Airdate: May 11, 2014
Directed by: Alik Sakharov
Written by: George R.R. Martin (“A Song of Ice and Fire” by), David Benioff (creator), D.B. Weiss (creator), Bryan Cogman (written for television by)
Tonight’s episode begins the second half of Season Four, but its main focus is the results of actions that have driven various storylines from back in Season Three. More importantly, tonight’s episode marks exactly the halfway point of the entire series; there are only thirty-four more episodes to go (unless Benioff and Weiss decide to extend the series, or extend one of the seasons). While last week gave us some comic relief, tonight was all seriousness, as we dealt with four different storylines, ending with a pivotal trial of one of the show’s main characters. Click through after the break for my recap and thoughts on tonight’s events.
<<Spoiler Alert: This article is a review and complete recap of Game of Thrones S04E06 – “The Laws of Gods and Men” – it will discuss major plot points and events in detail, and may contain strong language based on dialogue from the episode; read further at your own risk!>>
We begin with Stannis and Ser Davos. They’re sailing into Braavos harbor, a meeting at the Iron Bank in mind. Stannis is made to wait, something that doesn’t sit well with him. Davos tries to keep him calm, telling him stories about past exploits, but Stannis is not interested. Three bankers enter, sitting in high backed chairs and indicating bare stone benches for Stannis and Davos; they want no misunderstanding as to who holds the power in this room. One banker calls him “Lord Stannis,” and Davos corrects him, naming each of his claimed titles. The bankers disagree over Stannis’s claims – they point out that Tommen is king on the Iron Throne. Further, he only has 4000 men and 32 ships remaining, far too little to mount a serious threat to the Lannister position. The banker also insults Davos, sneering at his title, and telling that they put thieves to death in Braavos. Davos does not rise to the bait. Instead, he bares his hand, showing his missing knuckles. He goes into a speech about Stannis’s honor, how he always repays his debts. He points out that Tywin Lannister is the only power keeping the Lannisters on the throne, but that he is sixty-seven – once he’s gone, the Lannisters will collapse. What Ser Davos doesn’t know, and that the bankers most surely do, due to their own eyes and ears, is that the Lannisters are broke – Tywin admitted last week that the mines have all gone dry, and there’s no way that the Iron Bank doesn’t know this. They’re likely looking for another horse to ride, one that can repay its debts, and Ser Davos just has to find the right angle to convince them.
We cut to a brothel, where we see Ser Davos’s pirate friend Salladhor Saan telling bawdy jokes to two naked women he’s bathing with. As he speaks, Ser Davos comes in unseen, and sits waiting while Salladhor finishes, the women saying his punchline in unison for him. When he’s done, he sees Davos and invites him to join them in the bath. Davos tells him he’d love to, but there’s no time – they must sail in the morning. “We?” Salladhor asks, and Davos lays down a purse heavy with coin rolls. He tells Salladhor he’s left a trunk of the same at his house – in the care of his wife. Salladhor shares a wry grin with his old friend; he’s not happy that he’s going back to war on Stannis’s behalf, but he’s going to do it.
Up north, we see the result of Yara’s determination to get her brother back, and as we watch Yara and her crew, we get scenes of Ramsay having sex in counterpoint. Yara and her men approach Ramsay’s castle under cover of night, and quietly scale the walls with grappling hooks. One guard is alerted, but takes one of Yara’s axes to his head before he can raise an alarm. Several men do burst out of a door, but are quickly dealt with. Yara grabs one, a servant of Ramsay’s rather than a soldier, and has him guide them to Theon – he’s being kept in the kennels. As soon as they arrive at his cage, she thanks the servant and slices his throat. Theon is not happy to see his sister – far from it. He refuses to answer to his name, talling her “My name is Reek,” and sinking back into the darker recesses of his cage. As she struggles to get him out, alarm bells can be heard in the background.
