Tuesday, May 13, 2014

RECAP: Game of Thrones 4x06 - In Defense of Shae and Theon

Ah the return of more Game of Thrones! Between this episode and the three from last week and then yesterday's article, I'm not going to lie, I'm getting a little sick of this show. But we press on. This week's episode promised to be less heavy on the rape, thank goodness, and more heavy on the backstage political maneuvering, which I honestly have missed. So good.

Of course, it wouldn't be Game of Thrones without some weird consent issues creeping in, though, would it? And for that we have Theon/Reek and Shae to thank. But more on that after the recap.

Our King of Joy and Light, Stannis, and his faithful lieutenant Davos, who is way nicer and more reasonable, are on a boat. This would be pretty much par for the course, actually, since they both do boat things normally, but it's notable this time because the boat is headed into the harbor at Braavos - home of the Iron Bank and also all of those famous swordsmen we keep hearing about. They embark and go to the bank, where Stannis is pissy because they're kept waiting. Don't the Braavosi care that he's the next maybe kind of possibly king of Westeros?!

Davos tries to distract him with old reminiscences of his smuggling days. For some reason it doesn't work. But then a wild Mark Gatiss appears (as a representative of the Iron Bank) to do business. Stannis insists on how his lineage is totally better than Tommen's, because he's not an incest baby, but the Iron Bank is unmoved. After all, Stannis did kind of start a war. And he has no more ships left after said war, or tradeable goods. In other words, he's not a good loan risk.

Fortunately for Stannis, he has Davos there, and Davos is totally his number one fan. I'm not totally sure why, but whatever. Davos points out that while Stannis is a bad bet now, the Lannisters are a worse bet in the long run - Tywin is old, and when he dies, the ruler of Westeros will be a young boy with either his crazy despised mother or his backstabbing uncle-father to help him rule. Stannis, on the other hand, does repay his debts, as Davos can attest from his own punishment at Stannis' hand. Which is a weird testimony to give to a bank, but still. As Davos says, Stannis is the Iron Bank's best chance to recoup the money they've already poured into Westeros.

Cut to a scene of a pirate telling an epic story about piracy to two prostitutes as Davos wanders in. Of course the girls already know the ending to the joke (not gonna lie, though, I did like it), and Davos gets to greet his old pirate friend. Said pirate friend wants Davos to join their party, but Davos has other plans, like a sackful of gold for the pirate and more back at home with the pirate's wife. Seems Davos is hiring a pirate to come back to Dragonstone with them. Interesting.

Holy heck now we're with Yara Greyjoy, who we haven't seen since the end of last season, I think, as she and her men are still somehow on that boat headed for the North. They've been sailing for how long exactly?

Eh. I guess time works differently here.

Anyway, she's reading a missive from the Boltons about how they murdered all the Ironborn they found in the North and also how Ramsay tortured Theon. So she's calling for a lot of revenge. The Greyjoys are attacking the Boltons. Yara demands to be taken to Theon and finds him, as Reek, sleeping with the dogs. Reek is not super into being rescued, which makes sense given how many times Ramsay has tortured him with the escape fantasy thing.

A fight breaks out between Yara's men and Ramsay's, and Reek goes so far as to bite Yara to get away. Yara offers to leave if she can take Theon with her, but Ramsay has a counter offer. Leave now and he won't have his dogs eviscerate her.

She goes. And declares Theon dead. Which, to be fair, he kind of is.

Ramsay rewards Reek for his loyalty. His reward is a bath, probably his first in months. Ramsay makes him strip down naked and we are reminded again why Ramsay is a creepy crazy weirdo. Naked Reek/Theon is not a pretty sight. The bath scene is beautifully shot and incredibly tense and kind of brilliant, because seeing Reek openly terrified of Ramsay, but not willing to run from him because he loves him because Stockholm Syndrome like whoa. 

Anyway, Ramsay's just being nice because he needs something, and isn't it weird to see Theon out Theon'd by someone even crazier than him? Ramsay needs Reek to pretend to be Theon Greyjoy again so that he can help recapture a castle - Winterfell, I assume. It's trippy.

