There's chaos in the court as abused Tyrion turns the tables on his father's plan

By James Hibberd
May 12, 2014 at 03:58 AM EDT
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Order! I’ll have order here! Settle down or I’ll declare this recap a mistrial! First item on the docket: Yes, this week’s recap is shorter than usual, due to all the broadcast upfront madness coverage. But I’m supplementing my commentary below with an in-depth interview with this episode’s writer Bryan Cogman, and he knows this stuff far better than I do (the link is at end of recap). Second: I find this episode guilty! Guilty! I say, of being hugely entertaining and plenty heartbreaking too. So let’s take the witness stand and testify to this week’s Game of Thrones, “The Laws of Gods and Men.”

Braavos: Stannis’ ship sailing across the waters. Gorgeous opening scene of CGI-rendered fantasy-kingdom beauty. On deck, Stannis looks grim and unhappy — just like Stannis, in other words. His ship sails between the open legs of a massive fearsome warrior statue in a kilt/skirt. I bet everybody who sails under that statue for the first time can’t help but look up. They enter the City of Dangling Man Parts — or as they know it, the free city of Braavos, a place we have long heard about but never before seen. Thankfully, the Red Woman stayed home rather than tag along to burn a few of Stannis’ sailors along the way.

Stannis and Davos wait for the bank representative, apparently for hours. We suspect Stannis has been pacing the entire time. Why does this guy want the Iron Throne so badly? He seems equally miserable no matter where he is or what he is doing. The stone doors open and the bank executives enter, led by actor Mark Gatiss as Tycho Nestoris (Gatiss is awesome — plays Mycroft on PBS’ Sherlock, in addition to co-creating that show and writing for Doctor Who). The bank reps have high-backed chairs; Stannis and Davos have supplicant stone benches. The bank reps look at the self-proclaimed rightful heir to the Iron Throne as just another schlub asking for a home loan.

Stannis wants the Iron Bank to back his war against Lannisters, arguing the crown isn’t repaying its massive debt to the bank but he will if he’s in charge. Except he’s a dreadful negotiator with zero social skills. Stannis expects everybody to just bow to the logic of his claim. Tycho rolls over him, focusing on numbers, not seeing Stannis as a good investment given how little resources Dragonstone has. If Stannis ever actually got the Iron Throne, he would probably be a relatively fair and just king, but he’s so terrible at social game and incapable of seeing a situation from another person’s perspective, I suspect he would screw the job. Say what you will about Tywin, he at least knows what other people want and can use that to his advantage (as we see later in this episode, in fact).

Davos, whose neck is on the line here, saves the day. Davos argues that Stannis is a man who can be trusted to do things like, say, mutilate his friends if they don’t follow the rules. Davos’ shortened fingers make for a compelling visual aid.

Later Davos goes to meet his pirate buddy Salladhor Saan. And what exotic Braavosi location do we see to experience the local color of this newly introduced city? Why, Davos meets Saan at a brothel, of course! We can add this to the list of previous brothels that we’ve visited in King’s Landing, Mole’s Town, and near Winterfell. Watching Thrones is like following a tourist who travels all over the world yet always stays at a Hilton. At least this one is an aqua-brothel, so it feels a little different and watery. Davos throws some vague money at Saan to buy his pirate team. The coins are held in these neat casings. The Iron Bank really knows how to present its money in style.

NEXT: Enter the dragon

Meereen: Mini goats! Aww, they’re cute. But cameos by mini goats are no compensation for the lack of Ser Pounce. A dragon rises up from the gorge and I like the way its legs kind of kick in the air as it ascends. The dragon helps itself to some goat take-away. An amazing shot.

Later in Dany’s pyramid, the herder throws burned goat bones at her feet. She compensates him with three times his herd’s value. I bet that herders everywhere are going to start setting their flocks on fire to try and take advantage of Dany’s burned-goat welfare policy.

Next Dany meets a local nobleman, Hizdahr zo Loraq, who gives her lip about crucifying his father, who was apparently against killing those slave kids but died horribly anyway. Dany doesn’t want to be bothered by minor gripes like maybe she crucified some innocent people who were really nice if only she had gotten to know them. Can’t make an omelet, etc.

Dreadfort: Ramsay mails Yara her brother’s dick in a box. Now that song can be going through your head all night too. She stages a rescue mission. The old Theon would have been hugely moved by her supportive speech. Too bad. She expects to find him in the dungeon but he’s kept in the kennels instead. He refuses to come with her, denying his own name, and even bites the hand that tries to feed him. Ramsay shows up and fight’s Yara’s men. Ramsay’s all bare chested and scratched up, and I honestly don’t know if that’s from fighting en route to the dungeons or the lusty sex he was having when Yara’s attack interrupted him. Yara barely escapes and declares her brother dead.

Later, Ramsay gives Theon a bath. All I can think while Theon strips is “please don’t show it, please don’t show it.” Thankfully, they don’t show it (fun fact: behind the scenes, it was a conversation whether or not to show it). From the healed scars on his body, we get a sense that Theon has been captive for a long time.

We know Ramsay is going to do something horrible to his pet, because he always does. Once again he manages to surprise us with the flavor of his latest torment: Now that Theon has firmly accepted his new identity as “Reek,” and has even apparently found some twisted level of comfort in this, Ramsay wants him to “pretend” to be Theon Greyjoy to help acquire a castle (presumably Moat Cailin, which his father tasked him with seizing). Ramsay and Reek have now officially overtaken Jaime and Cersei as the most twisted relationship on this show.

