Game of Thrones is about as unforgivingly dark as they come. It's a show built around a long-lasting, bloody conflict, one that claims the lives of many characters we grow to know and love. It's not guaranteed that it will end happily for anyone involved -- including the audience. But I'll be damned if Sunday night's "Walk of Punishment" wasn't one of the funnier episodes of television I've seen all year.
It's hard to explain how this episode came to be such a tonal oddity -- it was written and directed by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, the two guys in charge of running the series. And it featured some pretty dark stuff (I counted two rape threats, a long line of dying slaves, and one behanding) -- but somehow, the episode as a whole felt like a lighthearted excursion. Whether that was to soften the episode's really harsh content or to make the season's inevitable descent into darkness even more of a gut-punch, it's hard to tell.
But for now we'll take the good humor, and there was plenty of it here. The slaver in Astapor continues to make us chuckle with his subtitles -- or is it Missandei's reactions to her master's insults that make his crudeness so funny? By the way, if he honestly thinks that Daenerys is going to give him Drogon, he's just an idiot. The same goes for Jorah and Barristan, whose competitive dynamic is beginning to get so tiresome already that I'm ready for one of them to just go ahead and kill the other or something.
If we're talking about comedy, it's impossible to leave out the introduction of Brynden "Blackfish" Tully, whose introduction at the start of this episode set the tone for the rest of the episode's dark hilarity. His relative's inability to light his brother's funeral pyre proved too frustrating for Catelyn's uncle, and he stepped up and did the damn thing himself. For fans of the series unwilling to learn any new character names, though, you're more than welcome to call the Blackfish "Old Bronn" instead. Because, let's face it, he's pretty much an older Bronn.
Speaking of Bronn, back at King's Landing he's still assisting Tyrion -- this time with getting Tyrion's squire Podrick laid. Perhaps in a move to fulfill the show's nudity quota, Tyrion provides Pod with several high-end prostitutes to thank him for saving Tyrion's life in "Blackwater." When Pod showed up later with a bag of money -- apparently he was so good the prostitutes gave him his money back -- it seemed odd that the series would spend an entire scene for that one joke. But then you think about it, and it turns out to be some rather subtle character-building for Tyrion. Considering the impossibility that the prostitutes would work for free (especially considering that the work for Littlefinger) -- and also considering the extreme unlikelihood that Pod was that good -- this means that Tyrion arranged for the refund, probably to boost Podrick's confidence. As strange as it is, it's probably one of the best character bits of the episode -- not only does it remind us that Tyrion is an incredibly decent person, but it also reminds us of Tyrion's own past with prostitutes (the horror story of his first sexual encounter has been recounted a couple of times). Tyrion's heartfelt work to make sure that Pod's first time was a highly positive one was illustrated comedically, but was also imbued with an interesting dramatic gravitas.
Another perfect moment of Tyrion comedy: the meeting with his father. Littlefinger raced to get the seat closest to Tywin, while the rest filed in. Cersei dragged a chair over to sit at her father's right hand, smiling smugly the entire time. But it was Tyrion who chose best, dragging a chair painstakingly around to sit opposite his father, essentially placing himself as his father's equal. It didn't sit well with his dad, but hey, what does?
But the episode's darkest moment of comedy came right at the very end, when Jaime's hand was suddenly chopped off. There's no denying how horrific the moment is, made even more horrifying by how long it took him to realize that his hand was gone (the glimpse of bone we got was also pretty viscerally disturbing as well). But just as his howls of pain brought the screen to black, the credits entered with a rollicking cover of ribald tune "The Bear and Maiden Fair" by the Hold Steady, completely undercutting the horror. It was a creative choice that bordered on campiness, but the juxtaposition of comedy and violence perhaps made an interesting statement about the prevalence of violence in Westerosi culture -- its presence doesn't detract from the comedic aspects of the world, or vice versa.
Or maybe they were just trying to cheer us up. A-