TV REVIEW: Game of Thrones - The Laws of Gods and Men

The first half of this fourth season of Game of Thrones has been decidedly wobbly. I realise I'm in the minority of this thinking, but I've found aspects of really quite dull, which is something I'd never thought I'd say about this show. Last week's episode felt like a step in the right direction with a nifty action sequence and finally some plot development regarding the men of the Night's Watch which had been dragged out beyond belief. Thankfully, The Laws of Gods and Men goes some way to prove that all of that set-up will be worth it come the rest of the season.

Part of the reason that this episode is so strong is because each scene feels connected thematically in a way that earlier episodes haven't. It's all about identity this week, taking on the roles you're supposed to have rather than the ones you necessarily want. Right from the opening scenes in Braavos (which was absolutely stunning and all credit to the visual artists for creating something so beautiful), characters are rebuilding themselves in the only ways that are open to them. For Davos, he has to remake himself as the loyal servant of the true king when faced with Mark Gatiss' deliciously arrogant Tycho Nestoris of the Iron Bank. Stannis also has to constantly re-iterate that he is the rightful King, not Tommen, despite everyone now pretty much ignoring him because he's got no cash. It's still a scene that feels largely like set-up, but the presence of Gatiss and Davos' impassioned speech elevated it to a worthy opening scene for what followed.

The return of Yara Greyjoy is a welcome one as she is one of the more enigmatic and interesting Westerosi female figures. With Theon now decidedly not himself and assuming the identity of Reek, their conflict is not only one of family loyalty, but of an internal, traumatic identity crisis. The violence and claustrophobic nature of the scene added to the turmoil, emphasising Reek's weakened presence in the face of both Ramsay and his more powerful sister. It also harks back to Theon and Yara's relationship; they barely know each other with Theon having been brought up in Winterfell whereas Ramsay has much more power over him. Alfie Allen's performance has been an under-appreciated one, but his journey from arrogant, misguided Theon to broken and tortured Reek has been exceptional. He shares a great chemistry with Iwan Rheon as Ramsay and the pair have gone on to form one of the most interesting partnerships of this season, in a weird Stockholm Syndrome-y way.

After checking in with Dany too (who is unwittingly becoming the tyrannical oppressor she's supposed to have overthrown), we return to King's Landing where things are about to kick off in a big way. It's time for Tyrion's trial and, casting our minds back to his time at the Eyrie, we all know that it's not likely to go well. The build-up to the trial feels like the preparation for Blackwater, albeit on a smaller scale because it feels doomed. Cersei has been steadily manipulating everyone around her and rigging it in her favour, one of the judges is Tywin and Tyrion wasn't exactly the kindest person to Joffrey when he was alive. In short, he's doomed.

Despite this, the trial manages to throw up a fair few shocks along the way, particularly when it comes to the witness testimonies. People like Pycelle and the odious Meryn Trant were always going to testify against Tyrion and take pleasure in doing so, but Varys and Shae? Two wholly different set of variables. Varys has always been somewhat of an ally  to Tyrion and his seeming betrayal of his friend is captured in that great moment when Varys says 'I never forgot a thing'. It's an excellent reminder that Varys has no allegiances, something which his earlier scene with Oberyn (Pedro Pascal once again knocking it out of the park with just a handful of lines).

Many people are rightly praising Peter Dinklage for this scene, particularly the blistering speech he gives at the end, but for me, its his reactions to Shae's testimony that deserve all the plaudits. Betrayal is felt with a simple look and that nuanced performance continues into that brilliant speech to finish it all off becoming the monster everyone thinks he is, if only for a minute. I also enjoyed the performances of those around him. Charles Dance is always on form as Tywin and I enjoy any scene in which Jaime tries to get one over on his father. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau handles Jaime's weakness, his family, so well and his performance captured that desperation and helplessness in the face of Tywin's manipulation. Jaime is another forced to face up to his identity, played by his father into accepting his role as son and heir to Casterly Rock, all in exchange for his brother.

Like many Game of Thrones episodes, this one was bookended by two fantastic scenes, but unlike the rest of this season, the filler has been excellent throughout. It feels less like playing for time now and more as if we're seeing actual narrative progression towards the back half of the season. 

- Becky

You can read Becky's review of the previous episode here.

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