Monday, May 12, 2014

Game of Thrones Season 4 Episode 6 "The laws of gods and men" Review

When we were at episode five, I commented that I liked where this was heading. Well, I have to admit, I had no idea. This episode was even better and impacting than the last, already very well scripted one, and provided only minor missteps in yet another thematically coherent hour full of the greatest and most touching character moments. Game of Thrones really is gearing up the game here, and the people wondering whether the show would survive its lost focus on the Starks and the clarity that went with it should reconsider. Game of Thrones never was better than it is now, and here’s to hoping that it will remain that way. 

Given the structural similarity of the episode to the second one where Joffrey died, and the sheer monumental final half of it, I want to ditch my usual approach and simply go through it chronologically. The job is made easier for me by the fact that the episode only contains four story threads, and wouldn’t you guess, all of them concern themselves with the question of justice and mutilated people.

We start off with Braavos, which has been amply prepared for by being mentioned all the time in the previous episodes. The shot in the credits features the Giant and the Iron Bank, but not the House of Black and White. Draw your own conclusions. In a gorgeous CGI shot we zoom in on Stannis’ ship with the red sails emblazoned with the banner of the Lord of Light before zooming out again, past the Giant and a panorama view of Braavos. The CGI really is marvelous, and the budget – the biggest of all seasons yet –pays off, giving us something to feast the eyes upon. This doesn’t stop in the Iron Bank itself, which pretty much looks like a slightly too monumental version of the IMF entry hall. Again, some subtle yet effective CGI is at work.

Then, three representatives of the Iron Bank enter the room in unison, making good on Tywin’s claim that the bank is an institution and that the men matter not. For us, they do, of course, and seeing Mycroft Holmes taking a brief leave of absence from Her Majesty’s Government to snub Stannis Baratheon is of course a welcome addition. I wonder if we’ll see more of him or whether it was a glorified cameo. The Iron Banker then quickly spells out their world view: bloodright and such stuff that Stannis considers justice by the laws of gods and men (pun with the episode title, got it?) is naught to the Iron Bank. It relies on numbers, and the ones that Stannis can provide (truthfully, one should add) about his strength on Dragonstone aren’t exactly encouraging.

It’s Davos’ hour then, who launches into a monologue about how Stannis is an honest man, whereas Cersei and Jaime are not, and Tywin is very much valar morghulis, and so on and so forth, while Stannis stands glaring. It’s an effective scene, but I really would have appreciated for Stannis not being so damn passive about everything. I like his facial expressions and everything, but sometimes Steven Dillane is keeping himself a little bit too tight and gives the Onion Knight too much spotlight. By the way, the Iron Bank snubs him for being a criminal, which Davos tries to circumvent by pointing out the fine difference between a smuggler and a thief, a difference for which the Iron Bank obviously doesn’t care. Nice bit here.

As in every contemporary American movie involving politics, a good speech will sway everyone (really an annoying trope by now), and so Davos can search out Salladhor Saan, who’s telling jokes in a bathhouse, using the opportunity to flash some tits in our faces in what might just be the most gratuitous sexposition up to date. The relationship between the two between barbs is very nicely played, and Stannis has a fleet again!

With that, up to Meereen, where Drogon hunts some sheep for himself. I expected this to be the scene where a certain girl gets killed, but gladly, we were spared that horror. Instead, we could watch a perfectly animated Drogon take off with a burning goat. Drogon and the Burning Goats would make for a good band name, by the way. We then meet Daenerys in the throne room, ready to dispense some justice by – wait for it – the laws of gods and men. In this case, it’s the laws of one woman making them up as she goes, and boy is it biting her ass. She’s lucky with the first visitor, since she can make him very happy by paying him thrice the goats. I hope this comes back in the next episodes to bite her in the neck when everyone and their aunt is coming to cash in on some three-times-over-goat.

But then, we get our first look at Hizdahr zo Loraq. Not the guy from the books, clearly, but Joel Fry carries the role with a great strength of character that is very promising. They obviously opted not to make him the “Hizdahr of the tepid kisses” from the books, which might alter the relationship a bit, but this version is clearly the more interesting one, so let’s see where this is heading. For now, Hizdahr proves himself to be up for the game and leads Dany right into a trap. Emilia Clarke doesn’t need to hide, by the way – the progressive vanishing of her smile making way to despair worked really well. Daenerys now has to ask herself what justice is, exactly.

It surely felt like it when she dispended it last episode with the great PEZ Dispenser of Doom, but now, confronted with the consequences of her actions and especially her pretty unjust equaling of masters and crime, she breaks for the first time. Her tenure in ruling Meereen gets off to a bad start, even more so since she’s obviously a foreigner in this mighty hall, with a ragtag band of protectors all around her, in a building that was renovated by a guy she just condemned to crucifixion. Ruling is much harder than Daenerys thought, and she will need some new laws soon. If she goes at it with the same improvising attitude she bares in the books, she’s in for a tough ride. 

