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Review: ‘Game of Thrones’ Builds to an Epic Climax in ‘The Laws of Gods and Men’

Review: 'Game of Thrones' Builds to an Epic Climax in 'The Laws of Gods and Men'

“The Laws of Gods and Men” is, structurally, a season of “Game of Thrones” in microcosm: it starts out making a big show of the dramatic voyage on which it’s embarking—with two consecutive sequences featuring characters going somewhere on big, impressive ships—before throwing in some nudity and violence because it’s “Game of Thrones” and that’s how things are done, and concluding with the kind of political chicanery and high drama that lead the show’s fans to defend it even at its most arbitrarily prurient (and yes, it can be arbitrarily prurient).

The above-mentioned sea voyages both, humorously, end in frustration: Stannis’ audience with the Iron Bank of Braavos goes poorly, with bank functionary Mark Gatiss (who is magnificent at playing unhelpful, condescending authority figures) standing on formality and failing to recognize Stannis’ right to the Iron Throne. Ser Davos proceeds to pleads his lord’s case about as well as one could possibly do, with Liam Cunningham (quietly giving one of the best performances on the show since Season 2) playing the role to the hilt. And, as revealed in the following scene when Davos interrupts his old pirate friend Salladhor Saan’s sauna hijinks with two gratuitously nude lady friends, it works, and the Iron Bank gives them the money they requested. What Salladhor is to do with the healthy allotment of coin with which Davos crosses his palm is unclear, though given his line of work, the mind fairly boggles.

Another character we haven’t checked in with in some time, Yara Greyjoy, reappears next, leading a ship full of soldiers on a mission to recapture her wayward brother Theon and kill the men who cut his dick off. Yara’s ruthless determination leads to a successful raid, right up until the moment when Theon, now Reek, has no idea who she is and doesn’t want to be rescued. This leads to a bloody confrontation with Ramsay Snow — the embodiment of everything people who hate “Game of Thrones” hate about the show — wherein he allows her to leave empty-handed, presumably to stew in defeat, and then “rewards” Reek for his loyalty by allowing him to bathe in what must have been quite some time. 

(The Ramsay/Reek storyline continues to be disturbing and unpleasant as ever, although now there does appear to be some purpose to it, finally: Ramsay is about to send Reek on a mission to somewhere “impersonating” Theon Greyjoy. Hopefully this is some respite to the seemingly endless physical and psychological torture to which Roose Bolton’s bastard has been subjecting the former Theon.)

From here, the rest of the episode is “Game of Thrones” at its very best. First, an elegantly constructed check-in with Danaerys in Meereen, which begins with one of her dragons vaporizing some poor guy’s goat, and his appeal to her mercy, which moves Danaerys to one of the periodic dramatic gestures of kindness (to wit, repaying the goatherd three times the value of the lost goat) that leads even the most cynical viewers of the show to behold her in awe and want her to lay waste to Westeros and assume the Iron Throne. But it doesn’t end there: next, the son of the city’s former — now crucified — master asks her if he can properly bury his father and the other masters of the city whom Danaerys had crucified as revenge for the children they’d done the same to. The young queen folds under the impossible choice (which reminded me quite vividly of the scene on “The Wire” where the elder statesman enlightens newly elected Mayor Carcetti about the true nature of the job: sitting around eating shit all day) and allows the young former aristocrat to take his father down, a decision that has “troublesome repercussions” written all over it. She then has over two hundred more supplicants to receive. You can see her sag physically from the stress; Emilia Clarke continues her flawless work embodying all the Khaleesi’s different and often contradictory aspects.

Back in King’s Landing, the Small Council convenes to discuss the threat Danaerys poses in the East. Most of the old men dismiss her but Varys, recently returned to the show after a long absence but in this particular episode back with an absolute vengeance, insists that they take her seriously. As does the Council’s newest member, Oberyn Martell, who both seems interested in Westeros’ premier eunuch and possessing mysterious information about him. They follow up the meeting with a chat in the throne room where the ostensibly saturnine exotic demi-foreigner Martell reveals himself to be every bit the political equal of Varys’ previous verbal dance partners, Littlefinger and Tyrion. 

Every bit as pleasurable as the continuing development of Oberyn as a character, though, is the opportunity to see Varys cut loose again. Conleth Hill is a joy to watch embodying the endlessly devious behind-the-scenes power player — who despite not being a lord, is referred to by everyone as a lord just because it feels right, apparently — whose lone desire, expressed in a marvelous bit of inimically elusive/allusive text this episode, is for power.

The climax is, as the show had been building since the death of King Joffrey, with the trial of Tyrion Lannister. It’s a meticulously constructed charade with a predetermined outcome; each piece of testimony makes what’s already clear all the more so: Tyrion is to be convicted, regardless of his actual guilt. In a break in the proceedings, Jaime goes to Tywin, pleading for his brother’s life, promising Tywin that he’ll quit his beloved King’s Guard to save Tyrion.

Charles Dance, in that moment, manages to make it seem as though a physical trap has slammed shut merely through gesture, and it becomes clear that this, inducing Jaime quitting the King’s Guard, has been his plan all along. He tells his shell-shocked son that he will allow Tyrion to plead for mercy and granting it by allowing him to join the Night’s Watch, living out his days at Castle Black, essentially in exile. It’s maybe the greatest Tywin moment yet, so much so that it seems there’s no way to top it, not in the meager time remaining in the episode.

