With its massive scope, royal intrigue and fascinatingly flawed characters, there’s always been something Shakespearean about Game of Thrones. This episode comes off as a riff on The Merchant of Venice, a complex play about about a marginalized antihero, a young woman learning about justice, and the moral gray area that lies between money and power. Sounds familiar. Tyrion’s impassioned, angry speech at his murder trial was a version Shylock’s famous “If you prick us, do we not bleed?” monologue (also delivered in a courtroom). One is ostracized for being a dwarf, the other for being a Jew, but the dilemma is the same: Regardless of whether they committed crimes, the deck is stacked against them—they were already born villains in society’s eyes.
Those Lannisters, man.
Across the Narrow Sea, Daenerys learned that her own demand for a pound of flesh came at a price, and that an eye for any eye might not be the best policy for a newbie queen like herself. “Is it justice to answer one crime with another?” Hizdhar zo Loraq asks, begging for the right to give his crucified father a proper burial. But he might as well be quoting Portia in Merchant, when she tells Shylock to cool it with the harsh-justice thing: “The quality of mercy is not strained… It becomes the throned monarch better than his crown.” And Dany, to her credit, takes the opportunity to be merciful. The same can’t be said for her goat-burnin’ dragons, of course—and we have a funny feeling that might come back to bite her in the ass.
Locations visited: 4. In Braavos, would-be king Stannis Baratheon and his buddy Davos Seaworth talked the Iron Bank into financing their take-back-Westeros gambit; Yara Greyjoy and her raiders hacked their way into the Dreadfort to rescue her brother, Theon, from Ramsay Snow’s yucky, yucky clutches; in Meereen, Dany met some of her new subjects and found out that ruling is waaaay less fun than conquering; and in King’s Landing, Tyrion was put on trial for Joffrey’s murder and betrayed by pretty much everyone he’s ever met (except Jaime). Those Lannisters, man.
Deaths: 8. Six Bolton men at the hands of Yara & Co.; 1 Ironborn dude dispatched by Ramsay; and 1 goat, flash-grilled and devoured by Drogon, Dany’s biggest, scariest dragon.
“Watching your vicious bastard die gave me more relief than a thousand lying whores!” Gauntlet. Thrown.
Swordfights: 1. Yara and the Greyjoy men vs. Ramsay and the Bolton men—though there were some axes and maces in the mix as well.
Boobs: 10. 8 at the Braavosi brothel where Davos finds his old partner in crime, the pirate Salladhor Saan; and 2 at the Dreadfort, where Ramsay is having chokey sex with that one creepy lady (because it’s Ramsay, and of course he’s into that kind of crap).
Moment of badass: Peter Dinklage acted the hell out of Tyrion’s trial-culminating speech, in which he viciously told off every single miserable jerkwad in King’s Landing, and then demanded a trial by combat. “Watching your vicious bastard die gave me more relief than a thousand lying whores!” Gauntlet. Thrown.
Effed up thing of the week: Sure, Theon’s a traumatized mess and all, but Yara abandoning her brother to his torturers after she saw how broken he was? That’s cold, bro.
New faces: Two. Tycho Nestoris of the Iron Bank of Braavos (played by Sherlock’s Mark Gatiss), who couldn’t give two farts about all the power struggles in Westeros; and Hizdahr zo Loraq, a young Meereenese nobleman whose father was murdered at Dany’s orders. Keep an eye on these guys—they’ll both be important later.
What we liked: We missed you, Tyrion! After a few weeks cooling his heels in the dungeons of the Red Keep, the Imp was back center stage and at his self-destructive finest. We also got a glimpse behind Varys’s impenetrable mask, when he told Oberyn that his lack of sexual desire leaves him free to play the game (of thrones!) without distractions. If Theon ever makes it out of the Dreadfort, Varys really oughta give him lessons on how to make the most of being a eunuch.
What we didn’t like: With Joffrey out of the picture, we’d hoped that the show would cut back on gratuitous displays of sadism. No such luck: Now they’re training a close-up lens on the even more loathsome Ramsay. Do we really need to see the whole sick show every time he has gross sex or forces Theon to strip? Enough already.
Oh, the Iron-y: George R.R. Martin is a big fan of iron, so much so that practically everything in his books is made of the stuff. We saw three in this episode, all unrelated to each other, so we thought we’d clear up any potential confusion:
– The Iron Bank is a financial institution in the Free City of Braavos (think: Venice, only with more dueling) that loans money all over the world, and will mess you up if you don’t pay it back on time. The Lannisters are deep in debt to these guys, and Davos just secured a massive loan from them to back Stannis’s cause.
– The Ironborn are folks who live on the barren rocks off the northwest coast of Westeros called—you guessed it—the Iron Islands. They live a brutal Vikings-meet-pirates existence and are ruled by the Greyjoys, the house that Theon and Yara hail from.
– The Iron Throne is the giant, pointy chair that’s the seat of the ruler of the Seven Kingdoms, located in King’s Landing. It’s made of the swords of the Targaryens’ vanquished enemies, forged in dragon fire. It’s not comfy—so not comfy, in fact, that past kings have been known to cut themselves on its edges.