|Ugh. It’s the Gatiss episode.|
State of Play
The choir goes off. The board is laid out thusly:
Lions of Kings Landing: Tyrion Lannister, Jaime Lannister, Cersei Lannister, Tywin Lannister
Dragons of Mereen: Daenerys Targaryen
Roses of Kings Landing: Margaery Tyrell
Ships of Braavos: Davos Seaworthy
Burning Hearts of Braavos: Stannis Baratheon
Kraken of the Dreadfort: Theon Greyjoy
Flayed Men of the Dreadfort: Ramsay Snow
Spiders of King’s Landing: Varys
Flowers of King’s Landing: Shae
With the Bear of Mereen, Jorah Mormont
Winterfell is abandoned and in ruins, the Wall is unmanned.
The episode is in four parts. The first runs eight minutes and is set in Bravos. The opening shot is of Stannis’s ship sailing across the Narrow Sea.
The second runs eight minutes and is set at the Dreadfort. The transition is by the concept of ships, from Davos hiring Sallador Sahn to Asha sailing towards the Dreadfort.
The third runs six minutes and is set in Mereen. The transition is by hard cut, from Ramsey’s smiling face to a goat herder.
The fourth runs twenty-five minutes and is set in King’s Landing. The transition is by dialogue, with Daenerys coming up in conversation at the council meeting. The final shot is Tyrion smiling at having landed on a ladder and demanded trial by combat.
Like “The Lion and the Rose,” there are several courses of vegetables followed by dessert. The vegetables are much the same – two lengthy sections dealing with Stannis and the Dreadfort. Indeed, so is the dessert – a big King’s Landing set piece, although not quite so big as “The Lion and The Rose” due to significant attrition in the number of available characters. But this is in every regard the more intensive version of the exercise. “The Lion and the Rose” built inexorably to its denouement, inserting two earlier King’s Landing scenes to build to the wedding. “The Laws of Gods and Men,” on the other hand, drops its two slogs consecutively at the start, then offers a palate cleanser in Meereen before plowing into its King’s Landing piece as one single bloc.
This is, of course, slightly unfair to both the Stannis and Ramsay scenes, as they do have several legitimate points of interest. Stannis’s scene, for instance, is the occasion for introducing a new location to the opening credits, which gives it an odd emphasis, even if the weight of Braavos as a location is not entirely clear. (Although it’s notable that Tywin and Arya both talked about it last episode, further emphasizing it as a big deal.) But this is mostly an intellectual curiosity – Stannis is on his way back out of Braavos after eight minutes, and while the location sticks around in the credits for the rest of the season (whereas the Eyrie, curiously, never gets used), nothing of its importance is actually conveyed by the episode, its introduction serving the same purpose as Liam Cunningham’s charisma, namely desperately trying to spice up a dull scene.
The Dreadfort scene is more straightforward in its efforts to make itself engaging, in that it has people hitting each other with swords. It’s also, however, an abject mess of a scene. Having Yara’s rescue fail is fine – it was never really plausible that the show would depart that heavily from the books. But having her sole appearance in the two years between “Mhysa” and “Home” be the failed rescue attempt is desperately unsatisfying, and only serves to emphasize the degree to which this plot is the runt of the litter. Worsening matters, however, is Ramsay’s “this is turning out to be a wonderful evening” entrance, a moment of absurd camp that instantly ensures that his character, already in a precarious position by dint of being part of the single most unwatchable plot in the show’s history in Season Three, can never be anything other than a grotesque cartoon. Which is a real pity, as the tension and sadism of Theon’s bath and the intriguing prospect of him having to “pretend” to be Theon Greyjoy would be interesting if they hadn’t followed such an utter shambles.
As for the main event, it is straightforwardly a showcase for two characters. The first and obvious of these is Tyrion, who gets his first substantive scene since “The Lion and the Rose” (his two previous appearances having been more or less invented for the show, existing for little reason other than because its dramatic engine at this point cannot function without a certain amount of Tyrion). In this regard at least, the structural parallels with “The Lion and the Rose” continue, in that the scene is based largely around anticipation. Tyrion has very little to actually do in the scene save stand in a box as his situation worsens, his handful of interjections compelling but ultimately minor. The result is an ongoing tension – a question of what this scene is actually building to for Tyrion.
The answer, of course, is Peter Dinklage’s Emmy reel – a superb showpiece in which he sneers and rails at the world, face contorting so that for the first time his nickname of “the Imp” seems earned and justified. It’s stunning, managing to make the “I demand trial by combat” cliffhanger land despite the fact that it’s in practice an absolute nothing of a twist. The default assumption at this point would be that Tyrion will name Bronn as his champion, whereas the possibility of Cersei naming the Mountain hasn’t been broached, making this if anything seem like something Tyrion probably should have done a long time ago instead of perservering through a silly show trial. (Also helping the cliffhanger is Natalie Dormer’s final appearance of the season, in which she very nearly manages to steal the scene with her reaction shot despite not actually having any lines in it.)
The other character to be showcased, however, is Oberyn, who, for the first time since “Two Swords” is really given an extended period to influence the narrative, as opposed to a brief scene to keep him in the mix. This is done at least somewhat subtly, however – he gets to stand out in a small council meeting and one-up Varys, but with Tyrion’s trial coming after, this gets pushed down in the mix. The trial also serves to showcase him in its way, with him being the only one of the judges to ask questions of his own, sassing Pycelle and, more strangely, belittling Shae. The result is, elegantly, to put him in the forefront without actually making the episode feel as though it’s about him.