Yara gets her brother out of his cage, but it’s too late: Ramsay, his body marked with cuts and still half naked from his recent sexual encounter, appears backed by a group of soldiers. He grins at the fun he’s about to have, his eyes nearly bugging out of their sockets. He dances with Yara’s men, running in and out, his twin blades tasting blood in a constant flurry. Yara, for her part, dispatches her fair share of Ramsay’s men, but not before Theon bites her on the wrist in an attempt to get away from her. She and her few remaining men end up reversing positions with Ramsay and his, but just as it seems she has him cornered, he pulls out a key. “I hope you like to run,” he says, as he releases his hounds. We see her and the other survivors arriving at their boats. “Theon’s dead,” she tells the men, and they depart in haste.
The next day, Ramsay has Theon in his chambers, and he tells him he has a treat for him, to show his appreciation for Reek’s loyalty. It’s a bath, something Theon/Reek hasn’t seen in a long time. Ramsay makes him undress in front of him – the man can’t miss an opportunity to humiliate, even when rewarding someone. As Theon undresses, we can see scars all over his body, including a missing right nipple. As he takes off his breeches, Ramsay looks down at his crotch and smirks. Theon lowers himself into the bath, waiting for it to be taken away from him. Ramsay sits beside him, and begins to wash Theon’s back himself. “Do you love me, Reek?” he asks. “Yes, of course milord,” Theon replies. Ramsay tells him he needs him to do a special favor – to take back a castle for him by pretending to be someone he isn’t: Theon Greyjoy.
We go to an idyllic country scene, a father and a son tending to a herd of goats. Suddenly, Drogon rises up out of a rift, and breathes fire down on the herd, burning a goat and taking it on the wing. We cut to Daenerys’s throne room in Meereen, where she’s taking petitions from supplicants. The first to approach is the goatherd, who presents the burned bones of one of his animals, and explains that his entire herd was taken. Dany promises to pay him three times the value of the goats as recompense, and he leaves happy; the same can’t necessarily be said of Ser Jorah and Ser Barristan, who are flanking the back of her throne, and give each other a look of concern at her generosity. The next to approach is a nobleborn man, Hizdahr zo Loraq. He petitions Dany to allow him to give his father a proper burial – his body is currently rotting on the crucifix Dany had him nailed to. She is unapologetic, until he informs her that his father opposed the crucifying of slave children in advance of Dany’s approach to the city, but that he was overrulled by the other Great Masters. You can see her physically deflate a little at this news – she claims to be acting in the name of justice, but here’s an example to her that clearly shows that justice isn’t as simple as black and white. She gives Loraq permission to retrieve his father’s body and give him a proper burial. She asks how many more supplicants are waiting – there are two hundred twelve more to go. Ruling is not going to be quite so easy as conquering, she is quickly finding out.
Now we get to the meat of the episode. We head to King’s Landing, where we sit in on a meeting of the Small Council, new members Mace Tyrell and Prince Oberyn present. Tyrell is about to get into a pissing match with Oberyn – proving that he is even more of an idiot than his mother has indicated in the past – when Tywin comes storming into the room, demanding that they move the meeting along in haste; Tyrion’s trial is set to begin shortly. They briefly talk about The Hound being sighted, and Tywin increases the reward for his head by a factor of ten. They then turn to Dany. Varys delineates her conquests, and then enumerates the size of her forces, numbers that seem to set Cersei back a bit. Varys also points out that Dany has two seasoned knights advising her in Sers Jorah and Barristan, and Tywin uses this as an opportunity to publicly tell Cersei off for her dismissal of Barristan from the King’s Guard. Her decisions, especially when Joffrey was king, were often suspect, and Tywin is the only one that seems to get her attention; as cold as she thinks she is, she bases most of her decisions on emotion – primarily hatred – and this has hurt her time and again. Will it hurt here where Tyrion is concerned? Grand Maester Pycelle pipes up, saying to Varys, “Mormont is spying on her for us,” but Varys replies, “No longer.” He does have little birds in Essos and Slaver’s Bay, but Mormont has clearly aligned himself with House Targaryan. Tywin asks Varys if his birds go all the way to Meereen, and when Varys confirms that they do, Tywin calls for a scribe: he’s going to write a letter to Dany, apparently.
