It’s a long-established and unavoidable qualm – in its sheer vastness, Game of Thrones tends to bounce around Westeros a little too frequently and leave scenes a little too half-baked. With so many bases to cover, it’s no wonder that we get short bursts of action instead of indulgent slow-burns. “The Laws of Gods and Men,” for the most part, gloriously defies that common criticism. The whole second half of the episode is devoted to King’s Landing and Tyrion’s trial, and as a result, the scene gets to marinate significantly more than we might have expected – a welcome change and one of the strongest bits of season 4 to date.
The episode opens in Braavos, where the show has never taken us before. Stannis and Davos are trying to convince the reluctant Iron Bank to fund Stannis’ military. The Bank is understandably reticent to go up against Tywin Lannister, but Davos eventually manages to pull enough money to pay for the services of Salladhor Saan, the recurring pirate who rescued Davos back in season 3.
Dany has stayed true to her queenly word and is dutifully glued to her new (and magnificent) pyramid throne as her subjects shuffle in to file their complaints. After a long, arrogant run of being totally wrapped up in her own victories and supposed benevolence, Dany is finally beginning to zero in on the more minute effects of her sweeping actions. Some charges, like dragon-eaten goats, are easily handled and reimbursed – but others, like the idea that the crucifixion of the slave masters may not have been entirely justified, get under Dany’s skin. Hizdahr zo Loraq insists that his father was a good man who fought against the city’s treatment of children and begs Daenerys to allow his dignified burial. Eventually, she bows to his demands, too.
These past few episodes have shown Dany’s maturation and progression as a savvy leader, but also her ultimate naiveté. If her inherent goodness makes her a pushover who can’t say no to her subjects, what’s to stop the Meereenians from taking advantage of her kindnesses? Or at the very least, losing respect?
At Dreadfort, Yara Greyjoy fails to rescue Theon from his cage – probably because there is no Theon anymore. Reek screams and resists his sister’s attempts to pull him to safety, and his racket alerts Ramsay. “My brother is dead,” Yara says as she and her men race away. As a reward for his prisoner’s loyalty, Ramsay draws Reek a bath and plants the seeds for a future plot: “I need you to pretend to be someone you’re not – Theon Greyjoy.”
We don’t know exactly what Ramsay has in mind, but already it seems like a dangerous plan, if not entirely ludicrous. First off, Reek doesn’t appear to have the presence of mind to make a sandwich, much less turn into a method actor on command. Second, does Ramsay really want to push his prisoner back into a healthier state of mind and then send that healthier prisoner somewhere out of his sight? If Reek can muster the backbone to shift back into Theon, surely he’ll want to stay that way. Ramsay’s got a good thing going with his brainwashed captive – he shouldn’t push his luck.
And then we have the trial. As Tyrion stands before Tywin, Oberyn, and Mace Martell, a rather painful string of witnesses rattles off anecdotes and testimonies that put the new Kingslayer in a rather difficult spot. Cersei, Grand Maester Pycelle, Meryn Trant, even Lord Varys, all testify against Tyrion, who weakly protests at some points but is generally silent and resigned. When the court breaks for lunch, Jaime tries to make a deal with Tywin: show Tyrion mercy (let him join the Night’s Watch), and Jaime will leave the King’s Guard and take his rightful place at Casterly Rock. Somewhat shockingly, Tywin agrees immediately. A little stunned at the simplicity of the bargain but still determined to go through with it, Jaime forwards the plan to Tyrion, who doesn’t have much time to argue before the trial recommences.
Of course, the final witness is the one that knocks the wind out of Tyrion and probably all hope of his innocence. As Shae takes the stand, she appears to take extreme satisfaction from her vicious testimony. It’s equal parts total lies and awkward truths – Bronn did steal her from another man’s tent, Tyrion did ask her to…well, you know. But she also insists that Sansa and Tyrion planned Joffrey’s murder, that Tyrion tried and failed to consummate his marriage with his new wife, and that Shae was nothing but a whore to her master.
By the end of her schtick, Tyrion is absolutely broken. “I did not kill Joffrey, but I wish I had,” he growls at the crowd with a ferocity that we’ve never seen from him. “Watching your vicious bastard die gave me more relief than a thousand lying whores.” The outburst probably would have served as the final nail in his coffin, but he shakes the room when he demands a trial by combat. Fantastic scene with what will most likely be an Emmy-nominated performance by Peter Dinklage.
I loved this episode – loved it. The strange conversation between Varys and Oberyn, the most Tyrion we’ve seen in quite a few weeks, the classic cliffhanger…wonderfully shot and wonderfully acted.
So, who’s Tyrion going to select? Leave your thoughts in the comments.
Photo Credit: HBO