The world of Westeros is a cold, harsh, heartless place, full of unimaginable violence and unspeakable horrors. You sometimes feel as gaunt as Stannis after watching the merciless misery of it all. But Walk of Punishment, the first episode to be directed by lead writers David Benioff and D.B Weiss, was surprisingly full of many light-hearted and comic moments.
There were an awful lot of characters crammed into this week's episode, but somehow each managed to have room to breathe. The comedic moments not only inspired greater empathy for these characters in the show, but also meant that the shockingly violent finale catches us completely off guard.
The sombre funeral of Catelyn's father that opens the episode is disrupted by Edmure Tully's comically inept archery as the body of his father gently flows out of range down the river. Stepping in to save the day is Brynden Tully, the Blackfish. The funny scene is a great introduction to these two new characters, immediately telling us details of their personalities. Whilst Edmure is cocky and naive, Brynden is seasoned and astute.
Robb tears in to Catelyn's brother for driving away Gregor Clegane, explaining how his actions have derailed his clever strategy to lure the Mountain in to the Stark's trap, and that when it comes to war, "It's not about glory". The King in the North shows himself to have a shrewd mind when it comes to war, but so far the actions of the Tully's around him are ruining his plans.
The young Stark has already become the stuff of legend when captured boy Martin Lannister asks Talisa if he can turn in to a wolf at night. But he'll need more than these legends if his rebellion against King's Landing is to succeed.
But the capital of the Seven Kingdoms has its own problems to deal with right now, namely a severe lack of money. With Littlefinger being sent off to the Vale in a bid to bring House Arryn into an alliance with the Lannister's and Tyrells, Tyrion is shocked to discover he is the new Master of Coin. Not happy with his new role he dryly observes, "I'm quite good at spending money, but a lifetime of outrageous wealth hasn't taught me much about managing it".
He discovers his predecessor magically conjured money for the city through excessive borrowing, leaving the Seven Kingdoms in severe debt to the Iron Bank of Bravos. Don't expect a bailout from them either, as Tyrion notes that, "One way of another, they always get their gold". A Lannister might always pays his debts, but can the Seven Kingdoms?
One debt that is paid by Tyrion is to Pod, the meek page boy who saved his life at the battle of the Blackwater. Unfortunately he is repaid in the most unbelievably unnecessary way imaginable, taken to a brothel where a gaggle of gratuitously naked girls lie in wait. It shows little faith in the viewer to have scenes such as this turn up again and again and revealed nothing about Pod other than he's a dark horse in the bedroom.
In the frozen wastes of the north there now seems a race between the Night's Watch and the wildlings to get back to the wall first. Only the Grand National could serve up as many dead horses as the slaughter seen at the fists of the first men. Mance Rayder decides the time has finally come to leave the desolate tundra and march his mass army of wildlings to the wall.
The Night's Watch are also moving as fast as they can southwards, seeking shelter once more at Craster's keep. Poor Sam has to endure being compared to a pig and called, a "walking feast" by a host even less hospitable than he was before.
The place is filled with the sound of screams as they arrive whilst Gilly is giving birth to her baby. A terrifically bleak scene, we see the pained reactions on Gilly and Sam's faces as they recognise the baby is a boy, and therefore another infant due to be sacrificed by Craster to the white walkers.
Playing the Game
Daenerys is certainly playing a dangerous game in Astapor by telling the lead slaver she is willing to part with one of her dragons to acquire an army of Unsullied. Despite the protestations of both Jorah and Ser Barristan, she is adamant that this deal must be done as she needs the army.
Could there be more to this agreement than meets the eye? Daenerys asks for slave girl and assistant Missandei as an immediate gift in the deal. A new companion who she can confide in, Daenerys lets her know, "All men must die, but we are not men".
Jaime showed compassion for the first time as he saved Brienne from being raped by the Bolton men. His warnings about resisting any advances are rebuffed by the stubborn swordswoman and she is soon being carried off to the woods for an unfortunate end.
Jaime talks Locke out of harming Brienne, but overplaying his hand when boldly asking to be released, he promptly loses it as it's hacked it off in one vicious blow. After a relatively light-hearted and bloodless episode, the violent scene is completely shocking and disorientating.
Despite this gruesome finale, the episode was littered with many humorous moments that all helped to enliven the characters.
When we see the meeting of the Hand of the King, it's great to see first Cersei move her chair beside her father, cementing her position of power, before Tyrion moves his own chair to the other end of the table.
A great visual gag, but it also serves to showcase not only the competition felt between father and son Lannister, both taking the most privileged positions, but also the great gap between the two of them after the caustic manner in which Tywin has treated Tyrion.
Even funnier was Arya's exchange with Hot Pie, as the kitchen cook decides to stay behind at the inn rather than continue with her and Gendry. Making the malapropism of calling the Stark castle "Winter-hell", there is an incredibly sweet moment between the two as he gives Arya a piece of bread shaped like a wolf as a parting gift, despite not really knowing what the animal looks like.
The crude cookie might raise laughs, but it highlights the disparity between those of humble origin and the lords and ladies that make up most of the show. Farewell Hot Pie, let's hope we see you again soon.