Game of Thrones
Last night’s episode cut to black to the strains of “The Rains of Castamere,” a song that’s become almost as common a motif in Game of Thrones as projectile blood and naked boobs. But in “The Laws of Gods and Men,” written by Bryan Cogman and directed by Alik Sakharov, the ode to Tywin Lannister’s cold, ruthless brand of justice seemed to be as much about the debts the Lannisters have created as the ones they promise to collect. The song’s lyrics depict one lion challenging another, in reference to the obliterated House Reyne’s red lion sigil and the Lannisters’ golden one. But as Tyrion screamed at his father — his judge in all the literal and figurative ways that title could possibly matter — you could see the little lion finally turning against the aging one. “A lion still has claws,” the song goes, “And mine are long and sharp, my lord / As long and sharp as yours.”
The theme of the episode was reckoning, and these scenes of calculation and consequences took place in well-defined gathering spaces: the conference room of the Iron Bank of Braavos, the receiving hall of Meereen (where all those massive right angles suggest the clarity, precision, and forcefulness our young queen is struggling to convey), and the throne room of King’s Landing. In each of these scenes, there is a recitation of the ruler’s long string of formal titles. This is formal, performative stuff — until the last moments of the episode, when the big show breaks down and takes a surprising turn.
In Braavos, Stannis and Davos have come to hear whether the Iron Bank will lend them the money they need to take on King’s Landing. The banker Tycho Nestoris, doing his most imperious Mycroft Holmes impersonation, tells them that while the books of Westeros are full of impressive tales, the books of the Iron Bank are full of numbers, and the numbers don’t look good: Stannis’s troops and fleet have been greatly diminished, and Dragonstone is not exactly rich with natural resources that could stand as insurance against a Bank loan.
But perhaps Davos has been paying attention to those storybooks Shireen has been giving him, because he steps in and demonstrates a new flair for narrative and rhetoric. He whips off his glove to show the bankers his five stubs, arguing that Stannis is the strictest of all men when it comes to paying his debts. It’s the ickiest, but most moving, demonstration of accounting principles I’ve ever seen. It also struck me, maybe for the first time, how Davos’s mutilated hand mirrors Jaime’s — except that while Jaime can only ever focus on how his injury diminishes him, Davos’s loss uplifts and refines him. I love how Davos’s love for Stannis keeps bringing out heroic new sides of him; I like the idea of humble, retiring Davos becoming the valiant hype man for a king who detests the thought of being charismatic himself. Their plea is obviously effective, because Davos finds his pirate friend Sallador Saan hot-tubbin’ it with two ladies who are not his wife and, throwing down a whole lot of gold, tells his old comrade (whose ships and services Stannis has bought once before, for the Battle of Blackwater) that they’re hitting the road at sunrise.
Over in Meereen, Daenerys is holding office hours for the people she has decided to stay and rule. Her first meeting is a piece of cake: A goatherd, whose flock we saw get cooked extra-crispy by Dany’s dragons, comes forward and apologetically unwraps a bundle of charred bones to show the queen what he’s suffered. Dany magnanimously offers to pay him … [dramatic pause] three times the goats’ original value! She smiles. Missandei smiles. See, it’s not so hard being queen. At this rate, Meereen should be in good shape by the weekend, and they can be off to King’s Landing on Monday. (Side note: Did anyone else clutch their pearls in agonized fear that the bundle would contain the boy’s bones?)
Then a young, handsome nobleman, Hizdahr zo Loraq, comes forth. At first he seems to be a callow Rich Kid of Meereen trying to curry favor with, or perhaps court, the queen, and Daenerys receives him as such — which is to say, with chilliness. He tells her that his father was a respected man of the city who oversaw the renovations of many landmarks, including the one she is currently sitting in. Daenerys says she would love to meet him, and he says that she already did — and she crucified him, along with 162 other masters. He asks for the right to bury his father according to the traditions of Meereen, which makes Dany begin to look even more uncomfortably colonialist than she did before. She is unsettled by the news that his father fought the crucifixion of the slave children and moved by his love, not to mention his willingness to humble himself before her. Troubled, she tells him to bury his father, and then listens wearily as Missandei tells her there are 212 more supplicants waiting for an audience.
I always appreciate when the writers give Emilia Clarke something she can use to shake off Dany’s eyebrow-arching oh-hell-no shtick, and I thought the exchange with Hizdhar worked like a gut punch. It was obvious she was going to have to deal with the messy complexities of ruling once she finally reached the end of the Endless Summer of Conquering tour, and now she’s being rattled by the enormity of her task. All those warlike and jubilant hordes the camera has panned across in the past served as colorful backdrops for Daenerys’s triumphs, but they were also tallying her future responsibilities, body by body.
Before moving onto the big trial: We got a too-brief bit with the grim Yara Greyjoy, whom I adore. One thing that’s great about a cast as big as this one, whose characters exist in relatively self-contained little pockets, is the way that all kinds of fun doubles and parallels emerge. When Yara was amping up her men to go rescue Theon, reading aloud the mocking letter Ramsay sent when he shipped home Theon’s bone, I thought of Daenerys, and how these two women leaders, one perfectly coiffed and one couldn’t-give-two-fucks, each wielded fiery speeches as a weapon. I also thought of Brienne, and how effortlessly Yara wears her masculinity in comparison; I doubt that Yara was hurt much by Ramsay’s declaration that she must have “bigger balls” than her brother.
Yara zipped into Dreadfort and zipped right back out; the encounter was almost comically quick, considering that the Iron Islands are not all that close to the Dreadfort. She and her men infiltrate the castle only to find Theon completely altered and cringing in a dog kennel. She tells her brother, “You’re Theon Greyjoy,” and he screams back that he doesn’t believe her; he knows he is Reek, good and loyal Reek. For a man whose sense of self-identity and relationship to his own capital-N name have always been fraught, it’s a poignant state. After Yara and her men have been chased out of Dreadfort by Ramsay’s frenzied dogs, she tells her men, “My brother is dead.” And by refusing their name — the thing she sailed to him to save — he is.
