It’s a matter on record, at several times on this blog, that I was disappointed with the third season of Game of Thrones. Oh, the Red Wedding was all very impressive, and the Jamie-Brienne storyline was outstandingly done (well done to Nikolaj Coster-Walder and Gwendoline Christie). But on the whole, it dragged.
Scene after scene of Theon and Ramsay Snow, which took ten episodes to go nowhere. Bran creeping northwards at a frankly coma-inducing pace. And endless — endless — scenes of Jon Snow making that feeling-sorry-for-myself face and apparently knowing nothing.
Six episodes into season four, that is plainly not a charge which can be levelled this time around.
All hail Daenerys! Although, queen Dany seems to be doing a lot less conquering these days, and a lot more dealing with petitioners with a frightening lack of efficiency. There’s also a whole line of new titles that she’s acquired, like a magpie with something shiny. The first of the petitioners is a goatherd, whose herd have been devoured by a trio of dragons. It’s one of those fantastic opening scenes, emphasised by the dearth of dragons so far this season, when we see Drogon (I’m guessing?) descending on the poor goats.
Dany pays him off, and then receives Hizadahr zo Loraq, the son of one of the slave owners she had nailed to signposts along the way to Meereen when she conquered the city, who begs to give his father a proper burial. On the one hand, it’s another “here’s a new character for Daenerys’ arc!” scene, but it redeems itself by both showing the problems which the new queen will have to deal with, and to show the other side of her avenging liberator role.
We get to see Bravos! And, the camera panning back over the city through the legs of a giant statue of a warrior. Davos and Stannis finally stop sulking on Dragonstone, as they sulk their way to Bravos to try and borrow money from the Iron Bank. Hilary Briss Mycroft Holmes Tycho Nestoris (Mark Gatiss) is sceptical of Stannis’ ability to take the throne, but Davos (rightly) points out that Tywin Lannister is the only strong leader that Tommen’s faction have, and he is not a young man.
With their holds stuffed with Bravosi gold, Davos re-recruits his old friend Salladhor Saan (for the laughs, presumably — Stannis’ group are a dour bunch in need of a chuckle) with a bag of gold coins.
After declaring that she was going to free her mutilated brother at the end of last season, Yasha Greyjoy finally gets around to it. With a ship of Viking Ironborn raiders she attacks the Dreadfort to free him, but Theon refuses to come with her. He has been a much more interesting character this season, and seeing him such a ruin that he won’t accept that he is anyone but Reek is startling. As Yasha comments upon her retreat from Ramsay Snow’s dogs, her brother is dead.
This is the first proper look that we’ve gotten at both the Ironborn and the Bolton’s at battle, and it’s a scrappy, frantic thing. It’s a shame that we don’t see Ramsay and Yasha really have at each other, but with Ramsay asking Reek to “pretend” to be Theon in order to get a castle back from bad people (Moat Cailin?) I expect that is still to come.
The main body of the episode, though, is Tyrion’s trial.
First, Oberyn has joined the small council, though even he isn’t sure in exactly what capacity. The small council scene reinforces what Davos said in Bravos — Tywin is the only one who has things under control. He knows about Daenerys’ progress, and is rightfully worried even as the other lords are scornful. Oberyn, too, seems very aware, if less than completely wedded to the Lannister regime.
But the trial. It is a masterclass in acting from Peter Dinklage, as Tyrion looks bored, frustrated and outraged in the face of a succession of witnesses attacking him. What is shrewd is that all of the actions and words related are true, but stripped of context. When Tyrion attempts to add some — for example, that when he rebuked Joffrey in the throne room, he had been pointing a crossbow at Sansa whilst Ser Meryn Trant beat the girl — Tywin shouts him down from the Iron Throne.
It’s a powerful image, the man who is the real power sat on the throne for (I think) the first time in the series. And when Jaime goes to him to plead for his brother’s life, it is clear that Twyin really only has his legacy in mind. Tywin agrees to allow Tyrion to take the black, in exchange for Jaime leaving the Kingsguard and returning to Castelry Rock to become Tywin’s heir again.
It’s a nice idea, and I suspect that Tyrion would do quite well reunited with Jon Snow at the Wall. But when Shae appears as a witness against him, his pain and betrayal are heartbreakingly palpable. On the one hand, the way that she has consistently not grasped that he has been trying to protect her chafes. But she has had an air of the jealous, the quick to anger. And she is the only person who outright lies on the stand, claiming that she knows he is responsible for Joffrey’s murder.
And it is this betrayal which derails Jaime’s plan, as an angry and hurt Tyrion demands his right to trial by combat.
The plot really has advanced in leaps and bounds this season, and here it has done so with style. Stannis is a threat again, the North is interesting again, and Tyrion’s trial is a fantastic piece of drama. Jaime’s bumpy journey to redemption continues, as he is visibly disgusted at his brother’s treatment.
But what this episode showed was the unravelling of Tyrion’s game. When he arrived at King’s Landing in season 2, he whipped the capital into shape enough to hold of Stannis’ attack. But he didn’t do it by making friends, and here those who feel wronged by him line up to condemn him. The Imp has been consistently good at speaking truth to power, but the only real friends he has had around him have been a sellsword, a prostitute, and a loyal squire who is now heading in the wrong direction.
Tyrion has too few friends, and too many enemies, and even his achievements — he tells the assembled that he should have let Stannis sack the city — aren’t enough to save him. In the first season, Cersei told Ned Stark that when you play the Game of Thrones, you win or you die. And King’s Landing is full of people playing to win.