Ah, but this is the folly of overlooking Tyrion (and Peter Dinklage). Jaime informs Tyrion of Tywin’s plan, but the subsequent treacherous, perjurious, and sadistic testimony of Shae pushes Tyrion to the breaking point. Seething with anger, he “confesses” to “the crime of being a dwarf,” tells everyone present that he wished he’d let Stannis murder them all at the battle of Blackwater, that he was glad to see Joffrey die, that he wished he’d done it…and that he demands a trial by combat.

Not only did Peter Dinklage win another Emmy with that scene — to award anyone else over him is beyond silliness, it would be stewing in a fetid, corrupt state for which the civilized have only contempt — but it’s a glorious, truly awesome (in the sense of inspiring awe) ending to the episode. As is structurally fitting for an episode whose previous high points came from cast members returning after a long absence, it’s a reminder that no matter how off the rails you might think “Game of Thrones” has gotten, it always finds the track again. Onward!

Criticwire Grade: A-

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Comments

tembeck

This is not a review, it is a summery. It reads like a book report.

Joey

This would have been a more enjoyable review if I didn't have to pause at words like prurient, saturnine, and perjurious. It's written so well, but sometimes too well. I guess if you want to be Robert Christgau.

LadySamantha

During the scene where Jaime walks Tyrion down the isle, all I could think of was the video of the mistakes while filming, where they come together skipping down the isle. Kinda ruined the real scene as that was playing in the back of my head. BUT OTHERWISE show was fantastic as usual.

Rosemary

I HATE the torture sections – so much so that I refuse to watch the show on Sunday night. I watch it from a recording and fast forward through those sections. My family agrees with me and is happy to have that part left out. Wonder what that says about us? (And yes, I've read every book).

Serene

Hizdahr zo Loraq isnt supposed to be the sexy, well-spoken man that he was in this… he just isnt… I dont like it…

honest ze

Peter Dinklage was quite good on that scene, but lets not forget breaking bad for the Emmy competition.

Gary

Daenerys will pay me three times as much as my goats are worth if her dragons eat them?

Here dragon, where are you dragon? Come and get some goats…

Jak

I loved what Tyrion did purely because it showed that he put his own freedom and maybe even life behind, just to inconvenience his hateful father and make life that much more difficult for Tywin

Kitty

Tyrion made me cry….amazing performance.

Daniel

In my opinion theon deserves whats happening to him

lulu speers

King Jofrey dies? Thank God, that was no spoiler alert as I can go back and watch the show now, and that little shite was the spoiler alert period!

Jeff

THIS COMMENT CONTAINS SPOILERS OF "LAWS OF GODS AND MEN EPISODE" OF THRONES –

I thought that there was one tiny flaw in the whole thing… SPOILERS AHEAD

Tyrion asked for trial by combat and everyone seems shocked and surprised as if they had never even thought of the possibility of a trial by combat. Yet it is well known that Tyrion already escaped another execution by invoking trial by combat. I would think that if you can invoke trial by combat then they would know he would call for it again and be better prepared with a plan for it. Of course, maybe in the next episode we see that they have planned for it, i don't know… but everyone knows who Tyrion's champion will be… the same champion he called for before… so if I were Cersei I would have the champion assassinated. Would be interesting if Tyrion had to call on his brother again, due to some inability for his regular champion to attend.

END SPOILER COMMENT

jawsnnn

Thank god the harping about prurience was kept to a minimum in this recap (or does that come later?).
I don't agree with the show having a comeback after going off tracks. It has consistently been the most watchable drama for the past 4 years. If anything, the standards have been set impossibly high. I am a book reader, and even knowing all the major plot points I don't remember being this moved by another TV series in some time.

KaGe

As much as I think Dinklage should get an award for tonight, won't all this season be going up against the last season of Breaking Bad? And won't that show still win all the awards, which it rightfully should? Why is there so much good television?

Danny

The line is often thin between the task (reviewing the show) and the real purpose (attempting to broadcast to the world how intelligent the reviewer is).

I got nothing from your review except that you are craving acceptance.
Please focus less on you and more on the topic at hand.

Ann Roehrs

OK. I was enjoying your review. However…you simply MUST spell names correctly (Danaerys…how COULD you?) and no…that was no goat skeleton that the shepherd brought to Daenerys…it was his son.

Hobbit

Omg, how hard is it to spell Daenerys?!!!

uhhh

stopped reading at "arbitrarily prurient". *rolls eyes*

Tony B.

Bombastic by definition, means pretentious. Let's not be redundant.

trickster

A- really? A+ for sure!

NAME

"Ramsay Snow — the embodiment of everything people who hate "Game of Thrones" hate about the show "

No, that's Cersei.

James M.

Ben, I love the irony of you using the term "bombastic diction" to excoriate the author's bombastic diction. Perhaps it's you who needs to put down the thesaurus.

Atrem

Asha*

Roxers

Yara? Don't you mean Osha?

Anne

I wonder if the author finds any irony in defining awesome to describe Peter Dinklage's performance but none in the title of this piece of it being an "epic" climax.

Ben K.

I think this reviewer needs to put his thesaurus down next time. His bombastic diction comes across as pretentious and offers little to an otherwise boring and straight-forward plot summary.

chris

Lighten up Hugo….the review had me reliving every moment form the episode…..this is probably the best thing on newtwork television right now

Felipe

Este capítulo estuvo realmente épico, sobretodo el juicio de Tyrion, qué frases se mandó. Realmente increíble lo que genera esta serie, una sensación que te mantiene prácticamente pegado a la pantalla durante todo el capítulo, con un suspenso que te congela.

private dagalangit

i like this dramatic movies like the queen

Hugo Moreira

Badly constructed review, and with several crass mistakes ("Danaerys" instead of "Daenerys" and "King's Guard" instead of "Kingsguard" come to mind).

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