“Game of Thrones” is a mighty fine medieval fantasy epic, and with “The Laws of Gods and Men” it proved it could be a very compelling courtroom drama. After Joffrey’s fateful wedding, this episode’s final scene stands as the most memorable (and lengthy) of the season to date. (Depending on how you feel about White Walkers, I suppose.) After a rare episode in which Tyrion wasn’t seen at all, he returned to center stage with his regicide trial and more than makes up for last week’s absence.
[Note: At this point I will also direct you to the review written by my colleague, Alyssa Rosenberg on her Act Four blog. Alyssa is a book reader, and between the two of us, we more than have you covered. You'll find more of a play-by-play here, she'll do more of the analysis there. Here's her review: Do "The Laws of Gods and Men" actually matter?]
The episode begins with Stannis and Ser Davos sailing and gazing very determinedly as they enter the port of Braavos. They are on a business call to the Iron Bank, but maybe they lost track of days and it’s Sunday, because nobody’s coming to see them. Stannis is peeved (what else is new?) and Ser Davos tries to lighten the mood with a funny story about his old pirate buddy Salladhor Sam, but Stannis has never once approved of lightening the mood. When the trio of Iron Bankers emerges, they aren’t too impressed with the “Stannis is the one true King” pitch presented to them, mostly because he has no army or other manner of financial support. Tywin Lannister seems a better investment. The Iron Bankers don’t let emotion get into their decision making; they like numbers, which are “more plain” and “less open to interpretation.” So it’s a bunch of Nate Silvers Stannis and Davos are dealing with, okay.
Ser Davos has one last pitch, though. He asks how old Tywin Lannister — the real ruler of the Iron Throne — is. (He’s 67, which was a very welcome and specific answer.) When he kicks it, will there be a reliable leader? Or is Stannis — who has a birthright to the throne, is in his prime and is a proven battle commander — a better person to support? It must have proved pretty convincing because when Davos goes to visit the aforementioned Salladhor Sam in the naked baths/brothel, he tells his pirate friend that they set sail in the morning and has plenty of gold to lure him.
Our first glimpse this season of Yara Greyjoy comes when she’s leading a small group of ships to Dreadfort, to rescue her brother, Theon. Reading aloud the letter sent by Ramsay Snow that detailed the horrors he put Theon through, Yara says: “As long as they can hurt your prince with impunity, the word Ironborn means nothing.” It’s a rousing speech, but the main problem is that Theon Greyjoy is simply no longer Theon Greyjoy. Yara and her men successfully make landfall, invade the fort and make their way to the kennels, where Theon — who now goes by Reek, a literally neutered servant to the sadistic Ramsay Snow — is locked in a cage in a room full of other dogs in cages. When Yara attempts to free him, he is terrified, thinks it’s a trap and refuses to be rescued, clinging to his cage. There’s both pity and disgust in Yara’s eyes as she tries to convince Theon to flee.
Ramsay, who had previously been enjoying a surprisingly non-violent sexual escapade, finds his way down there, shirtless and quite excited to engage in some bloodshed. Men on both sides are killed before Ramsay goes all Mr. Burns and releases the hounds on Yara. She and her remaining men are able to escape, without what they came for, but what they came for doesn’t exist anymore. Yara declares her brother to be dead. As a treat for Reek’s devotion, master Ramsay draws him a bath and even tenderly runs a washcloth over him. But Ramsay has an angle — for a future mission, Ramsay is going to need Reek to inhabit his old identity and pretend he’s Theon Greyjoy.
Out in the Meereenian countryside, a kid is throwing rocks and watching goats, because that’s basically the extent of the entertainment options in the Meereenian countryside. The calm is rudely interrupted by a fire-breathing dragon who turns that herd of goats into a pile of burned bones. Khaleesi hears about this, with visual evidence of charred goat bones, from a distraught herder when she’s taking visitors while seated on her new throne. She’s very sorry her dragon destroyed pretty much all of this man’s property, and while she can’t bring back the goats, she can hand out a payment of three times the value of the goats. This seems like a potential new scam for any enterprising Meereenians. Next in line is Hizdahr zo Loraq, who is asking for a proper burial for his father — one of the 163 masters crucified by Daenerys — whose decomposing body is currently serving as a tasty vulture snack. Daenerys rolls over on this one, too, and will allow a traditional funeral. It’s one thing to make your subjects happy, but it’s another to be a powerful ruler who capitulates this easily all the time.
