Published on May 13th, 2014 | by Bean0
Game of Thrones – Season 4 – Episode 6 – “The Laws of Gods and Men”
Season 4 is turning out to be just the roller-coaster show-runners Benioff and Weisz promised. If the assassination of Joffrey was the catalyst to start spinning the Lannister wheel off it’s axis, tonight’s Trial of Tyrion sees it come right off and careen into the baying crowds. After two episodes of less exhilarating but necessary narrative development, “The Laws of Gods and Men” begins in a similar fashion, with a trip to the bank.
Stannis’ dour expression and petulant attitude in the Iron Bank of Braavos does not bode well – has the man never asked for a loan before? – which gives Ser Davos another opportunity to show his worth as a Hand to this ‘King’. I gave a little squeal of delight upon hearing the dulcet tones of Mark Gatiss, (I couldn’t make him out through the murky lighting) and his easy portrayal of a nameless bank manager wielding his power and logic judiciously is given further gravity by Tyrion’s description of such resolute officials in last week’s money-chat with Cersei.
Alas, Stannis cannot bend, and his sneering superiority is an embarrassingly bald tactic, since it is entirely lacking in weight. His story of righteous authority falls on deaf ears in Braavos, but is winningly re-written by Davos, who seals the deal, whilst also procuring mercenary backing from his pirate pal. As the Iron Bank make the deal on the strength of Davos’ convictions, not his King’s, frankly I’d rather see the Onion Knight on the Iron Throne than Stannis the Miserable BASta’d (who says the word, oddly, like a northerner).
A lot is made this episode of characters’ origins and titles – the first being Ramsey Snow, who pretties up his bastard heritage by signing his piss-off poison pen letter as the “natural-born son of Roose Bolton”! We finally catch up with Yara Greyjoy, the latest recipient of Theon’s severed member, who is after revenge (but really the salvage of her house’s pride) and is about to storm Winterfell to rescue her big brother. She’s good with a stirring speech as well as the hack-and-slash, and if it was our first day on the job, we might think we’re in for a tiny happy ending after a great deal of torture and despair in this neck of the woods. But I, for one, am no such newb.
Theon, so lost to his own senses that he rejects his sister’s help, and doesn’t even recognising her as an ally, in a brilliantly disorienting scene scored by the chaos of dogs barking madly. Having previously acted out of extreme terror and something akin to PTSD, Theon seems to be leaning toward an inevitable all-out Stockholm Syndrome, while he is puppeteered towards some new game by Ramsey Snow, barm-pot extraordinaire. There to play the ‘kindly’ jailor in a horrible display of power – only a natural-born psychopath could make a washcloth frightening – Ramsey reinforces Theon’s new persona, Reek as his one true nature, and the name of Greyjoy merely a cloak to wear when it suits his captor. There really is no-one to help him now, a point rammed home as he is promptly abandoned by Yara, disgusted by her brother’s total loss of identity and her failure to save him.
Continuing the theme of titles, the following setting of the court at Merreen starts with a stately 15 second introduction of Dany which would be comical if it weren’t so tedious (or is it the other way around?); her many names and titles fuel her regal poise and it is with a touch of smug arrogance that she settles the first complaint of the day. The flashy cash buy-off is an easy win though, and whilst I was glad the farmer didn’t have the burnt remains of his son in the cloth he carried, I wasn’t cheered for long. The Mother of Dragons’ next supplicant is the grieving son of an apparently innocent nobleman she recently and righteously crucified. The education of a Queen continues with each important lessons in mercy and regret, and the full weight of her decisions must be felt before she can truly earn her many gods-given titles.
News of the Storm-born one reaches the Small Council by way of Varys and his little birds, and it is here that I notice, again, a frustrating trend of the narrative gods pressing an intellectual reset button on Cersei when a scene requires a devil’s advocate. Her willful ignorance belies the character’s actual intelligence and Lena Headey’s masterful portrayal. Why must the only woman at the table be given the stupid opinion, disbelieving the Targaryen threat when it is so utterly apparent?! Why? Maergery’s dad (who I just realised is Lestrade from The Young Sherlock Holmes!) is perhaps already too gormless for the task, as he simpers around, brushing up on his shorthand as Tywin’s new secretary, but it feels like lazy writing to continually knee-jerk Cersei back to imperious trust-fund-brat when every episode sees her make definite developments in knowledge and tactics.
