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(Spoilers for the 6th episode of Season 4 of Game of Thrones are below).
What’s real and what’s fake?
Tyrion is given a farce of a trial after Cersei accuses him of regicide. This trial was the heart of the episode as well as the thematic content, which focused specifically on pageantry and reality. Certain characters in the show seem to genuinely believe in the pageantry, while others were learning about the reality of pageantry, while a fair few seem to actually have a thorough understanding of reality.
Reality vs. Pageantry
It seems that some characters don’t understand that the pageantry displayed in this episode, pageantry like Tyrion’s trial, or Daenerys’ hearing of the supplicants, or Stannis’ asking the bank for money is all a show. What’s more amusing is that certain, if not most of the characters seem to believe that the show is real. Other characters who see the world for what it is, treat the pageant with abject humor or apathy, or use it manipulatively.
Nevertheless, reality vs pageantry is on full display this episode. Characters seem to fall into different schools of thought when it comes to pageantry and how they understand the world. Tyrion, Tywin, Varys, Oberyn, and Davos display an understanding of reality as they frequently call out the falsehoods of the pageant. Tommen, Stannis, and Mace seem to be wholly ignorant of reality and their belief in the pageant seems to be essential to their understanding of the world. Cersei and Reek are deluded into believing the pageant because of harsh circumstances. Finally there’s Daenerys, Jaime, and Yara that believe in the pageant but are capable and/or are beginning to understand seeing reality.
It’s interesting to note that the characters who can see through the charade of the show are amongst the most intelligent characters on the show. Characters that are learning to see the reality of the pageant, are also fairly intelligent. The characters that don’t see the reality of the pageant are characters that are highly emotional (Cersei and Shae), manipulated by fear (Reek), or are completely ignorant (Tommen, Stannis, and Mace). While belief in pageantry exposes some intellectual weaknesses or personal flaws, it also demonstrates its usefulness in manipulating the masses.
Ignorance and Pageantry
The show or the pageant is necessary for keeping order and making it look like the people in power are doing their jobs. The problem is some of the people in power seem to believe the show is entirely real. The Laws of Gods and Men goes through painstaking ordeals to show viewers that the pageant of the powerful is oftentimes a web of lies.
Throughout four seasons of Game of Thrones it’s been shown here and there that Tommen respects his uncle Tyrion. As the King he could legitimately free him, but his ignorance keeps Tommen from doing just that. Tommen recites one of the most forced sounding speeches in the show, and in the process he seals Tyrion’s fate to Tywin. While Tommen is young, and may still find the time to redeem his actions here, his ignorance of the pageant assists in forcing Tyrion to undergo a humiliating trial.
Mace Tyrell, an aging man and the patriarch of one of the most powerful houses in Westeros, is an oaf. With the few lines uttered by this character in the episode, it is clear he’s completely mesmerized by pageantry. This is especially made clear during the scene where Mace makes a bumbled attempt at thanking Tywin for letting him join the Small Council. This is a gesture which is later repaid by Tywin turning Mace into an errand boy. In this episode, Mace is the ultimate symbol of how complete and unchanging belief in the pageant exposes intellectual stupidity.
Stannis also shows his weaknesses as a ruler during his meeting with the Iron Bank. He argues that the Iron Throne is his by right of blood to a bunch of pen pushing accountants … not a smart idea. The nameless Iron Bankers quickly tell Stannis and Davos that they’re about numbers, and Stannis’ weakened status and low numbers makes investing in him too risky. After being denied, Stannis gets up and leaves, which would leave him in no better of a situation that he was in before. Stannis proves he lacks the intelligence to secure funds for ruling a kingdom.
Deluded Into Pageantry
Cersei is so emotionally distraught at losing her eldest son, she refuses to see that Tyrion might actually be innocent. While Cersei has demonstrated in the past that the she is aware that the pageant of power is all a show, in this episode it seems as if she is wholly unaware of how great a show Tyrion’s trial is. Her testimony against Tyrion is genuine, she really believes in what she says. So strong is her conviction, that when Jaime looks across the court room at her during the adjournment, he doesn’t even bother to try to convince her of Tyrion’s innocence. He’d rather take is chance at freeing Tyrion with Tywin, arguably the most cold-hearted character on this show. After this trial, the viewer has to question just how much of the pageant does Cersei believe is real?
Shae on the other hand is a complete mystery. With a limited back story, all viewers know about her is that she was formerly a whore, she’s posing as a handmaiden, and she is incapable of understanding that Tyrion is sending her away to keep her alive. Shae comes from another culture and appears to be somewhat ignorant of Westerosi power games or customs. She doesn’t even bother to learn how to curtsey while working as a handmaiden that serves nobles – a risky bout of ignorance that nearly exposes her as Tyrion’s romantic interest. After being dumped by Tyrion, a move that was supposed to save her life and let her live comfortably, she returns with a vengeance to deliver the most damning testimony against Tyrion, some of which she knows are flat out lies. From what we can assume, Shae is emotionally deluded into condemning an innocent man to death.
