Spoiler alert: this blog is published after Game of Thrones airs on HBO in the US on Sundays. Do not read on unless you have watched season four, episode six (which airs in the UK on Sky Atlantic on Monday at 9pm). And, even more than usual, please keep books spoilers to a minimum.
Read Sarah Hughes's season four, episode five recap here
'Here our books are filled with numbers. We prefer the stories they tell'
The theme of stories – who tells them and how they are told – looms large in Game of Thrones. This is a show obsessed by the gap between myth and reality, keen to expose those tales we tell ourselves for the comforting lies they often are. In Westeros, if anyone tells you they are good and honest and true, presume the opposite and run away as fast as you possibly can.
This week’s episode, tightly scripted by the always excellent Bryan Cogman, really hammered that message home. We were shown how all Yara’s high-minded words of rescue and rehabilitation fell away like so many platitudes when faced with the brutal reality of what her brother had become; saw the pragmatic Varys puncture Prince Oberyn’s self-mythologising talk of freedom and experience with the dismissive “we are not all Princes” and in the gripping and heart-breaking final minutes watched as Tyrion’s story, that of the dwarf who loved a whore and, crucially, was loved back, was brutally torn from him by Shae. "I am a whore," she said under oath, staring straight at the man who loved her enough to try to save her life; her lies presumably paid for by his sister, his father, or both. To which a wiser man might have replied: “In Westeros aren’t we all?”
Small wonder then that the Iron Bank of Braavos rejects stories, trusting numbers instead. Account sheets, as their leader (Mark Gatiss in suitably unctuous form) pointed out, don’t tend to lie. Yet for all their talk of balance and debts, the Iron Bank too were swayed by a story. Davos’s tale of the man who saved his life but took his fingers was apparently enough to convince them to place their gold, or at least some of it, at Stannis’s command.
'I saved this city and all your worthless lives. I should have let Stannis kill you all'
Oh Tyrion. This was a heartbreaking episode in so many ways: from Jaime giving up his hopes and dreams to do right by his brother, to Yara rejecting the younger sibling for whom she was once prepared to risk all. But no one broke my heart like the youngest Lannister with his half-whispered plea: "Shae, please don’t." Peter Dinklage invested that one phrase with so much sorrow and lost pride that it was hard not to weep.
The trial itself was 15 minutes of tautly scripted tension, as witness after witness twisted Tyrion’s words to suit their own tales. I’ve complained about the show’s tendency to pack all the action into the final third of each episode but I have to admit it really worked this week. A growing sense of unease and despair culminated in Tyrion’s magnificent outburst – "Yes, I am guilty, guilty of being a dwarf" – and the demand for trial by combat. It’s a risky move. Although he resorted to a similar trick to avoid exiting via the Moon Door up in mad Lysa’s Eyrie, he wasn’t fighting his father and sister. And Cersei, at least, will do anything to ensure her younger brother doesn’t survive.
'Is it justice to answer one crime with another?'
This was also an episode about supplication. In Meereen, Dany learned that ruling is considerably less fun than riding around the country sacking cities, freeing slaves and collecting worshipful minions, as a long line of people queued up to beg for favours and lecture her about the finer points of justice and murder.
There was also an interesting contrast drawn between Dany and Tommen, two young rulers reasonably close in age, but worlds removed when it comes to experience. Tommen was close to Tyrion, who was kind to him, yet he removed himself from the trial, abnegating responsibility and unable to look his once-beloved uncle in the eye. By choosing to remain in Meereen, Dany is at least grappling with notions of power and the right way to rule. Not for her the puppet masters in the shadows. She may make mistakes, but they will be her own.
Elsewhere, in one of the episode’s best scenes, Jaime went cap in hand to his father to plead for Tyrion’s life, offering up his last chance of redemption – and in the process forgetting that it’s never a good idea to try and outsmart a master chess player such as Tywin – while Stannis gritted his teeth and almost managed to beg, before Davos swiftly stepped in to save the situation. The biggest supplication of all, however, belonged to Theon/Reek, who threw away his chance at freedom to stay with his brutal master. I find the scenes between Ramsay and Reek almost impossible to watch. Both actors are doing a good job, but the level of sadism and brokenness is increasingly hard to bear. In a show filled with horrors, this storyline is probably the most horrible of all.
• Welcome back Varys, you have been missed. Conleth Hill is one of the strongest performers on this show and I particularly enjoyed his brief scene with Prince Oberyn, which gave us some subtle insights into both men.
• I’d also like to highlight Pedro Pascal’s performance. He’s clearly having a whale of a time as Oberyn, all witty asides and subtle put-downs, but he still manages to make us aware of the steel beneath the snark. Oberyn might have a ready wit but he is a killer and he follows his own path. I’m very interested to find out what’s really going on behind the charming front.
• Margaery didn’t look very happy at Tyrion’s trial – I wasn’t sure whether it was simply that she thinks her father is a fool who shouldn’t open his mouth or whether she has her doubts about the whole process.
• Good to have confirmation that Mormont is no longer spying on Dany. Given the rest of her advisers I’d like Jorah to be loyal.
• That said my feelings for Ser Barristan underwent something of a u-turn this week. His military advice might be a little out-of-touch but the look on his face as Dany dealt with her supplicants suggested that he might well be worth listening too where counsel is concerned
• Nice to see the return of Lucian Msamati as Salladhor Saan. I like his scenes with Davos, not least because both Msamati and Liam Cunningham do a great job of suggesting a long, deep friendship.
One dragon attack on a defenceless herd of goats and their goat boy, one battle between Iron Born and Bastard bought to a premature end by the unleashing of hounds.
One very pleased pirate enjoying the Braavosi baths and one equally pleased Ramsay Snow enjoying what passes for a little light S&M in his world.
Random Brit of the week
In which I atone for missing the talented Joel Fry, of Trollied and Plebs fame, on his first brief appearance in Meereen. He’s playing earnest nobleman Hizdahr zo Loraq, who this week eloquently pleaded for his father’s body and seemingly won Dany’s respect. Although given what we know of Dany’s taste in men that might be not be as good a thing as it seems …
So what did you think? Can Tyrion play the trial by combat card twice? What is Prince Oberyn really up to and is Mace Tyrell as big a fool as he seems? Most importantly what is Stannis going to do with his newly minted Braavosi gold – head for King’s Landing or stick to the original plan and sail north? As ever leave all speculation, but no spoilers, in the comments below….