The ending of this episode was quite possibly the strongest solo performance by any single actor in this show in any of the four seasons so far. I would go so far as to say that it might be the most captivating performance we’ll ever see from this HBO adaptation and that’s actually saying a lot. Tyrion trial was always going to be a major part of this season’s storyline but I am very impressed with its execution (no pun intended). The writers have been a great job of making minor adjustments here and there in order to better utilize the changes in the story thus far and the end result, thanks largely to Peter Dinklage, is a spellbinding final 10 minutes. I’ll go into more detail about why exactly I think the scene worked so very well as well as some other comments on how it differed from my expectations but first we should also talk about everything else that’s going on in the other stories in the show.
I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again anyway; HBO giveth and HBO taketh away. For every scene as powerful as the final minutes of Tyrion’s trial, we have to work through scenes like Stannis’ visit to Braavos. It’s a fairly lengthy scene with a surprise appearance from Mark Gatiss as an Iron Banker and it summarizes, to me, everything I dislike about the HBO adaptation’s version of Stannis Baratheon. Several things about that scene felt wrong but I think what bothered me the most was how Stannis and Davos’ relationship seems much more hostile than I remember it being in the books. Stannis in the books is just as cranky and cantankerous as he is in the show but often, his grumbling to Davos is little more than him just being grumpy. His bark is far worse than his bite in most cases regarding Davos and that makes his character a little more palatable than it does in the show. It sat wrong with me that Stannis should just passively watch the Iron Bank turn down his application and be the first one to walk away in defeat and while I’m glad Davos got his time to shine, I can’t help but think that the further we get into the show, the more we’re seeing Stannis being portrayed as a weak-willed, petulant man who has no right to call himself king. What I suspect is going on here is that Davos is being set-up more and more as a good person and a generally sympathetic, likable character because at some point in the future, there will be a clash between Stannis and Davos and the writers want us to firmly side with Davos instead of being split on the issue. I can’t answer as to why they might want that, especially since it’s really just speculation on my part, but that’s really what my instincts tell me. The matter of the Seven Kingdom’s finances is interesting, especially in light of the empty Lannister mines and it’ll be interesting to see if anything more comes out of it other than giving the Iron Bank some semblance of a reason to back Stannis.
The other problematic scene was Asha’s sudden rescue attempt. I can sort of see what the writers were going for with the general idea – presenting Theon/Reek with a solid, tangible escape opportunity is the best way of showing just how terrified and broken he is. The trouble here lies entirely with how the arc was executed; Asha suddenly announces this impromptu escape attempt in the season 3 finale and then we get no updates on it all the way till this episode, mid-way through season 4. Worse, the whole thing ends before it can even get started – Asha declares Theon dead and presumably we have returned back to the status quo. I have no idea what this means for the Ironborn storyline from the novels, especially since we haven’t been introduced to Theon’s uncles and his father is still alive. Asha’s return to the Iron Islands is oddly timed as well especially since that means she and Stannis won’t meet at all. I’ll reserve further judgement till I see how this all turns out but for now I’m pretty sceptical. On a more positive note though, I’m really loving Iwan Rheon as Ramsay and each scene he shares with Alfie Allen is just so entertainingly twisted. While him diving into a swordfight without a shirt on was a little ridiculous, I think his continued taunting of Reek redeemed it.
The heart of the episode of course, was Tyrion’s trial. It’s funny how this episode became a mini-recap episode of sorts as we revisited Tyrion’s sharper lines from Seasons 2 and 3. While the audience found a certain vicarious pleasure in Tyrion verbally assaulting the scummiest people in King’s Landing, this scene forces them to realize that in the cold, unforgiving light of objectivity, those same retorts and insults could be interpreted as genuine threats and promises. Of course, objectivity implies a certain level of unbiasedness that was totally missing from this trial as Cersei’s manipulations from the last episode bear fruit. None of the judges seem particularly inclined towards Tyrion though they (excluding Mace Tyrell, who is hilariously out of place on that panel) seem fairly aware of how biased the testimony they are hearing is. I really liked how the show enhanced Jaime’s role in the trial, from his disappointment at how one-sided the trial was to his desperation to save Tyrion and finally, to how Tywin basically killed two birds with one stone by having his son’s head saved and regaining himself an heir in the process. Jaime’s look as he realized his father played him perfectly was pretty amusing. Another great bit in the scene was Varys sad confirmation to Tyrion that he had not forgotten the promise he made, foreshadowing his involvement in Tyrion’s escape.
At long last, we come to the star of the show. I want to be careful in not overdoing my praise for his performance in this episode because I’m acutely aware of how raising expectations too high can only lead to disappointment. Still, it’s hard for me not to gush over his acting in the final section of the trial. He captures the anger, hatred and betrayal that the character feelings perfectly. His words aren’t exceptional, if you think about it – he basically tells everyone present he wished they were dead – but Dinklage delivers the words with an unsettling sincerity. It wasn’t just the offhand insult to someone that crossed him; it was an honest, heartfelt wish that all the liars in the courtroom that hated him for what he wasn’t and what he didn’t do, would literally die painful deaths. I couldn’t help but smile when Tyrion said he wished he could have left them to Stannis because quite frankly Stannis is all they deserve at this point. If I’m not wrong, Peter Dinklage won an Emmy for his performance in this episode and it’s well-deserved. It also spawned this: