Game of Thrones 4.06 “The Laws of Gods and Men” Review: The Hierarchy of Power
Game of Thrones, “The Laws of Gods and Men,” was written by Bryan Cogman and directed by Alik Sakharov. The episode is very much about power and who wields it. The most powerful scene comes at the end during Tyrion’s (Peter Dinklage) trial, and it’s really this scene that the title most centrally refers to. The episode is beautifully shot, not surprising given that Sakharov has even more credits for cinematography than for directing. However, the highlight of the episode has to be Dinklage’s performance. He has delivered fantastic performance after fantastic performance in this role, but he outshines them all in this episode.
We finally get our first glimpse of Braavos and the Iron Bank. It’s another wonderfully realized civilization. If the colossus they have straddling the entry to the harbor is any indication, however, the Iron Bank may itself have fallen on hard times, as it seems a bit the worse for wear. The image of a powerful giant hovering over the less powerful runs throughout this episode. However, it becomes clear that the rulers are less impressed with titles and claims to the throne than with whether they can forge a profitable alliance.
I was thrilled to see Mark Gatiss join the cast as Tycho Nestoris. He brings his usual urbane delivery to the role. It’s a terrific scene between Stannis (Stephen Dillane), Davos (Liam Cunningham), and Nestoris. Nestoris makes the point that Braavos prefers the laws of men, of numbers, of money rather than the less speculative laws of the gods – blood rites – that Stannis relies on. It’s Davos who delivers the impassioned speech that actually captures Nestoris’s attention. He declares Stannis to be an honest man who does an honest accounting. His proof? The missing fingers of his own hand – the fingers that Stannis took in payment for Davos’s piracy. Cunningham is excellent in this scene. He obtains enough money to retain the pirate Salladhor Saan (Lucian Msamati).
The seas are busy in this episode, as Yara (Gemma Whelan) finally sails to the Dreadfort to rescue Theon (Alfie Allen). Whelan is terrific – another of the warrior women who make the show so interesting. One has to wonder if she would have broken the way her brother did. Theon refers to believe anything Yara says to him, refusing to even believe he is Theon Greyjoy, insisting that he is Reek, and ultimately running back into his dog kennel rather than try to escape with his sister. In the end, Yara escapes with her men, declaring her brother dead.
Ramsey (Iwan Rheon) gives Reek a bath to reward him for his loyalty. As Ramsey orders Reek to remove his clothing, the extent of the torture he’s endured is clearly evident. Allen had done a brilliant job with the transformation of the characters. Rheon is also fantastic in this part as Ramsey’s madness is evident primarily in his eyes and his actions rather than overplayed. After the abuse, a small reward of a bath, simply solidifies Reek’s devotion to and subjugation by Ramsey – he has ultimate power over him. Ramsey tells Reek that he needs him to pretend to be someone – that someone is Theon Greyjoy. I have to wonder if asking this of Reek will potentially empower him with his true name and may backfire on Ramsey. Reek may actually remember who he really is.
Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) meanwhile finds ruling more challenging than she’d thought it would be. She is shown dealing with two supplicants. The first is a goatherd (Philip Arditti). I have to admit that when he first opened his bag of charred bones, I thought for sure that it was going to be the bones of his dead child! Daenerys makes him ecstatically happy by reimbursing 3 times over for his lost goats. Like the Iron Bank, she is able to find a monetary solution. However, her next supplicant provides a much more difficult problem.
Hizdahr zo Loraq (Joel Fry) introduces himself as one of the oldest families of Meereen. He tells her that his father oversaw the restoration of many of the great landmarks of Meereen, Daenerys then blunders by saying she’d be honored to meet him only to be told that she’d met him when she ordered him to be crucified. To her credit, Daenerys stands behind her decision to punish those who had killed innocent children, but to make matters worse Loraq tells her that his father had protested against killing the children. Loraq also stresses that he is but her servant. He doesn’t approach her to complain about things that are done and over with, but he would like to be able to take down his father and honor the funeral rites of their traditions. Loraq underscores his subservience by going to his knees to beg for his father. He thanks Daenerys as his Queen. Of course, the magnificent set also helps to underscore Daenerys’s position – she sits high above those below her socially. It also underscores that she is removed from those she rules – she doesn’t fully understand them and the masters were perhaps not all the villains she painted them as.