A cute goatherd and his father are out with their goats in the highlands outside Meereen, presumably, when the goatherd's casual rock tossing takes a disturbing turn - he throws a rock and it hits a dragon. Said dragon then proceeds to fly directly over them, set the field on fire, and carry off one of the goats, still aflame. Kid's gonna need therapy for a long time over this one.

This takes us to Meereen, where Daenerys is now holding court, having decided to take a more active interest in ruling rather than just conquering. Ah, the goatherd has now come to court to complain about the whole dragon thing. I mean, he's in favor of her, but her dragons did eat his flock. He likes his flock. Well, he liked them. They're dead now. Daenerys is sorry, and offers to pay him back for his goats threefold. Dude's very okay with that. Very okay with it.

Her next audience is with a noble, which Dany is less enthused about. The noble points out that she crucified his father, and that his father was one who spoke out against the treatment of the slaves. See, Dany, this is what happens when you stick around. The crap you did catches up to you because now you have to live with all these people. Anyway, the noble wants to be allowed to give his father and the other nobles a proper funeral. 

Daenerys is now faced with a big choice: mercy or justice? Because it would be perfectly just to leave the masters there on their crosses, but it would not be merciful. Also, she still has 212 audiences to go. She's not super enjoying this ruling thing.

Back in King's Landing, King Tommen's small council is meeting for the first time. It's made up of old white guys and Oberyn (and Cersei, but she doesn't really get any say), which is pretty hilarious, actually, because Oberyn openly does not give a crap. Love him. While Mace Tyrell is asskissing, Oberyn just kind of slouches around. Besides, there's business. The Hound was spotted in the Riverlands, and Tywin wants him dead. Also, reports are spreading about Daenerys and her army. Tywin wants her stopped before they have to face her in open war. Cersei doesn't get why they're all afraid, but Oberyn does. He's seen the Unsullied. An army of actually loyal Unsullied is terrifying.

Varys is curious about why Oberyn knows so much about the Unsullied. They have a private little chat in the throne room - Oberyn guesses correctly that Varys is from Lys, but is incorrect in trying to figure out Varys' sexuality prior to his castration. Turns out that Varys is asexual, which confuses the crap out of Oberyn "if it's beautiful, I'll shag it" Martell. Varys is comfortably in his asexuality, though, because it leaves him time to actually do the thing he loves best: trying to run the bloody kingdom while everyone else keeps messing it up.

Have I mentioned that Oberyn's confused face is freaking adorable?

Jaime, in full armor now, comes to fetch Tyrion for his trial. They're both somber, because it's not a happy moment, is it? Tyrion has to walk the length of the throne room up to stand before Tommen on the throne with Tyrion beside him. Man this must suck for him. 

Tommen starts the proceeding with dignity by recusing himself. He names the judges (Oberyn, Tywin, and Mace Tyrell). Tommen is a nice kid, but he's a little out of his depth here.

The trial starts, and people come out by talking about all the times that Tyrion threatened Joffrey. Which was, to be fair, a lot. Tyrion tries to pipe up with some context for this (because Joffrey deserved it every time), but he's shut down. Then Pycell accuses Tyrion of stealing poisons from him and using them on Joffrey. Like, for serious? This is terrible evidence. Like for realsies. Worst trial ever.

Cersei reads out a recounting of what Tyrion said to her in season two, about the "debt being paid". Oberyn is the only one not fooled. He can tell something is up. Something like Cersei being a bitch. Varys points out that Tyrion might be sensitive to the North because he married Sansa. This is not going well for Tyrion, not that we really thought it might. Court is adjourned for now.

Jaime tries to reason with his father during the break by offering him a tempting possibility: if Tywin spares Tyrion, Jaime will leave the Kingsguard, get married, and have children, thus carrying on the Lannister name. This is pretty good bait for Tywin. He takes it immediately. Tyrion will be allowed to join the Night's Watch after the verdict, and Jaime will leave the Kingsguard absolutely immediately. The deal is struck.

Tyrion is dubious, though, since the same offer was given to Ned Stark, and we all remember how that turned out. Jaime is sure it'll work. He tells Tyrion no more outbursts. So, we all know what's going to happen, right?

