This is the second episode of Game of Thrones in a row that didn’t have any horrifying rape scenes, so that was nice. There was some stuff in “The Laws of Gods and Men” that I really liked, one very nice surprise, and one sequence that I feel terribly let down by, but it was overall a solid episode I think. At least, it is as solid an episode as I think I can expect to see in this season of, frankly, bizarre choices on the part of the show runners.
As always, spoilers under the cut for the episode and some book-related commentary and speculation.
I wasn’t particularly looking forward to this episode, to be honest, after the first half of the season, but I got excited as soon as I saw Braavos in the opening credits. I wasn’t disappointed.
The episode opens with Stannis and Davos arriving in Braavos, sailing under the Titan of Braavos. I do have some mixed feelings about this as our first glimpse of Braavos in the books was with Arya, but I’m glad to see Stannis and Davos getting a little more to do in the show. I love the audience with the bankers, and I was surprisingly pleased with Mark Gatiss as Tycho Nestoris. The real standout part of this scene, however, is Davos’s speech to try and convince the bankers to support Stannis. We finally get a really good look at Davos’s shortened fingers, and it’s a wonderful speech that conveys Davos’s deep and abiding love and respect for his king as well as Davos’s cleverness and commitment to their cause.
The next scene was a real surprise. We last saw Salladhor Saan (Lucian Msamati) in the first episode of season three when he returned Davos to Dragonstone and then sailed off, presumably abandoning Stannis forever as a lost cause. I honestly had no expectation of ever seeing him again, especially considering the penchant of the show for treating its POC characters as disposable and systematically minimizing/eliminating their roles. But here, Salladhor is, telling some long joke to a pair of prostitutes in a Braavos bathhouse when Daavos shows up to throw gold at him and drag him, rather unwillingly, on some as-yet-unknown journey. I’m so happy about this. If the show is going to veer so wildly from the books, the least they can do is give us some Davos/Salla buddy comedy.
Next up, the show manages to mostly ruin an otherwise excellent and stirring speech by Yara Greyjoy, who is apparently still persisting with her quest to rescue her brother, by cutting it with shots of Ramsay Snow and Miranda banging. Then Yara leads her men into the Dreadfort only to find Theon sleeping in the kennels and so far gone that he’s unwilling to leave with her. We’re then treated to an absurd fight scene when shirtless Ramsay shows up. Yara demands he give her Theon, but instead Ramsay looses his dogs, sending Yara and her remaining men fleeing into the night. “My brother is dead,” Yara intones as the return to their boats.
Can I just say that this was some of the most anticlimactic bullshit I’ve ever seen this show commit to film? I hated the Craster’s Keep/Bran story over the last two weeks for similar reasons, but this probably actually pisses me off more. As with the Craster’s/Bran stuff, there is much more interesting stuff in the source material that they could have utilized, that would have moved the story along at a better pace, and would actually have made sense. The thing is, I can see Jon Snow doing something as stupid and trivial as returning to Craster’s, and I suppose I can see why they would feel that Bran’s story needed a little more action.
This adventure of Yara’s, however, is just silly, and it’s actually a sort of character assassination, or at least making some of her character development out of order. In the books, it’s really not until A Dance With Dragons that we see Asha/Yara having anything approaching the concern for Theon that we see here. Even then, much of her concern is for how their mother would be affected by Theon’s death because Asha Greyjoy is a character who is deeply aware of other women and how they are affected by war and loss–something we haven’t seen any of in Yara so far. Because, obvs, who cares about female characters, right? I feel like this “rescuing Theon” thing is a way of softening and feminizing the character when, in the books, she was ready to let Theon fail on his own merits (or, rather, lack thereof) and she considered herself to be Balon’s only rightful heir.
We ought to be having a Queensmoot by now, but instead we got this boring, anticlimactic, ultimately inconsequential drivel. I imagine Yara’s speech will make for great gif sets on Tumblr, but it doesn’t make any actual difference in the story.
Following the botched rescue attempt, we do get an excellent scene with Theon and Ramsay that actually does move things along a little. Two thoughts, though. One: it pisses me off that the show will film graphic depictions of rape, even using nudity to film rape in a way that seems meant to be titillating to [male] viewers, but they act all demure about showing Theon undressed–not even a butt shot. Two: They could have given us just this scene, without any of the botched rescue stuff, and it would have worked fine to advance this storyline. The Yara time could have been much better spent actually moving along with the events that should be happening in the Iron Islands.
In Essos, Daenerys’s dragons are becoming a (huge and gorgeously CGI’d) menace. When a goatherd comes to tell her that they destroyed his livelihood, she orders that he be repaid three times the value of the goats. This is basically straight from the books, but what happens next isn’t.
Her next petitioner is none other Hizdahr zo Loraq, a major character from the book who seems to be being portrayed quite differently (so far, anyway) on the show. In the books, we first meet Hizdahr when he has come to petition Daenerys for the sixth time to reopen the fighting pits of Meereen. Here, we see a Hizdahr (played by Joel Fry) far younger than the Hizdahr of ADWD (or at least younger than I ever pictured him) who has come to ask that he be allowed to give his father, crucified on Daenerys’s orders, a proper burial.
I like that Hizdahr is being shown as someone with a probably legitimate grievance, although I do wonder about the messaging here, i.e. this idea that maybe there were some “good” Masters who didn’t deserve to be included in Daenerys’s first act of retributive justice as queen. Living in a country where the myth of the “good” slave owner is still alive and well and being used to try and humanize the perpetrators of massive-scale injustices, I worry that it’s an irresponsible narrative to perpetuate in any way, even in a fantasy setting. It could be, however, that the writers are trying to make Hizdahr becoming the Harpy a more sympathetic action, making him a complicated and multifaceted character rather than simply a villainous one. I’m not sure I trust these writers and directors to handle that sort of nuance, however.