Interestingly, we move from the throne room in Meereen to the small council in King’s Landing – the body that really makes the decisions. The power dynamics in this gathering provide an interesting contrast to Daenerys. Tywin (Charles Dance) sits at the head of the table and the meeting does not proceed until he arrives and sits down. Cersei (Lena Headey) is pacing waiting for her father, but Tyrell (Roger Ashton-Griffiths, Pycelle (Julian Glover), and Varys (Conleth Hill) jump to their feet when Tywin enters – demonstrating their places in the hierarchy. Oberyn (Pedro Pascal), a prince in his own right, does not even rise when Tywin enters.
Varys proves his worth as an information merchant once again, filling the group in about the escapades of the Hound (Rory McCann) and Daenerys. Tywin sets a bounty of 100 silver stags on his head. Cersei scoffs about the danger that Daenerys – a child with baby dragons – could pose. It’s an interesting remark considering her own children. Joffrey was certainly a danger and like Daenerys’s dragons was becoming a danger even to his mother as he grew older.
Both Dance and Pascal are fantastic in this scene. Both can be seen very subtly considering the information presented by Varys. Oberyn is clearly assessing who says what and doesn’t offer an opinion until it comes to the discussion of whether Daenerys is a threat. He reveals he’s been to Essos and seen the Unsullied – he cautions against dismissing them. He and Tywin are in agreement. Tywin points out that dragons haven’t won a war in 300 years, but the army is an immediate threat.
Varys and Oberyn meet after the Council and get to know each other a little better, revealing some things about themselves. This meeting takes place in the throne room at the foot of the iron throne – both are positioning themselves. Varys tries to tell Oberyn that he doesn’t need to call him Lord because he’s not actually a nobleman. He tries to underestimate his position so that Oberyn will too. Oberyn quickly points out that while people don’t have to, they still call Varys Lord – he is aware of the position Varys holds in society – and how many people answer to Varys. This episode may be short on sword fights, but what really makes this show so great is that the power struggles behind the fighting are so very well done. The acting is just superb.
Oberyn reveals that he spent 5 years in Essos. Varys is curious as to why. Oberyn deflects the question, implying that he simply wanted to see the world – of course 5 years is more than ample time to see one corner of it! It seems there is more to this story… Oberyn surprises Varys by guessing where he is from. Varys tells him he lost his accent long ago, and Oberyn tells him he has an ear for lost accents too – or perhaps just a good intelligence system! Varys deflects Oberyn’s attempts to learn about his history, so Oberyn turns the conversation to his paramour, who he says would love to meet Varys. It’s clearly an invitation to enjoy the brothel with them, and a discussion of Varys’s sexual preferences ensues.
Varys maintains that he has no interest in desire, that desire only leads to trouble: “the absence of desire leaves one free to pursue other things.” This gives Oberyn quite a bit to think about and he asks “Such as?” Varys looks meaningfully at the iron throne – the seat of power. It’s an interesting conversation. Oberyn is clearly devoted to satiating his desires. Putting his 5 years in Essos together with his remarks at Council about the Unsullied being unsatisfactory in the bedroom, I had to wonder if he’d been sent to Essos as punishment for some love affair gone wrong. Regardless, Oberyn’s expression as Varys leaves indicates he’s given Oberyn some things to think about – such as another way to forge an alliance with Varys!
The centerpiece of the episode is the power struggles within the Lannisters at the heart of which is Tyrion’s trial. Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) arrives at the dungeon to collect Tyrion for his trial. Coster-Waldau is also terrific in the episode, and it’s easy to see how unhappy he is at having to take his brother to the sham of a trial. For his own part, Tyrion deflects through humor, asking Jaime if he’s been pardoned. The power dynamics that have been present in so many scenes in the episode – those in power raised above those who are the subjugated – is in full force in the trial scene.
