Fair warning: Major, character-arc-defining spoilers ahead.
In years to come, if we talk about ‘Walk of Punishment,’ we’re going to talk about two scenes: The Small Council Meeting and the Jaime’s “be-handing.” The former coming early in the episode and the latter serving as the final shocking scene, they stand as brilliant bookends. Each is as well-written and impactful as the other, and their contrasts illustrate the wildly different aspects and strengths of the show. The rest of the episode was solid, as always, but I can’t help but focus on these two finely-crafted set pieces.
The Small Council Meeting, or more specifically the dialogue-free bit at the beginning, is an example of a scene born in the writers’ room. Taking inspiration from the books and using the writers’ intricate knowledge of the characters created by G.R.R. Martin, they bring those characters to full life and with maximum comic effect. As explained by showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss in the featurette at the end of the episode, the reaction of each council member to Tywin’s manipulatively-arranged table perfectly encapulates each character: Littlefinger’s quick reflexes and selfish ambition; Varys’ practiced nonchalance; The weary but tenacious Pycelle; Bold but somewhat desperate Cersei. The star of the scene, of course, is Tyrion who drags his chair, making as much of a racket as possible, in order to claim the seat at the opposite end of the table to his father. Not only does he seat himself as far from Tywin as possible, he puts himself at the other head of the table, indicating that he even sees himself as his father’s equal, in intellect if not in power.
Occasionally this show can be utterly hilarious, and this is one of the funniest scenes I can remember. Free of dialogue, we are told so much through the actors’ facial expressions and perfectly pitched foley effects. Tyrion’s moment of rebellious triumph is short lived, however, as Tywin announces his intention to promote Tyrion to Master of Coin upon Littlefinger’s trip to the Eyrie. Defiant though Tyrion may be, he is constantly reminded who is in charge. The fact that what is effectively the role of Treasurer will become the most difficult and thankless job in King’s Landing due to the impending royal wedding does not go unnoticed, and we see Littlefinger and Cersei’s poorly concealed smug smiles, snickering at Tyrion’s expense. The scene begins with Tyrion’s refusal to be manipulated by Tywin, and ends with him nevertheless bullied back into submission.
The scene with Jaime which ends the episode is, on the contrary, a classic Martin scene lifted straight from the book. As David and Dan again noted, it is every bit as shocking as the loss of Ned Stark’s head. The character, in one swift motion, is robbed of the one and only remaining bit of skill and dignity left to him, but (unlike Ned) is left alive to suffer the consequences. I couldn’t remember from my reading of Storm of Swords if Jaime lost his hand this early in the story, and so I wasn’t quite sure at first that they were going to go there. When the bandit pushed Jaime onto the the log, stepping on his right hand, I wondered whether we were simply getting a bit of foreshadowing: That it would be a long, slow tease to the loss of Jaime’s self-value. Therefore, when the cleaver landed, I was able to experience some of the same shock as viewers who haven’t read ahead. Somehow, the show manages to make those memorable plot twists new and shocking even for book fans, and that’s a hard thing to accomplish in an adaptation.
I, for one, also really liked the Irish Punk rendition of “The Bear and the Maiden Fair” which played over the end credits. Much as the haunting arrangement 0f “The Rains of Castamere” served as a fitting and eerie elegy to the end of “Blackwater Bay,” I found the cut from Jaime’s shock and horror to the raucus electrics and shouty vocals perfectly fitting for the scene. It gave me permission to laugh, not at Jaime but at Martin’s sheer audacity as a storyteller. Jaime, already a fascinting character and well played with rakish and icky charm by Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, is about to become even more fascinating for the simple fact that what he values most has been stripped away. Like the Starks’ loss of their patriarch and their home, and Dany’s loss of her beloved Drogo, this loss will only make Jaime more interesting and more important to the story.
Put together, these two scenes exemplify how successfully adapted this show is proving. It’s by no means perfect (the scene in the brothel with Pod and the contortionist was pretty tasteless, even by HBO’s standards) but I’m astonished by David and Dan’s ability to wrestle these mammoth books into tight, well-crafted episodes. Previously thought “unfilmable” simply due to its length and complexity, season 3 is proving that A Song of Ice and Fire works wonderfully on screen.