“Watching your vicious bastard die gave me more relief than a thousand lying whores.”
Directed by: Alik Sakharov
Written by: Bryan Cogman
A pairing of Alik Sakharov and Bryan Cogman carries with it the inherent promise of greatness, as proven by Season 2’s “What Is Dead May Never Die”, one of the best episodes of the show thus far. “The Laws of Gods and Men” delivered well upon that promise, at least for the most part. Sakharov is a veteran of the show at this stage (not to mention a HBO veteran), while Cogman has always had a deft hand at adapting A Song of Ice and Fire very faithfully on screen. This episode spent time in precisely four locations, and it is no lie to suggest that (usually) the narrower the focus of the episode, the better its overall quality. Such was the case this week.
Since most of Davos’ relevant chapters from A Storm of Swords were used last season, Stannis’ arc in Season 4 was always going to be a challenge. The decision to have him actively seek funding in Braavos as opposed to stewing on Dragonstone a while longer (scenes which have already outlasted themselves) is a good one, and will play nicely into developments further down the line. With our introduction to the oft-mentioned Braavos – which looks stunning on screen…not to mention the Titan! – comes our introduction to the Iron Bank, which has been hyped up to no end of late. Tywin’s analogy of the Bank being a pyramid, and its bankers the stones, is fully realized through the massive reception chamber and Mark Gatiss as Tycho Nestoris. No doubt Sherlock fans will find amusement at seeing Mycroft in such a situation, but Gatiss played the part wonderfully; equal parts cold and cagey, curious and quasi-disinterested, always eclipsed by the massive chair he occupies – the authority and reputation of the Bank itself is what’s important, always. I don’t need to mention Liam Cunningham‘s acting, his Davos is always entertaining and suitably on par. However, it’s a pity Stephen Dillane isn’t given such strong material to work with more often. Despite this scene not being in the books, Cogman really nails the characterization of Stannis as per the books. Also, Lucian Msamati deserves a mention for his charming portrayal of Salladhor Saan – he always lights up the screen.
What didn’t work so well – although to be fair, its concept was so ridiculous I don’t see how it ever could have – was Yara’s meager attempt at rescuing Theon. It seems like the Iron Islands’ “fifty best killers” (a bizarre term) didn’t amount to much – Ramsay even went in shirtless. While it was shocking to see Reek’s ultimate devotion to his master, even in the face of rescue (which he is convinced is a trick by Ramsay, a nice callback to Season 3’s “rescue”), the entire sequence was poorly handled, comically so. If the Ironborn assault was supposed to be a callback to Theon’s taking of Winterfell in Season 2, it wasn’t conveyed too well. Add that to the fact that it was never made clear whether the infiltration’s success is due to the Dreadfort not being well-manned, or that its men-at-arms are just incompetent at stopping a measly fifty people attacking a formidable castle, and the recipe doesn’t look very appetizing. All that was amounted to was the following: Yara makes a “badass” speech in the hope that the audience will become invested in what’s to come, Reek demonstrates just how broken he has become (again), some of the Iron Islands’ “best killers” are slaughtered by a shirtless Ramsay, and finally our ferocious warriors hightail it back to where the book plot demands them to be when faced with two hounds and Ramsay’s kindness. Also, where the hell was Roose when all of this was happening?! And surely Ramsay should be reprimanded for failing to retain yet another Greyjoy? Somehow I doubt that we will ever see such consequences. Overall, it was a poorly conceived scene (even more so when one remembers that it was hyped up in last season’s finale), and even the well-handled aftermath between Ramsay and Reek at the bath couldn’t save it.
As the popularity of Game of Thrones escalates, the CGI scales with it. Sometimes I have to remind myself that yes, this is still only a TV show I’m watching. Those who only watch the show for dragons can be silenced for another week, as we were given an insight into just how much control Dany really has over her babies. I have never been as adamantly opposed to Emilia Clarke‘s acting as some fans, but I do agree that she needs to tone down the intensity somewhat – some of her line reading when dealing with Hizdahr zo Loraq was quite forceful and over the top. A word on Hizdahr, introduced in this episode and played by Joel Fry: while his character differs in comparion to his book counterpart, I quite like the show’s/Joel’s interpretation of him so far. Fry gives him character, which lends the hope that he will amount to more than just another confusing foreign name as the story progresses. All of the Meereenese sets so far have been stunning, and Dany’s position on her well-elevated throne is consistent with her elevating herself from the city upon liberating it. She’s beginning to realize that liberating and ruling are two entirely alien concepts.
Of course, all the prior material pales in comparison to the main event of the episode; Tyrion’s trial. The show has always excelled at presenting major set-pieces, and the trial is no different. No doubt the praises will be widespread for Peter Dinklage‘s magnificent performance, and rightly so. However, his Emmy-worthy performance could overshadow some more subtle performances, and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau deserves ample praise in this regard. Through a series of progressing shots of changing body language and facial expression, he brings Jaime through the motions as he realizes that the trial is nothing more than a formality, and the verdict has already been all but decided.
The trial was a fine piece of work from all involved, and a definite turning point for one of the show’s major characters. Unlike Jaime, Tyrion has known ever since he was accused that the trial would be a farce, and apart from an early protest against Meryn Trant and a barbed question for Varys, he resigns himself to his pre-determined fate. Everything comes full circle upon Shae’s testimony, however. The best aspect of the trial is that every piece of evidence the witnesses use against Tyrion is either true but with a skewed context, or has an element of truth. It really speaks volumes of the butterfly effect a throwaway comment or deed can have on this show. Everything amalgamates in the rewardingly tense final two minutes, as Tyrion finally publicly spews forth all of the vile bitterness he has amassed over the years, and tears apart Tywin’s seemingly perfect plan by demanding a trial by combat. Whatever future his character holds, it promises to be dark.
Here’s this week’s “Inside the Episode”, along with a preview of next week’s episode, “Mockingbird”: