Game of Thrones – 36

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“Laws of Gods and Men”

There are certain episodes of Game of Thrones which make me think it would be better not to write these posts at all, because it’s awfully hard to talk about them without spoiling a lot of very important stuff.  And this is one of those, of a certainty.  So by necessity I’ll try and avoid the many minefields that have been laid for book veterans here.

In effect, this episode was really two halves – or, looked at another way, an extended preamble before the main event.  What happened at King’s Landing was obviously the headline attraction, but there was some important and worthwhile stuff in the prologue too.  If last week’s episode was a survey course on the state of the Starks, this one was the opposite – completely Stark-free, it brought us up to speed on the various B-plots in a way that felt a little too rote to be really effective.  That said, there were individual moments that worked.

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Two of the storylines covered early in the episode – Danerys and the Greyjoys – are among my least favorite.  I’m also not that crazy about the Stannis plot, but mostly because Game of Thrones has not done justice to the character as written in A Song of Ice and Fire.  But this time it offered an extended showcase for Davos Seaworth, who’s one of the best (in every sense) characters in either version (Liam Cunningham is delivering one great performance among many in this show).  Stannis is a bit of a sad-sack, but he does have one thing going for him that no one else does – he actually is the rightful King by Westeros Law.  And whatever we may think of Stannis, the fact that he’s able to inspire such great loyalty from a man as noble and wise as Davos is a huge point in his favor.  I loved the speech he gave to the Iron Bankers of Braavos (one of whom was played by Sherlock veteran Mark Gattis, a familiar name to anyone who follows the rebooted Doctor Who) and I loved the way the city of Braavos was depicted.  It’s also great to see Salladohr Saan again – it’s been almost two years.

The Yara-Reek stuff with the reprehensible Ramsey Bolton felt tacked on to me, honestly, but the truth is GoT taken what was already a mediocre storyline and reworked it to the point where I have no clue and not much more concern about where it’s going.  Better was the scene in Meereen, one of the best in Dany’s arc in quite some time.  I like any scene that shows her up for the fraud she effectively is, a girl with delusions of grandeur who loves grand gestures but isn’t much for the hard grit and grime of governance.  Hizdar zo Loraq (Joel Fry) was substantially reworked from the books, and for the better – he’s a real reminder here of what a moral fraud Danerys is, and the fact that she caves to his request is further proof that she’s incapable of understanding the implications her pronouncements can have down the line.

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But obviously the episode is really all about Tyrion’s trial, which finally kicks into dramatic high gear after a very sluggish start.  GoT has reworked this quite a bit, removing a lot of conversations that took place in Tyrion’s cell before the trial.  I’m not sure why, but it has the impact of making the courtroom drama seem to come upon us rather suddenly.  This is an area I can’t really discuss in detail, but the affairs of the trial itself are pretty transparent.  This is a lynching, plain and simple, and everyone involved knows that.  Indeed, the only one who seems to give a whit about Tyrion’s fate is Jaime (whether out of love or true belief that his brother is innocent is for us to decide).  What does Cersei believe?  Does she truly believe Tyrion killed her son, or is she simply using this as an excuse to vent her rage at what she sees as her cruel lot in life on the imp she’s loathed from the moment he was born?

Another thing these scenes in King’s Landing offer is a long overdue showcase for Varys.  The Spider is someone whose importance far exceeds his screen time – and that’s a real shame, because he’s one of the most fascinating people in the cast to watch.  As usual he’s the only one providing useful information at the Small Council – though Tywin seems in no hurry to act on the news he brings of Danerys’ developments.  Even more interesting is the conversation he has with Oberyn Martell – not least to speculate on why it’s taking place at all.  When Varys talks it’s always a good idea to listen, and Oberyn seems to be one of the few people smart enough to understand that.  When Varys talks about his lack of desire and how that makes him different from other people, time seems to stand still in the throne room.

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The trial itself is a sham, as you would expect (only Oberyn asks the odd intelligent question, but he seems to be rather enjoying himself).  As GoT depicts it, it reminds me a bit of the finale of Seinfeld, where the petty sins of the characters were paraded before them (and us) by all the people they’d slighted over nine seasons.  Tyrion is no doubt hoist by his own petard here – he’s lived a life of loose tongue and loose morals, and made a great deal of enemies.  Much of the true testimony is damning enough, but where that’s lacking Cersei has plenty of fictionalized material to bolster it.  It hurts deeply when Varys takes the stand and offers his own damning (though never technically untrue) testimony, prompting Tyrion to ask the only question his father allows him over the course of the trial – he asks Varys if he’s forgotten what he told Tyrion about his saving the city during the Battle of Blackwater.  “I never forget anything.” The Spider says with more than a little sadness, and walks away.

