Welcome back to the Game of Thrones TV Book Club, a discussion space for Thrones viewers who have also read the five books (so far) of George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series. This week, Darren Franich and Hillary Busis talk about “The Laws of Gods and Men,” an episode that featured a bit of chesspiece-maneuvering (The Iron Throne!) and a long-awaited showcase moment for Tyrion Lannister. Not to mention a question at the center of season 4’s endgame: How do you solve a problem like Shae? Check out James Hibberd’s full recap of the episode here, then join us as we venture into the narrative borderlands of A Storm of Swords, A Feast for Crows, and A Dance with Dragons! (You know there’ll be spoilers for the books and the show, right?)
DARREN: With all due respect to the other episodes we’ve talked about this season – The One With The Purple Wedding, The One Where Jaime Is Suddenly A Horrible Rapist, The One With The Ice Castle – I think I’m most excited to talk about this episode, Hillary. “The Laws of Gods and Men” is pretty much a perfect subject for our TV Book Club. There are some big moments taken almost word-for-word out of the book (I’ve been waiting years to hear Dinklage say the words “trial by combat” in his Peter O’Toole-after-10-glasses-of-sherry accent). There are scenes that were strongly implied (poor Alfie Allen has spent two seasons now trapped in Book Five torture flashbacks). And there are scenes that are completely invented.
Which brings me to the moment I know we’re all talking about today: Davos Seaworth! Had a good scene! The trip to the Iron Bank is a complete TV invention – the books only arrive in Braavos when Arya heads there in Feast for Crows, and the character played by Mark Gatiss appears up at the Wall in Dance With Dragons – but I thought it worked on at least three important levels. First, it established the Iron Bank as another important participant in the 50-ring-circus power struggle of Westeros. Second, it actually made a convincing case for why Stannis should be King. And third, it gave my boy the Onion Knight the chance to show off his stubby left hand, which is a handy metaphor for all kinds of ideas at the center of Thrones. Did you dig the Iron Bank, Hillary? Or did that vibe like a weird deviation – one more attempt to do something with Stannis, who hasn’t really had anything to do since Blackwater?
HILLARY: You know, it was pretty cool to see the Iron Bank – especially since it’s apparently run by Mycroft Holmes. (Mark Gatiss is, uh, a little different from the Tycho Nestoris we meet in Dance with Dragons, “a tall, gaunt stick of a man with long legs and a beard as thin as a rope from his chin and almost reaching his waist.” Poetic license!)
But even if Stannis and Davos’s jaunt served a thematic purpose – proving, as you said, that he’s one of the few people on Thrones who has the capacity to rule as well as the capacity to conquer – it still felt a bit like a stalling tactic. And if Benioff and Weiss care at all about trying not to speed past Martin’s books, we can expect to see more of this sort of thing as Thrones wears on. The problem with the two most recent books in the Song of Ice and Fire saga is one of sprawl; George R. R. Martin is so great at inventing new characters and languages and lands and customs that he can’t resist introducing scores of minor plotlines to his already gigantic narrative, focusing on suddenly important players like Quentyn Martell and Victarion Greyjoy and Arys Oakheart instead of just giving us an update on Arya, damnit. I can’t imagine that goings-on in Dorne and the Iron Islands will get nearly as much screen time as they did pages, considering how digressive they are – which means that despite ASOIAF’s massive length, there’s actually a relatively small amount of story yet to be told about the characters we care for most. Enter Stannis and Davos’s invented journey to the Iron Bank – which gives us a cool new location, but doesn’t have much effect on the story at large.
Somehow, of course, Thrones also has the opposite problem occasionally – speeding up storylines that would seem to have plenty of juice left in them. The whole Asha/Yara mission to save Theon seemed weirdly truncated and rushed to me, and I’m not sure that shoehorning it in here rather than letting it play out as it will in the books was a justifiable adaptive change. What are your thoughts on the rescue that wasn’t?
DARREN: As Thrones writer Bryan Cogman pointed out in his chat with Maester Hibberd, last night’s episode marked the first time that an entire hour went by with nary a Stark onscreen. That’s very much in keeping with the narrative of Storm of Swords, which is much more Lannister-focused by nature. (Since Nikolaj Coster-Waldau has been a big part of the Thrones ensemble since Day One, it’s weird to remember that Jaime only became a focal character in SoS.)
But you’re tapping into one of the big challenges for Thrones going forward. Because after Swords, Ice and Fire doesn’t really have a center. I tend to be pretty forgiving of Martin’s tangents in Books 4 and 5 – I kind of love how he makes Asha into a big character, maybe-probably just because he thought it’d be fun to follow a badass lady pirate around for awhile. (Really, it’s possible to look at Books 4 and 5 as a series of linked short stories, with Martin freely diverting himself with interesting new characters who don’t necessarily have much to do with the action in the first few books.)