King’s Landing: Before we get to the trial, we get a Small Council scene with new member, Prince Oberyn, who seems too cool for this table of schemers and supplicants. The subject at hand: Dany! Here’s yet another beat where Tywin is worried about the Mother of Dragons. Clearly this is leading to something, but what? Tywin wants a paper and quill. Uh-oh. When Tywin writes letters, bad things happen to people we like.

Tyrion’s trial gets an extended sequence (as Cogman points out in our interview, this is the first Thrones episode ever without a Stark). I suspect this is the episode HBO will submit for Peter Dinklage’s Emmy entry. Every time the camera cuts to Tyrion throughout this ordeal, he’s subtly giving us information. In fact, all the Lannisters are silently telegraphing so much throughout this sequence.

One of my favorite shots in this episode is Tywin getting into the Iron Throne after Tommen recuses himself. Everybody else we’ve seen in that impractical double-edged seat of power looks awkward and swallowed-up. He’s the first person to sit in the Iron Throne who seems like he had this chair custom made for himself.

NEXT: Knight court

So we get Ser Meryn trashing Tyrion for preventing him from abusing Sansa. Pycelle, in full shaky old man performance-mode, pays Tyrion back for throwing him in the Black Cells by accusing him of stealing his poisons. Plus he calls Joffrey “the most noble child the gods ever put on this good earth” — which is so over the top that even the Lannisters can’t take that line seriously.

(Digression: Has Thrones used the word “earth” before? Probably, but the usage did bring to mind this world’s whole odd alternate reality otherness. And I don’t think we’ve never actually heard a character declare a name for this world, only names for the continents and countries in it. In fact, I once asked Martin about this very question and he answered, “It’s not another planet. It’s Earth. But it’s not our Earth. If you wanted to do a science fiction approach, you could call it an alternate world, but that sounds too science fictional.” There’s more to that interview here but fair warning, there are Book 4 spoilers).

Anyway, Varys takes the stand and is disappointingly harsh in his condemnation. The pragmatic Varys does what he must, I suppose. Then it’s Cersei’s turn and she quotes Tyrion’s “joy will turn to ashes in your mouth” line, which really does sound pretty bad. In fact, at this point in the episode, I’m ready to declare Tyrion guilty myself, and I know he didn’t do it!

There’s a sidebar recess between Jaime and Tywin where Jaime thinks he has a bold and unique plan to save his brother. He offers to leave the Kingsguard and continue the family line, just like dad wants, IF Tyrion can be sent to The Wall instead of executed. Tywin’s super-quick “Done!” tells you so much — this is exactly what he wanted.

Jaime tells Tyrion of their secret deal. When Jaime asks his brother if he trusts him and Tyrion gives this vulnerable little nod, it’s a wonderful moment. It gives us a bare glimmer of hope that this might all get resolved, and that Tyrion might join Jon Snow at The Wall. This is totally foolish for us to believe because Thrones loves to tease us with the prospect of characters we love meeting up with Jon Snow at The Wall but it NEVER HAPPENS — Ned Stark thought he was going to meet Jon. So did Bran and Arya at various points. Forget it. There is no meeting up with Jon Snow at The Wall! The shame of this plan not happening is it would have been fun to watch Cersei totally flip out over being told that Tyrion was going to survive.

Now in walks the final witness, Shae. I assume the ship Bronn put her on was stopped and searched after Joffrey’s death. Her testimony is utterly damning, saying she had first-hand knowledge of Tyrion scheming with Sansa to kill Joffrey. But then she goes a cruel step further. She starts revealing their intimate exchanges (like “my lion”) and twisting them into humiliating barbs to condemn him. When Tyrion says, “Shae … please don’t” … he is not trying to keep her from testifying against him. He’s trying to prevent his heart from being broken before he dies. It’s gut-wrenching to watch.

So now Tyrion has something to say. He says he wants to confess. For a moment we think we’re going to have a repeat of his speech at the Vale in season 1 where he sarcastically confessed to all sorts of misdeeds when on trial (it would be fun to see Cersei’s reaction to his turtle stew prank). Instead he lashes out with everything he’s kept bottled inside all these years. He says he’s been on trial for being a dwarf all his life and that nobody appreciates him. “I saved this city and all your worthless lives!” he seethes. “I should have let Stannis kill you all! … I wish I was the monster you think I am.” And to Cersei: “Watching your vicious bastard die gave me more relief than a thousand lying whores!” (Note he used the word “bastard” there, presumably the first member of the royal family to publicly confirm the rumors everybody has heard, not that they’ll necessarily believe him).

Remember how Tyrion told that story in the first season of Tywin abusing and humiliating his young love? Now Tywin has seemingly ruined his relationship with Shae, too. Tyrion so hates his father in this moment, he doesn’t care if he’s ensuring his own death, he will not be a party to yet another of his father’s plans.

Tyrion demands trial by combat. YES! I’m on record as loving the trials by combat. And why shouldn’t Tyrion give that option a shot? It worked out for him once. But will Tyrion actually fight for himself? Or will somebody serve as his champion? Or will some new twist intervene?

As rash as it was, trial by combat was probably his best option. What do you think the chances are that Cersei would actually let Tyrion reach The Wall alive? That’s a long trip, a lot could happen. Now here’s much more on this episod, in this interview with Cogman where he gives all sorts of behind-the-scenes insights. Until next week, I leave you with this:

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HBO’s epic fantasy drama based on George R.R. Martin's novel series A Song of Ice and Fire.
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