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Monday, 12 May 2014

Game of Thrones S4E6: The Laws of Gods and Men.

So, Eurovision was fun.

Conchita Wurst, Queen of Europe.

We had Poland doing an utterly bewildering song about how Polish women are beautiful because they eat only cream; France doing an equally bewildering song about wanting a moustache; a circular piano; people booing Russia; Americans whining because how dare people talk about something not American; and Conchita Wurst, an Austrian drag performer (not a trans woman, as some people have been saying - although a trans woman, Dana International, did win for Israel sixteen years ago) winning in glorious fashion. 

Eurovision in a picture.

So, Game of Thrones.

Game of Thrones.
S4E6: The Laws of Gods and Men.

It's a big day in Westeros.

Not another wedding, no, but the trial of Tyrion Lannister, which we've been building to for a good three or four episodes now. Of course, any storyline with Tyrion is always good fun, because Peter Dinklage is a joy to watch, but past experience has shown us that the formula of Tyrion plus the Westerosi judicial system always produces good results.

As far as viewpoints go, this episode only has four, and it doesn't hop around at all. Instead, it tells four discrete stories – three in the first half, and one in the second, with no overlap between them. Instead of intercutting storylines together, one story is followed for five or ten minutes, and then it concludes and another one begins.

To be honest, I prefer that. Admittedly, I prefer it partly because it makes writing this review a lot easier, but it's also just a neater, cleaner way to deal with multiple viewpoints, and an approach that could potentially be applied to episodes with more viewpoints in them. An episode with six different storylines going on at the same time would feel a lot more balanced if each story had its own segment of the episode and didn't branch out elsewhere.

We start with Stannis (One True King of Westeros) and Davos arriving in Braavos to meet with the Iron Bank. I didn't expect to see these two for a fair while – I certainly didn't expect to see Braavos until the end of the series, at least – but since I adore Stannis and Davos, and since Mark Gatiss, here making his debut as Iron Banker Tycho Nestoris, is a superb actor, you won't find me complaining.

The Iron Bank does not, in fact, accept the Iron Price. If you
were wondering.

Stannis and Davos attempt to win the support of a sceptical Tycho, who points out their small army, low number of ships, and lack of any food to feed them with as his reasons for denying their request. Mark Gatiss is in full sinister smarm mode, which is a mode he does very well, and he's great to watch, especially when set against two comparatively more bullish characters like Stannis and Davos.

Davos saves the day with an impassioned speech, in which he points out that when Tywin Lannister dies, there will be nobody reliable to pay back the Crown's debts, whereas Stannis is the most reliable. He has a point: Nobody does duty and debt quite like Stannis Baratheon. Tycho apparently sees it the same way, since in the next scene Davos is hiring the services of his pirate friend with an obscene amount of gold.

Our view switches to Yara, who could be happier. After all, some random Welshman has just sent her a, um, body part of her brother's, and told her that he's going to kill all of the Ironborn in the North. She mounts a rescue operation with her band of jolly pirates, fighting her way down to the kennels where she finds Theon in a cage.

Anyone who saw the Theon-shaves-Ramsay scene can see where this is going, but it's still painful to watch. As Yara tries to pull Theon out and escape with him, he screams that he doesn't believe her, clearly thinking that this is one of Ramsay's games. As Ramsay's men swarm the kennels, Theon continues to scream about how he's 'a loyal Reek, a good Reek', eventually biting Yara's hand to get free of her. It's a very far cry from the Theon we were introduced to, and even though this isn't the first exposure we as an audience have had to Theon in his 'Reek' persona, I was still right along with Yara in being shocked by it. Like with the shaving scene, I genuinely hoped he would just go with her and escape Ramsay, even though I knew he wouldn't.

Ramsay drives Yara off with his hounds, and she tells the pirates waiting for her that Theon is dead. We then see Ramsay 'rewarding' Theon by giving him a bath: The whole scene is disturbingly sexual, with Ramsay urging a reluctant and ashamed Theon to undress and rather smugly eyeing him up (although it's pretty obvious he's more interested in his handiwork than in Theon's body), before gently cleaning him, with Theon's flinches and sharp intakes of breath making it obvious that he expects Ramsay to hurt him.

I cannot imagine why.

Hygiene and personal grooming, and the certain level of intimacy that goes along with one person assisting another in it, seems to be a running theme in Theon and Ramsay's scene. When Ramsay needs to demonstrate power over Theon, it's always through personal grooming in some fashion, and inevitably it involves getting up close and personal. Even when they're not together, they're often contrasted by Theon being dirty (he's called 'Reek' now, after all) and Ramsay being clean.

