Game of Thrones: Season 4, "The Laws of Gods and Men"

By Sarah MesleMay 13, 2014

Game of Thrones: Season 4, "The Laws of Gods and Men"
This Week on Dear Television:

    • "Ten Things I Hate About My Favorite Show," from Sarah Mesle


Previous episode: season 4, episode 5, “First of His Name.”

Following episode: season 4, episode 7, “Mockingbird.”

LARB’s Collected “Game of Thrones” Coverage


Ten Things I Hate About My Favorite Show
By Sarah Mesle
May 13, 2014


Dear Television,

YOU HAVE A LOT to answer for. Here are some things that, this week, I hate about you.

1: When an episode begins with a glorious and rousing overhead shot of a ship — sails rippling, wood and water, lushness and lovely — and then, in a sharp moment of dismay, I realize the camera has slipped into focus on Stannis, standing on deck all dour and self-important and aggrieved. Stannis is like if Melville had based Ahab on Malvolio instead of King Lear: all of the self-righteousness, none of the swagger. The only good thing about Stannis episodes is that they also give you Davos, and the only bad thing about Davos is that there are absolutely zero reasons why Davos is still working for Stannis. Davos: never follow a man who doesn’t like pirate stories. Stannis: take a knee.

2: When there are no reasons for boobs, but there are still so many boobs.

3:  When Yara Greyjoy goes on an epic quest to reclaim her brother, and it’s really exciting and I’ve been looking forward to it since last season, and at first it seems like she has an amazing plan of efficient brutality that will allow her to do something marvelously dreadful to Ramsay Snow, but then, despite her stealth, alarms sound and Ramsay Snow comes in for some weirdly-shirtless sword wielding (which, okay, is not uninteresting in its way?), and then the whole plot line is over? Just like that? I don’t understand why Yara didn’t just hit Theon on the head and drag him away (she is not too sentimental for that), or how she managed to run away before Ramsay got the dogs out? Also, it’s very disappointing that — as far as the overall story goes — and I hope I end up being wrong here — the only point of Yara doing all that sailing and fighting and neck slicing is so that Ramsay could learn something about Theon. (It was a wrenchingly perfect detail, however, when Theon bit Yara’s hand: he’s kept with the dogs, and he’s become one.)

4: When Ramsay Snow comes on screen to scare me. Ramsay’s scene with Theon was astonishingly effective television and I hated every minute of it — I spent the whole time curled up and cringing on my couch. In this, I was much like Theon (if he had a couch instead of a dog kennel, though I’m sure kennels are also very good places for cringing); both of us were quivering messes of anxiety, all don’t hurt me Ramsay, please don’t. Theon’s face of joyous worry, when Ramsay offered him a bath, was a thing of wonderful horror that reminded me of how critic Jacob Clifton once referred to Theon as the most “urine-smell-looking person” in Westeros, and that was before Theon’s “toy” was removed. Theon always had such a foul way about him, and then Ramsey turned him into Reek, as though he was nothing but his own filth. Poor Theon. I hate it when television shows do terrible things to people we didn’t like anyway.

The small part of my brain that wasn’t overwhelmed with televisual Post Theon Stress Disorder was a little fascinated with how this scene turned on the moment when Ramsay forced Theon to take off his “britches” (nb: “britches”) and reveal his unmanned body, but then the show didn’t fully reveal Theon’s body to us. This, I guess, is Game of Thrones (or HBO’s? The FCC’s?) outer limit of decency. The rules around full frontal nudity still apply, even with no "there" there.

5: When bad things happen to good baby goats.

6: When Daenerys changes back into her beloved blue dress, but with no explanation of why. Now that she has the dramatic white halter, why wouldn’t she wear it when meeting supplicants to the crown? If she is going to set up in the throne room with all her attendants standing at attention (poor Missandei), why wouldn't she wear her fancy queenly dress? Does Daenerys not want to look like Amy Adams in American Hustle? I don’t understand. I have no problem with the blue dress itself (obviously) but I grow weary of these directors who seem to simultaneously understand and not understand that women, when living under the limited forms of expression available under patriarchy, do a lot of self-making with clothes. So these characters have all these amazing clothes, but someone doesn’t seem to be making very deliberate decisions about when the characters wear them; if Daenerys decided last week to be queen-like, wouldn’t it make more sense for her to wear the white dress this week, to illustrate that choice?

While we’re talking about this, I’m still hating the lack of Margaery wedding dress footage. I have a fantasy that somewhere on some cutting room floor there’s a dress-fitting scene with Margaery, Olenna, and — crucially — Sansa, who (as my friend Morgan hypothesizes) would be simultaneously hugely relieved and somewhat envious about the dress.

