On this week’s Law and Order: Westeros, Tyrion Lannister finally gets his day in court for the murder of King Joffrey.
Much like the episode in which that murder took place, “The Laws of Gods and Men” spent much of its time on a single event, with all of King’s Landing’s biggest schemers showing up to offer testimony against Tyrion, who had resigned himself to execution in weeks ago. It’s not entirely clear whether Tywin actually believes that his son killed Joffrey, but the second Ser Merryn takes the stand, it becomes clear that it doesn’t matter what Tyrion did or didn’t do. It’s a sham of a trial designed only to humiliate Tyrion before finally sending him off to the executioner.
But Tyrion isn’t the only one dealing with the consequences and trappings of justice: over in Mereen, Daenerys is discovering that being queen is slightly more complicated than building an army. As she meets with a nobleman whose father she had crucified in payment for killing those slave girls — a crime which he vehemently objected to and campaigned against — the discomfort of learning that she might have been unjust herself is clear on Emilia Clarke‘s face. Dany has always seen things in relatively black and white terms, punishing all those who have done something wrong, which means she has a lot to reevaluate if she’s going to rule the morally grey King’s Landing. Forcing Dany to deal with the actual day-to-day politics of ruling is a welcome development for the show, as it not only breaks up the repetive nature of her story, but it also puts her in the uncomfortable position of having to take judge her own policies and see what she needs to change about the way she sees the world in order to be the right queen for Westeros.
Meanwhile, in Braavos, Stannis is also in an uncomfortable position, attempting to convince the Iron Bank to fund his planned attack on King’s Landing. The King of Dragonstone has never had strong people skills, a flaw which comes to the forefront in this conversation. His worst quality is that he seems to believe that everyone else in Westeros will simply do whatever he says becuase he has the right to the throne, which means that he is terrible at politics and coersion. And since the only thing Dragonstone exports is shadow demons, he needs all of the political savvy he can get to convince the Iron Bank to help him out.
Luckily, he has Ser Davos at his side, who is quickly proving himself to be an adept Hand of the King, despite his humble beginnings. Not only does Davos know the right way to approach the Bank, but he’s also a suprisingly smooth talker when the situation requires it, showcasing his severed fingertips and advocating for Stannis as a just and fair man. It’s a rare quality in Westerosi leaders, and it’s clearly something that intrigues the Iron Bank enough to win them over. Stannis doesn’t seem to know the advantage he has with Davos, as he’s still relying far too much on Melisandre and the Lord of the Light. But after the fires burn out, he’ll need someone smart enough to help him run the country, and Davos is clearly the best man for the job.
In an episode filled with sudden betrayal and underhanded deals, Davos’ display of loyalty is one of only two, although the other one — between Reek and Ramsay Snow — is less rewarding. Yara Greyjoy has finally made her way across the sea in order to bring her brother home. But the person she finds in his place is no longer her brother, and instead of running to her side, he cowers in the corner of his dog cage. Alfie Allen‘s performance as Reek is one of the show’s higlights, although it’s hard to watch how sad and broken he is. His shuddering and screaming is a great contrast to Gemma Whelan‘s steady determination, and even when she heads back to the ships to leave the shell of her brother behind, it’s clear that she won’t let this development break her down. But the scene truly belongs to Iwan Rheon, who changes the whole nature of his face with a shift of his eyes. It’s a slightly terrifying performance, as he easily moves between wide-eyed innocence and grinning madness, and while it’s never easy to enjoy his scenes, he’s always difficult to look away from.
However, all of that is just leading up to the real focus of the hour: Tyrion’s trial. The concepts of justice and fairness established by the other characters are offset by how obviously the deck is stacked against Tyrion for a crime he didn’t commit. From Tywin’s hilariously pointed opening line — “Did you kill the king?” — things begin to go downhill for everyone’s favorite Lannister. The writers’ choice to have the witnesses recount the various times that Tyrion had threatened the “sainted” king, moments that we, as the audience cheered him on for, divorced from their original context give the trial a nice twist. Without Joffrey’s behavior to balance out Tyrion’s actions, those tiny moments of pride we felt when the first occured now seem monstrous, and only help to dig him a deeper grave.
Which makes Jaime’s bargain with Tywin less satsfying than Tyrion’s own desperate attempt at ensuring justice. Though Jaime manages to negotiate Tywin down to sending his brother to the Nightswatch (and why Jaime thought he could out-manipulate his father in the first place is mystifying), Tyrion throws the deal out the second Shae returns to take the stand. It’s less about proving Tyrion guilty than it is about humiliating him totally and completely in front of the people of court, and Tyrion recognizes this. Peter Dinklage has had some great scenes this season, but the second Shae walks into the throne room, he unleashes a tour de force that begins with him half-collapsing in his seat at the sight of her.
Her arrival livens up what had thus far been a standard courtroom scene, with the tension building and building as she reveals the intimate screts of their relationship. Finally unable to bear the shame and hurt that Shae’s testimony is causing him, Dinklage unleashes everything he has with a monologue that reveals every bit of fury that he’s been carrying around his whole life. Watching it, you can practically hear the scene being shipped off to Emmy voters, because it’s probably the best bit of scenery chewing that Dinklage has gotten to do since Season 1.
It culminates with Tyrion’s desperate attempt to take his fate in his own hands as he demands a trial by combat. It’s not done out of a hope of winning, as Tyrion seems to believe that he’s living on borrowed time at the moment, but calculated to throw his father off-balance, and take the power out of his hands. It’s clearly not a move that Tywin anticipated, nor one that Jaime appreciates, having just given away his life to Tywin in exchange for Tyrion’s, but it’s a last-ditch effort to go out on his own terms. Tyrion’s right in that he’s really on trial for being a dwarf, for killing his mother in childbirth, for the millions of other infractions that Tywin has counted against him all of his life, and after being humiliated by the woman he loves in front of all of the people he’s ever hated in his life, Tyrion will be damned if he goes down without a fight.
This season of Game of Thrones has spent a lot more time on the events unfolding in King’s Landing, but it’s hard to be upset about it when the result is scenes like Tyrion’s trial, with all of the scheming, dealing and snarking coming to a head in one, incredibly acted moment. Sure, the dragons are cool, but in the end, they’ve got nothing on Dinklage.
Episode grade: A-, or Two Whispering Varys’, who made a much-welcome return this week to banter with Oberyn Martell. It was exactly as awesome as it sounds.