But I definitely agree with you that the Yara subplot felt pretty unnecessary: A mission to free Theon ends…with Theon still in prison. The last time we saw Theon and the Bastard of Bolton, Ramsay was planning nasty things…and when we left them last night, he was once again planning nasty things. I’m enough of a Greyjoy fan/Bolton anti-fan to want to see more of the goings-on in the North – it hasn’t quite gone Full Meereen just yet. But really, that’s the one part of the show where I’d be totally onboard with them just changing everything.
Maybe I’m being a bit critical of the North activity because last night climaxed with a sequence that might very well be Peak King’s Landing: the Trial of Tyrion. This was an opportunity for the show to track back over its own history, featuring reappearances by bit players who provided a damning portrait of Tyrion as a King-hating murder suspect – all leading up to Shae’s damning confession. We’ve talked a bit before about how the show has changed the Shae character, and I’m intrigued to hear your thoughts about her appearance here. Did all the extra time with Shae change your perspective on her appearance at the trial?
HILLARY: Raise your hand if you didn’t realize Tyrion’s trial is just Seinfeld’s series finale until right now. Seriously, where’s Puddy?
But yes, Darren: How do you solve a problem like Shae? In the books, she’s a fairly one-dimensional character – opportunistic and untrustworthy from the start, not to mention rarely seen outside of Tyrion’s chambers. The show’s version of Shae, however, has more personality, as well as more genuinely positive feelings toward both Tyrion and his lady Sansa. (Book Shae never would have helped Sansa try to hide evidence of her first “moon’s blood,” which remains one of the grossest euphemisms GRRM ever dreamed up.)
After seeing Show Shae spend seasons acting as one of King’s Landing’s few morally upright citizens, it’s utterly heartbreaking to see her turn on Tyrion the same way Book Shae does. And thanks to Sibel Kekilli’s relatively limited acting ability – sorry, guys, but we all know it’s true – it’s also tough to tell how TV Shae herself feels about this unfortunate turn of events. Has she, too, been faking her feelings all along? Is she acting only out of fear for her own life, even though she hates herself for helping condemn Tyrion to death? Could she be caught somewhere between those two poles? Regardless, it’s sort of tough to see a scenario where it would make sense for Tyrion to find this versoin of the character lolling in his father’s bed upon his escape from prison – and I’m even less sure of how TV Tyrion could ever stand to murder TV Shae. (His murder of Tywin, however, will still seem entirely logical; how great was Dinklage’s snarling, gritty-but-vulnerable “I wish I were a monster” speech? This has to be his entire Emmy reel, right?)
DARREN: I’m willing to give the show just a little bit of rope on Shae –
HILLARY: – or a golden chain –
DARREN: – on the assumption that her slightly pained expression will pay off with some greater revelation about her motivations. Actually, never mind, I’m cutting the rope: Her appearance in the TV trial just can’t compete with how nonchalantly Book-Shae stabs Tyrion in the back. There’s something just so wonderfully coldblooded about how it plays out on the page: Tyrion clearly has feelings for her, but it really was all just an illusion, yet another example of a GRRM character being blinded by their own desire.
Hillary, we have once again written several hundred words about an episode of Game of Thrones without once discussing the various goings-on with Dany and her coterie of growly-voiced badasses. At this point, it’s getting harder and harder to guess how long it will take the TV show to get to certain big events from the books, but Meereen looms large over the action in A Dance With Dragons. (Hell, Winds of Winter seems likely to feature a Meereen siege that could be the biggest battle since Blackwater.) Is there anything the show can do to make the Slaver’s Bay action more interesting, either by acceleration or outright invention? I realize this is bordering on heresy, but couldn’t they just skip over Tyrion’s long DwD road trip and put him in the same room as Dany? To be clear: I say this as someone who is really pulling for Amanda Peet to play Lady Lemore.
HILLARY: Honestly, maybe the whole “conquering-vs.-ruling” thing is a meta-commentary on Thrones itself: We’d rather watch battle scenes and closed-door scheming and victory screwing than, say, Dany sitting on a throne and promising to pay some guy back for his goats. (The exception to this rule: King’s Landing Small Council scenes, which remain delightful.) Having said that, I almost feel like I should be more invested in scenes that focus on the difficulties of day-to-day leadership. If it worked for West Wing, why shouldn’t it work for Thrones?
On second thought… Meh. Maybe now’s the time for that lesbian scene.