Again, it’s only Jaime who seems to spare a thought for Tyrion’s life, and he confronts his father about the farcical nature of the trial during a recess.  Ultimately, he offers his own life in exchange for Tyrion’s – if Tyrion is spared, Jaime will leave the Kingsguard and do his duty in carrying on the Lannister name.  The fact that Tywin accepts in machine-gun fashion can only be interpreted in one way, it seems to me – though I leave that to you to decide for yourself, as I did.  If Tyrion pleads for mercy, Tywin will send him to The Wall.  Tyrion is understandably skeptical, given what happened to Ned Stark – but as Jaime is communicating this offer to him, Tyrion doesn’t seem to be possessed of a lot of choices.

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Here, though, the ones who have all the power get greedy and overplay their hand.  Shae’s surprise testimony is painful to watch, not least for Tyrion himself (even if it’s not very convincing).  This speaks to me of a desire not just to condemn Tyrion (all of this was surely not necessary for a conviction, certainly) but to cause him as much pain as possible.  It’s been a quiet season for Peter Dinklage, but it’s as if the script has been saving his brilliance up for this moment.  He reveals much in his face, silently, and even more when he begins to speak.  It’s an incredibly Shakespearean moment (The Merchant of Venice, to be precise) when Tyrion finally vents his rage at all the humiliation and injustice that’s been heaped upon him simply because of the circumstances of his birth, and it’s an incredibly powerful piece of acting.

This moment is much more than that, though.  It’s also Tyrion raging at himself for being a better man to the rest of King’s Landing and his family than they deserved him to be, and it’s a stark reminder that of all Tywin’s children it was clearly Tyrion who inherited his vision and backbone.  It’s only Tywin’s – careful, meticulous and practical Tywin – own irrational hatred of Tyrion that’s blinded him to it.  Dinklage and Dance, two titanic actors facing each other down across the throne room – it’s a great spectacle by any standard, and Tyrion’s demand for a trial by combat at least gives him the satisfaction of spoiling Tywin’s carefully managed plans.  It’s an act of desperation, surely, but more than that of defiance – I don’t think so much out of hope to live, but out of a refusal to give his father the satisfaction of writing the final chapters in Tyrion’s life.

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  1. D

    Brilliant performance by Peter Dinklage, transmitting a hatred in his voice that was completely believable, and in the other corner the inpertubable Twyin, they make it worth turning on the TV every Sunday at 8:00 PM

  2. G

    Has there ever been such a great performance by a little person before Peter Dinkage came along? I can't think of anyone else besides the guy on Twin Peaks many years ago (Michael Anderson maybe?) and Peter is a much better actor then he was.

  3. U

    That's by far one of the best acting we have seen in GoT as of yet and emotionally really powerful moment. Watching this was great and painful at the same time. It's hard to talk about what happened without spoiling what's to come but at least that must be said.

  4. m

    This was one of the better episodes in the four seasons so far. I haven't read the books, so I don't know what's going to happen, but I really hope they don't kill Tyrion off. ATM he's my favorite character, and has the best story going on. It's tough to say if they'll kill him off or not though. There's only a few characters they can't kill off yet and that's John Snow, Danny, Stanis, and Aria. Cause if they kill John Snow there's no big enough character to follow to warrant filming the crows storyline. Same with those others
    BTW what's with the Danny hate? She may be a bit naïve, but freeing slaves isn't a bad thing. Neither is killing a few "innocent" men who let all that horrible stuff happen and did nothing. Maybe you have more info since you read the books, but from what I see it's more like she's trying to do the right thing, but her kindness gets in the way of her conviction with the crucifixions. The guy asked kindly for his father and she was too nice to say no. Even if his father deserved it which, lets be honest here, if you are powerful and only speak out against something that heinous, you deserve the same fate as those doing the heinous acts.

  5. S

    Dany should've just sailed for Westeros. It's been long overdue. fuck Meereen, and fuck the king. Let's go!

