This Game Of Thrones post is written from the point of view of someone who has not read the books the series is based on. As such, spoilers are strictly forbidden. Any spoilers in comments will be deleted on sight. If you see spoilers, please mark them as best you can and email toddvdw at gmail dot com or contact Todd on Twitter at tvoti, and he’ll take care of them as soon as possible. Remember: Discussions of things that were different in the books or confirmations of things that won’t happen count as spoilers, too. Have you read the books and want to discuss what’s coming? That’s what our experts reviews are for.
Episodes like “The Laws Of Gods And Men” make me realize that there are increasingly two Game Of Thrones airing every Sunday night. There’s the first 30 minutes of the show, which collects short vignettes from throughout Westeros and parts beyond, followed by a half-hour of meatier, more concentrated storytelling from King’s Landing. By crafting episodes along this divide, the show runs the risk of bisecting itself, of doing more to isolate its teeming droves of character than geography ever could. But Game Of Thrones is smarter than that, and as “The Laws Of Gods And Men” demonstrates, David Benioff, D.B. Weiss, and crew are working hard to find the threads that connect the many disparate elements of their show.
It’s a very savvy, very modern way of structuring a television show. It plays to the binge-viewers as well as the week-by-week audience: The threads that play out across the season, but are only a small fraction of any given hour of Game Of Thrones, flow together more coherently in a binge. For us residents of the Stone Age who still enjoy gathering around the TV set at a predetermined date and time, we get the compelling, self-contained drama of storylines like The Purple Wedding or the trial of Tyrion Lannister. Nether’s the better “show,” per se—they combine to make a satisfying whole. Speaking personally, I might prefer the show-within-the-show that’s taking place in King’s Landing, but only because it sends larger, more palpable shockwaves to be felt across the Seven Kingdoms.
Even so, “The Laws Of Gods And Men” is a neat reminder that neither half of the episode has to be one show or the other. The lengthy trial sequences demonstrate the advantages of both approaches, drawing upon details that occurred weeks, sometimes years ago in the production timeline of Game Of Thrones. The episode puts the viewer in the unique position of being the ultimate, all-seeing witness in Tyrion’s trial. We may have recently accepted Littlefinger’s confession to the crime of killing Joffrey, but we can corroborate nearly all of the evidence leveled against the man formally accused of the crime. All that testimony reiterates events that occurred in previous episodes, but that reiteration grants them new meaning, giving idle threats against Ser Meryn the same amount of weight as the confiscation of Grand Maester Pycelle’s stores in season two. To have all of this information at our disposal puts a new spin on the show’s sense of justice; to know the know difference between a truth and a lie makes the unreliable narrator act of Shae’s testimony all the more heartbreaking.
To me, two questions lie at the heart of “The Laws Of Gods And Men”:
- Who truly deserves justice?, and
- What’s in a name?
Let’s return to the first question in a bit, since it’s the heavier one and the one that feels likelier to linger over the final four episodes of season four. Names and titles, however, are stitched tightly to Bryan Cogman’s “Laws Of Gods And Men” script, with Stannis, Daenerys, and Tommen each identified by the honorific they claim as their own—with Dany’s growing to a garish length befitting her chambers in the pyramid. Tywin and Jaime, meanwhile, do some negotiating around their shared surname, circling the importance of ensuring the continuation of their line—before Tywin tips his hand to reveal that he already has the whole thing mapped out. The name you were given at birth holds tremendous sway in Westeros, but it’s just as mutable as any aspect of your personality: Just ask poor Reek, who’ll soon be performing the task/new form of psychological torture of “pretending” to be Theon Greyjoy. Such minor distinctions feel like they’re everything this week: The difference between Theon and Reek is enough to declare the former dead; what Tyrion would call Shae in their shared chambers and how she’s described in the Great Hall is a betrayal greater than the one Tyrion stands accused of.
