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by Danny Bowes
May 12, 2014 11:12 AM
65 Comments
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Review: 'Game of Thrones' Builds to an Epic Climax in 'The Laws of Gods and Men'

Helen Sloan/HBO

"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.

Helen Sloan/HBO

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.

Helen Sloan/HBO

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-

65 Comments

  • tembeck | May 14, 2014 6:14 AMReply

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

  • Joey | May 13, 2014 9:43 PMReply

    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 | May 13, 2014 12:26 PMReply

    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 | May 13, 2014 11:29 AMReply

    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).

  • Mia | May 13, 2014 2:21 PM

    wtf..... if you've read the books then you know whats going to happen..I've read the books as well.. three times to be exact...and I look forward how they adapt it for tv... get over yourself... its just tv... don't be such a weak ass

  • Serene | May 13, 2014 7:48 AMReply

    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 | May 13, 2014 7:28 AMReply

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

  • Otavio | May 17, 2014 12:12 PM

    But Peter is better than Aaron Paul and deserve to win

  • Gary | May 13, 2014 12:40 AMReply

    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...

  • The_Smiling_Knight | May 13, 2014 9:00 AM

    You joke, but about 160 years ago or so, there was a "little brown girl" (Archmaester Gyldane's words), recalled in the history books as "Nettles," who actually became one of the last dragon riders by doing precisely that.

    See, Princess Rhaenyra needed champions to fight for her cause, and it was believed that only those of Targaryen blood would have the power to bond with them, so they mostly looked for Targaryen bastards. Brave, strong men died by the scores trying to tame the beasts, and the one called Sheepstealer had never been ridden by any man, alive or dead, and was twice as fearsome for his savagery.

    Yet, each morning, for many years, Nettles would go out into her field and slaughter a sheep, then leave it in her fields for the dragon. For years and years she did this, so that by sixteen, when the call went out for dragonseeds, Nettles was able to mount the beast without a scratch.

    "How the prince and his bastard girl spent their last night beneath Lord Mooton's roof is not recorded, but as dawn broke they appeared together in the yard, and Prince Daemon helped Nettles saddle Sheepstealer one last time. It was her custom to feed him every day before she flew; dragons bend easier to their rider's will when full. That morning she fed him a black ram, the largest in all of Maidenpool, slitting the ram's throat herself. Her riding leather's were stained with blood, Maester Norren records, and 'her cheeks were stained with tears.' No word of farewell was spoken betwixt man and maid, but as Sheepstealer beat his leathery brown wings and climbed into the dawn sky, Caraxes [the Prince's dragon] raised his head and gave a scream that shattered every window in Jonquil's Tower. High above the town, Nettles turned her dragon toward the Bay of Crabs, and vanished in the morning mists, never to be seen again at court or castle."

  • Jak | May 12, 2014 9:51 PMReply

    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

  • Marvin | May 13, 2014 2:42 AM

    I wouldn't say his father is the bad role in this lawsuite. He just try to feed the tributaries with what they want, and what they want is a kinslayer. The real bad person in all of this is Cersei. She is blinded by her own hate and just take the obvious, not even stoping to lie just to make her own dream "reality" going real. Tywin Lannister is just a hard ruler who knows what to do to not make the tributaries becoming angry. A clever political genius.

    Even though I would all kill them for the things they did to the North :D

  • Kitty | May 12, 2014 9:40 PMReply

    Tyrion made me cry....amazing performance.

  • Daniel | May 12, 2014 9:24 PMReply

    In my opinion theon deserves whats happening to him

  • lulu speers | May 12, 2014 8:21 PMReply

    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!

  • PhantomTa2 | May 13, 2014 6:06 AM

    Not only did he die but Jack Gleeson, as much as I hate to say it (I genuinely hated him as Joffrey, which is a testament to his acting ability), was amazing while doing it! If anybody, besides Peter Dinklage, deserves some sort of honor for his role in GoT, it's him, even if it's for the death scene alone.

  • Marvin | May 13, 2014 2:44 AM

    Joffrey died in episode two, THIS is a review of episode six. You sir, did something ultimately wrong if you thought there would be no "spoilers" of the previus episodes. *facepalm*

  • chi-town_chief | May 13, 2014 12:28 AM

    You're reading a review for an episode that takes place well after jeoffory dying. How stupid are you?

  • kb | May 12, 2014 9:06 PM

    you shouldn't even be reading this article if you don't know that.

  • Jeff | May 12, 2014 8:12 PMReply

    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

  • motan | May 13, 2014 10:13 AM

    WRONNNNNG

  • kev | May 13, 2014 8:30 AM

    you'll be surprised to see who is going to be his champion, not the one you had expected ^^

  • Zile | May 13, 2014 4:42 AM

    What if Cersei calls Jamie to the duel. I wonder how will that turns....

  • Osborn | May 13, 2014 3:59 AM

    Thanks for the rest of Game of Thrones for me Morten Larsen.

  • Morten Larsen | May 12, 2014 8:32 PM

    Although his champion will NOT be Bronn again. In the books, Bronn refuses to be his champion, as he sees no value in risking his own life against The Mountain (Gregor Clegane). His champion will be **********SPOILERS AHEAD********** The Red Viper aka Oberyn Martell, who actually volunteers when he hears that Cersei´s champion is The Mountain.
    The 2 of them have previous history as we´ve learned earlier this season, and Oberyn jumps at the opportunity to get some long awaited revenge..
    **********END OF SPOILERS*************

    And Tyrion can´t choose his own champion. The person has to agree on the fight....

  • jawsnnn | May 12, 2014 7:19 PMReply

    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.

  • Robin | May 13, 2014 10:55 AM

    Jawsnnn - totally agree ! Comeback? Get real! If anyone thinks Breaking Bad was even in the same sphere as GoT is daft! I Dont remember any movie, mini series, TV series, etc., being more enjoyable or magnificent in production, than this. I hope GRRM resists the temptation to go to the big screen - they'll ruin it. What other story has ever been as fantastic as this?? Its the story we keep tuning in for - the characters are so well developed and so wonderfully acted we love or hate them as if they are part of our lives. TV has come such a long way and the standards raised so high that entertainment has never been better - but GoT remains at the top of my list! HBO never disappoints!!

  • Taylor | May 12, 2014 8:58 PM

    "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."

    Preach it! Maybe it's because those of us who have read the books know to expect the slow burn of intricate, long story- and character-arcs, or maybe we're in the minority here, I don't know. What I do know, though, is that the show, to me, has been consistently satisfying. The only real complaint I've ever had is more a selfish despondency that HBO doesn't just dump millions and millions more into the show so that we can see even more. That said, considering just how much the show's writers have had to cut from the source material simply for the sake of time management, it's been incredibly well adapted.

  • KaGe | May 12, 2014 7:11 PMReply

    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 | May 12, 2014 7:03 PMReply

    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 | May 12, 2014 6:19 PMReply

    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.

  • Abaddon | May 13, 2014 6:41 AM

    It was a goat not his son....that comes later. If you recall in the book when the man whose son is killed comes to Daenerys everyone is well accustomed to the "dead goat procedure" and then is horrified by the reveal that it is his son in the bag and not goat. So no...it wasn't any kind of mistake nor was it inconsistent with the books. I am sure seeing this sets it all up for the dead kid in a future episode.

  • danette | May 12, 2014 10:33 PM

    as i recall, the goat was a first step.

  • Abby | May 12, 2014 10:03 PM

    Really? Since when do children have horns? It makes me laugh when people try to correct others, yet have no idea what they're talking about.

  • Jessica | May 12, 2014 9:49 PM

    It was NOT his son. It was a goat carcass. His flock was incinerated.

  • Andres | May 12, 2014 7:37 PM

    Did his son have horns?

  • Jake R | May 12, 2014 7:19 PM

    That was a goat. This foreshadows the child dying, probably in Ep. 10

  • jawsnnn | May 12, 2014 7:14 PM

    That scene comes later. It was a red herring for the book readers

  • Chris T | May 12, 2014 7:01 PM

    in the book, it was his son. They did not go there in the series

  • Bob Li | May 12, 2014 6:43 PM

    His son had horns? maybe you need to watch the episode again.

  • Aaron G. | May 12, 2014 6:36 PM

    No, it was a goat. The dragon killed most of his herd and the skeleton that he brought was the goat. Besides, look closely..... how many skulls of young boys have horns growing out of them?

  • Hobbit | May 12, 2014 5:47 PMReply

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

  • uhhh | May 12, 2014 5:24 PMReply

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

  • Tony B. | May 12, 2014 5:01 PMReply

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

  • Brad | May 13, 2014 8:47 AM

    Nice!

  • trickster | May 12, 2014 4:58 PMReply

    A- really? A+ for sure!

  • NAME | May 12, 2014 4:23 PMReply

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

    No, that's Cersei.

  • Zach | May 12, 2014 11:52 PM

    Despite what others may think, I actually like Ramsay Snow as a character. He is from the North, which all people link to the Starks. He shows that some Northmen can be just as sociopathic as the Lannisters.

  • TR | May 12, 2014 7:35 PM

    No. Cersei, while contemptable, is at least a three-dimensional character that definitely keeps the plot moving along. You might not like her, but you definitely want to know what is going on...

    Whereas Ramsay Snow has two personality points... 1)He's a bastard. 2) He's a sadist. So far we don't see what his point is in the show.

  • James M. | May 12, 2014 4:21 PMReply

    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 | May 12, 2014 4:19 PMReply

    Asha*

  • Roxers | May 12, 2014 3:59 PMReply

    Yara? Don't you mean Osha?

  • Earthbearth | May 12, 2014 4:49 PM

    Her name has been changed to Yara in the series, so she won't be mistaken for Osha, the wildling. Seeing as you wrote Osha, when her name is Asha Greyjoy proves why this was a good idea :D

  • commonsns | May 12, 2014 4:21 PM

    Ni, Yara. Osha is the Wildling that takes off with Rickon back in season 3

  • Renae | May 12, 2014 4:15 PM

    Her name was Asha in the books but they changed it to Yara for the show.

  • Mith | May 12, 2014 4:12 PM

    Don't you mean.. Asha?

  • Anne | May 12, 2014 3:57 PMReply

    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. | May 12, 2014 3:44 PMReply

    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 | May 12, 2014 3:35 PMReply

    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 | May 12, 2014 3:34 PMReply

    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 | May 12, 2014 3:29 PMReply

    i like this dramatic movies like the queen

  • Hugo Moreira | May 12, 2014 3:16 PMReply

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

  • MaggieSays | May 12, 2014 5:06 PM

    #coolyourjets Two mistakes that do not take away from enjoying the review would be these.

  • Jeroen | May 12, 2014 4:29 PM

    ZZzzzZZzzz #noonecares

  • Rick | May 12, 2014 3:54 PM

    It's a review of a TV show, not a book. Spelling really shouldn't be a point of fussiness. At no point does any character specifically say "Kingsguard" as opposed to "King's Guard".