After Yara leaves, Ramsay brings a terrified and shaken Theon into his chambers, tells him to strip, and then invites him to take a bath. As he sponges Theon’s naked body, he asks him if he loves him. (The moment echoes the earlier one where we saw Ramsay having sex with Myranda while Yara recited his cruel letter; it underscores that physical intimacy is just another tool in Ramsay’s arsenal of manipulation. Speaking of which, what did everyone make of the cuts on Ramsay’s body in the kennel scene? Weird Flayed Man–themed sex play?) Ramsay tells Theon/Reek that he needs his help to take “a castle” from some “bad men” — a.k.a. Moat Cailin from the Greyjoys — and that in order to do so, Reek will have to pretend to be someone he isn’t: Theon Greyjoy. Not sure how this Manchurian Candidate–ish plot twist will play out, but I’m excited at the thought of seeing Alfie Allen do something more than wince and mumble again.
In a similar vein, it was great to see Peter Dinklage (Peter Dinklage, Peter Dinklage, Peter Dinklage) come roaring back to life this episode. Tyrion has been — dare I say it — a little snoozy of late. He’s always been an underdog, but he’s just been so wrung out and soggy this season. I missed his wily sharpness, which lately has found expression only in mordant jokes or small defiances. What his episode-ending blowout lacked in witty finesse, it made up for in fist-pump-ability. Jaime tried to save his little brother by promising to renounce the Kingsguard and serve as Tywin’s heir, if Tyrion could just be sent to Castle Black instead of executed (thus playing right into Tywin’s plans), but in the end, I was happy to see Tyrion Hulk out on his own.
Tyrion’s trial has arrived, and with it comes a parade of enemies and frenemies to bear witness against him. Tyrion meets the puppet-show event with his typical gallows humor and doesn’t even bother to hide what he thinks of Tywin’s kangaroo court. When asked if he knows what killed Joffrey, he says his nephew probably choked on his pigeon pie and that they should check with the pigeons for further intel.
As showrunner D.B. Weiss notes in this episode’s commentary clip, if Tyrion has one tragic flaw, it’s that for all his canniness. he’s never been good at hiding his distaste for those he sees as stupid or thoughtless. During his trial, three people who’ve been on the receiving end of his withering disdain — Meryn Trent, Pycelle, and Cersei — each offer damning but circumstantial evidence about his guilt. Pycelle confirms that Joffrey was killed by a poison called “The Strangler” that went missing from his stores, and shows the court the necklace that was found on Ser Dontos’s body — the poison-containing necklace worn by Tyrion’s missing wife. Meryn Trent recalls how Tyrion called Joffrey a fool and compared him to the Mad King — which is true, but as Tyrion tries to point out to little effect, only occurred after Joffrey had ordered Meryn to beat his then-fiancée Sansa. Cersei recites Tyrion’s famous “ashes in your mouth” speech from season two as evidence that he meant ill toward her family.
When Varys takes the stand and recalls how Tyrion did not seem happy to hear the news of Robb’s defeat, speculating that his sympathies may have shifted due to his marriage to Sansa, his motivation for testifying is murkier. In this episode, Varys tells Oberyn Martell that his lack of sexual desire for either boys or girls leaves him time to “pursue” other things, and gestures to the Iron Throne. But Varys has never really seemed to covet overt power, just influence. Earlier in the series, Varys claimed that his moral compass points in whichever direction will ensure the safety of the realm, and he told Shae once before that Tyrion was the kingdom’s best hope. He also once told Tyrion — as the latter reminds him, publicly — that while the history books would never record his heroics at Blackwater, he himself would never forget. It may be wishful thinking on my part, because I really want Varys to be the white-hat force that bends chaos to positive ends, in opposition to Littlefinger, but when Varys responds to Tyrion’s question “Have you forgotten me?” by sayingthat, “sadly,” he never forgets a thing, I wonder if Varys is playing a long game whose contours aren’t apparent yet. (Because we’ve known, ever since we’ve seen that sorcerer that Varys keeps in a box, that the Master of Whisperers is capable of playing a very long game, indeed.)
But a million times more heartbreaking than Varys’s testimony: Shae’s. Her surprise appearance was spoiled by Sibel Kekilli’s name in the episode’s credits, but it didn’t make the star witness’s turn any less sad, or perfect. As she speaks of the things she said and did to him in bed, she’s not just titillating the crowd, she’s sending Tyrion a mournful, private message: These are the ways we were intimate, these are the ways I loved you. Everyone’s pillow talk sounds ridiculous when repeated out of context, but the fact that you make yourself vulnerable and say it anyway is what bonds you. Shae’s recitation is humiliating, but it also testifies to what was precious between them; she makes up the evidence of Tyrion’s guilt, but the emotions she exposes are real.
And it’s ultimately too much for her lion. He confesses … that he should have let Stannis kill them all at Blackwater. His pent-up rage, undammed, sprays over everyone in the land who called him dwarf, monster, Half-Man, the Imp. It’s like the prom scene in Carrie. He wishes he had killed Joffrey; he wishes he had enough poison for everyone and could watch them all swallow it. And knowing that he’ll get no justice in this court, he calls for a trial by combat. That challenge could result in death for Tyrion or his champion (read Vulture’s explainer on the Westerosi justice system here) — perhaps his brother Jaime, like he wanted once, back in the Eyrie? — in which case, the rains may indeed weep o’er this hall when we return.
See you back here next week. Bring your brown pants.