And the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.
Before I get to the rest of the scenes from this week’s episode of Game of Thrones, I want to address the final segment, Tyrion’s trial for the murder of King Joffrey. This is a scene I’ve been waiting all season for. And it delivered everything I wanted to see. Peter Dinklage used this episode to remind the audience and the Emmy Awards voters why he is the heavyweight of this show. That’s not to say that everyone else phoned it in. All of the actors brought their very best, even much-maligned talents like Sibel Kekilli.
One of the things George Martin is interested in as a writer is consequences. Everything that happens has a consequence. Sometimes, it’s triumphant, such as when Dany is carried by the slaves of Yunkai, lifted as much by their adulation as by their arms. Other times, it’s terribly tragic, such as when Ned Stark lost his head to the vile bloodlust of a psychopathic king. Tyrion is one of my favorite characters from the books and I’ve enjoyed Peter Dinklage’s performance since the word “go” on this series. But the seeds of Tyrion’s ultimate fate were apparent from the second episode of the series. His constant defiance to others in more powerful positions in his family sowed the seeds for his own fate. Every time he’s had a witty or pithy remark for Joffery’s bullying sadism, he hammered another nail. Nothing that was brought forth as evidence in the trial was untrue. Tyrion repeatedly struck Joffrey, repeatedly threatened the King with physical harm, and made a show of his open defiance. In a kinder world, these actions would be overlooked. But Westeros is not a kind world.
This episode belongs to Dinklage for the wrathful final minutes, where all the hatred and bile he’s had to stomach finally burst forth in words that made me cheer but also fret. When the demand for trial by combat came out like verbal spittle, Tyrion produced the final epitaph for his wretched kin. As Tyrion pointed out a few episodes ago, Tywin is not above using a family tragedy to his benefit. The old lion played a long con with Jaime, waiting for the moment when Jaime’s love for his brother could be used against his eldest son. Tyrion threw that dream into a funeral pyre. Trial by combat ends in one of two ways: you’re declared innocent when your champion wins or you are executed if your champion loses. Jaime will not have his opportunity to remove the white cloak and Tywin’s line will end with his sons. Watching Charles Dance and Peter Dinklage stare each other down, two men in complete understanding of what the other is doing, is a master’s lesson in unspoken acting.
The rest of the episode was not nearly as impactful as the ending scene but that doesn’t mean it was without interesting moments. It was a pleasure seeing Mark Gatiss (co-creator of BBC’s Sherlock adaptation with Benendict Cumberbatch, who would make a fine addition to the Game of Thrones cast). My take on the Iron Bank is that it is Martin’s version of the Medici Bank of Renaissance Italy. For the Iron Bank, the numbers are all that matters. But if you give Ser Davos Seaworth a stage, he’ll chew through the scene with gusto. Liam Cunningham is a joy to watch on this show. He carries Davos’ sharp wit, razor-keen insight, and honest heart with suitable aplomb. Davos’s observation that if Tywin goes, the Red Keep and the Iron Throne goes with him is a bit of a Chekov’s Gun at this stage in the game. His statement is truer than the audience may realize just yet. But it was exactly what needed to be said in order to convince the bankers that the numbers don’t add up on one side of the equation.
Yara finally makes her way to the Dreadfort only to discover the horrible truth of what her brother has become. The young boy she left to fend for himself in Winterfell two seasons ago is hidden underneath scars, humiliation, and torture we as the audience don’t even want to imagine. I’ll be the first to admit that I hated Theon, the cocky noble boy who thought he could be a hard man. The creature shown in this season is not worthy of contempt, only endless pity. Some part of the audience could justify last season’s tortures. I’m not one of them. The bathing scene was perhaps the most disturbing moment between Theon/Reek and Ramsey. Beat a dog enough times and it will whimper if you try to touch it again. Show it a moment of kindness and it’s instincts to serve and love are rekindled. That is exactly what Ramsey did in the bath. Admiring his handiwork and ensuring continued loyalty, Ramsey played his pet like a sad symphony.
Dany’s journey into ruling a kingdom comes with some harsh lessons. A conqueror can take what they want and leave. A ruler must make decisions that are often compromises of principle to ensure stability. Expect to see much more of Hizdahr zo Loraq, the Meereenese noble who begged to remove his father’s corpse from a crucifix. He plays an important role in Dany’s education as a ruler. The tedium of ruling is a far cry from the thrill of decimating one’s enemies. Dany’s first lesson is that she cannot be everything to all her subjects. Sooner or later conflicting interests will pull her in completely opposite directions.
Some quick points to end out this recap:
· Mace Tyrell may sit on the Small Council but he is little more than Tywin’s lackey. Oberyn’s sharp eyes picked this up instantly during the meeting.
· The plan to disrupt Dany’s rule without armed forces sounds intriguing. There’s a storyline from the books I was wondering how the show would incorporate. It’ll be interesting to see if Tywin’s command to Varys plays out like this.
· If you hate Shae and Tywin right now, just wait. More fun is around the corner.
· Varys’ plans for the Iron Throne are not as obvious as sitting on it. A spider’s web has many connected joints and often covers copious real estate. Expect something more subtle.
· Take a quick guess who Cersei will appoint as her champion for the trial by combat. I’ll give you a hint: he’s the only giant south of the Wall.