This Game of Thrones review contains spoilers.
Wow. I don’t care if it’s the law of gods or man right now, because frankly, Peter Dinklage’s performance in tonight’s Game of Thrones was truly divine.
This is the Tyrion (or at least a bitter shade of him) that we have been missing since the Battle of Blackwater Bay. The kind who can stand up to the sycophants and the liars who subsist on the crumbs of power, much like a symbiotic slime on a Marvel superhero, and put them in their much needed place. Mind you, Tyrion’s loquacious ability to tell it like it is might also be why he’s in such a predicament, but at least the smallest Lannister proved he has the loudest roar, and he couldn’t keep that big mouth shut if he wanted to. Undoubtedly, Dinklage loved every minute of Tyrion’s “you can’t handle the truth” breakdown of Westerosi law. But for Tyrion, it might have been the last straw of a soul that’s been bleeding away since his birth into this awful family.
However, I do believe that I’m getting ahead of myself, as much else happened in this episode.
First and probably least exciting to show-only viewers is Stannis and Davos’ trip across the Narrow Sea toward Bravos. Aye, we have finally glimpsed the Venetian city with its Colossus of Rhodes styled beacon of justice, greed, and monied power. And while Stannis does not technically go to Bravos in the book, his trip to the great halls of the Iron Bank are a worthwhile investment—a down payment on a storyline that will have a rich payoff later.
As it turns out, even Westeros is in debt, and Stannis is willing to bail the crown out providing that the Iron Bank finance his next round in a supposedly cooling war. It also marks the first of hopefully many appearances by Mark Gatiss. Since he’s the beloved co-writer and co-star of BBC’s Sherlock, in which he plays Mycroft Holmes, I must admit that I had wished this medieval banker put out a raven to his “little brother” about these Baratheon goldfish.
A cross between Gordon Gekko and Sheldon Adelson, there is something downright patriotic about Gatiss’ scene. In Bravos, they don’t believe in blood right or guest’s right or divine right—they believe in money and the power it buys them, including of political candidates. And by shifting funds from Tommen to Stannis, this is the equivalent of Stannis locking up the GOP nomination with all the money and favors that entails. It’s downright American in our post-Citizens United world.
Back in Westeros, another scene not in the books occurs out of whole cloth with terrifying consequences: Yara, Theon Greyjoy’s sister, actually sets sail for the Dreadfort and gets so far as to find her own baby brother nestled exactly where he belongs…with the rest of Ramsay’s dogs. However, when she attempts to free Theon, the tortured lad refuses to go, knowing it will cost him another finger or even a toe to attempt salvation from Ramsay. Aye, the only body part of his body that is truly safe is his tongue. How else could Ramsay hear Reek beg for mercy as his paw is being gnawed off? Reek, it rhymes with weak. Speaking of gnawing, a fun fact to share is that all those dogs of Ramsay are bitches. Literally, he only breeds female dogs, and he names each after a different woman he hunted down, raped, and murdered in the woods. You can’t fault the Bastard of Bolton for being the sentimental sort.
Alas, when the said bastard discovers that Yara has appeared in his castle, she is forced to desert her brother (who she defines as dead) and escapes his dogs.
Alright, to be honest, I am completely fine with Yara attempting a rescue. In fact, it was so harrowing with a great speech building to the moment that I was tempted to forego how much damage it would do to the book’s story for her to save Theon Turncloak from the hellacious existence he will continue to enjoy. But if this subplot, meant primarily to make Yara and the Ironborn look more sympathetic, amounts to them being scared away by dogs who would not last long against an axe or a broad sword, then I can’t help but wonder if it completely backfired. Quite frankly, seeing the Ironborn give up after one menacing line by Ramsay and the assault of a couple of pooches makes them look far weaker than ever before. Then again, let it not be said the Ironborn have never met a challenge that they crumbled before on sight of. In fact, Theon is more his father’s son than either party would admit.