In particular, we see Tyrion, smaller in stature than all those around him, walked to the prisoner’s box. Dinklage is fantastic even as he walks to the prisoner’s box. His hatred for his father and all those who look down upon – both physically and socially – is clearly written on his face. I loved him shaking off the soldiers who “help” him into the box. It almost felt like he was holding himself back from snapping at them like a dog.This is also a nice tie back to Reek actually biting Yara to get away from her and run back to his dog kennel – to continue to be caged because that’s become easier than fighting.
The box itself sits at the base of the stairs to the iron throne, upon which Tommen (Dean-Charles Chapman) sits, to be replaced by Tywin. The King, the head of state, replaced by the head of the Lannister dynasty. As Tommen recuses himself, it’s Tyrion’s first view of his nephew as King and there’s a distinct flash of pride across his face. Enough can’t be said about Dinklage in this entire sequence. There’s absolutely no dialogue necessary to understand all that Tyrion is feeling. As Tommen, says “if found guilty,” it’s clear from Tyrion’s face that he knows this is a foregone conclusion. I had hoped that Tommen might have shared a word with his uncle as he left the throne room, but he doesn’t. They, after all, had had a good relationship. It’s also clear from Tyrion’s face that he absolves his nephew for what will surely be his death. I was also struck as Tommen walked down the steps by how much he looks like Joffrey from behind – yet his entire demeanor and speech are so much more regal than Joffrey’s ever were.
There’s a nice moment when Oberyn and Tyrell are taking their seats when Oberyn crosses directly across the top podium in front of the iron throne rather than going around on a lower tier. He clearly sees himself as the equal, at least of Tywin. Tywin asks Tyrion if he killed Joffrey. Tyrion says no. When asked if Sansa (Sophie Turner) did it, he says not that he knows of. When asked how Joffrey died, Tyrion says blame it on the pigeons, just not on him – he tries to deflect with humor again rather than subjugate himself to his father. But no one is laughing now. We get a shot of Jaime who is clearly distressed that Tyrion is not willing to fight for his own life if it means debasing himself.
The testimony itself was a terrible stripping away of all the small victories that Tyrion has had. It’s clear that even those who are not out for revenge will not risk their own positions to help him. Margaery (Natalie Dormer) and Loras (Finn Jones) have little to do in the episode, but their reactions to the testimony, especially Cersei’s twisting of the truth, demonstrates their disgust with the sham of the trial and the embarrassment which is their father, who is completely sucked in. It also gives them a shocking view of the family that they are both marrying into.
Pycelle’s testimony is particularly interesting however. He has the necklace that Sansa wore which we last saw Baeylish take from her and toss on Dontos’s body which was then set adrift. Somehow Pycelle came to be in possession of both the body and the necklace. Has Baeylish conspired with Pycelle to complete this part of the puzzle to implicate both Tyrion and Sansa, thus ensuring that Sansa will never be safe as long as the Lannisters remain in power? Seems likely. He also helps to ensure that she becomes a widow.
When Varys is finished his testimony, Tyrion finally makes an attempt to defend himself. He unbends enough to ask his father for permission to ask one question. Interestingly, Varys has left the witness box which had elevated him above Tyrion – though still below the judges on the dais. Varys is stopped in front of the witness box. He is just slightly below Tyrion at this point, suggesting that Tyrion may finally have the upper hand. However, when Tyrion asks if Varys remembers vowing not to forget that it was Tyrion who saved Kings Landing and not Joffrey, Varys remarks that he never forgets anything. He also remembers all of the times that Tyrion has thwarted him and he also remember what it’s like to be without power or position – two things he would surely lose if he were to testify for Tyrion in any way.
Only his brother is willing to help him, and Jaime does in a spectacular way. As Tywin calls for the adjournment, there is a beautiful shot of Tyrion and Jaime exchanging a glance and then Cersei and Jaime exchanging a glance. Jaime chooses his brother over his sister. Cersei has also made it clear that she will not be continuing their incestuous relationship – the one thing really keeping Jaime from committing to any other. Being a Kings Guard was simply an excuse to avoid a marriage he didn’t want. He therefore offers to subjugate himself to his father’s will, to take up the dynasty of the Lannister family in exchange for Tyrion being granted mercy after being found guilty and being banished to the Knight’s Watch. Tywin appears surprised by Jaime’s offer, but he quickly sets out his terms.
