This review includes a show-only discussion of Game of Thrones through season four, episode six, “The Laws of Gods and Men.” No book spoilers in the comments — we’ll have another thread for that. Beyond that, please feel free to discuss.
You have to hand it to the writers of Game of Thrones — most notably this week’s episode scribe Bryan Cogman, who serves as the show’s story editor — they have done a masterful job of throwing three seasons of working formula out the window and delivered a sneaky, slithery, brilliantly gut-punchy fourth season. If season four has accomplished any one thing by this, its sixth episode, it has been limiting the waiting game. It’s not about one big ninth episode this year. Each frame of season four has given the audience some pause, and a reason to discuss at length.
This week is no exception.
This week’s big moment comes well into the episode, half of which is spent at King’s Landing for the trial of Tyrion Lannister. It almost looked like things were going to work out for our favorite imp, didn’t it? By the time Jaime Lannister stood at his brother’s side, telling him to plead guilty and ask for mercy, it would have been easy to have a bit of comfort with the situation. We’ve seen Tyrion in this position before, during season one, when Catelyn Stark and her sister Loco Lysa had him on trial for commissioning the attack on Bran Stark. He slipped away then (for good reason, as he was actually innocent), so of course he’s going to find a way to get out of this one, right? For a show that hasn’t left us with many heroes upon which to hang our hopes, surely things won’t go badly for Peter Dinklage…
Of course, to believe such things is to not have been paying attention. Several episode ago we watched Tyrion do something very painful in sending Shae away. It took every mean (decidedly Lannister) bone in his body to berate her in a way that would finally get her to safety, on board a ship headed for Pentos. She never saw it, but the audience watched his pain after she was escorted from the room. It was hard, but it was the right choice.
What do we say to the god of doing the right thing? We should say “not today,” because this is where it got us. Tyrion’s once adoring Shae shows up as the final blow in a trial scene that shows us he’s dealing with someone far more cunning than Lady Cat (R.I.P.) and Loco Lysa. His father and his sister are not the Tully girls and they aren’t playing to lose, no matter how many oaths Jaime swears with his Brienne-inspired honor.
So there she was, Shae the Whore (thanks for clarifying with your one line of consequence, Mace Tyrell, you tool). Tyrion’s achilles heal has always been his bigger-than-expected heart, a trait that allowed him to truly care deeply for Shae. And regardless of whether or not she felt the same, he tried to protect her. And like Ned Stark and his attempt to protect decency in Westeros, it didn’t end well.
The difference, of course, is that Tyrion is sharp enough to get in a parting shot. “I didn’t kill Joffrey, but I wish I had,” he tirades, exhausting all the pent-up frustration he’s had with the hypocritical people of King’s Landing (and most of all his immediate family) all the way up to pointing out that he should have let Stannis just kill them all at Blackwater. Then as his final mic drop, he goes back to his roots of sliding out of trouble: trial by combat.
Thank you, episode six, the shock of Shae’s part in the trial and the pain of watching Tyrion’s grasp on hope slip away wasn’t enough. Now we have to deal with the possibility of him dying horribly and publicly. Are you not entertained, audience?
One thing that would have been entertaining: watching Theon’s very angry (and somewhat scary) sister carving up Ramsay Bolton for what he did to the Ironborn Prince. Unfortunately that didn’t play out so cleanly, as most things in Westeros are wont to do. It’s perhaps the episode’s only weakness. Thanks to the back half of the episode focusing on the magnetic trial scene, we almost don’t have enough time to process the problems with the botched Theon rescue. Why didn’t Yara and her remaining men take down Ramsay? What’s so scary about a few dogs if you are a supposedly fierce warrior? And if the dogs chased them away, why weren’t the dogs still chasing them to the ships? It all seemed like an excuse to give Yara (played menacingly by Gemma Whelan) something to do. And to give precursor to the scene in which Reek expresses his love for Ramsay right before being pawned up as a Theon decoy. One hopes that this storyline pays off, because otherwise it’s just sort of kicking us in the balls. Not Theon’s balls, obviously.
Elsewhere — did I mention that things happened elsewhere? — brilliant character actor and Sherlock fan favorite Mark Gatiss showed up as a rep for the Iron Bank of Braavos. And Braavos itself showed up to prove to us that Game of Thrones has way more money this year. Between the shot of the warrior statue and the sprawling city of Braavos and the shot of Dany’s dragon ordering fried sheep to-go, the CGI budget has obviously been cranked up to eleven. That should pay off nicely if Mance Rayder and his army ever make it to The Wall for that massive battle we’ve been promised.
On the whole, it was nice to see Game of Thrones go back to the very basic human suffering of it all. Over the past few weeks we’ve been talking a lot about the supernatural and mystical elements of the show, wondering if these would become more and more prevalent as the show rumbles forward. This week saw scheming, bank loans, double-crossed lovers, the daunting task of actually ruling (about which Danaerys seems overjoyed), law and order, maimed and disfigured men, bad pirate jokes, the list goes on. This show has always been excellent at getting the more mundane human moments right.
It’s what allows this episode to develop, then absolutely nail its theme. It’s all about broken people trying to get what they desire. In the case of Reek, it’s not being tortured, even if that means pushing away his sister’s rescue. For Ser Davos (who is really the reason anyone is rooting for Stannis at this point), it’s finding a way to fund a war for a king he truly believes is the right man for the job, even if that means whipping out his stumpy hand for some foreign bankers. For Varys, it’s using his lack of physical desires to focus on what he really wants, which appears to be similar to Littlefinger’s desire: everything. And for Tyrion, it means finally fighting back against the years of torment that he’s endured for being different.
How many of these men will lose more body parts before the end of the season remains to be seen. But it is great to see them putting up a fight.
Some Final (Spoiler-Free) Notes:
– The persistence of exposure was a nice touch in this episode. Each of the broken characters, at some point, exposed their disfigurement — Theon removing his pants, Davos his glove and Tyrion his broken heart. For a much better explanation of this and GoT’s flesh fascination, here’s a great Vanity Fair article from Joanna Robinson.
– Tyrion’s line to Cersei (“Watching your vicious bastard die gave me more relief than a thousand lying whores.”) might be his parting shot in the war of words with his sister, and what a shot it was. He just said what we were all thinking.
– Mace Tyrell is a complete tool. I find joy in this.
– Having Prince Oberyn on the panel of judges (and in small council meetings) is something the show should have had from moment one. Seriously, I’d have that guy’s ninth daughter (don’t judge me, I’d figure it out).
– I’ll save the full brunt of this analysis for my spoiler article (coming tomorrow — no, really), but it’s nice to see the noble Hizdahr zo Loraq officially introduced to Danaerys. He just wants to bury his dad — but is that all? One hopes that the introduction of new characters into Dany’s story will help stave off the utter boredom of having her making policy decisions all day. Unless they keep showing the dragons, then we’re good.
– Are we sure this whole thing hasn’t been a distraction from the real Littlefinger v. Varys fight for actual power in Westeros?