The chaos of Westeros has always created interesting dynamics among its players, major and minor, but never more so than in a post-Purple Wedding world. Game of Thrones revolves around a jockeying of power, but at the center of that are ideas of loyalty. It’s of such importance because the wrong allegiances can (and usually do) get one killed. Choosing sides and casting lots is like casting a die most of the time, but what makes episodes like “The Laws of God and Men” so good is that they take the time to explore more deeply the motivations and machinations of those torn between staying alive, and living with purpose. Hit the jump for why it’s surprisingly comfortable in the kennels.
Loyalty has been a key factor this season, and in the wake of Joffrey’s death, it’s been interesting to see what that means — when it comes to brass tacks — for the major characters. It’s also intrinsically tied to family, because of course in Westeros, families form the basis of society and life. And yet, so much in Game of Thrones challenges that notion, like in “First of His Name,” where we saw Bran struggle between destiny and family, and choose the former. But the Starks have no monopoly on difficult family politics; the Lannisters are surely the most emotionally chaotic of all of the major houses. “The Laws of God and Men” also showed that family is what you make of it. Surely, few men are more loyal to anyone than Davos is to Stannis, and Dany’s coterie are to her.
The hour was also devoted to the idea of steadfastness. As Stannis and Davos’ trip to the Iron Bank of Braavos showed, logically, Stannis has no chance to claim the throne. He doesn’t have the men or the resources at Dragonstone (they didn’t bring up the Red Woman and the Lord of Light though, it should be noted). Davos’ emotional plea didn’t, at first, seem to move the bankers, but ultimately, he sells them on futures. The chaos of Westeros can be profitable, if you choose the right person to back. Isn’t that indeed the whole idea of the series? And currently, it seems like the Iron Bank considers Stannis a worthy competitor.
Dany, too, is committed to her cause, but her zeal has caused more problems than she foresaw. Though Varys makes a great appeal to Tywin of Dany’s power (regarding her army, her counsellors, and of course her dragons), her actual position is far more tenuous. The nobleman Hizdahr zo Loraq tells her she wrongly crucified his innocent father. She counters on behalf of the slain children, but his argument echoes Ser Barristan’s caution to Dany before she embarked on killing the masters: do you answer one crime with another? Her generosity to the farmer whose goats were toasted and eaten by her dragons also made Barristan pause. This doesn’t end with these goats. 200 more waited to ask for her favor in various matters. Her desire for justice is being tempered by a very confusing and complicated reality. Is her loyalty to the Iron Throne, which she hopes to reclaim, or on the slave cities — with whom she has no intrinsic loyalty or family times — whom she has freed?
Few loyalties have been as consistently divided as those within the Greyjoy family. Having had their rebellions squelched and been forced to bend the knee to those they hate for so long, with their family torn apart, their future lies with a loyalty only to themselves. And yet, Theon growing up with the Starks put him in a position where he had no family — he felt estranged from Pyke, but ungrateful towards Winterfell (and ultimately, betrayed the person who trusted him most, and to whom he was the closest in the world). His hubris and betrayal have been rewarded through his transformation to Reek, Ramsay’s frightened pet. Though the raid on the Dreadfort by Yara seemed sudden and a little forced to pack into one episode, it at least served to solidify Theon as Reek, so far gone in his Stockholm Syndrome that he rejects (and even bites!) his flesh and blood so as not to upset Ramsay. But it was also part of Yara’s story, that she upheld the Greyjoy loyalty to attempt to rescue Theon despite everything between them. His choice to stay with Ramsay, though, has now seemingly cast him out of the Greyjoy house forever.
The most complicated and most compelling scenes though belonged to that Lannister clan, which played out through the lens of Tyrion’s trial. Tywin has always hated Tyrion, but now he has the opportunity not only to get rid of him, but to use him as a pawn. Tywin is no fool, and saw Jaime’s appeal for his brother’s life coming from a mile. It’s a win/win for Tywin either way, with the added bonus of keeping Cersei loyal and in check by allowing her to manipulate the court regarding Tyrion’s guilt. Still, the kangaroo court went from blatant to excruciating. Cersei, Pycelle and others who Tyrion had always been on the outs with were of no surprise when they came up twisting the truth in order to implicate him. But Varys’ appearance stung because of his supposed former loyalty to Tyrion (which of course he brings up). The Spider has many motivations though, and staying alive and in the favor of whomever is in power is paramount.
The final blow came though with Shae, whose betrayal cut Tyrion deep enough for him to lash out at the entire court. Game of Thrones being Game of Thrones though, the outcome is never as clear-cut as it seems: he will have a trial by combat. The looks on the faces of those who falsely implicated him were suddenly afraid. The most mysterious power in the realm was then invoked: to whom would the gods choose to be loyal?
Episode Rating: A-
– Not surprised to find this was a Bryan Cogman episode. Very well-written.
– The direction by Alik Sakharov was also a little more stylish than usual, particularly in the choice of camera angles during the trial and with Dany. The power dynamic was always expressed through scene positioning.
– Loved that we got a new set piece to the opening credits. The statue reminded me of Jason and the Argonauts.
– I really can’t even discuss the book, Dany and Theon’s stories are so far into A Dance with Dragons it’s kind of ludicrous at this point. However, I just don’t understand why certain things are changed, like the circumstances of Shae’s betrayal. We’ll see how it plays out next week, they might still incorporate some of the original setting … remind me though, in the books was it as provoked as it was here? On the show there’s clearly a case of cause and effect.
– Mark Gatiss running the Iron Bank of Braavos … I basically just assume that’s Mycroft in disguise.
– All of that random sex and nudity this week, Game of Thrones. Wow. Particularly Ramsay’s sex scene. We get it, it’s a premium channel. Calm the literal tits.
– I was so nervous for Theon’s “bath.” I was certain Ramsay was going to do something terrible to him (“you’re going to put that rag where?!”)
– Tywin shaming Mace Tyrell is pretty hilarious. Speaking of Tyrells, I did like that they showed Marg having some conflict about letting Tyrion take the fall for a murder she knows neither he nor Sansa committed.
– So, in case you forgot, DRAGONS! (one, anyway) And naturally it had to eat *the cutest goats.*