I’ve complained a lot in the past about changes made to Daenerys’s storyline, but I’m cautiously optimistic about the way that her rulership of Meereen is being introduced. I think this scene does a good job of showing how self-righteous Daenerys is and how willing she is to abuse her power when it suits her. I feel like we’re seeing how her actions directly lead to the resistance to her rule and later things like the Sons of the Harpy and their acts of terrorism. Mostly, though, I’m just hoping that Daenerys’s time in Meereen sticks fairly close to the book because it’s honestly one of my favorite parts of the entire ASOIAF series. So far, it seems promising, but I’m afraid to really get my hopes up.
The rest of the episode is all King’s Landing, and it’s great.
First, we get to see a Small Council meeting. It’s been a while since we’ve had one of these scenes, which are always some of my favorite bits of writing on the show.
Oberyn is complaining because it’s early and he’s probably hungover. He wants to know what he’s master of now, and Mace Tyrell (who finally gets some lines!) is quick to claim his own position as Master of Ships. Once Tywin shows up, it’s straight to business because they’ve got a trial to go to in the afternoon.
We finally get some much needed Varys time, as he’s been criminally underused so far this season. He starts by telling the rest of the council that Sandor Clegane has been seen in the Riverlands (Tywin orders a bounty for the Hound’s head). Then he moves on to update them all on what Daenerys is up to these days. Cersei dismisses the news of the dragons (“baby dragons” she says) and Varys points out that they are getting bigger ever year, which makes me wonder just how much time is supposed to have passed in the show. In the books, by this point, it was around two and a half years after King Robert showed up at Winterfell, and maybe a year and a half or so after the dragons hatched, but the show’s timeline may be a little different in order to address the problem of all the rapidly aging pubescent actors. I like this, though. It feels important to establish that some rather long period of time has passed. It’s also nice to see Daenerys finally being treated as a serious threat by the leaders in King’s Landing. Tywin isn’t as heavy-handed as Robert was, though, and rather than trying to have Daenerys assassinated, it seems that he plans instead to undermine her by exposing Jorah as a spy. This is something that I’ve been wondering for years how they were going to handle, and I’d even begun to worry that it was going to somehow be cut from the show, so I’m very excited to see this important development being set into motion.
After the council meeting, Varys stands contemplating the Iron Throne when Oberyn comes to chat. They discuss Essos and the merits of travel, and I liked seeing Varys being a little unsettled by Oberyn’s perception in noting that Varys is from Lys. Possibly the most notable thing about this scene, however, is that it establishes Varys as being a confirmed asexual character on a popular show. Maybe now we’ll stop having to hear snide remarks and jokes about his purported interest in little boys.
Elsewhere, Jaime comes to escort Tyrion from his prison cell to the throne room for his trial. Unshaven, with longer hair than we’ve seen him have in the past and wearing a perpetual scowl, fourth season Tyrion is quite changed from the Tyrion of previous scenes of the show. He’s still sarcastic, but he’s clearly bitter and in a very dark place.
When they reach the throne room, Tommen makes a brief statement recusing himself from judging the trial before he leaves the room. Instead, Tywin sits on the Iron Throne (as if born to it, by the way) with Oberyn Martell and Mace Tyrell on either side of him. Tyrion of course denies involvement in Joffrey’s murder, and so the trial commences with a parade of witnesses delivering a litany of damning evidence, mostly concerning Tyrion’s behavior before the royal wedding. Throughout the ordeal, Tyrion is forbidden from speaking in his own defense, responding to the “evidence” presented, or cross examining anyone. Perhaps my favorite part of this scene is the shots of faces in the room when Pycelle refers to Joffrey as “the most noble child the gods ever put on this good earth.”
While this farcical “trial” is going on, Jaime stands around looking increasingly uncomfortable, and during a brief adjournment he goes to his father to beg for Tyrion’s life. Jaime offers to leave the Kingsguard if Tywin will let Tyrion live, and Tywin quickly agrees. It really seems that Tywin never actually intended to have Tyrion executed. He never actually said that was what would happen, and when Jaime makes his offer Tywin has a whole set of terms already prepared as if he’s put a lot of thought into this already. As the trial resumes, Jaime tells Tyrion about Tywin’s agreement, and it seems that they have a plan to get through this.
And then the final witness comes out, and it’s Shae.
Shae’s testimony is devastating. On every level. Tyrion is destroyed by it, from the first moment that he sees her walk to the stand. Shae’s anger and hurt fill the room as she addresses her testimony to Tyrion, for all that she never looks at him except to confirm his identity and to remind him of his own hateful words when they were last together. The story Shae tells is calculated to be as damaging and humiliating for Tyrion as possible, and it may be Sibel Kekilli’s finest bit of acting in her entire run on the show, and the sob in her voice when she finally spoke directly to him just about broke me.
Much has been made of Peter Dinklage’s performance in the last minutes of the episode, and it’s every bit as good as everyone has said. The episode closes with Tyrion demanding a trial by combat and the shocked and outraged reactions of everyone in the room, and it might be my favorite final scene of any episode of the series so far. If nothing else, it’s got me enthusiastically looking forward to the next couple of episodes to see what happens next. A+ use of a cliffhanger ending.