Varys continues to play an inscrutable hand as he is quizzed on his provenance and predilections by an eternally-leaning Prince Oberyn Martell. Pedro Pascal plays Oberyn with a sort of Errol Flynn swagger, and this man who wears his lust like a badge of honour cannot fathom Varys’ lack of desire.
The audience understands Varys’ horrendous history stripped him of the will to make himself vulnerable to another human, and this scene marks the episode’s third attempt to mock a eunuch, after Reek undressing for Ramsey and Oberyn chuckling over the Unsullied like a schoolboy. Varys, ever the survivor, recalibrates his loss into a gain – of control and clarity, two things Oberyn places beneath his passions and desires, until perhaps this conversation… The Spider leaves the Prince with much to mull over, in particular a meaningful glance at the Iron Throne, and where his true alliances may lie.
Jaime’s title of Kingslayer seems to have been passed on to Tyrion now, who enters the Great Hall for his trial amid jeers and and accusing death-stares (the latter being a Cersei dish-of-the-day). The episode wisely allows the trial to be pivotal without swallowing the entire hour – all the scenes leading up to these have ratcheted the tension, slowly circling the focal point – how the victimised choose to carry themselves.
Tyrion was lucky enough to be born into one of the most powerful families in the realm, but has been cursed by this ‘good fortune’ ever since. His defeated affront through the first session of the kangaroo court are all that remain of his composure, which the trial and it’s witnesses slowly strip from him; revealing the brutal resilience that balances out his kind heart.
The trial is a fairly cursory series of diatribes against the beleaguered prisoner. Meryn Trant (spits) and Maester Pycelle are dutiful witnesses for the prosecution, while Cersei airs family laundry using her one suggestive line about ‘ashes’ and revenge and her brother’s proclivity for whores, all the while misleading, giving one-sided accounts and bare-faced lying in an effort to secure the guilty verdict she’s talked herself into believing is justice.
Jaime attempts some chivalry on behalf of his brother, handing in his GoldCloak card (and with it his relationship with Cersei, such as it is) in return for Tyrion’s reprieve. It is a hollow bargain though, one naively struck by Jaime, and accepted by Tywin with suspicious speed; yep, you walked right into that one Jaime. The revelation of Jaime’s reason for being a Kingslayer stalls the Hand mid-sandwich for a moment, but his vicious pedantry and ability to spin a web know no bounds, and banishing Tyrion will do fine, so long as he never has to look upon his son again.
Things take a turn for the less obvious, but in retrospect, unavoidable as Varys takes the stand and uses his only dark mark against Tyrion in a box-ticking exercise that disappoints his friend, and indeed, Varys himself. And just as Tyrion can look no more baleful, they twist the knife.
The Shae-meful betrayal (sorry) by Tyrion’s erstwhile lady-love is dirt in the eye for any viewer who believed a genuine, loving relationship could exist in Westeros, and the look of dismay on his face as she walks up the aisle is a horrible parody of a wedding march. Yes, Tyrion’s ‘dismissal’ of Shae was painful, but you’d have to be a moron to believe he wanted to do it, and it was her blind, dangerous romanticism that drove him to his only option left to protect her. Of course, he should have run off with her when she begged him to. But this is how she repays his sacrifice?! I’d be interested to find out (in the fullness of time, not through spoilers) who chose this path for Shae – the show runners or George R R Martin? It simply doesn’t ring true – Shae was feisty and willful but not spiteful or cruel. Perhaps there is more information to come, but if it plays clunky form a character perspective, it does work as a narrative device.
Spun right off his axis by another untrustworthy prostitute (echoing his first marriage and divorce as a young man), Dinklage turns it up to 11, and gives a performance that doesn’t so much chew the scenery as sear through it with inconsolable rage. And thank the gods! Too long has our hero been downtrodden this season; he throws off the shackles of his father in another echo, this one of a past triumph. Trial By Combat is Tyrion’s trump card of choice, and he snarls his demand with such force I almost hope he wields his own weapon next week. He is, after all, his only champion.
Review by Nina Clark
(As ever, bless you in advance for both your copious commenting, sharing and liking, and your resistance in revealing book-spoilers! Much appreciated..)
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