A shocking twist changes one character forever in "Walk of Punishment"
Credit: HBO

That ending! The chopping. The butchery. The hand. The scream. That crazy song! It all happened so fast. So awful. You’re jarred and disorientated as the credits roll — and that’s exactly how you were supposed to feel.

After the first two episodes set the stage, our season 3 story is now rolling. Non-book readers just got their first reveal of why this year is so eagerly anticipated. The stakes are high. The game is changing. So drag up a chair veeeery sloooowly and enjoy our recap that hopefully won’t read like a “Walk of Punishment.” We start with some Westeros funeral comedy.

Riverrun: Sometimes on a show where a lot of characters do fantastic things, it’s smart to show somebody totally clumsy with the devices that are so skillfully used by everybody else — like Catelyn’s poor brother Edmure trying to fire an arrow into a funeral pyre floating down the river. Robb, proving he’s not entirely a grim barbarian, cannot help but smirk. Catelyn, who is every stand-up comic’s nightmare audience, glares. Then again, this is her father in that canoe (which looks like it might have been crafted in Rivendell instead of Riverrun). Catelyn’s bad-ass uncle, Brynden the Blackfish, steps up and fires off an expert shot.

Inside the castle, Robb rips Edmure for mucking up his war plans. This exchange is a tad confusing for casual viewers since Robb refers to the Lannister leader he was trying to ensnare as a “mad dog.” He’s talking about the ginormous evil knight The Mountain, not his estranged and also-very-large brother, The Hound. “I could have had that head on a spike by now, instead I have a mill,” Robb laments. Personally, I would rather have a nice mill than a decapitated head on a spike, which is why it’s easier to shop for my birthday than Robb Stark’s.

King’s Landing: Tywin is waiting at the head of the table for the Small Council and…

Okay now Thrones producers are just showing off. It’s like they made a bet with themselves: If we have all six major characters in one room, can we create nearly two minutes of action that’s awesomely entertaining without relying on any dialogue, sex or fighting?

Here’s what happens: All the chairs except Tywin’s are lined up along the left side of the table (I wonder if Tywin purposely arranged them that way?). Varys, Littlefinger and Pycelle pause — they’re terrified of Tywin. Littlefinger leaps in front of Varys to get the chair to the master’s left. Varys takes the next one. And Pycelle, doing his fragile old man act, is content to have the third (pretending to be agreeable and nonthreatening is how Pycelle has survived all these regimes). Now Cersei’s turn. Instead of sitting several seats down from her father, she picks up a chair and carries it around the table and places it at her father’s right hand side — check.

Finally, Tyrion’s move. The remaining chair is the farthest from Tywin on the left. This seems to present a problem for Tyrion, both strategically and perhaps even physically given the weight of that chair if he is to retain his dignity.

What happens next is perfect. Tyrion tilts back the empty chair and slowly and obnoxiously drags it across the floor — sarcastically mocking the jockeying for position that has just transpired — and then places his chair at the opposing end of the table from Tywin, facing his father as an equal. Tyrion manages to ridicule what the others did while beating them at their own game — checkmate.

Hey, what’s another name for the ceremonial chair used by a head of state or a high dignitary?

That’s right.

These six characters just literally played a game of thrones. (I should now point out this episode is the directorial debut of one of the Thrones showrunners, David Benioff).

NEXT: Brienne and Jaime, bound for trouble

Back to the table: Littlefinger is going to The Vale to woo Catelyn’s neurotic sister Lysa (I wonder if Lord Robin is still breastfeeding? I bet he is!). With their marriage, Tywin hopes to erode support for Robb Stark on yet another front. Littlfefinger has no qualms about marrying nutty Lysa since he’ll get what he’s always wanted — true lordship status. Tywin gives Tyrion Littlefinger’s thankless accounting job, loftily titled Master of Coin. Cersei is delighted.