Back in King’s Landing, the new small council meets and basically just gossips. Varys’s birds have lots of new reports.
Sandor Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane was spotted in the Winterlands. Then there’s the story about The Hound slaughtering five people, a scene we witnessed a few episodes ago. As for Daenerys, it’s confirmed that Ser Jorah Mormont is no longer spying on her and is fully committed to her. (If only she felt the same way towards me, Jorah sighs every night.) Plus she’s got Ser Barristan Selmy to offer advice, the Unsullied to offer muscle and those three baby-but-growing dragons. Tywin decrees that she must be dealt with, and by force, “when it gets to that.” As always, don’t hold your breath. After the meeting, Oberyn and Varys take a moment to chat. Varys hasn’t been heard from too much this season, and has clearly proven to be not in the same league as his old frenemy Littlefinger when it comes to masterful manipulating. But that doesn’t mean he’s not still in the game. After Oberyn puzzles over the fact that earlier in his life Varys was never attracted to either women or men before his … unfortunate incident … Varys says that “the absence of desire leaves one free to pursue other things.” Such as? His shoots his eyes to the Iron Throne.
As Jaime leads Tyrion into the throne room for his trial, one of the assembled heckles, “Kingslayer!” Theoretically it could be directed at either Lannister brother, but it seems meant for Tyrion. King Tommen is seated in his throne and in one of his first acts as king, he recuses himself from the trial. Way to lead, young man. Tywin takes his spot on the Iron Throne, with Mace Tyrell to his left and Prince Oberyn to his right. A parade of witnesses takes the stand to paint Tyrion in a negative light. Meryn Trant (Kingsguard, on Arya’s kill list) is up first and recalls Tyrion slapping and threatening the late king. Next is Grand Maester Pycelle, who reels off a list of poisons, which is relevant because his stores were plundered after Tyrion had him imprisoned for spying on behalf of Cersei. He confirms that the necklace worn by Sansa at Joffrey’s wedding, given to her by Ser Dontos, contained residue of The Strangler, an extremely rare and terrible poison.
Cersei, whose fingerprints are all over this trial, is next on the stand and repeats that famous threat delivered to her by Tyrion — “A day will come when you think yourself safe and happy, and suddenly your joy will turn to ashes in your mouth, and you’ll know the debt is paid” — which you have to admit doesn’t sound too great for the defendant. Even Varys betrays Tyrion, saying that he wasn’t upset when Robb Stark died and that marriage to Sansa had made him more sympathetic to the North. This tweaks Tyrion because Varys knows that it was Tyrion’s planning that led to victory at the Blackwater.
During a recess, Jaime confronts his father and tries to convince him to have mercy on his brother. Jaime says that before he stabbed the Mad King, his final order was to bring Tywin’s head. Would he save his father’s life just so Tywin could murder his own brother? And what of the Lannister name? With Tyrion dead and Jaime loyal to his Kingsguard vows, who’s next? Who carries the lion banner into battle? Lancel Lannister?! With that head of hair? Jaime offers to leave the Kingsguard if Tyrion’s life is spared and Tywin quickly agrees very quickly, as if he’d been waiting for Jaime to suggest just that. Tyrion will be found guilty, ask for mercy, be sent to The Wall to live out his days and Jaime will head back to Casterly Rock, marry a nice girl who is not his sister, have kids and carry on the Lannister name.
The plan may have worked, but things change when the final witness takes the stand — Shae. Tyrion’s former lover (and Sansa’s former handmaiden) completely turns on him, saying that she knows for a fact that he’s guilty and that he and Sansa planned the murder together. Tyrion begs her to stop, to no avail. And that’s about when Tyrion loses it, which has been a long time coming. “I saved you! I saved this city. All your worthless lives. I should have let Stannis kill you all!” he exclaims to the assembled.
When Tywin asks if he wishes to confess, Tyrion admits his guilt. Not of murdering Joffrey, but of being a dwarf, for which he’s been on trial his entire life. “I did not kill Joffrey,” he says. “But I wish I had. I wish I was the monster you think I am.” Knowing he will get no justice, Tyrion demands a trial by combat. He’ll look to keep his undefeated streak in such situations alive.
Episode 5: “First of His Name,” first of hers (Act Four review)
Episode 4: Oathkeeper and broken vows (Act Four review)
Episode 3: Breaker of chains, breaker of will (Act Four review)
Episode 2: The lion, the rose and the cruelty of Westeros (Act Four review)
Episode 1: Two Swords and even more dangerous stories (Act Four review)