At the very least, it provides a wonderfully tense moment when Reek succumbs to allowing his master wash his back like a loving dog begging not to be kicked. The ease with which Ramsay has trained his dog is chilling and pathetic. Reek will do anything to stay in Ramsay’s good graces, even pretend that his name is Theon Greyjoy. Which it isn’t. The master doesn’t like that name, really he doesn’t. His name is Reek. It rhymes with sneak.
Now then, let’s get back to the reason this is such a standout episode in a season that has already enjoyed several blockbusters. Truly, you know it is going to be a good one for Game of Thrones when it chooses to stick in one place for a long period of time. And we spent 20-plus glorious minutes in King’s Landing tonight.
There was some important details gleamed early worth noting, such as Tywin Lannister finally giving more than a small bit of consideration to Daenerys Targaryen. It is somewhat strange seeing as how mocking Tywin and Cersei have both been toward the concept of dragons in the past to wholeheartedly accept Varys’ reports now (almost as strange as the Westerosi mentioning Dany’s storyline). Nevertheless, a Targaryen queen, young or not, with an army of 8,000 Unsullied is something to worry about. And any fan of Khaleesi related characters should cringe when Tywin suggests that he sends a letter to Meereen…
Yet, the more pressing matter was of course the trial of Tyrion Lannister. And what a trial the Imp tasted in this kangaroo court proceeding that only had one honest moment in the whole farcical afternoon, and that was when Tywin removed all pretense by sitting on the Iron Throne that is his by common sense. Tommen doesn’t stand a chance. The boy who once loved Tyrion like an uncle—though I am sure Cersei has poisoned his mind in recent weeks to believe the opposite—Tommen excuses himself when Tywin takes his rightful seat. When flanked with fellow judges from the Houses Martell and Tyrell, Tywin has never appeared more comfortable than looking down with contemptible, judging eyes at his youngest son. It is a position Tyrion has known his entire life, but never has it been this public.
That it revolves around shaming Tyrion with one half-truth or fabrication at a time might be the only reason Tywin allowed this disgraceful humiliation of his family to endure for so long. Joffrey be damned, Tywin hated the boy anyway and probably would have killed the idiot himself one day. No, this is about removing the besmirching mark of Imp off his gilded familial legacy of Lannister, and the arrogant patriarch is delighting in it more than vengeful Cersei who at least believes in the mockery that has befallen her little brother.
One by one her minions take the stand against Tyrion who is never allowed to ask them any questions in his own defense. Ser Meryn Trant takes the stand to sneer about that one time Tyrion compared Joffrey to the Mad King (surely Aerys Targaryen wasn’t this bad?) and told Bronn to kill Ser Meryn if he opened his mouth again. When Tyrion attempts to contextualize the event, which included Ser Meryn beating Sansa Stark and stripping her naked before the court, Tywin practically beheads the accused himself. Tyrion shall sit by and watch this sham, albeit bringing up Sansa would likely have not helped anyway. In another (fitting) departure from the book, Pycelle even produces Ser Dontos’ necklace that was seen on Sansa during the Wedding feast, proving for good and all that the Lady Stark had a role (unbeknownst or not) to play in Joffrey’s assassination.
However, the most damning evidence was the one that no unsuspecting viewer could have predicted: Shae.
While it seems inevitable that a ship bound for Essos would not be the last we’d see of Tyrion’s freshly unemployed lover, no one ever expects to see her take the witness stand against her “Lion of Lannister” the first time they encounter this story. Tyrion “white fanged” Shae to keep her out of Tywin’s hands, but even that ploy instead ensured that is exactly where she fell when she became his and Cersei’s greatest weapon to use against Tyrion. Lying through her pretty teeth, Shae condemns both Tyrion and Sansa (if she is ever found again) to having conspired to murder Joffrey. While nothing she says is a total fabrication since Tyrion did hate Joffrey, Cersei, and Tywin (though he’d never admit the last one), it is colored by entire falsehoods. She condemns Tyrion to death with her mouth.
