A review of tonight's “Game of Thrones” coming up just as soon as you fetch my brown pants…
“I wish I was the monster you think I am.” -Tyrion
“The Laws of Gods and Men” deals with Tyrion's trial for the murder of King Joffrey, and it's structured almost identically to the episode in which Joffrey died: the first half bouncing around the globe, often visiting characters we haven't seen much of this season (these two episodes are, in fact, the only appearances so far this year for Ramsay Snow and Theon), before the entire second half takes place in King's Landing.
Though the latter half of “The Lion and the Rose” was essentially one long scene divided into little vignettes between different characters attending the wedding, we get more differentiated sequences here, including a Small Council session, Oberyn getting to know Varys, Jaime visiting Tyrion in his cell, Jaime negotiating for his brother's life with Tywin, and two different phases of the trial. But the effect is the same, in the way that both the level of tension and the power of the emotional moments are allowed to build in a way the show often can't when it's flitting from one location to the next.
Before Shae makes a surprise appearance to testify against Tyrion (more on that in a moment), so much of what makes the trial so fascinating are those constant cuts to Jaime watching the action and recognizing what a sham of a mockery of a travesty the whole thing is. Tyrion recognizes that from the start and is barely making an effort – the only times he speaks up in the early going are when Meryn Trant is only telling half the story of Tyrion slapping Joffrey, and when his pal Varys sadly turns against him (Varys believes in Tyrion's goodness, but can also recognize a lost cause) – but it takes Jaime longer to recognize how rigged this particular game is. And we get to appreciate that transformation bit by bit, even as Bryan Cogman's script turns into a terrific, if warped, trip down memory lane as Trant, Cersei, Pycelle and others bring up Tyrion's transgressions – some imagined, some exaggerated, some real – against the sainted King Joffrey.
And in showing us all the testimony and Tyrion's defeated, indifferent reaction to most of it, the episode sets us up beautifully for the gut punch that is Shae's entrance. We were told several episodes ago that she had safely made her way onto a ship to Braavos, so either she got cold feet, or Tywin or Cersei arranged for her return. And it's here that Tyrion's cruel-to-be-kind approach to protecting his lover appears to be coming back to bite him terribly, as Shae comes across not as someone who has been coerced into giving false testimony, but someone who relishes the opportunity, given the last conversation they had and her previous fears about Tyrion's affections transferring to Sansa.
I didn't expect Peter Dinklage to spend the entire season in a cell, but the story has understandably kept him sidelined for the last few weeks. Here, though, he got a chance to shine (as of now, this is his clear Emmy submission episode) in an episode that played as a dark mirror of his trial in the Eyrie back in season 1. There, he was afraid for his life but also reasonably confident he could outwit crazy Lady Arryn and her smug knights. Here, he starts out having given up, knowing both how powerful his father and sister are and how much they despise him. When Jaime explains the compromise he reached with Tywin, Tyrion rightly recognizes it as the same deal Ned Stark was offered, but seems willing to take his chances with it. But then Shae comes in, and his world turns upside down. Tyrion understands a life where his father and sister resent him, even one where people laugh at him, as the crowd does as Shae talks about their first night together(*). But a world where Shae has turned so completely and utterly against him – where his public humiliation and impending death are now tied to such betrayal from the one good and safe thing he once had? That utterly breaks him, and leads to the incredible thing that happens next, when Tyrion tears into the crowd and then demands a trial by combat.
(*) What makes that so effective, as both convincing testimony and something that will hurt Tyrion emotionally, is that, like most of what's said on the witness stand, it has elements of truth. Bronn did take Shae away from a knight in another tent, Tyrion really did ask her to make love to him like it was his last night on earth, just as he made the threat against Cersei that she quotes back to the court (albeit in an altered context). Lies are always easier when they have some honesty backing them up.
I don't know if the rules in this trial are the same as they were for the one in the Eyrie, and whether Tyrion can select a champion or has to fight for himself. If the former, and if Bronn's not available again, it ought to put Jaime in a very precarious position, and one where he could be finally forced to take a very public stance with his brother against his father and sister/lover. (And it could give us a chance to see how well he's learned to fight left-handed.) If the latter, well… I suppose Tyrion figures better a swift death than suffering more heartbreak and embarrassment on his way to decapitation. And even though it's a trick he played once before, the stakes here feel so much higher, and Dinklage's performance made it all more intense and thrilling.
