find the Night’s Watch’s horses butchered and arranged in an outward spiral, kind of like how the Wildling bodies were arranged in a circle in the opening sequence of the whole series. Mance makes a comment about how the White Walkers are such drama queens, then arranges for Tormund and a bunch of others to go scale the Wall and prepare for a rear attack on Castle Black.

A bit further south, the remains of the Night’s Watch have reached Craster’s Keep, and he nearly refuses them entry, but sees in their faces that if he does, it’s coming to a fight. So he lets them in, but jokes about eating Sam to regain his power over them. Sam sees Gilly having her baby—it’s a boy—and both of them know this won’t end well. On a meta level, people paying attention have noticed Burn Gorman as a new addition to the Night’s Watch and probably also know that whatever they’ve got planned for him isn’t going to end well, either. (There’s no way they’d get an actor like Burn Gorman in here and not do something huge with him.)

Theon’s bit in this episode isn’t overtly about power and control, but only because we don’t get the second half of the story. We see the as-yet-unnamed servant (spoiler: it’s Ramsay) “rescue” Theon and put him on a horse. On his way out, Theon tries to assert his lost authority by promising Ramsay a lordship in the Iron Islands, but Ramsay reminds him that they’re not in the Iron Islands, obliquely reminding him that he doesn’t have any of the authority he’s trying to assert. Theon gets lost and chased by the Bolton hunters. Then Ramsay murders the hunters to help Theon get away again. Of course, it’s all a big setup. Next episode will show us that. 

What’s really interesting about this scene is the rape threat. On the one hand, showing men being sexually assaulted is really unusual for neomedieval fiction, and almost unheard-of in A Song of Ice and Fire (there are societal reasons for that, of course; the toxic masculinity of Westeros won’t let any man admit that he could be used as a sex object. Notice how uncomfortable everyone is with Varys and most of them only know that he’s been castrated, not any of the story behind it). It’s kind of startling that the showrunners would go there. On the other hand, it feels a lot like punishing the character we’re supposed to hate. Jaime’s in a similar position to Theon, after all, and he’s never threatened with rape. Brienne is, of course, because she’s a woman and that’s what happens to women in Game of Thrones. But it raises a lot of questions about how the writers see Theon and how we’re supposed to see Theon. It demasculinizes him—foreshadowing a further demasculinization later—and puts him in a markedly feminine position. Feminine men in Westeros don’t get on well. A man’s role in Westeros is fighting and sex, sometimes both at the same time. And we’ve already discussed how the show doesn’t do this to deconstruct it, but to glorify it and use it for shock value. We’ve also already talked about how little of Theon’s torture we actually see in the books, versus how Benioff and Weiss insist on showing it in the show. There’s a lot to unpack in just this moment that would take entirely too long for a single blog post (but might spin its way into an article later).

The title of the episode comes from Daenerys in Astapor. Her section opens with the titular Walk of Punishment, where slaves are tied up and brutalized as examples to other slaves to not do “whatever it is this slave did.” Dany tries to give one of them water, but he just tells her to let him die. This is what’s in Dany’s head when she goes to face the Masters and negotiate for the Unsullied. The Masters continue to be rude at her in Low Valyrian, thinking that she can’t understand them (of course, she can). The power plays here are pretty deep; the Masters think they have all the power, but Dany is beginning to understand the true nature of power, and is putting a plan together. That plan involves promising to trade one of her dragons for 8,000 Unsullied (the Masters, of course, want all three). She also demands Missandei as a “gift” and gets some information out of her regarding just how obedient the Unsullied are to the person who owns them (completely and utterly without questioning). She also lets slip to Missandei that she understands Valyrian just fine, which makes Missandei actually smile a little bit instead of looking like a kicked puppy (she’s smart; she’s putting Dany’s plan together just about as fast as Dany is).

Finally, we have Tyrion’s new job. Since Petyr’s being shipped off to the Eyrie to court Lysa Arryn back into the Lannister fold, somebody has to manage the money, and that falls to Tyrion. While gathering the royal ledgers from Petyr’s brothel, Tyrion notices Pod noticing Ros’ breasts (Ros notices, too, and seems to think it’s cute. Also, tantalizing men like this is kind of her job). Petyr acknowledges that he owes Tyrion a debt for getting Ros released from Cersei’s custody, and Tyrion acknowledges that he owes Pod a debt for saving his life. Which is the entire setup to the next scene, wherein Tyrion decides that the best way to reward Pod for his heroics is to set him up with three of Petyrs prostitutes and a bagful of gold. This is entirely the kind of thing Tyrion would think of, and that’s not what bothers me about this whole scene and the one immediately following, when Pod returns from the brothel and gives Tyrion back his money--

Because the “whores” refused it.

Pod (virginal up until this point) had apparently given the three of them such a good time that they “gave him their time for free.”

Petyr’s prostitutes. The same Petyr who warned Ros that if she didn’t earn him his money’s worth, bad things would happen.

There’s a “happy prostitute” thing that happens in this show (and a bit in the books) that always shows prostitutes as loving their jobs. In the books, a lot of that is because we primarily see prostitutes through the eyes of their (male) customers or potential customers, so of course they seem to be enjoying their jobs. And the show’s managed to get away from that a bit by showing us the behind-the-scenes with Ros and her grief after the baby Baratheon bastard was murdered in front of her. But this goes right back into that stereotype and makes no sense in the context of what we’ve already been shown being a prostitute is like.

The only way that this makes any sense is if Petyr sent the money back to repay his debt to Tyrion regarding Ros. But that’s not even hinted at, and is a total fanwank on my part.

The whole thing also puts Pod right there in the masculine sex-and-violence arena; he’s already killed a man to save Tyrion, and now he’s had kinky sex with three prostitutes at once. So he’s a “man” now, in the Westerosi sense.

The whole sequence is really gross, is what I’m trying to say. And in the commentary, all Benioff and Weiss have to say about it is a vague comment about writing comedy. I’d have loved to see how they defended this scene. They probably didn’t feel they needed to, though.

Bonus: Here’s The Hold Steady’s rendition of “The Bear and the Maiden Fair” from the end credits.

RIP: a bunch of Bolton torturers

Next week: Cersei and Olenna have a snark-off. Intrigue abounds. The Night’s Watch mutinies.

Images from; gif from

1 comment:

  1. As ever, a pleasure to read what you write.

    I am struck by the power dynamic presented by Tyrion sitting across from Tywin. By putting himself at the other end of the table, he seems to thwart the uncontested headship that Tywin evidences by sitting where he does--not overthrowing it, but directly challenging it in a way that cannot be ignored (in addition to offering wonderful foreshadowing...).