Monday, May 12, 2014

The Laws of Gods and Men

This week's Game of Thrones followed a rather orderly structure, bringing us events in one part of the world at a time before moving on to another.

This started across the Narrow Sea in Braavos. The city made an eye-catching impact in both the opening scene and the credits that preceded it. It was wonderful to have Mark Gatiss show up as the leader of the bankers. Yes, he brings perhaps insurmountable mental baggage with him for a lot of the audience, indelibly associated with his role on BBC's Sherlock as Mycroft. But it was baggage suited to this situation; his character here seemed an equally infuriating know-it-all, all the more aggravating for his accurate depiction of the facts. In the end, Davos made an impassioned argument in favor of Stannis as the king who pays his debts. And I must say, I've never been as interested in either Davos or Stannis. It was a persuasive enough speech for the bankers, enough even to move me as a viewer at least a bit. It was wonderfully written and excellently performed by Liam Cunningham.

From there, we moved on to Meereen to check in on Daenerys. Well, first, to check in on her dragons. The visual effects team did not disappoint in realizing the ever-growing creatures. Nor did the set designers disappoint in realizing the queen's pyramid-top throne room. I have a much clearer memory of these parts of the story from the books, because I believe I've read them far more recently. That is, I think we're firmly in book five territory here with Dany. Here again, the series is dealing with this material more cleanly and compellingly than the book. Then, following up on her squaring things with the goatherd, we dealt with the fallout of her rash crucifixion of the slavers. It may have seemed like justice when she did it a few episodes back, but here we learned of another side of the story -- that she may have condemned a (relatively) innocent man. Meereen, the land where actions have consequences.

Next, we traveled to the Dreadfort, as Yara attempted an assault to rescue her brother. All this was definitely setting up book five material, as we saw Theon too far submerged in his new "Reek" persona to even accept the rescue offered him, then subsequently commanded by Ramsay to pretend to be "something he's not" -- Theon Greyjoy. Actor Alfie Allen gave a wonderful performance in the surprisingly tense bath scene. You could feel Reek calculate every response, trying to avoid punishment, and see him recoil at every grazing touch. (What you did not see was the evidence of Ramsay's mutilation. I kind of expected the show to "go there" when he stripped off his clothes.)

The episode then turned to King's Landing, and the trial of Tyrion. (In devoting the rest of its time here, I think it may have become the first episode of the series not to show us any of the Stark family at all.) This was yet another wonderful performance by Peter Dinklage. It offered strong moments for many other characters and actors as well. There was a wonderful, new for TV scene between Varys (absent for too many episodes before tonight) and Oberyn. There was Jaime's ill-considered bargain with his father, who accepted so quickly than it was clear Tywin was getting even more than he wanted.

And of course, there was the procession of witnesses at the trial, full of emotion as they offered damning, shaded half-truths. Mostly. Shae's betrayal was the final indignity, and Tyrion could not help himself but to try and wrest some measure of control back. He demanded a trial by combat, recalling his same gambit from season one -- and yet the speech he first gave, condemning everyone in attendance, was powerful enough that it hardly felt like a retread of familiar dramatic ground.

Aside from a few ham-fisted moments of Game of Thrones' characteristically unnecessary nudity and sex (with Salladhor Saan and Ramsay Snow), this was an excellent episode throughout. I give it an A-.

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