New location alert! The opening credits finally change, removing Dragonstone from the sequence and replacing it with Braavos. It might have been cool to get rid of Winterfell and introduce the Eerie too, but it is still nice to see some unexplored terrain.
It is Braavos where the action kicks off, with Stannis (Stephen Dillane) and Davos (Liam Cunningham) arriving there to present their case to the Iron Bank for a substantial loan. At first, the head banker (Mark Gatiss; huzzah!) is unimpressed because of Stannis’ weakened position and shrinking army.
But Davos proves his worth with an impassioned speech about Stannis’ virtues while pointing out the Lannisters’ weaknesses as well as their outstanding debt. He continues to earn his keep by re-recruiting Salladhor Saan (Lucian Msamati) and his ships with the newfound gold. The fighting in Westeros might have temporarily ceased, but things look to be heating up again.
Another character who has been missing for a while is Yara Greyjoy (Gemma Whelan), who we now rejoin as she launches a night-time rescue mission for her brother. Interrupting the fun for a rather raunchy Ramsay Snow (Iwan Rheon), Yara and her troops reach the kennels where Theon is being kept. In the first of several exceptionally acted scenes this episode, Theon maniacally refuses to escape, maintaining that he is now “Reek”.
With the looming threat of being torn to pieces by Ramsay’s hounds, Yara is forced to leave, remarking that her brother is now dead. The next day, Ramsay rewards a flinching “Reek” with a bath. The extent of his subservience is made painfully clear by his almost sickening gratitude at being allowed to clean himself. As if that psychological torture was not enough, Ramsay then informs him that he must “pretend to be Theon Greyjoy” to help retake Moat Cailin. If there is any Ironborn left in the Greyjoy heir, it needs a lot of help pushing through the trauma.
Over in Meereen, the entire CGI budget for the season gets used up with a scene involving a now-massive Drogon, Daenerys’ (Emilia Clark) largest dragon. The black beast attacks a goatherd’s flock, leaving behind a pile of charred bones. These bones are presented to Dany at court by said weeping goatherd and she orders him to be paid three times his animal’s worth. Whether or not she will be a good Queen in the end, she is certainly a generous one.
Her next supplicant is Hizdahr zo Loraq (Joel Fry), the son of one of the Great Masters who were crucified under Dany’s orders, asking her for the right to bury his father. She is unrepentant at first, claiming that the Masters deserve what they got for killing slave children. Unfortunately, things are not completely black-and-white, as Hizdahr claims his father argued against that particular cruelty. Although she still wants to stand for justice, she allows him his request. With a further 212 people to deal with at that point, Dany is definitely learning things the hard way, but at least she is committed.
Things shift to King’s Landing, where they will remain for the rest of the episode. A meeting of the Small Council takes place, with discussions ranging from a bounty being placed on the Hound and information being shared about Dany’s current status. Oberyn is witty as always, so, of course, the next scene is him interacting with Varys in the throne room.
The two have a seemingly harmless discussion about their preference of partners. While we know from experience that Oberyn likes the men as much as he likes the women, it seems Varys prefers neither. He claims that the pursuit of desire distracts from other things, and a knowing glance at the Iron Throne reminds us that the eunuch is just as dangerous as the rest of them.
Of course, all of this is just filler prior to the main event – the trial of Tyrion Lannister. After King Tommen (Dean-Charles Chapman) recuses himself, Tywin becomes head judge, joined by Oberyn and Mace Tyrell (Roger Ashton-Griffiths). The visual of Tywin finally sitting on the Iron Throne, even as a representative for his grandson, is really quite impressive; the director definitely knows what he is doing.
As expected, the proceedings are clearly rigged. Meryn Trant (Ian Beattie), Grand Maester Pycelle (Julian Glover) and Cersei take turns describing Tyrion’s various confrontations against Joffrey. Pycelle even manages to produce the necklace which had been used to administer the fatal poison. He claims it was found on Dontos Hollard’s corpse, though you have to think that Littlefinger must have planted it.
Particularly shocking is the testimony by Varys who, despite his bond with Tyrion, still provides evidence against him. He does seem remorseful when challenged by his erstwhile friend, but his words are damning nonetheless. The recounting of Tyrion’s threats are all true, but they leave out the former King’s despicable behaviour and, with it, any context that would have justified the Imp’s actions. The assembled crowd are pretty vocal in their outrage against the accused, with only a silent Margaery, Loras and Jaime looking remotely uncomfortable with the proceedings.
Jaime tries to correct things by meeting with Tywin during a break in the trial. Pointing out that killing one son while the other remains in the Kingsguard would effectively end the Lannister line, Jaime convinces his father to spare Tyrion’s life in exchange for him renouncing his vows and taking up the lordship of Casterly Rock. Once again, Coster-Waldau brings out the best in a complicated character with just a few lines, proving he is one of the more underrated members of the extensive cast.
With the promise of a life in exile at the Wall – but still life instead of death – it looks like things might still end up alright for everyone’s favourite dwarf. But this is Game of Thrones and happy endings are never on the cards. Before Tyrion can be asked to confess, the final witness for the prosecution is called and it turns out to be Shae (Sibel Kekilli). Being jilted by her Lion of Lannister must have turned her very bitter indeed – or she is being threatened in a way we do not know – because she claims unequivocally that he and Sansa plotted Joffrey’s death.
Broken and completely alone, Tyrion says he wants to confess. His monologue, guaranteed to earn Dinklage an Emmy nomination, if not a win, is agonising and brutal. He tears into the crowd and the judges, admonishing them for putting him through this preposterous trial even though he had saved their lives at the Battle of Blackwater. He rightly points out that they are prejudiced against him because he is a dwarf and angrily yells that he enjoyed watching Joffrey die even though he did not kill him. With the entire room thoroughly riled up, he finishes his tirade by demanding a trial by combat. The final shots are of the shocked reactions of the various characters in the trial before the credits start to roll over the ominous “Rains of Castamere”.
What an episode! The trial has just been flipped on its head and we should expect to see some interesting scenes in the coming weeks. The most immediate question, of course, is who will represent Tyrion as his champion. Bronn was noticeably absent this week, which could be a sign of things to come. Could Jaime or Loras, both clearly against the biased trial, stand up for him? Or could it be Oberyn, always a wildcard?
Other arcs need resolving too, with Theon’s manipulations at the hands of Ramsay heading towards a definite culmination along with Yara’s disillusionment. Dany and Stannis continue with their respective leadership threads. Not to mention the fact that all the Stark children were MIA this week, so there is a lot of ground to cover up in the North. So join us again next week as things head towards the finale