(The eighth and final season of Game of Thrones debuts on April 14th, marking the beginning of the end for HBO’s cultural touchstone. Over the years, we’ve covered all 67 episodes of the series, and are revisiting those original reviews in our new retrospective series titled, “Winter is Coming”. We’re pulling these straight from our vacuum sealed digital time capsules, so step into the virtual time machine with us and read our impressions from way back! With the benefit of hindsight, there is plenty of reasons these reviews will raise some eyebrows)
Game of Thrones is about a lot of things, but above all else, it may be about victims. Victims of circumstance, victims of hubris, victims of history. Moreover, the series has proved that, just as all men must serve, and all men must die, all men can also be made victims, regardless of position or hallowed post. So while Tyrion Lannister may not be overjoyed at his new position as the most glorified accountant in Westeros, he can for once be glad he’s not his brother Jaime, who gets his right hand cut off by a grinning Noah Taylor. But more on that later.
Yes, Game of Thrones decided to show up in force this week, literally. “Walk of Punishment” is the first episode to be directed by co-showrunner David Benioff, and it’s certain to be far from the last, as he does a pretty stellar job with an episode he co-wrote. The best thing about “Walk” is its tonal balance; where the season’s first two episodes were happy to stay fairly dour and even-keeled, “Walk” careens wildly from terror to ribald humor – and, in the case of the final seconds, even dares to combine them. Life in the Seven Kingdoms is generally of the nasty and brutish persuasion, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be making time for a good old-fashioned flaming-arrow-at-the-cremation gag. Game of Thrones is famous for its bleakness and portentous dialogue and constant suffering, but frankly, it could use a few more episodes like this one.
“Walk of Punishment” a shocking, funny study in contrasts.
“Walk of Punishment” is also elevated by the fact that it’s finally found a potent relationship to hone in on to help anchor the more plot-heavy bits of business, in the form of Jaime and Brienne, whose less-than-perfect road trip takes its most grueling turn yet. Early in the episode, Jaime warns that their captors will be keen to have their way with a noblewoman, making for a clever fake-out in that it’s Brienne we fear for as the episode presses on. We’re so used to Jaime, the eternal scoundrel, being able to charm and/or battle his way out of any situation that it’s shocking when it becomes clear that something very bad is about to happen. Best of all is Brienne’s ever-watchful face; she knows long before he does that his usual cockiness and his powerful father can’t get him out of this one. Very eager to see how and when Brienne and Jaime eventually see their way clear.
In fact, the Brienne-Jaime scenes are so good that much of the rest of the hour suffered a little by comparison, even though by and large things are improving. The new dynamic developing between Daenerys and her two advisers is agreeably testy, and Clarke is doing a good job with Dany’s sense of determination and tact. Arya’s goodbye to Hot Pie and his apparently delectable brown bread is weirdly elongated considering we haven’t spent that much time with him, but it’s a nicely tender scene all the same. Most improved this week goes to dour old Robb, whose thorough bollocking of one of his military brass says a lot about how he views the North’s possible paths to victory – the paths that remain, that is.
But the most encouraging detail in “Walk of Punishment” actually comes seconds after Jaime’s agonizing screams stop: it’s when The Hold Steady’s take on “The Bear and the Maiden Fair” kicks in on the end credits. While I don’t think they were the best choice for this sort of rendition – Gogol Bordello, surely? – it’s so refreshing to see the show trying on a bit of formal playfulness. Hearing those power chords crash in after such a dark, horrific moment is simultaneously shocking and more than a little funny. If us viewers are to weather what must be a torrent of horrors to come, that lightness of touch may well come in handy.