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Game of Thrones Review 4.06 - 'The Laws Of Gods And Men'
Posted by Jeremy Thomas on 05.12.2014

If Game of Thrones is a show about power and how and why people attempt to achieve it, then you can mark each episode and each character by the paths that are taken on that road to power. "The Laws of Gods and Men" is, in many ways, about the legal system in Westeros and without. That's what we see most of in this episode; the wheels of power turning in one way or another. But this episode is also a deeply cynical one in which those titular laws are enacted via manipulation. Honeyed words are the name of the game this week, and everyone from the noblest men to the vilest fiends use words far more than might to achieve their ends.

And really, this isn't so surprising. Look at the most successful characters on this show; most of them haven't gotten where they are by charging into every situation with violence on their mind. Instead they use the right speech, the right lies or the right schemes in order to accomplish their goals. It's a cynical thing to think, that manipulation is at the core of both secular and religious laws. But it's also a common thing to think (how many lawyer jokes can you name?) and it's honestly not the most untrue thing in the world, either.

Manipulation is seen in just about every plotline for this week's episode, although it takes different forms. Let's start with our early episode moments, where Stannis and Davos head into Bravos, where the Iron Bank is seated. Bonus points for the work done in that opening scene as we get a glorious look at the city and the giant Colossus-like statue that stands outside of it. They're trying to get money from the bank so they can go retake Westeros, but the bank's representatives (which include an appearance by Sherlock's talented Mark Gatiss) seem less than impressed about the idea. I love the idea of the Iron Bank being a distinctly apolitical entity here. They aren't taking sides in the war; they're looking at what is best for the Iron Bank and throwing in there.

This is why Stannis has so much trouble when he tries to appeal to the bank politically; they just don't care who sits on the Iron Throne in terms of right, wrong or just. They only care who will be best for business. Things look very worrisome for good old King Stannis until Davos stands up and points out that Stannis does repay all of his debts and that he is best for the Iron Bank. Davos doesn't manipulate in the sense of the word that makes us think of deceivers or puppet-masters, but knowing exactly what will sway the bankers and firing off the perfect story--complete with maimed hand--to get them on their side is manipulation nonetheless. It's a nice character moment and it makes Stannis suddenly relevant in the overarching plotline again, as well as surely winning Davos some much-needed favor with his king.

"I am the king's Hand. The king's fingerless hand, anyway."

Others manipulate and work the system as well, or at least start to get the inkling that there are times it is necessary. Daenerys is finding herself as the ruler of Meereen, with more titles that you can possibly say in one breath. And she certainly has good intentions, but she's also new to the idea of ruling. And this week her forthrightness comes up to bite her when her decision to crucify the elders of Meereen for their like actions toward slave girls is thrown back in her face by Hizdahr zo Loraq, the son of one of the crucified men. Hizdahr's father, he claims, argued against the crucifixion and Barristan's words about treating the people of the city with mercy are sounding like pretty good advice in hindsight. Dany sees reason here, although Hizdahr's introduction certainly comes off as the kind of thing which suggests we'll be seeing more of him around. In either case, the Khaleesi (and all those other fancy names) is starting to get the idea that ruling a kingdom involves more than just being honest, true, just and fair.

There are two contenders for the cruelest manipulation done in this episode. The first comes at the hands of Ramsay Snow, who with Karl and Joffrey out of the way is the clear frontrunner (with Littlefinger a close second) for "biggest monster on the show." Ramsay is clearly utterly deranged; as near as we can tell, he leaves a sex session covered in what looks to be his own blood so he can try to kill Yara and her Ironborn. That makes for a hell of an image, by the way, and the battle sequence is well-orchestrated. The way this whole thing plays out shows the depths to which Theon has sunk and demolishes any potential theories that Theon may be biding his time for a chance to get away. There's no masquerade here; Theon really is Reek at this point and Gemma Whelan's look of despair when she realizes that her brother really is functionally no more just puts a capper on it. But Ramsay isn't done and he pushes the whole thing even further when he gives Theon a bath so that he can lull him into pretending to be himself so that they can take back that castle being held by bad men. This is a brilliant little twist that Ramsay plays off beautifully and could conceivably let Theon come back into himself a bit, if the storyline allows. After all, how better to remember who you are than pretending to be him again? Ramsay's taking a hell of a risk, but he's confident in his complete and total psychological hold over Theon and that should be fun.

Seriously, what the hell were they doing in that bed that he got this bloody?