Road: The men from House Bolton who captured Jaime and Brienne are cheerfully singing the tavern hit “The Bear and Maiden Fair.” We will hear this song a second time in this episode but under very different circumstances. Last week the nice folks who captured Arya were singing the Lannister anthem “The Rains of Castamere,” which just goes to show that you can’t judge people by their choice of music.

Jaime and Brienne are bound on the back of a horse with a weave of ropes that would make Christian Grey proud. Jaime is upset about getting beaten by Brienne. In fact, the fight outcome seems to bother him more than getting double-captured. He’s making excuses (probably valid ones) for his lousy performance. This is so very Jaime — he wouldn’t have minded murdering Brienne, but can’t stand the thought of her thinking he’s a wuss. Brienne is insulting him right back when Jaime suddenly snaps their bantering groove by saying she’s going to get raped tonight by their captors. At first we think he’s trying to hurt her. But he advises her not to resist and we’re unsure — Is he trying to help? “Close your eyes pretend they’re Renly,” he snarks.

Tavern: Arya is reassured she’s a “guest,” not a prisoner, by Thoros. She spies The Hound being transported and boldly steps in front of him. One thing about Arya is she expects everybody to treat her as an equal despite her size. She demands to know if The Hound remembers the last time he was here. Her reason isn’t made clear, but I think it’s the same village where The Hound killed the butcher’s boy who befriended Arya during the first season.

Meanwhile, Hot Pie landed a new baking job, and made Arya some direwolf-shaped bread. He’s going to stay here. Arya and Gendry say a friendly goodbye, but Hot Pie apparently hasn’t earned a hug. Bye-bye Hot Pie, congratulations for getting out of this story alive, un-raped and with all your limbs!

The Fist: Mance and the Wildlings find where Jon Snow’s men were killed and possessed by the White Walkers. The deadites are now, I dunno, wandering around the prison or Woodbury. Horse parts are strewn about in an example of White Walker impressionism. Mance growls “always the artists.”

Mance gives an important order: With the Night’s Watchmen patrol dead or on the run, he orders Giantsbane to take a small team — including Jon Snow — and climb over The Wall (!). Then they are to attack Castle Black because, as Mance points out, it’s only designed to withstand an assault from one side. Luckily, the team can just stop off at an REI and get some climbing gear and … what? No REI? Curious to watch these guys try to climb a 700-foot ice wall.

NEXT: The return of Craster the Molester

Craster’s Keep: This guy again. Notice how grey and smoky and miserable his place looks. Craster gives shelter to the Lord Commander and the surviving Night’s Watch members. He’s a lousy host and the Night’s Watch are lousy guests. Everybody is miserable with this situation.

They hear screams and Craster says the screamer “can bite down on a rag or she can bite down on my fist — women!” Then, as if we don’t dislike Craster enough already, he suggests if the Lord Commander’s men are hungry they should eat Samwell, declaring, “He’s a walking feast!” Samwell looks scared, as if this possibility might have previously occurred to him.

Samwell goes wandering around outside, like, Hey, I wonder who’s all screaming in agony anyway? He finds his secret crush Gily all sweaty and birth-y and howling. He just kind of gawks at her, looking vaguely horrified. This is probably not the nicest way for a virgin like Sam to be introduced to a vagina. She has her baby and cries, “What is it?! What is it?!” — because, you’ll recall, Craster sacrifices boy-babies to the White Walkers while the girls enjoy a empowering life as one of his rape slaves. It’s the circle of life, Craster style.

Castle: The Boy releases tortured Theon as he promised. He gives him a horse and tells him to ride East, that his sister is waiting for him. Theon has never been so relieved. He promises the Boy a lordship in the Iron Islands (gee thanks, Theon, that’s like getting a timeshare in El Paso). Also, Theon didn’t even bother to get the Boy’s name. Oh Theon, all that torture still hasn’t made you a nice person.