7: I don’t hate anything about Varys talking with Oberyn; I hope they talk more often. But I hope that (despite Oberyn’s suggestion), Varys and Oberyn’s conversations never include Ellaria, because the actress playing Ellaria looks too much like Brenda from Six Feet Under. I didn’t dislike Brenda, but thinking about her in the King’s Landing context confuses me and makes me wonder if Ellaria is going to start some boring 12 Step program and then start having only vaguely-satisfying sub-dom sex with a dull neighbor. But anyway: Varys and Oberyn. Those two are interesting together.

8: I hate it in a different way when Tyrion, handcuffed, raises an eyebrow and says to the only one left who loves him: “We mustn’t disappoint father.” There’s something so painfully affecting about that “mustn’t” — it’s excessive grammatical correctness illustrating Tyrion’s critique of his Jaime’s unnecessary attention to form. The episode is called “The Laws of Gods and Men” but here’s it’s also “The Laws of Gods and Men and Grammar.” Tyrion: I was looking forward to your trial with the same sort of thrill and worry I would have looked forward to Oscar Wilde’s.

9: When Tyrion, the brilliant wit, has had nothing to do in his cell for three episodes except strategize for this trial, and yet even so he has no better opening gambit than to claim that Joffrey “choked on his pigeon pie.” This bit of cantankerousness seems not only insufficiently clever but also woefully non-strategic. Why would he make it easier for Cersei, and his father, to win? I’m willing to be dissuaded here, but wouldn’t the scene work best if he goes from thinking he can win over the court, that he can beat Cersei, and then realize he cannot? And how does death-mockery help him?

10: Shae. Shae. I have, for some time now, been super pissed at her. Another way of saying this is that I have been super pissed at what Game of Thrones has done to her. It has taken an otherwise practical woman and made her do stupid things in the name of “love.” Wouldn’t Shae, as an intelligent woman of the world, know that love can be real and powerful and still not be the only factor in decision making? Wouldn’t she have a more nuanced understanding of what love is? Shae earned my admiration by being earthy and strange and by being willing to see through superficial expectations. So why would she not leave Tyrion when he asked her to? Why would she not take the money, buy a nice house, and rest easy in the assumption that she was safe, her life was her own, and her lover was doing the best he could in a volatile situation? It is an insult to her intelligence — to the intelligence that makes her love Tyrion in the first place — to imply that she would not understand the gravity of the threat the Lannisters pose to her. Game of Thrones pretends to criticize people like Cersei, who stigmatize whores, and lauds Tyrion and Oberyn’s open-minded attitudes towards sexual women. But the show performs a more insidious injustice to women when it assumes, as it has in its treatment of Shae, that women can either be whores or be in love, and that women themselves cannot reconcile love with necessity.

But dear Television, dear Game of Thrones: even when I hate you, I love you too. Shae’s appearance in the courtroom sent me into fits of irritation, but I could not help admiring her brilliance: her careful testimony, the way its pared-down factual sentences — “I kissed him where he wanted, I licked him where he wanted. I let him…put himself where he wanted.” — both offer the courtroom what they expect to get from a simple-minded whore, and strategically call attention to the difference between Tyrion’s body and hers, a physical difference the courtroom understands as monstrous. It makes sense, then, that Tyrion’s wrath, in the final moment, turns not on the sister who accuses him but on the town that allows her to do so. Tyrion lambasts his failed community; he challenges his father; he calls upon the Gods. Dear Television, you end in close shots: Margaery (vaguely guilty); Shae (very guilty, eyes twitching); Oberyn (intrigued; eyes widening); Jaime (already mourning; eyes closing); Cersei (stunned; hand opening as Tyrion slips out of it); Tyrion (resolved; eyes narrowing); Tywin (enraged); and finally Tyrion: eyes slits of anger. Tyrion has invoked the Gods, but Game of Thrones knows: this is a family matter.

More Arya next week please,


Sarah M.


Previous episode: season 4, episode 5, “First of His Name.”

Following episode: season 4, episode 7, “Mockingbird.”

LARB’s Collected “Game of Thrones” Coverage

LARB Contributor

Sarah Mesle (PhD, Northwestern) is faculty at USC and Senior Humanities Editor at the Los Angeles Review of Books. Prior to arriving at USC, she held postdoctoral fellowships in English at the University of Michigan and the University of California, Los Angeles. She is a 19th-century Americanist by training and is interested, generally speaking, in the long history of the American popular novel and in the many ways pop culture can excite, estrange, and surprise.


With Sarah Blackwood, she is co-editor of You can follow her on Twitter.


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