With that, we’re back with Yara. Oh girl, how we missed you. It’s still a feat to row around the whole of Westeros in only six episodes, but her long absence gives at least a little bit more context to the distances she’s travelling. Reading the letter that Ramsay wrote to Balon Greyjoy, she’s motivating her soldiers in the typical Rorschach-way: “An attack on one is an attack on all of us.” You guess whose laws she’s quoting here. With her very own political savvy, she’s calling Theon “your prince” and appeals to the Ironborn’s penis envy. It works, and they infiltrate the Dreadfort (they have a knack for infiltrating castles in the North) and make it to the kennels, where Theon is being held. But he doesn’t even recognize her, taking it for a trap, and when Ramsay and his men show up, he actively fights against her.

Speaking of fights, I have complained a lot about the fight scenes in “Game of Thrones”, but this one actually works despite the two-handed fighting style Ramsay uses with her bare torso, somehow evading the Ironmen like he’s Brad Pitt in Troy. It has the chaos and the urgent brutality that a fight in this setting should have, not the playful badassery that fits “300” better and that was much in evidence the last times. The fight comes to a quick conclusion when Theon bites Yara to flee back into his cage, at which moment Yara proves to be a real leader, cuts her losses and gets out of there, simply stating the obvious: Theon’s dead, baby, Theon’s dead. One hell of a setup for the reunion in Stannis’ camp.

And with that, we get to King’s Landing, where Tyrion is collected by Jaime to receive trial by the laws of gods and men. What follows is essentially Peter Dinklage’s demo reel for the Emmy nominations. Tyrion is shackled (no humiliation spared) and led through the throne room. The camera is on one height with him, making us feel the crushing weight of the onlookers. He then proudly stands in the center of the frame, waiting for the accusations to come from his king. Tommen bails, however, giving the trial to Tywin, Oberyn and Mace Tyrell. Since there are already three chairs in attendance, this surely isn’t in any way choreographed.

Book readers already know what’s to come: pretty much everyone telling lies about Tyrion, making this part of the trial a tour-de-force through the earlier seasons, recapitulating the events. Tyrion knows that everything is staged, and he’s not alone in this. While he slumps back into the far edge of the frame to show us a largely empty box, the discomfort of Margaery and Loras is as visible as that of Jaime. They are doing some great work here without having any lines of dialogue at all in the throne room, once again proving the strength of the show’s casting. Mace Tyrell, whom we met earlier in an inconsequential Small Council meeting, is such an utter fool that “caricature” doesn’t even begin to describe it, but it works well enough.

The witnesses against Tyrion are following a clear dramaturgy: starting with Meryn Trant, who’s every bit as malevolent and stupid as expected (recalling the Hound’s description in the last episode for those paying close enough attention), we follow with Grand Maester Pycelle who crawls so deep into Joffrey’s dead ass that even Tywin has to control himself not to throw something at the fool. Pycelle is followed up by Cersei, whose empty chair reminds us of the haunting presence that she is to Tyrion, a good setup for his later speech about standing on trial for being a dwarf. Then comes Varys, almost harmless against the backdrop of the book version, whom Tyrion reminds of his earlier words that he won’t forget his service in the rescue of King’s Landing. Varys’ answer is so ambiguous that I can’t help but wonder where this will lead. Will he display more agency in using certain tunnels later? Let’s wait and see.

At this point, we go into recess, where Tywin tricks his hapless firstborn son into conceding the Lord Commander’s chair in order to save Tyrion’s life. I really like this twist. It mirrors Jaime’s initial decision to slay the king he was sworn to protect, once again forsaking his vows for the sake of rescuing someone else. The setup for a completely different betrayal is also done brilliantly: “Do you trust me, brother?” Tyrion’s puppy eyes all but scream a loud yes. This will become so devastating. Tyrion’s in for a quite a ride.

And then comes Shae. The utter destruction that she wreaks on Tyrion, and the utter destruction she displays herself is heartbreaking. Both of them play extraordinarily well, with Shae toning down the sexuality in comparison to the book while gearing up the direct lies, hitting Tyrion with his “cruel to be kind” approach that now bites him as much in the ass as Dany’s “justice” does her. You can see the crack on Tyrion’s face, when he “confesses” and starts the hateful speech at everyone and no one, shattering the deal Jaime made and doing the last thing he can to destroy his father, the monster who couldn’t enough be enough a second time: after Tysha, he wasn’t content with getting Tyrion guilty. He had to destroy him with his whore, again. But this time, Tyrion won’t stand for it. His confrontation is personal, much more personal than in the books, setting up the final stand between the two even more efficiently. The emotional culmination of all of this, when the veil of lies is finally ripped apart and all debts will be paid in the thrum of a crossbow will be devastating, and it has the full potential to bypass the Red Wedding in its impact. I can’t wait for next week.


  1. You think the omission of the House of Black and White means we won't see a nameless girl? Or like - Bravos itself - will they just tie it into later episodes?

    Hizdahr was unsettling. Not only was his the character the least like I'd imagined of anyone - even less so than Daario - but also the way he destroys Dany.

    1. I think the House will be pushed until season 5, most like.

  2. Game of Thrones really is gearing up the game here, and the people wondering whether the show would survive its lost focus on the Starks and the clarity that went with it should reconsider. Got Episodes