Spoilers through HBO’s ‘Game of Thrones’ Season 4 follow.
We’ve known for a long time just how much Tywin hates his son. In spite of the fact that of all his children, only Tyrion matches Tywin’s intellect and ability to scheme, the head of House Lannister despises his son—partly because he’s a dwarf, but mostly because his wife died giving birth to Tyrion. And—in the books at least—there’s some question of his parentage.
So Tyrion stands trial for being a dwarf, for being born in the first place, for being the only decent man in King’s Landing for much of this show. And, facing the lies of everyone from Grand Maester Pycelle to the spurned Shae—whose betrayal seems well beyond harsh at this point—Tyrion forgoes Jaime’s plan to simply plead for mercy and be sent to the Wall (where he would serve a crucial role, no doubt) and demands a trial by combat, just like he did at the Eyrie.
It’s good to have Tyrion back. The past few episodes have seen him locked in chains, awaiting his trial in the confines of the tower. Here, back on-stage where he’s always at his finest, the Imp let’s his fury burn through. “I wish I was the monster you all think I am,” he tells the assembled lords and ladies. Then something to the effect that he’d gladly trade his life to see each and every one of them poisoned. He may not have killed Joffrey, but he wished he had.
The usual dry wit evaporates after Shae’s false testimony. Tyrion loved her, much like he once loved another whore, and once again his family has twisted and manipulated his life—not because Cersei or Tywin care whatsoever about justice. I’m not even convinced Cersei believes Tyrion killed her son; and Tywin is using the entire trial as a way to manipulate Jaime out of the King’s Guard and back to his rightful place as heir to Casterly Rock.
The trial is a show, a convenient way to remove a rival and a family embarrassment and get on with the business of ruling a kingdom. But for Tyrion it’s life-shattering. The question now—if you haven’t read the books—is who will serve as Tyrion’s champion in the trial, and who they’ll be pitted against. Notably, only Oberyn seems unconvinced of Tyrion’s guilt. Or perhaps I’m reading into it too much. Maybe Oberyn just likes Tyrion, sharing his loathing for those assembled.
Elsewhere, we finally enter the austere confines of the Iron Bank of Braavos. This is the financial center of the Game of Thrones universe, an ancient and powerful institution that cracks down ruthlessly on anyone who refuses or is unable to pay back a loan.
We know Tywin has been worried about the crown’s deep debt to the Iron Bank, and we know that Davos Seaworth had some sort of scheme to get the bank to back Stannis. In tonight’s episode we see that plan come into play, and although the Iron Bank at first refuses Stannis, Davos makes a strong enough plea to secure funding for a continued play for the Iron Throne. (Iron Bank, Iron Throne…coincidence?)
In any case, this isn’t just important because it means Stannis can afford to continue fighting, it’s important because it indicates the bank has lost confidence in Lannister coin. While the war may be ostensibly over, the Iron Bank is pretty blatantly betting on a short lull before the storm.
Honestly, they may be betting on the wrong horse again. Stannis may be the only viable leader in the Seven Kingdoms once Tywin is dead, but Daenerys has three dragons and an army of Unsullied.
This was an interesting moment for Dany’s story, not so much because of her throne room scene—which adequately conveyed the tedium I find is associated with most Dany material—but because finally a character let slip that Jorah Mormont is a spy. Or, rather, was a spy working for King Robert to undermine the Targaryen threat.
This was something we should have learned much earlier and in an entirely different fashion, but the show has done its utmost to, inexplicably, render the role of Ser Barristan Selmy, the greatest knight of his generation, almost entirely superfluous to the story.
I do wonder if this revelation is foreshadowing, however. Will we see a confrontation between Dany and Mormont? Will he be sent packing or nailed to a cross?
News of Dany’s appropriation of Meereen comes vis-a-vis Varys, the Spider, and his little birds. In another added scene we have Prince Oberyn of Dorne confront Varys about his heritage and his motives. When you aren’t ruled by desire, Varys tells the prince, you have time to pursue other things. Like what? the Dornishman asks. Varys nods at the Iron Throne.
The game of thrones, then, but just what game is Varys playing at? What’s the end goal? I think you can view this entire story as an elaborate game of chess. Varys sits on one side of the board; Littlefinger sits on the other. The rest are moved around, piece by piece, sacrificing a Ned Stark here, a Tyrion Lannister there, all in the pursuit of some grand vision.
At last, we move north, to an attempted rescue of Theon “Reek” Greyjoy by his sister Yara (Asha in the books.) It goes spectacularly wrong when Reek won’t leave the kennels with his rescuers. Theon is so corrupted and broken by Ramsay Snow’s torture, he’s forgotten who he is, who is sister is, and the will to run. It’s disturbing. Even after all we’ve seen him endure, this ultimate loss of self is chilling.
And because he is a cruel and twisted bastard, Ramsay Snow then asks Reek to “pretend he’s someone” he’s not—Theon Greyjoy himself, in an attempt to take back a castle held by “bad men.” I’m still not fond of the Theon scenes, though they’re thankfully fewer and further between than in Season 3, but the show has done a good job of explaining Theon’s transformation. I think Ramsay is a decent, if somewhat over the top, villain; basically a much more ferocious Joffrey with none of the restraints placed on the boy king. Ramsay runs wild, a mad dog well-suited to the task of terror he was set on by his father, Roose Bolton. But he’s also smart and calculating, even in his depravity.
A new conflict is taking shape, during this lull between wars. Stannis has been given a second lease on life, another stab at victory. Tommen is now sitting the Iron Throne, though he’s just a puppet for his grandfather. The Boltons are moving to become wardens of the North and be rid of the Stark line altogether.
The North is in disarray, making it ripe for the plucking. We didn’t see the Wall this time around, but we know that the wildlings are nearing their destination, and the White Walkers are growing in strength.
Of all these myriad moving pieces, only Dany seems content to stay firmly in one place. Strangely enough, it is only Dany who seems strong enough to actually achieve the task at hand. Yet she lounges in the East, learning for reasons not entirely clear, how to “govern.”
Meanwhile, wild cards are everywhere. Oberyn of Dorne, and really the entire kingdom of Dorne, remain largely shrouded in mystery. Likewise, Petyr Baelish has arrived at a real position of power and stands poised to wreak more havoc than he already has. Where the chips fall when it all comes down is anyone’s guess, but I get the feeling that we’re in for four more hours of very exciting television this season.
Even book readers can’t hope to guess at where it’s all headed, so many things have been changed between text and screen. This has become one of my favorite things about HBO’s adaptation. Game of Thrones on TV isn’t an entirely new story, but there’s just enough new and different to keep things fascinating one episode to the next.