I am sure there will be some fans out there who defend Shae’s actions. Benioff and Weiss even gave viewers an out by having Tyrion send Shae away, an action he did not commit in the books. But there is little excuse for this blatant and public betrayal. She turned their love life into a courtier’s punch line throughout King’s Landing and sets Tyrion up to take a final kneel before the King’s Justice. It is highly unlikely that Tywin had to tell Shae about this being a masterful plan to ensnare Jaime Lannister back into the role of dutiful son at Casterly Rock after Tyrion is “spared’ death by taking the Black. No, this was a woman scorned whose emotional attachment was used against her better judgment, not unlike Jaime condemned finally to fall into his father’s inescapable designs.
Well, they appeared inescapable until Tyrion threw a prop at this murmur’s farce more disquieting than Joffrey Baratheon’s corpse. Instead of silently letting him be ridiculed by Shae, Cersei, all of King’s Landing’s court…and Tywin, Tyrion stands up on his pint-sized soap box to condemn them for their hatred of his dwarfism. Cersei accused Tyrion because Joffrey always hated him, in no small part because Cersei always hated Tyrion too. And why did Cersei hate him? For the same reason their father did…he was born a dwarf. While Jaime watches on with nothing but pity and (too) quiet support for his younger brother, the rest of his family has conspired their whole lives to paint him as the demon monkey that all the smallfolk assume him to be. And after so many years of Tyrion wearing the horns, even his family believes that they fit.
Fine. If Tyrion is to be their demon monkey, he’ll be their demon monkey. And the horns will look glorious!
But not for Joffrey’s sake. Joffrey deserved to die a thousand times over for his crimes, but Tyrion won’t admit that he killed the bastard king. However, he will gladly confess that he wishes he had. He wishes that he slaughtered the king, and he wishes that he likewise killed every single sycophant in the room whose life they owe to the Imp that saved King’s Landing, including the cowardly Varys who has retreated into his web like the craven spider that Tyrion always took him for. Tyrion’s wildfire trick saved every life in the Capital long enough for Tywin to conjure up his alliance with the Tyrells (thanks to, ahem, Littlefinger). And now Tyrion would happily take them all back to join Joffrey in the great beyond and the Seven Hells below.
All afternoon, Tyrion and the well-dressed mob have heard examples of his mouth putting him in awkward juxtaposition with the newly entombed king. But Tyrion will give them all a taste first hand of how his jabbering can get him into trouble when he confesses that he wishes to murder every person in that room. Cersei inside her mind must have been cackling, but every viewer was too. Just as we could cringe about how damning these unfiltered words are, we can smile at Tyrion for standing up for himself. Tyrion once said that his mind is like a blade that he sharpens with a proverbial whetstone. Well, he has certainly guaranteed Ser Ilyn Payne’s will be especially sharp when he comes for Tyrion’s head on the morrow.
Save that Tyrion has one last wildfire canister to throw at this charade. He demands a champion to stand for him. And why not? It worked in the Eyrie! Surely, Bronn would stand for his bosom buddy one last time, right? And even if he is maimed, this will be Jaime’s chance to also prove his loving loyalty to a brother besieged. And things always go according to plan for heroes in this kind of story.
This was a fantastic episode of Game of Thrones that delivered in a huge way. When the show takes a moment and just chooses to linger on a certain event, usually revolving around King’s Landing, those episodes shine. Obviously “Blackwater” spent an entire hour in that epic siege, and “The Lion and the Rose” found a long breath before we waved goodbye to Joffrey Baratheon. But tonight was all about Tyrion, one of the best characters on all of television during an age with a pantheon of searing protagonists. But Dinklage’s character is neither anti-hero nor good guy. He is Tyrion of House Lannister, the family’s black sheep and the Imp of Casterly Rock. Tonight, he was forced to play that role in all of Westeros’ history books forevermore, but for a fleeting moment he had the stage to let these jackasses he’s surrounded by know what he really thinks of them. And even he might agree that it was worth it.