  6. m

    Haha yeah part of me wanted to get that war going, especially after Stanis got his funding. A huge three way war with 2 legit claims to the throne, and one evil group holding power currently. But I like that she didn't. It shows that she actually does care about setting these slaves free. She's young and naïve, but that's why she has her advisors. And like Tywin said the wisdom to listen to them. Plus let's not underestimate the appeal of the best looking girl on the show who has dragons. That's more than enough appeal to my superficial side to make me like her more than most other characters. If there was an episode of only Danny, Tyrion, Aria, and John Snow's storylines that'd be my perfect episode.

  7. My view of Dany is not based on spoilers, don't worry. I think she's a hypocrite and an egomaniac strictly on the merits of what you've seen in GoT.

  8. Z

    I don't dislike Daenerys Targaryen, it's just that I don't find her story as interesting as the other events in Westeros. Her story peaked for me back in seasons I and II.

  9. C

    I've noticed this a couple times, but you've mispelled Shae's name as "Shea" 😉

  10. Sorry, Fruedian slip.

    Tee hee…

  11. w

    The throne room conversations with Varys have always been one of my favourite parts of the series. Always made much better when he has a sharp-minded sparring partner as Oberyn Martell. I miss having Baelish in Kings Landing purely for how interesting and loaded their chats always are.

    I can't say much about Tyrion's trial because I'd only invite spoilers upon myself, but I felt so sorry for the poor guy. It feels like there are so few decent people left in this story, I don't want to lose another. Still, I loved watching him call everyone on all their bullshit and the real reason he was on trial. Even if it's for a final stand, that moment where he demanded a trial by combat was awesome.

  12. Pascal has a great smile, doesn't he? The casting director for this series may be the MVP.

  13. w

    When he smiles, you just get the sense that he KNOWS things.

    I'd agree with that, except… Dario Naharris #1?

  14. Yeah, Fabio was a misstep. So was getting too-pretty actors for the supposedly ugly characters. But considering the size of the cast, that so many are home runs is a testament to how great the casting is overall. Even for a part as relatively minor as Beric Dondarrion, Richard Dormer – I mean, wow, is he amazing.

  15. M

    At least Fabio had presence. New Daario has absolutely none.

    I do think they could have chosen a more charismatic Mance though.

  16. w

    Nice to know I'm not the only one who calls him Fabio. Preaching to the choir though; the acting and casting is top notch. I've always been amazed by how almost every character manages to make a big impression when given a scene.

  17. G

    The blond woman warrior (Briene?) is prefectly cast too.

  18. w

    I think Liam Cunningham's Davos may be my favourite performance at the moment. Whenever he begins telling one of his stories I find myself childlike; wide-eyed and gleefully hanging on his every word.

  19. Gary, my feeling was that Gwendoline Christie is was too attractive for Brienne. And frankly, she is – but Christie has proved a good enough actor (and she's very good indeed) to overcome that.

  20. m

    I haven't read the books, so I have no clue how Brienne is supposed to look in terms of attractiveness. That being said I don't think she is attractive at all in the show. Maybe Christie is pretty IRL, I've never seen pics, but I think she looks like a manlier Bridgitte Nielson

  21. I find Christie's Brienne to be pretty in a sort of rough-hewn way, though she's no conventional beauty I admit. In the books, Brienne is described as being seriously ugly – to the point where it's a frequent topic of conversation of those around her. It's harsh and unpleasant, yes, but I do think Martin depicts her that way for a reason and I do think it works for the most part.

  22. m

    While I don't really find Christie's Brienne to be attractive, but she isn't particularly ugly. I certainly agree that she isn't so ugly that it would warrant any sort of discussion by those around her. So yeah I guess she really doesn't fit the bill in that respect. Just goes to show that Hollywood's take on what is unattractive is a bit off.

  23. Z

    Hollywood's take on unattractive is the unconventional yes.

  24. n

    Tyrion shines in his best when he's surrounded by his cunning and vengeful friends/families. He’s such a total badass – facing the most hateful assholes imaginable and always coming back with a snappy wit. This time though, he just let his anger out, which was still awesome.

    My feelings are perplexed; I want him to be happy but at the same time I just want to keep seeing him in the hostile environment being generally the shortest badass the TV programs have offered. I hope he doesn't just get away with this trial, but he remains in the political dynamics (however unrealistic that development would be).

  25. I think it's more that Hollywood doesn't trust audiences to like people who aren't pretty.

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