Sometimes Game of Thrones can be masterful at capturing the meat of George R. R. Martin’s dense novels in a few key scenes. The opening of “Walk of Punishment” sums up the relationship of Edmure Tully and The Blackfish brilliantly in just minutes. After Edmure fails at shooting an arrow into his father’s floating coffin, his uncle gruffly lets one fly, throwing the bow at his nephew before his bullseye even hits its mark.
It’s a clever bit of humor, and it sets the tone for Robb Stark’s response to Edmund’s tactical error. The new Lord of Riverrun chased off The Hound’s troops rather than drawing them into the lands loyal to the King of the North. Rob may be winning his battles, but between his marriage to a foreign girl and his mother letting Jaime escape, things could be going better.
Things could be going better for his half-brother as well. Jon is living as a spy with the King Beyond the Wall, but seeing what’s become of the ranger’s horses, whose heads and legs have been arranged in an artistic spiral, he’s learning more about their common enemy, the White Walkers.
But no one is having a worse time than the other young man he grew up with. After being brutally tortured, he escapes, only to be knocked off his horse with a mace from one of his pursuers. He’s rescued by a mysterious man just as he’s about to be raped.
Jaime saves Brienne from that same fate with a little bit of sympathy and cunning. Unfortunately for him, he’s paid for his kindness by having his hand cut off. The screen fades to black as a jaunty version of the “The Bear and the Maiden Fair” by The Hold Steady serves as a disorienting contrast to Jaime’s final screams.
The shocking end is as affecting as it is because of his act of gallantry in stopping Brienne’s rape. It’s not that only bad things happen to good people in the world of Westeros—in this episode alone, the Hound and Theon have been brought low. But amid so much evil, we look to find redemption anywhere we can. Jaime is still the man who pushed Bran off the window ledge, but compared to people like his nephew or even his current captor, he’s worth rooting for. We enjoyed watching Brienne best him with a sword, but now he’s lost that sword hand.
And that’s part of what makes the show so compelling. Like The Walking Dead, everything is always at stake. There’s real tension because the protagonist of any scene never feels truly safe. The ripples of losing Eddard Stark in Season One are still felt by the audience. It’s not the brutality of the show we enjoy—it’s the suspense of not knowing when it’s coming. Every little victory, like Hot Pie’s return to a normal life baking bread, feels well-earned.