After the meeting, Varys and Oberyn meet in the throne room in a scene reminiscent of the meeting in the same room between Varys and Littlefinger back in Season One. Again, this is all about positioning. Oberyn tries to pry for information, suggesting that Varys should come to the brothel where he and his mistress are staying, that they have boys there for Varys. He suggests that Varys liked boys before he was castrated, but Varys denies this. “Girls, then?” Again, Varys denies the attraction. He says he’s never desired either; “Besides,” he says, “the absence of desire leaves one free to pursue…other things.” “Such as?” Oberyn asks, and Varys gives an overly meaningful look at the Iron Throne.
Below in the dungeons, Jaime enters Tyrion’s cell – it’s time for the trial. Two King’s Guards shackle him on Tywin’s orders – Jaime looks apologetic. Tyrion says, “Well, we mustn’t disappoint father.” He’s led into the throne room, which has now been turned into a court.
Yells and catcalls surround Tyrion, including one call of “Kingslayer” – a title that could be equally attributed to either brother as far as the crowd is concerned. The trial begins with King Tommen recusing himself from the case, naming Tywin, Mace Tyrell, and Prince Oberyn as judges. The trial is a complete farce, a series of witnesses appearing that tell the most incriminating things possible about Tyrion, but with no context given whatsoever. The first witness is Ser Meryn, who recounts Tyrion’s threat of violence both against Joffrey and himself, but fails to mention that it was because he was beating a half-naked Sansa with his sword as Joffrey aimed a crossbow at her. Tyrion tries to point this out, but he’s shouted down by Tywin. The next witness is Pycelle, who lists the poisons he keeps, then claims that several went missing after Tyrion had him locked in one of the black cells, claiming thus that it was Tyrion who stole them. One of the poisons missing, The Strangler, was what was used to kill Joffrey. Pycelle, always the sycophant, overdoes his testimony, however, when he calls Joffrey “the most noble child” ever to grace King’s Landing. There are a few grumbles at this, and Jaime rolls his eyes.
Cersei comes up next, and reveals her private conversations with Tyrion when he told her he would be revenged upon her. She omits much – especially her own crimes and actions – and Jaime in particular looks uncomfortable as she speaks. Tyrion looks angry but resigned. Next, Varys comes to the witness stand, and talks about Tyrion’s reaction to the news of Robb Stark’s assassination, focusing on how disgusted Tyrion was at the nature of the murder. He also brings up a comment Tyrion made about “kings falling like flies,” something that he read as being related to Tyrion’s feelings toward Joffrey. Tyrion requests if Tywin that he be allowed to ask Varys a question. “One,” Tywin says. He reminds Varys of how he had attributed Tyrion with saving King’s Landing, of how he and the city would never forget the debt they owed him. He asks him, “Do you remember?” and Varys replies, “Sadly…I remember everything.” Tywin adjourns the trial at this point.
Tywin is taking lunch in his chambers, and Jaime joins him. He calls the trial a farce, which Tywin denies, and then asks his father if he’s willing to kill his own son. He tells him that he knows Cersei has manipulated the whole thing, to which Tywin replies, “I know nothing of the sort.” Jaime plays the name card – if Tyrion is executed, where does the Lannister line go? Jaime, being a King’s Guard, cannot get married, and Cersei’s offspring belong to her husband’s House (even if they’re all actually Lannisters). Jaime offers to give up his position in the King’s Guard, to go to Casterly Rock, and to take up his position as the heir to House Lannister, fathering children to continue the line; in exchange, he demands that Tyrion be allowed to live. “Done,” Tywin says without even blinking. Jaime begins to smile – he realizes that this is exactly what his father wants, that the whole part he’s playing here has little to do with Cersei’s manipulations, and entirely to do with his own desire to get Jaime out of the King’s Guard and back as heir to the House. Jaime’s smile is one of chagrin and disbelief, but also one of satisfaction – he recognizes the manipulation, but doesn’t really care so long as his brother is able to survive. Tywin lays out how it will happen: after being found guilty – a foregone conclusion – Tyrion will plead for the mercy of the court, and will then be given the opportunity to take the Black and head to the Wall.