Accordingly, whatever execution Tyrion faces if found guilty pales in comparison to the humiliation he faces during Shae’s testimony. It goes so much deeper than any in attendance (save for Varys, who’s back in a big way this week—as well he should be in an episode ) could possibly guess, and when Tyrion finally lashes out in the bit of scenery chewing that’s surely leading Peter Dinklage’s Emmy reel this year, it’s about so much more than having his lion-patterned dirty laundry aired in public. (That rant is a change of pace from the rest of “The Laws Of Gods And Men” as well as a shift from the alternately sulking/sarcastic Dinklage we’ve seen since the wedding feast. At the end of that thread, it’s all the more surprising.) Let’s not forget that Tyrion turned his back on Shae first—it may have been under the guise of trying to protect the woman he loves, but he’s getting his just deserts in the trial’s most tragic moments. The sequence is the ultimate demonstration that Tyrion has been set up, and so he seizes the moment and rewrites that setup. In the words that Dinklage so expertly gnaws into dust, this isn’t something Tywin hastily threw together following the death of his grandson—this is a plot that’s been unfolding for Tyrion’s entire life. Injustice is all he’s ever known, and his only recourse is to demand the most brutal form of justice available to him: trial by combat. The greatest revenge Tyrion Lannister could ever orchestrate is to finally and decisively upend one of his father’s master plots.
It might not be the justice that Tyrion deserves, but it’ll be the justice he earns. And that brings us back to the big question of “The Laws Of Gods And Men,” the one raised in the title of the episode and the one that’s repeated in the scenery during three of the episode’s major stories. The stills HBO released for “The Laws Of Gods And Men” tell it as good as any image that’s in motion: This episode is one tableau of tribunal after another, beginning in the headquarters of the Iron Bank, moving next to Dany’s new digs in Meereen, and finally ending in the Great Hall. It’s character upon character upon character sitting in judgment of another, granted by the authority of gods, men, numerals, and dragons to determine the fair from the unfair. Like the show’s serialized storylines, the motif comes together in shaper relief when you can view these shots in short succession. So many characters, often grouped in threes, staring across tables or down stairs at other characters seeking wrongs to be righted.
As often happens in the real world, multiple factors and biases cloud these judge’s rulings. Facts and the truth are taken into account, but as Daenerys learns tonight, making mass declarations of right and wrong can come back to bite you—or lead to a line of 212 supplicants waiting for an audience with their queen. (And in a single, weary exchange with Missandei, Dany shows she is one with Selina Meyer.) It’s a lesson in politicking she won’t soon to forget, particularly if it begins to erode her mission statement for seizing the seat that Tywin Lannister keeps warm this week.
But Dany’s methods are as effective as any other presented in either half of “The Laws Of Gods And Men.” This is an episode where bureaucracy is no mightier than the sword. Tyrion rests his fate with the latter, but such action gets Yara nowhere. The advantage of the sword is that it offers a most decisive verdict—one that couldn’t have fit satisfyingly into “The Laws Of Gods And Men” no matter how the episode was sequenced. For that, the court will need to adjourned for another week.
- Happy Mother of Dragons’ day, everyone! This year, Game Of Thrones is celebrating the holiday by bringing us its best Jurassic Park homage to date. Where’s the goat? Oh, here’s the goat:
- Ramsay Snow has never looked more like the Game Of Thrones universe’s own comic-book supervillain than he does when he’s shirtless and bloodied, taunting the ironborn who’ve come to rescue Theon.
- Among the reminders offered up this episode: Jorah was originally a spy for Varys. Would the show bring that up again without any intention to use it somewhere down the line?
- Every word that is exchanged between Varys and Oberyn in the Great Hall is loaded. That conversation is also wildly elliptical, but that’s to be expected from two characters who are clearly scheming yet haven’t laid those schemes bare quite yet.
- Salladhor Saan’s way with words is funnier when it’s not tied up in an old pirate joke: “You’re not my friend, my friend.”