Marvelous episode. Even though the first half featured a lot of the B-team, those scenes looked wonderful, and the show always picks up such steam when it gets to stay in one place for a while as it did here.
Some other thoughts:
* Last week, I noted that the opening credits had been featuring the same locations on the map all season, even when we didn't go to Dragonstone (or when we did go to the Eyrie). Tonight, we got our first new map locale since the premiere: Braavos, with both the Iron Bank represented by the coin rolling along the walls, and the city's production of skilled fighters represented by the giant statue with the broken sword.
* Speaking of that statue, between the CGI shot of Davos and Stannis sailing Braavos, and the shot of one of Dany's dragons soaring through the sky to burn the poor goatherd's livestock, it's safe to say that the show's visual effects people get better at their craft (or get better technology and/or more money to play with) each season.
* What an unexpected pleasure to get Mycroft Holmes himself – aka “Sherlock” co-creator and frequent “Doctor Who” writer Mark Gatiss – as one of the Iron Bank's representatives, who allowed himself to be charmed by the surprisingly smooth tongue of Ser Davos into financing Stannis' latest campaign against the Lannisters. Stannis is lucky to have the old smuggler by his side, just as we're lucky to have such a charming character to appear in virtually every scene that also features one of the show's dullest major players.
* In general, I view everything involving Ramsay Snow and “Reek” to be a case of the show wallowing in the sadism of this world a bit much for my taste. But what I did find interesting here was the contrast within the episode between Theon, who was so ruined by his castration and the torture that came with it that he has ceased to function as a person; and Varys, who claims to have had no interest in sex before his own mutilation, and who has been strangely liberated by it. Wondering if we'll ever get a scene in the show featuring the two of them and Grey Worm, or any other member of the Unsullied. Do they do support groups in Westeros?
* It took Yara quite a while to make it from the Pyke to Dreadfort for that rescue attempt. Now that she's given her mutilated, brainwashed brother up for dead, I wonder what role she and her nasty old man will play in the story.
* Our brief stop in Meereen shows that Dany still has a lot of on-the-job training to do as queen – and in an episode where many characters had their full titles announced, hers is now the longest by far – not always thinking through her decisions and then being easily swayed about changing some of them.
* And speaking of the Mother of Dragons, we see in the Small Council meeting that Cersei remains smugly incorrect about the threat that exists to the east, even as Tywin and Oberyn are well aware that something has to be done. That Varys is assigned to have spies infiltrate her camp should be interesting, given that at times we've seen him be very supportive of Dany's return to Westeros (he conspired with Illyrio to protect her early in season 1), and at others has worked against her (arranging the assassination attempt that Jorah foiled). Which way will he lean this time?
* That scene also gives a sense of how slowly news can travel in Westeros, as Tywin is only now hearing of the Hound (with a minor assist from Arya) killing those soldiers at the end of the season premiere.
Finally, I'm pleased to say that we're finally bringing comments back to these posts, albeit in moderated form. So you submit your comments, and someone else from Team HitFix will be periodically going through, approving the ones that don't give away things from the books, and punting the ones that do. It'll slow down the flow of discussion from what we had previously (or what we have on other shows), but it'll also prevent people from obnoxiously trying to spoil things.
As a reminder, we are here to discuss “Game of Thrones” AS A TV SHOW, NOT AS AN ENDLESS SERIES OF COMPARISONS TO THE BOOKS. Therefore, here's the only rule you should remember: if your comment contains the phrase “the books” without it being immediately preceded by “I haven't read” – whether it's revealing upcoming plot, a motivation that hasn't been entirely clarified in the show yet but was explained in detail by George R.R. Martin, discussing the differences between a scene in the books versus on the show, etc. – then you should probably delete what you've written and start over. Anything even vaguely questionable will not be approved.
But with that, I'm glad to again be able to ask about this show: what did everybody else think?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at email@example.com