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What Westerosi cultural and karmic lesson was most reinforced in “The Laws of Gods and Men”, the sixth episode of this fourth season of Game of Thrones? That no good deed goes unpunished.
Examples? Temporarily rescue a princess from a sadistic psychopath and his pathetic, bloodthirsty bodyguard—it’s evidence against you for the murder of that psychopath. Crucify 163 slave masters in response to their crucifixion of 163 slave children—be shamed for your hastiness and reliance on assumptions. Give the show’s creators the benefit of the doubt that the whole Ramsay Snow/Theon Greyjoy/Reek story arc of disinterest and unlikeability will actually have a worthwhile payoff—be “rewarded” by a months-long sea voyage and rescue party ending with the Iron Islands’ fearless daughter fleeing from a pack of dogs. Take your son out shepherding with you in a field above Slaver’s Bay—have your flock cooked, skewered, and consumed by a pack of dragons, then getting paid three times the value of the flock— okay … bad last example.
With this lesson, manifested in Tyrion Lannister’s trial for regicide, we find another wonderful episode of Game of Thrones—of which a DVD should be on its way to the Emmy committee at this very moment, marked “Dinklage: Just give him the damn award right now”. Amid a roomful of liars—not just the witnesses spouting true but out-of-contexts encounters with Tyrion that support his guilt, but the peanut gallery reacting as they imagine Tywin would want them to react (as if they hadn’t fantasized about giving Joffrey a live-action version of “The Choker”)—Tyrion eloquently shames the masses the way we only wish we could (you know, without the retaliatory death): “I did not kill Joffrey. But I wish I had. Watching your vicious bastard die gave me more relief than a thousand lying whores. I wish I was the monster you think I am. I wish I had enough poison for the whole pack of you. I would gladly give my life to watch you all swallow it!”
But the episode isn’t without its faults. Yara has traveled for months by boat, fueled by rage at the enslavement and dismemberment of her brother, seeming to fear nothing on her path to bringing respect back to the Iron Islands. Yet, with the chance to annihilate Ramsay Snow in hand-to-hand combat, her and her soldiers submit to a disappointing case of cynophobia. I get the feeling the show’s creators are aware how pointless the Ramsay arc is: it’s likely no coincidence that the only two episodes in which Theon and Ramsay have appeared this season were offset by Joffrey’s murder and Tyrion’s trial for that murder, respectively. And, frustratingly, not a single witness (nor Tyrion himself, although at this point he’d clearly submitted to what he thinks is his fate) notes that not a soul alive could have predicted Joffrey’s tormenting of Tyrion minutes before the poisoning, which presented Tyrion with the opportunity that Cersei so staunchly believes her brother took advantage of (to be fair, this point is hardly registered in any episode, not just this one).
Still there hasn’t been, and likely won’t be, a more raw and uplifting scene than we find at the end of this hour: Tyrion’s speech (unless you want to include, as I do, Hodor’s lifting—and dropping—of Locke last week, but that’s a different sort of “raw” and “uplifting”) that ends with his demand for a trial by combat, similar to how he escaped death in the Eyrie and how Bronn and his sharp sword and wit were gifted to us. It’s not really been Game of Thrones’ style to tuck characters away unnecessarily for several episodes at a time—although characters have this done to them by outside forces, their story pushes on (Jon at The Wall; Jaime’s being imprisoned)—we find here it’s at least worth the wait.
Speaking of waiting…. As has been the case for the closing minutes of each episode this season, viewers are presented with more questions about the succeeding episode than they are answers from the current one. Will Tyrion be able to have someone fight in his stead once again, as Bronn had in the Eyrie? If so, is Bronn even available? Last we heard of him, he’s under investigation for being implicated with Tyrion. And who will fight for the kingdom (or, Cersei)? Will Jaime be asked to fight against the man who has been training him in left-handed battle, against his own will and the chances for his brother’s survival? Or, as a result of either Bronn’s absence or sheer belief in his brother, will Tyrion ask Jaime to fight for him? And in that case, against whom? If one were to believe Ser Gregor Clegane (which has proven to be a shaky choice, at best), Jaime should have no trouble discarding Meryn Trant off-handed and as drunk as Cersei.
- Forgive my burying it, but the opening scene featuring Davos and Stannis standing around in the Iron Bank of Braavos like a pair of schmucks seeking a loan for an Applebee’s franchise was fantastic, right down to the calculating nature of the bank’s tellers. As always, Davos saves us from Stannis’ petrifying blandness, and saves Stannis from the shame of a wasted trip.
- Saan is back, a welcome sight because the list of characters capable of joy is dwindling.
- As we saw with the wildling siege a few episodes back, a nameless father and son enjoying themselves in nature is typically doomed from the moment they grace the screen. But not so fast: this shepherd not only is blessed with the presence of Daenerys Targaryen, he is paid three-fold for the Meereenian barbecue he inadvertently threw for her dragons.
- Tommen and Joffrey’s bastard-hood continues to be more and more common knowledge: Stannis states it as fact to the Iron Bank of Braavos; Tyrion calls Joffrey Cersei’ “vicious bastard” in court, in front of all sort of subjects, with zero repercussion or even denial; Tywin goes out of his way to clarify to Jaime that the children he’ll be fathering will share his last name, this time.
- Oberyn continues to enjoy each scene he’s in regardless of circumstance. Whether he’s deprived of precious sleep (“These meetings aren’t always going to be this early, are they? I was up late last night …”) or trying to get all his facts straight while sitting as one of Tyrion’s judges (“Did you fuck him like it was his last night in this world?”).
- Varys and Prince Oberyn share a friendly verbal joust in front of the Iron Throne, concluding with the eunuch’s acknowledgement that he’s “pursuing” the throne. This revelation is no surprise (who isn’t pursuing that uncomfortable seat?), but his ease in admitting as much to an outsider like Oberyn is. Is an alliance in their future? Or perhaps Varys knows something of Oberyn’s fate that we (and the prince) do not.
- Jaime comes to realize what Tyrion has known all along: the trial—hell, even his being accused—is a complete sham. Although his plan to have Tyrion survive through a life at The Wall is thwarted by Shae’s presence (which Tywin most likely accounted for), Jaime’s reactions to the string of liars presenting half-facts at the trial may indicate he’s not done helping his brother.
- It seems that Jaime’s denunciation of his King’s Guard vows has been one of Tywin’s intended side effects for Tyrion’s trial all along. When the OG Kingslayer offers to give up his place on the King’s Guard and further the family name in exchange for Tyrion’s life, Tywin’s response—“done”—comes without a breath wasted.