Game of Thrones: The Laws of Gods and Men

"I've been on trial for that my entire life."

I'm going to leave all spoilers until after the jump because, you know, it's Game of Thrones. I feel this episode could have benefited from including Ser Pounce. All episodes could benefit from including Ser Pounce.

This was a dark episode of Game of Thrones, figuratively and literally. I realise that might sound like a strange thing to say about the show that gave us the Red Wedding, but I'm not sure there's yet been a season that's been as unremittingly grim as this fourth season. Jon's victory over the mutineers at Craster's Keep is probably the most positive thing to have happened so far, but that was tempered by Bran and Jon being agonizingly close but not reuniting and by Bran's use of Hodor. Other than that, the highlight of this season so far is probably the murder of a teenager at his own wedding. Compare that to episode six of season three, in which Jon and Ygritte stood and embraced on top of the world, and everything, right down to the lighting and the court mourning costumes, looks darker.

There are interesting parallels with a couple of previous Episode Sixes here. Most obviously, Tyrion's trial is a much darker and more serious re-run of his trial at the Eyrie in season one's 'A Golden Crown'. His life was in danger then as well, but Tyrion confronted the problem with all his characteristic humour and resourcefulness. Although frightened for his life, back then he was able to shock Lysa Arryn with a sarcastic 'confession' of all the inappropriate places he's masturbated. Here, he flings a sarcastic confession to being a dwarf at his father and there is nothing funny about it. Then, he demanded trial by combat, and when Lysa was unwilling to wait for Jaime, Bronn stepped forward and saved him. Here, it remains to be seen how his new demand for the same process will pan out, but it seems unlikely his brother can save him, being not only head of the Kingsguard and probably not allowed to defend a man accused of killing the king, but one-handed and unable to fight as well as he used to, to boot.

Back in season one, Tyrion's accuser was Catelyn Stark, a woman he respected, as he told her daughter Sansa in episode one of this series, and who genuinely (albeit mistakenly) believed him to be guilty. Here, his accusers are his own family and friends - everyone except Jaime, who stands ineffectually to the sidelines looking vaguely concerned throughout the entire process. Jaime makes a significant sacrifice for Tyrion in private - perhaps not as huge as it would have been a few weeks ago, since his relationship with Cersei has fallen apart, but still an agreement to do something he was adamant he did not want to do (there is a soppy part of me wondering if he had anyone in mind with whom to carry on the family name legitimately - and I notice that Tywin has finally left the land of denial and implicitly acknowledged that Tommen and Myrcella are Jaime's children). It's to no avail, though, because Tyrion is utterly broken by the final witness for the prosecution, Shae.

Shae herself looks nervous, upset and uncomfortable throughout, and her testimony was intercut with multiple shots of Cersei looking smug, so I wonder is she has been coerced in some way. The only moment in which she looked truly herself was when she looked at Tyrion and told him, "I'm a whore, remember?" Tyrion certainly doesn't deserve the treatment he gets here - but he maybe did deserve that a little, for the horrible things he said to her in episode two of this season. The whole scene is utterly painful for all concerned, and Dinklage is, of course, fantastic as Tyrion finally snaps and lashes out at the city that has shown no gratitude towards him.

The process of justice at Tyrion's trial is also paralleled with Danaerys' new regime in Meereen, where she sits in judgement as plaintiffs come to her with requests and complaints. Dany stands in strong contrast to Tommen, who does nothing but cede all power and decision-making to his grandfather, while Dany barely even looks to her advisers. Her rule is not going brilliantly though - so far, she's had to compensate a goat-herder for goats her dragons have scoffed and has been forced to acknowledge that maybe crucifying hundreds of people indiscriminately was not entirely an act of justice, and leaving them out on the crosses even less so - and those are just the first two plaintiffs of over two hundred.

Another parallel to a previous Episode Six is sneaked in as we get a scene between Varys and Oberyn, another of those gems that expands outwards from the books, where neither are point of view characters. We see Varys staring at the empty Iron Throne, just as Littlefinger did in 'The Climb', and we see Oberyn question Varys' motivations. The look Varys throws towards the Iron Throne when Oberyn asks him what he wants is very interesting - suggesting that perhaps Varys and Littlefinger are, ultimately, after the same thing, but just have very different ways of achieving it.

Oberyn manages to guess more about Varys and his background than most people, but we're reminded that the closest person to Varys in King's Landing at this moment is actually Tyrion. Varys says he tells his story to people he trusts, which must be a pretty small and select group of people, but Tyrion joined it in season three. We're reminded that Varys genuinely cares about Tyrion again at the trial, after Varys has testified against him and Tyrion asks if he remembers saying that without Tyrion the city would have been lost. Varys forgets nothing, so we know he will still help Tyrion if he can, though perhaps not openly - it will be interesting to see where that goes.

The other major storylines to get a visit in this episode were Stannis and Davos getting a loan from the Iron Bank of Braavos, and Yara Greyjoy seeing what has become of 'Reek' and giving him up for dead. Stannis and Davos' story was by far the most cheerful in the episode (and featured the welcome return of Salladhor Saan) but, well, Stannis was in it, so it wasn't that upbeat. Poor 'Reek''s story is one horror after another, but Alfie Allen is doing a fantastic job portraying a completely broken man, so at least it's possible to enjoy a truly fantastic performance, even in a really depressing storyline. Still, appropriately for an episode in which an audience favourite faces one of his darkest hours, this was a gripping but grim hour. We can only hope that the back end of this season will give us something or someone a little more rousing and positive to root for.