When Jaime tells Tyrion the plan, Tyrion is quick to point out that Ned Stark was promised the same thing – plead guilty and be banished to the Knight’s Watch. Jaime believes that Tywin will keep his word, but Tyrion is still suspicious. Jaime asks Tyrion if he trusts him and Tyrion nods that he does. Jaime cautions Tyrion to just keep him mouth shut, and Tyrion agrees. However, Tywin seems too pleased as he retakes his place. And the final witness represents the ultimate betrayal of Tyrion. Tywin may have given up physically killing Tyrion but is happy to watch him destroyed in every other way.
Shae (Sibel Kekilli) is also the perfect witness to sway Oberyn. Her testimony is believable because she admits that she was Tyrion’s whore. Oberyn will believe that Tyrion told her the truth. We know that Oberyn is ruled by his own passions and desire most of all. She is the only witness that Oberyn really engages with as Cersei was the one that Tyrell most identified with as a parent.
They truly thought that they had saved the worst for last – and they had. Shae is determined to hurt Tyrion as badly as he hurt her, and she does in spectacular fashion. Shae’s testimony pushes Tyrion past the point of endurance, and he destroys the deal that Jaime made by his impassioned “confession.” The look on Coster-Waldau’s face is priceless as you can see him barely holding himself back from yelling shut up, and he is clearly willing his brother to do just that with every fibre of his being. This scene has to go down as one of the best in the entire series and perhaps on television. If Dinklage is not nominated for every possible award – Golden Globe, Emmy, BAFTA – and doesn’t win them, I will be very much disappointed.
Tyrion’s confession is not what Tywin either wanted to her or expected. Tyrion first releases his long held back hatred on the crowd gathered to see him executed. He has become the very spectacle that Joffrey had as the centerpiece at his wedding – the Imp for their amusement. He reminds them that he was the one to save them from Stannis and then he tells them that he wished he hadn’t. Tywin brings him back to the confession – asking if he killed Joffrey. But that is not what he’s been guilty of his whole life and he knows it.
Tyrion tells his father that he is innocent of killing Joffrey – “Of that I’m innocent. I’m guilty of a far more monstrous crime. I’m guilty of being a dwarf.” Tywin tells him that he’s not on trial for being a dwarf, but Tyrion insists – rightly – that he is. Tyrion is the manifestation of Tywin’s shortcomings (and I am sorry that that becomes a dreadful pun). Tywin has always been ashamed of Tyrion – even though as we know he is both brilliant and brave, it could never have been enough to make up for his physical imperfection. Yet, his other children are just as disappointing – Jaime killed the King he was sworn to protect – though Tywin learns in this episode that it was to protect him that Jaime killed the mad King. Cersei’s children are actually the product of incest, and Joffrey was mad.
Tyrion has been betrayed by everyone closest to him – except for Jaime. I loved that he at least had the opportunity to say that he was glad that Joffrey was dead. I also loved that he was able to publicly tell his father exactly how he felt – and to expose the abuse he’d suffered simply for how he was born – imperfect in his father’s eyes. It is not surprising then, that Tyrion turns away from the laws of men, from an absent human justice and puts his fate in the hands of the gods. The episode ends with Tyrion’s demand for a trial by combat. We get reaction shots from everyone. Jaime is not happy – his plan has been thrown aside and he’s likely to be put in a very precarious situation as both sides will want him to fight for them. Cersei and Tywin are both furious to have had the certainty of Tyrion’s fate taken away from them. Oberyn looks both impressed and intrigued. Shae seems a bit stunned – was she perhaps told that if she testified, Tyrion would be spared? Or does she now hate him so much that she wanted to see him die?
This was another wonderfully crafted episode. Direction, acting, writing, set design all came together to support and enhance each other. But in the midst of all this, Peter Dinklage’s performance stands out. What did you think of the episode? Are you as excited as I am for the trial by combat? Let me know your thoughts on the episode in the comments below!