But of course, the true sizzle and steak of this episode is the trial of Tyrion Lannister. Or rather, the farce of a trial, because the whole thing is a kangaroo court to the nth degree. Game of Thrones has shown how dangerous of a city that King's Landing can be before, but never has it been clearer than during the court proceedings. Cersei has lined up just the right evidence to portray Tyrion as a monster who slew his own nephew. The brilliance of it is how she makes it sound not like it was some noble deed for the sake of the city, but instead a vile little near-pedophile who did it because his ego had been hurt and he wanted to get into Sansa's bed. Of course Sansa is framed as well, but the focus here is on Tyrion himself. And in a wonderful little series mini-retrospective, every little toad who Tyrion has punished or threatened comes up to relay a deeply stilted story about how Tyrion wanted Joffrey dead.

The frustration that Peter Dinklage lets Tyrion express is fantastic in this scene and there's a moment when it looks like it can't get any worse; this is when Varys comes in and relates a story that paints Tyrion as a potential murderer. This one hurts because Varys represented the people of King's Landing who remembered what Tyrion did for the city and he also represents them here. He knows that if he doesn't side with the power behind the throne, his life will get miserable (if it lasts at all). The exchange between Tyrion and Varys is a sad moment; when Tyrion asks if Varys remembers what he said to him, Varys replies "Sadly my lord, I never forget a thing." And this is more than just manipulation on Varys part, although it's certainly manipulative. It's a bit of double-meaning. He has seen kings rise and fall and he knows based on history what he must do. And he's apologetic that he even knows this fact that he had to relate. But such is as it is.

And this is where the master manipulator himself comes into play. You can't help but wonder whether Tywin allowed the whole charade of Tyrion's funeral to go on specifically in order to get Jamie to commit to returning to leave the Kingsguard and go back to Casterly Rock to raise a family. Is it too much to believe that Tywin knew his children so well that he knew that Jamie would give up what he wanted in order to save his brother? I don't think so. He knows Cersei and Jamie remarkably well. However, he doesn't quite know Tyrion as well as he thinks because just when everything is going as planned, Cersei brings in none other than Shae and what she says pushes Tyrion too far. I kind of like that it isn't entirely clear here what Shae's motives are. On one hand it looks like she's just angry for being sent away. But on the other...well, if she was delivered to Cersei than her life would potentially be on the line. Is it inconceivable that Shae is doing this against her will to save her own life? I'm betting we'll find out. Wonderful work by Sibel Kekilli though, selling both her anger at Tyrion and her pain at lying in a way to condemn her beloved.

Did anyone else think "Finally, the true King sits on the Throne" at this point?

And of course, this brings us to the final moment. This is the stuff that makes Emmy highlight reels. Poor Peter Dinklage hasn't had a lot to do this season and even season three didn't give him a chance to really deliver as well as we know he can. This moment makes up for all of that. Tyrion's utter, boundless rage in this scene is absolutely glorious. He completely cuts his way through all of the manipulations and twistings that have put him in this place. And let's not forget; Tyrion is a skilled manipulator too and has done so on many occasions. What he does here though is the equivalent of dropping a Westorosian mic, delivering some full-on truth as snaps and says "I didn't kill Joffrey, but I wish I had." All of Tywin's maneuverings, all of Cersei's careful plotting; it all falls apart as Tyrion demands a trial by combat. The look of cold lividity on Tywin's face is matched only by the defiance on Tyrion's. It's a brilliant ending to one hell of an episode.

Some Final Thoughts:

The return of pirate lord Salladhor Saan is a welcome moment, and the verbal repartee between he and Davos is fun. It's also nice to see Davos smile for once.

Completely missing this episode: the buddy cop duos of Podrick/Brienne and Arya/The Hound. Although the Hound is mentioned in a Small Council scene as killing guards and saying "Fuck the King." They're really trying to make us like Sandor if we don't already, aren't they?

Speaking of trying to make us like people, the Jamie Lannister Salvation Train continues in the wake of that whole rape thing. It's definitely smoothing out at this point and fading into the background, though we won't forget he's a terrible person.

Also: no rape this episode! It's like a Christmas miracle.

The scene between Oberyn and Varys in the throne room is a fun one and shows how Varys avoids being manipulated; he's asexual. It's a smart way to go in Westeros, really.

The 411: "The Laws of Gods and Men" accomplishes both of the tasks a good Game of Thrones episode should; it seeds and sets events in motion to pay off down the line while giving us a couple thrilling moments. We have a lot to look forward to and at the same time we have Tyrion's brilliant "confession" as well as a great dragon scene, an impressive battle number and more. This is one of those few hours of TV that is able to achieve the task of having its cake and eating it too.
411 Elite Award
Final Score:  9.0   [  Amazing ]  legend


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