The trial reconvenes. Jaime goes to Tyrion and asks him to reduce his acerbic witticisms, that things are decided and that he’ll live. Tyrion begins to object, but others are taking their places, and Jaime can’t explain further. “Do you trust me?” he asks, and Tyrion nods.
Tywin calls the next witness – it’s Shae, who apparently wasn’t beyond the Lannister reach, even if she has sailed across the sea. Tyrion stands, but at the same time seems to physically deflate – he can’t believe what his eyes and ears are telling him, and Shae being here cannot be good. She identifies herself as Lady Sansa’s handmaid, and says that she knows something about the charges: she says that Tyrion is guilty, that “he and Sansa planned it together.” She claims that the motivation was due to Sansa’s desire for vengeance following the murders of her father, her mother and her brother. Tyrion can’t eve bring himself to shake his head; he just looks away as she talks. Shae even knows about the poison, and at this point Oberyn interjects – how can a handmaid have so much information? She tells him and the court that she was also Tyrion’s whore. She twists their initial meeting to make it sound like Tyrion is a brutal and selfish man. She’s lying, she knows she’s lying, and despite her claims to Tyrion in earlier times that she is good at it, she’s actually very bad here – anyone who understands anything about human psychology can see that she is lying, and that it is killing her inside to be doing so – she’s been coerced, I guarantee it. Tyrion breaks his silence, pleading with her: “Shae, don’t.” She turns to him, pain and indignation warring on her face. “I’m a whore, remember?” she says, throwing his own hurtful words, intended but to save her life, back in his face.
Finally, he’s had enough. Head bowed, he mumbles at first, then gets louder, “Father, I wish to confess. I wish to confess.” Tyrion in this moment shines. Peter Dinklage’s portrayal of the Half-Man has been masterful since the very first episode of Game of Thrones, but this speech he gives here is the best acting we’ve seen from anyone in this series to date. If he doesn’t win another Emmy on the strength of this episode alone, it will be criminal.
He turns to the jeering crowd, and with utter contempt and hatred contorting his face, says, “I should have let Stannis kill you all.” Spittle flies from his lips as he continues. “I wish I were the monster you all think I am,” he continues, wishing out loud that he had enough of Joffrey’s poison to kill every last one of them. He turns to his father and judge, and says “I’m guilty.” Tywin presses him, but Tyrion continues, “I’m guilty of being a dwarf,” calling his father out on his ill treatment at his hands since he was a child. Tywin does not like the tenor the trial is taking, and tries to regain control, but Tyrion will have none of it. “I demand a trial by combat,” he practically spits, his face set in a grim smile of satisfaction – he’s thrown his father’s well-laid plans into the midden and set them on fire. Jaime looks grief stricken, opening and closing his mouth, and looking around as though for a place to hide; Cersei grips the arms of her chair, angry that things have gotten away from her father’s, and hence her, control; and Tywin has a look of defeat – his son, the one he’s always and openly dismissed, has completely outmaneuvered him in the most public of arenas. Cut to black.
I literally had to take a deep breath at the end of Tyrion’s tirade. The pent-up emotions of thirty or so years of abuse and neglect at the hands of his family came flowing out of him, and I could feel every nuance of his anger, his hatred, and his outrage at the non-stop injustices he has faced all of his life. Cersei is a monster, Tywin a manipulative bastard, and Jaime an ineffectual knight, but Tyrion is the true Lion of Lannister. I sense that part of what Tywin might be feeling in this moment is a sudden realization that he has underestimated his son from the beginning, that he has allowed himself to be affected by appearance and dismissed him out of hand for his size, thus failing to see the immense intellect before him. In this moment, tonight, there is simply no greater character in the series, and perhaps in television. Dinklage was amazing.