The trial resumes and calls its next witness: Shae. Well, crap. Tyrion was so sure he managed to get her to safety before this all went down. Shae is a little bit pissed, it would seem, and totally toes the party line. She accuses Tyrion and Sansa of everything, absolutely everything. She even accuses him of "stealing her". So, either Shae is being super blackmailed, or...you know, I'm not sure what. Because while it is possible that Shae really did feel like Tyrion's property the whole time they were together, I doubt it. She'd have been much more vocal at the time. A cowed Shae is a weird thing to see.

She paints it that Tyrion was in super lust with Sansa, who refused to sleep with him until he killed Joffrey. And this is the last straw for Tyrion. He's had it, and he "wishes to confess". He confesses...that he saved them all from Stannis. That he is guilty of being a dwarf. And he's been on trial for that his entire life.

He states openly that he didn't kill Joffrey, but that he wishes he had, because it was awesome to see Joffrey die. And he knows he'll get no justice here, so he demands a trial by combat.

End of episode on everyone's shocked faces.

There's a lot to unpack in this episode, but I do feel like it's worth pointing out how this episode more than most was absolutely deficient in the ladies. I mean, yes, we checked back in with Daenerys and Yara, but the main plotlines were pretty lady deficient, at least when it comes to female characters who are well rounded and have personalities and aren't just a vendetta with breasts (Cersei, Shae).

Still, it's a good episode. This one seems to be built around the idea of family, and the lengths to which we are willing to go when we feel our family has been wronged. Stannis believes his family name has been damaged by its association with the "Baratheon" kings, and wants to reclaim the throne for his family. Yara is trying to avenge her brother, sure, but she's also seeking vengeance because of the slight to their house. Ramsay made it so Theon can never have children - that's a huge insult to the family. Even worse, he turned Theon against them.

Daenerys has to face a man whose family she killed, and decides to be merciful, but we can rest assured that this is not the last time she'll meet the family of her victims. Varys and Oberyn talk about their respective homelands and how they became the men they are today. And finally the Lannister family drama takes center stage, with everyone playing their part. Ultimately, though, it becomes about the failures of the family. Mostly, Tywin's failure to accept his son's dwarfism, because, yeah in the end that is what this is all about.

If you happen to remember from the books, this is probably also about the fact that Tyrion is almost certainly a bastard child of the Mad King Aerys Targaryen because Aerys was super into Tywin's wife, and the Targaryens had a history of birth defects and of genetic dwarfism while the Lannisters didn't, and just generally I am of the "Tyrion's actually a Targaryen and doesn't know it" camp.


This episode was all about family, and it worked. There was a heck of a lot less rape this time, which was nice, and less violence overall, which was a pleasant break. Mostly, though, I want to talk about Shae's little speech at the end. Because I mean instinctively it pisses me off, because that's not what happened, but when I think about it, really think about it, it kind of is.

I mean, aside from the conspiracy to commit murder stuff, all of that does sound a bit like what really happened, only without the romantic framework overlying it. Shae's not exactly wrong. She was Tyrion's whore, and he did refuse to make an honest woman of her. Repeatedly. He claims he did it for her safety, but what if he didn't? That's the tricky thing about this. Up until now, we've only ever seen their relationship through Tyrion's eyes. What if it was never consensual to Shae?

I'm not saying that's the truth, I would like to point out, but I do think it's worth thinking about. Before we all call her a vindictive bitch, which is what I can only assume the writers want, I think we need to take a long look at how their relationship looked to Shae. 

She comes in as a prostitute, is his hidden whore for months, and then finally, when she presses for legitimacy, finds her client getting married and then throwing her away, handing her a bunch of money and reminding her that she was only ever a whore. That would sting, wouldn't it? And it would make the whole thing less romantic and more fiduciary.

For that matter, I feel like it's easy to hate on Theon, and I'm totally guilty of it too, but we do need to remember the context in which he lives. Also we need to remember that Alfie Allen is a fantastic actor. Seriously, sir, well done!