Next we go to Daenerys. One of her dragons having killed and eaten a goat, she must now face a rather miffed goatherd. She promises to pay him three times as much as what his herd was worth (and I couldn't help but notice Barristan's double take when she said that), and he is appropriately grateful. A job well done, then.

Less easy for her is the next man in. A noble from Meereen, he chastises her for her decision to crucify the masters of the city, saying that his father spoke out against the crucifixation of children that prompted her ire. To be honest, I found it difficult to sympathise much with this dude: He says his father advocated against crucifying children, but despite being apparently a member of the ruling class, seemingly did nothing more drastic to stop it, and was still a slave-owner. Still, Daenerys is visibly overwhelmed by the man's plea to be able to bury his father with the proper burial rites, and reluctantly agrees.

As the man leaves, she asks how many more people there are to see her. Two-hundred and twelve, she's told. Daenerys doesn't say how much this is exhausting and upsetting her, and she doesn't need to: It shows in her face and body language, and it's a very effective scene because of it. Not everything needs to be spelled out, after all, and one of the advantages of a visual medium is that you have a lot more opportunity to show these things instead of just telling the audience.

Emilia Clarke's acting is pretty top-notch, and while her storyline is definitely one of the shorter ones in this episode and doesn't really advance the plot along at all, it is, I think, a necessary storyline. It shows the burden and strain of ruling, which is an important part of Daenerys' character arc, especially since until now she hasn't really had to rule in this fashion. She's been a conquering hero, not a queen who must deal with the day to day rigamarole of queen-ery.

That's the first half of the episode. For the second half, we're focused entirely on the King's Landing Krew, in a thrilling episode of Law and Order Westeros. 

Work hard, play hard.

Honestly, Cersei, will you not think of Tommen? The boy aged four years when his brother died, what do you think will happen if his mother and grandfather execute his uncle?

"Well, Tyrion is clearly guilty, we should kill him now."
- Margaery Tyrell.

Okay, we get to see a little bit of the Small Council shenanigans, with Tywin, Varys, Oberyn and Cersei discussing the threat that Daenerys poses, but the bulk of this half is Tyrion's trial. Tyrion is visibly displeased – as well you might be, if you were on trial for a murder you didn't commit – but keeps his cool.

It's been made fairly explicit, both in previous episodes and in this one, that this is a kangaroo court, so it really comes as no surprise when every witness called has evidence against Tyrion. What's more surprising is that plenty of the evidence is true, if utterly unconvincing: Usually, it's things that Tyrion has actually said. Nothing that would fly in one of our courts of law (well, I mean the UK's crown court. Always good to define 'our') but in a medieval fantasy court where at least one of the judges has it in for you and there's no jury? Yeah, I can buy it.

So can Jaime, apparently, as at the first opportunity he descends on Tywin to give him a piece of his mind. Tywin's unimpressed, as ever, but agrees that if Jaime will leave the Kingsguard, take up a seat at Casterly Rock, marry and have children, he'll let Tyrion join the Night's Watch instead of being executed. Jaime's response isn't what mine would have been, which is 'Do I have to do that all before the end of the trial, or … ?'

Although that having been said, there's really no impetus for Jaime to follow through on his end of the deal at all. Once Tyrion was safely at the Night's Watch, even Tywin would have trouble touching him. Jaime could swan off to Braavos and Tywin would just be left to look displeased and be Charles Dance at people.

But Jaime passes on the good news to Tyrion, and in a display of startling self-restraint, Tyrion doesn't reply with a bland 'woooo'.


Then things go wrong. Because Shae's back! But now she's evil. Bit sudden, not going to lie. It was a bit sudden in the books, too. We never really see anything that suggests that, even scorned and threatened, Shae would turn on Tyrion quite so fully. But she does, saying that Tyrion did unspeakable things to her and demanded that she call him 'her lion', before moving on to saying that he promised to kill Joffrey as a way of getting Sansa to sleep with him.

(Oh, hey, I just found Theon/Mary-Sue fic. Neat.)

This is more than enough to drive Tyrion over the edge, and he begins to rant at the courtroom about how he saved them, but he wish he'd let them all die, and he wish he was the monster they thought he was so that he could poison them all and watch them die. It's like the darker cousin of his 'confession' to Lysa and Catelyn in series one, as he snarls his monologue out at the crowd. It's a wonderfully delivered monologue, and Peter Dinklage gives an absolutely stellar performance – it is very easily the high point of what might be the strongest episode of series four so far.

Finally, he demands that if he's going to be found guilty anyway, he wants a trial by combat. It's a gambit he's pulled before, but who will he pick this time – Jaime? Bronn again? Cersei?

She'd probably lose on purpose just to spite him.

(It won't be Cersei.) 

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