Dragonstone: Melisandre is leaving. I’m okay with that. Her hair is pulled up and she looks much less witchy that way. She’s going on a mysterious mission. Stannis whines, “I want Joffrey dead … I want Robb Stark dead…” To accomplish this, he wants to make another demon baby. And why wouldn’t he? No feeding it, no changing it, no raising it — that smoky-ink thing just kills your enemies and vanishes. Who doesn’t want a demon baby? But Melisandre says the effort would kill him. She says she will find somebody else with royal blood to accomplish this task. Stannis doesn’t like this. He’s probably thinking: So you’re going to have sex with some other guy then?

Astapor: Back to Dany. Seems this city Astapor is so proud of its slave city status it has created a scenic attraction called The Walk of Punishment. This is where disobedient slaves are crucified for public display. And just look at that ocean view! Honey, go stand there next to the bloody slave with the dislocated shoulders, I want to get a photo. Dany, naturally, is horrified. This outdoor mall is soulless, depressing and blind to its own fundamental evil; just like the Universal CityWalk.

She tries to give one of the dying men water. He looks at her like: I don’t want this to last longer you idiot!

NEXT: Dragon auction!

Dany’s advisors have a debate about whether to buy the slave army.

“We can find soldiers in Pentos,” says Ser Barristan the Bold.

“Is it ‘we’ already?” replies Ser Jorah the Easily Threatened.

Jorah argues for the Unsullied — they’re not men, they won’t rape and pillage and lose control. “There’s a beast in every man and it stirs when you put a sword in his hands,” he intones. Ser Barristan argues against him, saying Dany needs men with true passion for their leader, not mindless slaves.

Later, Dany haggles with the slave master Kraznys. I really like her confidence in this scene. She wants all 8,000 unsullied AND the ones in training (pre baby-killing, presumably). “I will have all or take none,” she says, while we continue to have fun with subtitles as the slaver’s awesome translator spins phrases like “because I like the curve of her ass” into “because master is generous.”

Dany’s problem: Not enough money. So she says: “I have dragons. I’ll give you one.”

That gets Kraznys’ attention. He actually looks her in the eye and attempts to speak her language. They barter: “Three.” “One.” “Two.” “One.” Sold to the sleazy slaver!

Ser Barristan and Ser Jorah are incensed. “You’ll win the throne with dragons, not slaves!” Dany gives them a look — shuuuuut uuuup! Really, though, their protests can only help seal the deal — my manager is crazy, she’s practically giving you this shiny new dragon for free. Dany wants the slaver to give her the sexy translator too, which to Krazny is just like throwing in a couple free oil changes.

Outside, Dany scolds her advisers for protesting her decision in front of the slaver. This is her Vito Corleone moment (“Never tell anyone outside the family what you’re thinking”). Then she grills the translator about the Unsullied. Will they be as loyal to their new master as the slaver claimed? Dany also wants to make sure the translator really wants to join her team. She might go hungry, she might be killed, but hanging out with Dany is a major upgrade from serving Kraznys.

King’s Landing: After last week’s nudity-free hour, Thrones invents a reason for us to visit the brothel — that’s where Littlefinger keeps his financial ledgers, you see. Tyrion and Littlefinger have a casual chat about Tyrion taking over the Master of Coin (“Keep a low profile” Littlefinger snarks).

Tyrion decides to pay back his squire, Podrick, for saving his life last season by giving the boy his favorite kind of gift — whores galore! Podrick is taken to a room where prostitutes pop out of the walls when their names are spoken aloud. One of the girls can even perform a “Meereenese Knot” (that’s apparently Thrones-speak for what yoga practitioners call a version of the King Pigeon Pose; If any yoga teachers are reading this, try using “Meereenese Knot” in class, it sounds cooler anyway). Podrick wasn’t expecting this gift and I can’t help but wonder: Wouldn’t the brothel offer him a bath first? The presumed lack of hygiene in this fantasy world grosses me out. “Pace yourself lad,” Bronn advises helpfully.

Later, Podrick mystifies Tyrion and Bronn by revealing the girls had such a great time with him that they refused to take his money. The men want all the details, wondering if they have a Dirk Diggler in their midst.

