Everyone in this episode wants the right thing to be done. But in Game of Thrones, some are more right than others, while some are just wrong all the way through.
Finally, we see Braavos. And Davos. And Stannis. On a boat. And my, doesn’t it look impressive? They sail their way into the city – evoking the Colossus of Rhodes – to pay a visit to the Iron Bank. And when Mark Gatiss turns up it’s almost as if we’ve wandered into an episode of The League of Gentleman and someone is going to make Davos their wife and call him Dave.
But the one thing that rings true is that Stannis actually has a rightful claim to the throne. ‘More than any man living’, he says, forgetting that Daenerys is alive, and has more claim, while remaining quite clearly a woman. Still, it’s a worthy point Davos makes, given that Tommen is on the throne, and the Lannisters are looking like a rabble of divided debtors.
‘The war is not over,’ Davos reminds the audience, briefly assuming Gandalf-like expository duties, and he’s right. Everyone is in a holding pattern, waiting for the right moment to strike on King’s Landing and make their claim for the throne, and if Braavos had to bank on anybody (sorry), Stannis does look like the rightful choice. There’s a nice moment where Davos reminds them that Stannis sticks by his word by waving his fingerless hand in front of them, echoing Ned Stark’s maxim that ‘he who passes the sentence should swing the sword.’ Though didn’t that line of thinking lead to Ned’s death? And if by rightful choice to the throne we mean traditional, clearly Game of Thrones lately is all about depicting the loss of tradition and established order, in the hope of new and more morally sound practices.
So the contrast is there between Stannis and Daenerys, who is learning that it’s one thing to win through conquering, another thing entirely to then keep winning through sound and just rule. In Meereen, her new-found rule is suddenly forced to take a backward step from all-conquering no prisoners mode, and she’s learns to accept that overthrowing corruption is a theory, but one has to deal with the reality of people’s lives that go on after the revolution.
Yara Greyjoy – Theon’s sister, remember? – is sailing from the Iron Islands to march on the Dreadfort, and does so with a stirring speech about what it means to avenge Theon’s torture and dismemberment. If Yara was born elsewhere, perhaps she too might rule an army and a kingdom, but unfortunately she’s stuck with a narrow-minded house and an insipid brother – hardly the Mother of Dragons.
Still, you can see why they cast Gemma Whelan, as she finally gets something to do in the show. It’s a daring raid to fetch Theon, who unfortunately has disappeared so far into his Stockholm Syndrome that he flees her rescue back into the cells, and Ramsay Snow’s keeping. What it is to be ironborn.
And jumping jillikers, if Ramsay isn’t the creepiest sadist on television. He’s setting Theon-Reek a task, one which is clearly laying the foundations for later climactic developments in the season. It’s hardly worth mentioning, but this section is all largely inference and invention, but as discussed last week, when the show does this we now take it to mean this isn’t just a case of adaptation, but also a setting of the narrative on a path toward the as-yet unwritten conclusion.
In King’s Landing, The Small Council convenes for the first time in a while, which means we get a bit more Varys and Oberyn. However, this scene really only serves to connect the Iron Throne with Daenerys’ faraway actions, something the show used to do a lot of but had cooled on this season. Again, the show is conscious of uniting the plots in a way that the books are reluctant to do.
I liked the little byplay between Varys and Oberyn – two of the more intriguing characters in King’s Landing, which is basically just full of courtly intrigue these days. Varys in particular is fascinating, and an anomaly on the show, absconding from desire (he says) in pursuit of other matters. What they are we can only guess, though the show implies he – like others in this episode – craves justice for the realm. He’s almost like a different type of Littlefinger – both using secretive and manipulative means for their ends, only one craves the power that was never his in the first place, the other is far more ambiguous, shall we say. It’s Story 101 to create desire for every character, and for the show to give us Varys, who refuses desire, it is exciting to watch, even if he is a relatively minor role.
But really, the bulk of this episode is spent dealing with Tyrion, and the accusation of murdering his nephew and king several episodes ago now. He’s had scant to do since Joffrey’s very public mocking of him, but is given central focus in the trial, with the show taking a slightly awkward step into courtroom drama.
The trial is really the realisation of the opening moments of the season, when for all their conquering achievements, the Lannisters were shown to be a spiteful, infighting family of mistrusting egos. It’s a wonder that Tywin – who always seems to see ahead better than others – is unaware of how this trial is merely a continuation of the mockery Tyrion received at the wedding, and ends up the equivalent of family bickering in public. With the possibility of an execution at the end of it. While Tywin has his motives – sending Tyrion far away to the Night’s Watch, and restoring Jaime as his heir – it’s a strangely mistaken process for his character, who seems to think Tyrion will thank him for the potential pardoning.
Tyrion is set up to fail here, and the procession of witnesses seek to twist his so-far honourable actions to render him guilty. Honour is abandoned, seemingly, and King’s Landing is now the seat of a meaningless throne that wields law devoid of justice.
The arrival of Shae as the surprise witness only confirms how deluded Tywin is, that rewriting Tyrion’s relationship with Shae publicly will somehow cause Tyrion to retreat to the Wall is bizarre thinking. Tyrion has all along been the one who could match Tywin’s cunning, and his reaction to Shae’s testimony is logical to us, and in keeping with the character we know. Tyrion would never head to the Wall in shame, he has endured more shame than almost anyone else in Game of Thrones.
His speech at the climax of the show is played large, and achieves it, as he declares ‘I’m on trial for being a dwarf’, some of the strongest words about his character since we were first introduced to him in Season 1. Tywin has overshot his mark, and Tyrion has matched him, from being put on trial in a position of weakness he has assumed a stage, and lectures the court – and the people of King’s Landing – with words that clearly separate them from the world of the just. Tyrion is done with the lot of them, and his demands for a trial by combat is confirmation that he’d rather abandon all claim to his nobility, his house and his family than be decried as a grotesque by those who had until now tolerated him.
After the relatively meandering character pieces in last week’s episode, this week was all about setting on track the end-play for the season. The holding pattern is over, and the consequences of Tyrion’s trial await, as do further tribulations of Daenerys’ rule in the east. However, we can’t help but wonder why nobody is bothered about the baby-stealing white walkers in the North.
- Valar Morghulis: various Greyjoy soldiers, and Bolton soldiers, during the raid for Theon. Also a goat.
- This episode was very focused on just a few characters, similar to the Purple Wedding episode, and as such we didn’t see many of the characters who had featured heavily in the last few episodes: Jon, the wildlings, Bran and his bunch, Arya and The Hound, Sansa and Littlefinger at the Eyrie. Basically no Starks at all (unless we’re counting Tyrion).
- Also, something in this episode of Ser Jorah and his spying ways? Just saying. Might want to remember.
- Sponge bath time with Reek and Ramsay. Big echoes for me with a scene in Spartacus between Laurence Olivier’s ruler Crassus, and his slave Antoninus, played by Tony Curtis. Only this one was weirder.
- I’ll give the show credit for turning the Iron Islands characters into something slightly more interesting, it’s a part of the books I’ve never been keen on and this was at least a more enjoyable extrapolation than what I had anticipated.