Now, I am a proud member of the "never forget that Theon is a creepy rapist who murdered children" club, just like I am a founding member of the "remind everyone that Jaime Lannister raped his sister at every possible juncture" foundation. But even I think that Theon's current state is beyond the pale. And it would be easy to see this week's events, where he runs from his sister, even fights her, to return to the "safety" of his bondage with Ramsay, as just more of Theon being a fuckup. In reality, though, it's more complicated than that.

Theon's life was already messed up before Ramsay ever said boo to him - he had consent issues going all the way back to the bit where he was sold to the Starks while still a kid, and then raised as their fosterling until he reached adulthood. We only ever saw the story from the Stark's perspective, so to us it looks like Theon did an unforgiveable thing, turning on them. But did he? I mean, we literally and literarily only know one side of the story. And now, with Ramsay, we know that Theon is broken and that his mind is not super in a good place, but that doesn't mean that he isn't choosing. 

I guess what I'm saying is that I inherently suspect one-sided narratives. It's too easy to think the story is one way in your head and never bother wondering what your enemy thinks is going on. Or your friend. Or your lover.

Think about it.


  1. Sibel Kekilli is one of my favorite actresses of all time, ever. I saw her in "Against the Wall" or whatever the English translation is years ago and that whole movie is burned on my brain forever--not that I recommend it for everyone, anything but. However, she's incredible.

    So I am sad, in a way, that she was cast as Shae, one of my most hated one-dimensional nothings from the books (I can't get started on that road, or I will fume). In the beginning, when I was still watching the show, I eventually thought okay. She persuaded me. Maybe she will make this something. Maybe they will make this something. And I thought they did, until this entry. Instead, I seriously wonder if they are clever enough to create an internal unreliable narrator--Tyrion; I think they are finally just imploding and writing episodes that reflect the awful depictions of women and what happens to them from the books, but in some kind of weird, different-characters-doing-awful-things way. I dunno.

    But Godspeed, Deborah Pless. Godspeed.

    1. I'm choosing to believe in the version of events that doesn't make me sad. :P But yeah, Sibel Kekilli is freaking rad. I wish Shae were written more...intentionally.

  2. Holy heck now we're with Yara Greyjoy, who we haven't seen since the end of last season, I think, as she and her men are still somehow on that boat headed for the North. They've been sailing for how long exactly?

    In fairness, from the credits map Dreadfort seems to be on the eastern side, while the Iron Islands are on the west, which means they've had to go round the whole continent.

    Varys is comfortably in his asexuality, though, because it leaves him time to actually do the thing he loves best: trying to run the bloody kingdom while everyone else keeps messing it up.

    Have I mentioned that Oberyn's confused face is freaking adorable?

    I don't think it's just the sexuality there. Varys isn't the kind of person people - well, people like Westeros nobility - expect to have a strong sense of duty. I did like Oberon commenting on how everyone calls him "Lord Varys."

    Shae is a little bit pissed, it would seem, and totally toes the party line. She accuses Tyrion and Sansa of everything, absolutely everything. She even accuses him of "stealing her". So, either Shae is being super blackmailed, or...you know, I'm not sure what.

    Having seen it now, Sibel Kekilli's performance did give me the sense that Shae wasn't happy to be doing this. And in terms of the events, her description of her relationship is pretty exactly how it went, right down to Bronn "stealing" her for Tyrion from another guy.

    I don't think that's how Shae always saw it though. I think she was more loyal to Tyrion than that - but then Tyrion deliberately spat on that loyalty and showed (a lie, yes, but it's what he meant her think, so I stand by the verb) that it was misplaced.

    So why should I or any viewer blame her for not *staying* loyal? I'm less forgiving about her selling out Sansa, but then maybe that's the part she wasn't happy about. And at least Sansa had already escaped.

    But in the end, it's all inference. We never get a look through Shae's eyes. And that's a problem.

  3. Huh. Fair point. Geography isn't my strong suit, so I missed that, but I guess she really could have been on the boat that whole time.

    I love Varys. He's such an interesting and complex character, and yet one who we could find many examples of in history if we were willing to look. Which we aren't, for some reason.

    I appreciate Sibel Kekilli's performance a lot, though I still resent the way that show treated her character. We needed to see the story through her eyes. Because yeah, everything she said was technically true, and for some reason no one wants to talk about that.