Friday, January 8, 2016

Game of Thrones Season Three Episode 303 “Walk of Punishment”

Contrast, Character Changes, and Dark Comedy

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(Spoilers below for the third episode of Game of Thrones season three).

Walk of Punishment is a fitting title for an episode that features many of the characters facing a lot of punishment for previously made decisions by that character or other characters in the show.  Of course this happens in almost every episode of Game of Thrones, so that really isn’t a new idea.

What ends up driving this episode is the use of contrast between suffering and comedy, and the changing personalities of the major characters, which contrasts with how they acted in previous episodes. The contrast of two opposite ideas and states of emotion serve to create a lot emotional ambiguity for certain characters as well as empathy for others.

This episode is a very dark comedy of sorts, and it is the first time the show explores that style in an extended format.  Walk of Punishment easily features the most comedic scenes ever put into a single episode of Game of Thrones.  However, in this same episode, these comedic scenes are contrasted with scenes of intense brutality, such as the line of slowly dieing crucified slaves, the two attempted gang rapes, the permanent mutilation of a major character, and the dismemberment of a lot of horses.



Contrast appears to be the unifying idea in this episode, and this idea is most apparent in the tone.  Scenes of awkward humor are immediately contrasted by scenes of horrible violence, suffering, disgrace, and danger.  Sometimes they are juxtaposed together in the same scene.

Contrast also serves to show the changing attitudes of the major characters (and locations too) in the show.  Characters that viewers absolutely hated through seasons one and two, have now become harder to hate in season three, while the characters that have functioned as protagonists begin to say and make more questionable decisions.

In tone and in character development, Walk of Punishment slides through a wide range of emotions that has viewers being left in a disheveled emotional state (that’s a good thing).  The wide range of emotions is achieved through the display of suffering and the very contrasting light-hearted situational humor.


Dark Comedy and The Riverlands

The dark comedy tone begins the episode with the newly introduced Edmure Tully, who is trying to to torch his father’s funeral boat.  It’s a Riverlands custom, and Edmure has a position of honor in this custom, but he fails to properly send his father off, and his uncle has to perform the task for him.  Edmure’s failure to do the service is of course not only performed in front of his uncle but his sister, king, and presumably other nobles from Riverrun’s territory.  The comedy of Edmure’s missing the boat meets the dreary idea of Edmure’s shame and embarrassment.  They are juxtaposed against one another invoking both pity and humor.

With this scene we learn that Edmure is a man who means to do right, but he is also a screw up.  This point is reiterated a short while later when it’s revealed Edmure had made a huge tactical error in capturing a mill, but allowed Gregor Clegane to escape a trap Robb had set up for him (another scene that is tense, but awkwardly humorous with Edmure’s feeble arguments).

This confrontation between Robb and Edmure also shows some newly developing character traits with Robb Stark.  Gone is the calm, collected, and youthful Robb in seasons one and two.  Season three Robb is angry, frustrated, and out of patience.  He is also no longer a boy, as viewers get a glimpse into his mind, and see his ability to strategize militarily.  The look on Edmure’s face as he feels the brunt brutality of Robb’s verbal onslaught makes you pity the man even more.  Robb’s harsh words even have Edmure’s hard uncle, the Blackfish, cautioning Robb about patience at the end of his tirade.  The contrast of Robb’s character from this episode, to his character in the previous seasons show viewers that a new Robb may be emerging.  Robb only vented his anger on his enemies, and now in season three we are starting to see him vent on his supporters and his mother, traits that will undoubtedly make him a less likeable character.

Arya who is near the Riverlands with the Brotherhood Without Banners says good bye to Hot Pie in a sad but awkwardly funny scene (…more contrast).  The wolf bread Hot Pie makes is the last bit of comic relief he will be presumably offering Arya in the near future.  More importantly with the comic relief character being removed from her storyline, it’s fair to predict that some dark events may be in store for Arya’s future.  The humorous ending to this relationship is a contrast to all the previous storylines between these two characters that featured a near endless amount of suffering.

A final scene in the Riverlands that is full of contrasts is the first scene in the episode with Jaime and Brienne, who are riding on a horse tied up together with Locke and his men.  The scene’s opening sequence is very unique, as it begins with Locke and all of his men singing The Bear and the Maiden Fair.  The reaction from viewers to this should be some form of cathartic shock.

Song is an important part of Martin’s fantasy series, it’s very important to the genre of fantasy, and it’s historically been important for improving morale, which is desperately needed in times of war.  However, the show which has done very little with songs, other than performing the Rains of Castamere at this point, introduces us to this song. The new song helps to contrast this scene with previous scenes of war in the show that depict the suffering that comes with warfare.  Morale would appear to be high with Locke’s men as they have caught a prize bounty in Jaime Lannister.

The dialogue between Jaime and Brienne begins in a manner that was similar to how they made fun of each other in the previous episode.  However, their dialogue which initially begins with Brienne making fun of Jaime for losing the fight on the bridge to her (which is funny), turns into Jaime reminding her not to resist when she will more than likely be raped by their captors later in the night (which is scary).  The juxtaposition of the idea of a woman beating a man in a sword fight, with the cruel treatment of women prisoners serves to underscore the idea of contrast that is being emphasized over and over again in the episode.


Dark Comedy and Kings Landing

Kings Landing offers up a very formal, but comic, meeting between Tywin Lannister and the Small Council.  A number of humorous nuances make their appearance in this scene, such as the plain fear of Tywin on the faces of Littlefinger, Varys, and Pycelle and the chair moving sequence with Cersei and Tyrion.  The purpose of this scene is two fold: we see how every character on the Small Council has changed their personality to meet Tywin Lannister’s, and we see how different the political climate in Kings Landing is after the end of the second season.