Grumpkins and Snarks

 - We saw our first glimpse of Braavos as Stannis and Davos arrive, which was exciting. Mark Gatiss, as the banker, was of course brilliant, as he always is.

 - Joel Fry gets his first proper scene as Hizdahr here. I've really enjoyed his performances in sitcoms (Twenty Twelve, Plebs) so I'm very much looking forward to seeing what he does with a more dramatic role.

 - In the course of Tyrion's trial, it becomes increasingly clear that Sansa was involved in Joffrey's murder. Natalie Dormer has no lines, but looks fantastically uncomfortable whenever the poison and the necklace are mentioned.

 - I was surprised to hear Shae denounce Sansa as well as Tyrion, since she had been so protective of her before, and it wasn't Sansa who called her a whore. Perhaps she thinks Sansa has escaped to safety and will be OK anyway.

 - In case anyone's wondering, Jaime is still my favourite, because I am pretending that episode three of this season didn't happen. Since the show seems to be doing that as well, it seems the wisest course.

 - Ser-Not-Appearing-In-This-Episode: Jon, Sam and everyone at the Night's Watch; Sansa, Littlefinger and everyone at the Eyrie; Arya and the Hound; Bran, Hodor and the Reeds (no Starks at all in this episode, basically); Brienne and Podrick; Bronn (that's a notable omission - where was Bronn during Tyrion's trial?); Ygritte, Tormund and the Wildlings; Melisandre; Gilly; Gendry seems to have joined Osha and Rickon in sitting out this season all together.


Tyrion: I’m guilty of a far more monstrous crime. I am guilty of being a dwarf.
Tywin: You are not on trial for being a dwarf.
Tyrion: Oh yes I am. I've been on trial for that my entire life.

Reminder: The comments on this episodes are appropriate for newbies. If you haven't read the books, you're safe! If you have read the books and would like to talk about upcoming events, please do so here, in our new Season Four spoiler thread.

Juliette Harrisson is a freelance writer and ancient historian who blogs about random sightings of ancient Greeks and Romans in popular culture at Pop Classics.


Josie Kafka said...

Excellent review, Juliette. I agree completely about all of it, but especially Ser Pounce.

Did anyone else feel like Oberyn's accent went to an Inigo-Montoya place, especially in his early scenes?

By the way, why does Oberyn speak with that accent? It's an accent that us English-speakers identify with people who have learned English as a second language, quite unlike the "native" accents of every single other character. Is there a native language of Dorne that I'm forgetting? Or is it just part of the whole Dorne-as-vaguely-orientalist thing?

I'm not even sure I'm expressing my confusion in a clear way. I'm going to go look for the six-fingered man.

Juliette said...

I figured Dorne is like a hotter, drier Wales. Which doesn't entirely explain the accent - the Welsh accent is one of many regional British accents. But there are a lot of Welsh speakers in Wales, so I guess maybe lots of people in Dorne speak Dornish as a first language and English (er, Westerosi) second? Except we never hear mention of Dornish as a language...

Diogo said...

It would be something like Scottish. The accent remains even if the original language is gone.

Also, in Gibraltar, I heard people speak English with a Spanish accent even though English was their first language.

Suzanne said...

Great review Juliette. Josie, my husband made the same comment about Oberyn sounding like Inigo-Montoya while we were watching! Not sure why he would sound like that, but I do like the character.

I loved all the parts of the show this week that dealt with the trial. I am beginning to feel like the Kings Landing parts are so much more interesting than the other parts, especially anything dealing with Reek. I hate those parts even though I agree that the actor is doing a good job playing it. I was hoping the sister would pull a Buffy and go all crazy on Ramsay Snow so we would never have to see him again.

Bea said...

For some reason (although it might be that I'm from Spain), I actually find Oberyn's accent a natural thing. Maybe in my head I've always felt Dorne was suposse to stand for not-in-England lands, perhaps, as had been said, Gibraltar (and yeah, that's Britain's territory in Spain, and the mixture is quite fun). We haven't seen Dorne in the show, but the way it's described in the books, the sort of palace structure and all alwasy reminded me of the kind of moorish constructions that we have in the South of Spain. Does that make sense?

I loved every bit of the trial, and by enjoy, I mean I suffered through it. Tyrion is a fantastic character, and much more so in the hands of Peter Dinklage, but there needs to be a general "bravo" to the whole cast during those scenes. Even, as you said on your review, Cersei's and Margaery's silent acting was glorious.

Luce said...

Really good review, Juliette!

I'd been practically dying to see the trial (because there was no way that the show wouldn't show it). Gotta say that it didn't disappoint. FWIW, my heart broke a little when I saw Shae blame Sansa for the murder. Yes, even more than her blaming Tyrion. She seemed to care for Sansa a lot (despite being reluctant to it at the beginning of her service to Sansa). Obvs, there are Papa Lannister and Cersai machinations behind all of it. Shae should've definitely taken the jewels Varys offered her some episodes ago. :(

Other than the trial, my favourite scene was the conversation between Oberyn and Varys. It's not often that someone can read Varys so well. Here's hoping those two form an alliance because I'd really hate to see them at opposite sides.