The big question now becomes: who will champion Tyrion? Bronn is the obvious choice, but where will his loyalties lie? Certainly, he likes Tyrion, and he has championed him before (at the Eyrie), but he is also loyal to himself, and may see no gain in being the champion again. The other main possibility is Jaime. This would throw a real wrench into Tywin’s plans, as Jaime standing for his brother could, in one blow (should Jaime lose), cost Tywin both of his heirs. This will be Tywin’s greatest fear, as he already knows where Jaime stands on the issue; look for Tywin to try to bluff and stall until he can get Jaime alone, or at least away from the throne room.
Varys is still a player here. His comment to Tyrion that, unfortunately, he “remembers everything,” says to me that, should Tyrion be found guilty and not given clemency, he might find a Ser Dontos-like reprieve and escape option presented to him. It wasn’t too long ago that Varys said that he felt Tyrion was House Lannister’s only hope, and while Varys is extremely pragmatic, a sure ally who owes him his life in the form of Tyrion would not be a bad card to have up his sleeve.
Cersei gets to see another card topple in her power structure. She was so certain that she had arranged everything, but she went too far in bringing Shae to the trial (if it was her – I’m assuming so, as it was quite obviously her that had coached all of the witnesses) – she did not foresee that it would cause Tyrion to finally snap, to call out his family and outmaneuver her. She is becoming less and less relevant to affairs of state, especially as her father (who currently holds the real power in King’s Landing) continues to question her judgement – even publicly, as he did tonight regarding her dismissal of Ser Barristan.
In Braavos, Ser Davos proved yet again that he comes by his name honestly: Seaworth. He is Stannis’s most valuable asset, even if Stannis keeps mistaking Melisandre for the same, and he acts as a counter for the parts of Stannis’s personality that are missing, namely flexibility and compassion. It will be interesting to see what the Iron Bank’s money will buy them, and whether or not Stannis will become a major player again before this season is through.
Yara giving up on Theon was inevitable. He’s a completely broken and useless thing at this point, and is, at least for now, beyond any kind of recuperation. He is entirely Ramsay’s creature, and will be used by him as a puppet to achieve Bolton goals in the north.
There were two parallel structures at work tonight, one involving family and the other the difficulties of leadership. Yara had to turn her back on her brother, much as Tyrion is finally forced to turn his back on his entire House. Desperation forces both of them, and for different reasons, but the results are the same – alienation from their kin. The difficulties of leadership are most clearly invoked by Daenerys, as she must deal with the results of her own brand of justice, but also with several people in King’s Landing, especially the nominal power, Tywin, and the real power, Varys, both of whom have to make some difficult bargains. Tywin’s won’t be largely evident until we see his response to Tyrion next week, but he’s somewhere between a rock and a hard place. The Stannis and Ser Davos scene served to highlight both of these structures, although family is replaced by loyalty and friendship here, both that shown by Davos for Stannis as he convinces the Iron Bank to loan them money, and in his parlay with Salladhor. The problems facing Stannis and his leadership are named by the bankers, and done so more clearly here than in the more problematic scenarios facing Dany, Tywin, and Varys.
But again, this episode was really all about the trial. It was a farce from the beginning, and a lesson in how those we trust most can turn on us if it is politically expedient. Shae’s betrayal brought back to Tyrion the innumerable betrayals he’s faced at the hands of his father and sister over the years, and most especially the pain of his first marriage (the wife that Tywin claimed was a whore, and whom he forced to sleep with an entire troop of soldiers in front of Tyrion). He truly loves Shae, and there was no greater pain he could have felt – this is why he’s willing to take the step of demanding trial by combat. If they had kept Shae out of the proceedings, he would have gone along with his father’s plan. Despite his father’s belief, Tyrion is at least as loyal to House Lannister as Tywin, and perhaps more so. In taking the step of bringing Shae to King’s Landing and having her lie, it forced him to step outside of his position as a member of his House, and finally enabled him to do what needs to be done for himself, even if at this point it is mostly words. The fallout from the combat, which we’ll likely see next week, should be immense.
Steve’s Grade: A
An excellent episode that examines the difficulties inherent in ruling, and the need to sometimes turn one’s back on one’s family. Peter Dinklage owned the show, and Tyrion continues to solidify his position as my favorite character in Game of Thrones.