After undergoing some horrific torture, Theon Greyjoy is now Reek, a subservient dog of Ramsay Snow’s. Reek’s transformation is so complete that when offered the opportunity to reunite with his sister and escape the cruel treatment of Ramsay he violently resists his own rescue. Reek has been deluded into believing Ramsay is a good master. When pressed by Ramsay, he even admits that he loves him. Fear of suffering has caused Reek to believe that Ramsay is an all-powerful master.
Shifting Out of Pageantry
Yara returns to Game of Thrones with a voice over rereading of Ramsay’s letter to Balon Greyjoy to her company of Iron Born. This voice-over shifts into a motivational battle speech that sounds exactly like it belongs in a pageant. As a player in the pageant, Yara believes she must save Theon for the honor of her House. When she finally reunites with Theon, she learns that he’s beyond saving. As she retreats from the rescue mission, she tells her men that her brother is dead.
Daenerys continues to grow as a character. Early in the series she erroneously believed that Viserys with an army at his back could retake the Seven Kingdoms. After Viserys’ death, and her husband’s, Daenerys has learned how hard and costly it is to run military campaigns. Along the way she shed her delusions about the glories of war. In the Laws of Gods and Men its clear that Daenerys needs to shed her delusions about ruling. Her first supplicant, a shepherd who’s goat is burned alive by Daenerys’ dragon goes exceedingly well, at least from Daenerys’ point of view. A subject came to her with a problem, and she solved it. Daenerys is unwittingly putting on the show that she thinks ruling is all about…
That is until her next supplicant, Hizdahr zo Loraq, a nobleman’s son, challenges Daenerys’ ruling over leaving the crucified slave masters up to rot. After an intense moral argument, she eventually relents and lets Hizdahr remove his father, in the name of tradition and respect of familial love. It’s clear that the argument is emotionally exhausting to Daenerys, because she asks Missandei how many supplicants she will need to see this day after Hizdahr leaves. The answer: 212. Daenerys’ is learning that ruling is more than just a show.
For the past few weeks Jaime has insisted that Tyrion’s trial will let everyone know the truth about who killed Joffrey. Damning testimony after damning testimony finally forces Jaime to accept that Tyrion’s trial is a farce. Although he didn’t have the foresight to see so beforehand, Jaime is eventually able to realize that Tyrion’s trial is nothing more than a poor humiliation. He attempts to save the situation by coming back into his fathers good service in return for allowing Tyrion to not be executed. While Jaime finally understands the purpose of the trial, he underestimates Tyrion’s present emotional state and cunning when he rejects Jaime’s offer of entering in a plea.
Those Who Understand Reality
Davos Seaworth saves Stannis’ meeting with the Iron Bank. He puts forth a logical argument with a lot of truth: When Tywin dies, does the Iron Bank think that a boy King like Tommen will be able to stop Stannis from retaking the Iron Throne? It’s a great point, one that underscores just how vulnerable the Lannisters are right now. Cersei is hated by the masses and Jaime only wants to be a Kingsguard. It’s the aging the Tywin that’s holding everything together.
Tywin Lannister is another person who understands that Tyrion’s trial is a charade. Tywin’s proven time and time again to be an opportunist. He sided with Robert Baratheon at the last minute during his rebellion, he took Littlefinger and the Tyrell’s offer at a last minute alliance to save Kings Landing, and he offered protection to the Frey’s for carrying out the Red Wedding. He may not have planned Tyrion’s downfall, but he will capitalize on it. When Jaime storms into Tywin’s room during the adjournment and tells Tywin he needs to spare Tyrion’s life, Tywin immediately lists a set of what were clearly predetermined demands to make Jaime return to the Lannister family and serve it in a way that is most beneficial to Tywin. Jaime accepts, and it becomes clear to the viewer what Tywin had been planning on gaining from Tyrion’s downfall.
Tyrion has been one of Game of Thrones’ strongest moral and intellectual back bones. He’s always seen the reality of the situation with clarity, and his trial is no exception. While the viewer knows that Tyrion is one of the more morally outstanding characters, the public image of him in the Game of Thrones world is less than stellar. Tyrion is viewed as a monster and a demon because he’s a dwarf. Tyrion finally decides to give the Westerosi public the reality they were looking for when he goes off on a murder-threatening tangent that’s filled with pathos and hurt from the public’s mistreatment of him for being a dwarf.
While the degree of belief in pageantry may expose the intellectual abilities of the characters, above all the episode underscores the dangers presented by pageantry. It creates a disillusioned sense for those in power, it keeps those not in power in check, and it can be used in a manipulative way to gain power, and it can be used to ruin lives. Pageantry can also drive a person mad, as it did with Tyrion at the end of this episode, and understandably so.