NEXT: A farewell to arms

Theon Woods: Theon’s freedom is interrupted by an arrow fired over his head. The mysterious torturers are back! They chase him into the forest and we’re treated to a horse chase. Theon eventually takes a mace to the chest. The lead torturer reveals what they do with runaways: “I’m gonna f–k you into the dirt,” he says. Lot of rape threats in this episode. Also: Again, super unhygienic.

Just as the torturer is about to, as Margaery would say, do “something unnatural that couldn’t possibly result in children” to Theon, the Boy comes to his rescue. Theon’s attackers are killed. “You little bastard,” says one before dying. The Boy helps Theon to his feet, doesn’t rape him and off they go.

Jaime and Brienne Woods: Locke and his men come for Brienne. She’s apparently decided to resist — she screams and struggles as they carry her off. “You know who she is don’t you?” Jaime says idly to Locke (yes, book readers, the character’s name was apparently changed, at least for now). Jaime explains that Brienne is from “the sapphire isle” and her father would pay her weight in gemstones — which is quite a lot — to see her returned “unbesmirched.” Jaime then explains “unbesmirched” means “not defiled.” Being condescending is a huge mistake for Jaime to make with Locke, but he doesn’t realize the type of man he’s dealing with yet.

Jamie’s manipulation works and Locke releases Brienne. It’s odd that Jaime is helping her. Perhaps Brienne beating him at sword-fighting has stirred up some inkling of respect for her, or perhaps since she’s no longer the one holding him captive it frees him to like her, or maybe he even feels guilty for getting her captured. With Jaime, it’s rarely easy to understand his motivations.

Flush with his success from manipulating Locke once, Jaime goes for twice — dangling his own father’s wealth in exchange for his freedom. Then he tries to play Locke three times — attempting to convince him to unlock his chains. He’s pushing for too much, too fast, and thinking Locke is stupid. And he’s right — Locke is stupid. But he’s not that stupid. And apparently, he’s got a complex about the wealthy 2 Percent.

They take Jaime to a tree stump and throw him over it. “You think you’re the smartest man there is,” Locke says. “You’re nothing without your daddy and your daddy ain’t here.” I wondered: If Jaime had only said something to Locke in this moment, some agreement, something submissive, to mollify him, instead of remaining proudly silent, would it have changed the outcome?

For a moment, we think he’s going to release Jaime unharmed. Even knowing how this scene has to end from reading the books, it still fooled me for a second. Then Locke brings the knife down. It’s awful. Jaime is shocked for a beat then screams wildly. And we smash-cut to The Hold Steady playing “The Bear and Maiden Fair.”

BEST SCENE: I loved Dany’s negotiation with the slaver, and Jaime’s final scene with Locke was really well done. But the two-minute Small Council pantomime was so funny and original that it must win.

BEST LINE: Nothing really jumped out this week. The Ser Jorah “beast in every man” line was pretty good. Maybe I missed something better? Tell me your suggestions in the comments and I’ll pick one and update this slot tomorrow morning. Otherwise I’ll probably go with Tyrion’s chair screech. Update: Looks like the most popular one in the comments is Dany’s spin on Eowyn’s line in LOTR: “Yes, all men must die … but we are not men.”

Check out our interview with Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Thrones producers about the hand-chopping scene — they explain why they used the song and tease Jaime’s reaction to losing his sword hand.

Next week is…. I don’t want to get your expectations too high but…. there is some great stuff. In fact, episode 4 has arguably the best scene this show has ever staged. I’ve literally watched this one sequence six times. In the meantime, I feel guilty about this week’s recap only being five pages long. As penance for my sin, I’m driving to Universal to take the CityWalk of Punishment, forcing myself to navigate the throngs of tourists, eat at Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. and browse at Hot Topic. But you don’t have to suffer with me. You can sound off below and reveal what you thought of this week’s Thrones.

Episode Recaps

Game of Thrones

HBO's epic fantasy drama based on George R.R. Martin's novel series A Song of Ice and Fire.

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