Last night’s episode of Game of Thrones, “The Laws of Gods and Men,” begins — as all great things do — with men talking in a bank. Stannis Baratheon and his seaworthy boy, Davos, are trying to convince the Iron Bank of their importance by spouting out impressive-sounding titles.
“This is Stannis of the House Baratheon,” Davos informs the bankers, “King of the Andals and the First Men, Lord of the Seven Kingdoms, and Protector of the Realm,” who are quick to note that the Iron Throne is currently occupied by “Tommen of the House Baratheon, King of the Andals and the First Men, Lord of the Seven Kingdoms, and Protector of the Realm.” Their sarcasm is but another manifestation of what the camera is clearly telling the audience:
That Stannis and Davos have no support. They lack “backing,” which refers not merely to troops and coffers, but the conspicuous presence and absence of lumbar support.
Director Alik Sakharov embraces his inner Kubrick above and presents the audience with an almost perfectly symmetrical shot in order to highlight the imbalance of power between these loan officers and their supplicants — powerful people sit in giant uncomfortable chairs, whereas little people sit on backless benches, unable to lounge back with menace as lords are wont to do.
Which is no small point, as where and how one sits is an abiding theme in this episode.
Case in point, when the scene shifts, the audience arrives in the hot tubs of a brothel, in which Salladhor Saan reclines, draped with naked women. For the second time in two scenes, Davos confronts someone who seems more in control than he is. In this case, however, the imbalance of power is revealed to be fleeting — Stannis has supplicated himself well, if not wisely, and so Davos is flush with other people’s money, which he proceeds to throw around.
Meanwhile, Yara Greyjoy thinks she’s in Braveheart and reads aloud Ramsay Snow’s letter about slicing off the penis of her brother, Theon, in order to inspire the troops. Remarkably, this works — although when she finds her brother reeking in the Bolton kennels, he’s much less impressive than she made him sound.
Still, after weeks and weeks of teasing the audience about a family reunion, it’s somewhat gratifying to finally have one, even if it is short-lived and accompanied by great violence.
Speaking of which, the most tender moment in the episode follows, as Ramsay Snow offers to bathe Reek, née Theon, without also slicing off his bits. The last time viewers of Game of Thrones saw two men and a tub, the scene was one of genuine affection — Renly Baratheon allowed his lover, Ser Loras Tyrell, to shave all his parts. It was a scene of real intimacy in an episode otherwise devoted to the mindless fucking of Theon, future eunuch, so when Snow lovingly convinces Reek that to play the character of “Theon,” the echo rings painful and true.
A dragon then eats an especially cute goat. As a film theorist schooled in Italian Neorealismo, my professional opinion is that the director used an especially cute goat in this scene because he’d run out of puppies and kittens.
The owner of that especially cute goat is, however, treated to a day on the set of Blade Runner:
I kid, I kid — there’s nothing the least bit significant about the fact that that pyramid in Meereen could well have been built by the Tyrell Corporation, or that the inside of it as architecturally oppressive as the Iron Bank:
Except, of course, there is. As mentioned earlier, who sits where is significant in this episode, and at this point you probably don’t need me to say anything about the symmetry of that shot or the way in which said symmetry is communicating the power relations of the people in it to the audience. When the lowly goat herder goes to ask for recompense for his stolen goats, it’s clear who’s in charge:
Don’t let her smile fool you — she’s going to get your goats.
The remainder of the episode is devoted to the Trial of Tyrion Lannister. As I mentioned in previous recaps, this season has dedicated no small amount of effort to creating the impression that Tyrion and his brother, Jaime, are equals, and in this episode the payoff of establishing that impression becomes clear as the prosecution in Tyrion’s trial argues that kingslaying runs in the family.
Tywin Lannister is in control of the proceedings, in a shot whose visual logic is now a horse, beaten bloody dead, attests:
But dead and bloody as that horse is, it effectively sets up the most stirring shots in the episode:
Tyrion’s misery at hearing his friends and sibling lie about him is compounded, visually, by how unbalanced director Sakharov’s shots of him are. This is an episode committed to representing political power as a function of compositional symmetry, and here’s poor Tyrion — the most sympathetic non-Stark in the series at this point — barely able to occupy a quarter of the frame. That it’s centered on his lying sister, and that she’s not even in focus, only makes it all the more disturbing.
Fortunately, Tyrion saw all this coming, so he’s —
Sorry, forgot about Shae’s betrayal, which he clearly didn’t see coming. But fortunately, as I think it’s safe to say now, he’s a man capable of delivering powerful speeches when cornered:
Which is exactly what he does, and in so doing, may well have taken his family — if not the entire kingdom — down with him.