A lot of the Kings Landing scenes in this episode serve the purpose of showing viewers the change in the Kings Landing atmosphere.  In season two, Kings Landing was in chaos because the city was being threatened by a massive invading army.  Small Council meetings in season two discussed the threat of war, closing the gates to starving peasants, and saving the people in the city from a sack by Stannis’s army.  In season three, the Small Council discusses using Littlefinger to bed Lysa Arryn to bring her back into the Lannister’s empire, and they discuss making Tyrion the new Master of Coin.  With the threat of direct war from Kings Landing removed, the Small Council appears to be dealing, with “an our world analogy,” first world problems now.

To further emphasize the lack of war related hazards in Kings Landing, the episode adds in a number of additional scenes with Kings Landing characters having humorous discussions.  Tyrion and Littlefinger make fun of the little (direct) power that the Master of Coin has, Pod is repaid for saving Tyrion’s life by being treated to a night with three expensive whores, and Tyrion and Bronn have a long discussion about the concept of borrowing money and (once Pod returns) how good Pod supposedly might be in bed?  All of these scenes are light-hearted and serve to contrast Kings Landing with the war torn parts of Westeros that are suffering greatly.  The difference between places in war with places in peace are as different as night and day.


Dark Comedy in Astapor

The scenes featuring Daenerys in this episode are among the episode’s darkest.  The Walk of Punishment refers to the crucifixion of slaves in Astapor for disobedience and serves as a reminder of the cruelties of slavery.

This walk of punishment scene is contrasted with the very darkly humored scene where Daenerys haggles with Master Grazen and Missandei to buy the Unsullied slave army.  Grazen’s blatant disrespect for Daenerys and women in general is not funny, but Missandei’s trying to smooth over his cruel remarks with her translations is.  Again the show utilizes another juxtaposition between cruelty and humor.


Contrast and Character Changes

A number of characters are undergoing radical character developments in this season, especially when compared to previous seasons.  Some of these character changes have previously been explored this season, for example: Robb and Tyrion.  Robb’s character has shifted from calm and collected to frustrated and impatient.  Tyrion has gone from powerful player to insignificant pawn.  In this episode many other characters are now in situations where they will need to change, or appear to be in the process of changing.

Samwell Tarly is no longer the comic relief for Jon Snow’s story arch, he is now a character who is being forced to survive by himself.  Sam hasn’t made a full fledged character change yet, but the situation that the Night’s Watch has been in thus far this season has clearly indicated that Sam will have to find his courage and his will to live if he is going to survive.  He cannot depend on Jon Snow to save him any more.

By the end of season two Theon Greyjoy had become one of the most hated characters on the show with his betrayal of the Starks and his cruel sacking of Winterfell.  In the final episode of the second season a conversation between Theon and Maester Luwin offers an explanation for Theon’s betrayal (and some sympathy for his character), but it never justifies his actions.  Many people watching the show have been eagerly awaiting Theon to be killed for his actions (preferably by Robb if possible).

In season three, Theon has been brutally tortured without explanation, and in this episode he was nearly gang raped.  The brutality of Theon’s treatment this season, combined with his confession last season, is starting to gain one of the most hated characters in the show some sympathy.  Whether this will change Theon’s personality is yet to be seen, but an opening for change has been put forward, and it offers to potentially create a great contrast in the personality of Theon from season two to Theon from season three. A wide range of different interpretations and emotions are being quickly thrown at viewers regarding his character, and this certainly makes him more compelling to watch.
No character though underwent more significant changes in this episode than Jaime Lannister.

Jaime’s clever thinking in the final scene of the episode saves Brienne from being gang raped.  It also provided Jaime with his first altruistic moment on this show, and his actions show he is capable of genuine compassion, since he gains absolutely nothing by saving Brienne.  His actions can even be looked at as a form of sacrifice, since Locke is unable to get his fill of violence in with Brienne, he arguably takes it out on Jaime by cutting his hand off.

Jaime in the previous seasons had been frequently referred to as dishonorable.  He performed his most notorious act of betrayal by killing the king he was sworn to protect, which culminated in his earning the nickname, Kingslayer.  Jaime’s actions here put forward a lot of potential questions about the true nature of his character, and they directly contrast with all the previous actions that are associated with him.

Jaime even garners more sympathy when Locke viciously cuts off Jaime’s hand for no good reason.  Arguably the greatest living swordsmen in Westeros, Jaime Lannister has just lost his most valuable asset, his sword hand.  The brutality and significance of this attack will now force Jaime to change his character if he wishes to survive (which puts him in the same boat as Sam).  Jaime who has mostly accomplished what he wanted in life up to this point, did so through force.  He will have to either learn how to fight left handed or adopt a new strategy if wishes to survive in the brutal world of Westeros.


Contrast as an Emotional Statement

Up until this point, contrast of emotions has never had a wider range on Game of Thrones or been emphasized this much on any particular episode.  The use of contrast has viewers for the first time feeling sympathy for two of the show’s primary antagonists up until this point, Jaime Lannister and Theon Greyjoy, as scenes in this episode garner sympathy for them rather than hatred like in previous seasons.

Contrast is also being used to show the growth and change of characters that have been previously established on the show, and it is being used to show the difference between the war ravaged Riverlands and the now relatively stable Kings Landing. The use of contrast allows the show to confuse many of the emotions that can be felt by viewers during an episode.  In short, the show is serving viewers up with a lot of emotional ambiguity, allowing a myriad of interpretations about the show to be brought forward.

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